Immigrant Storytelling Offers Inspirational Messages

Immigrant stories– the stuff of American lore– gains momentum through murals, exhibits, postcards, music and other cultural offerings to offer newcomers hope and inspiration. In Boston and the city’s metropolitan area, the efforts are designed to honor immigrants and their contributions.

The artistic endeavors ripple around Boston and the surrounding area prominently. In a $2.5 million project, for instance, the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts Charitable Foundation is renovating an early 20th Century chapel to create the East Boston Immigration Center.

Lisa Berenson, head of the development team for the center tells The Boston Globe the goal  has been to make the space “into sort of like Ellis Island.”

Synagogue board member Richard Zabot says, “Immigrant groups have always had a difficult time in America. These people are having an especially hard time right now.”

Interestingly, the chapel renovation housing the immigration center sits in the Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery. The cemetery, according to the report, is symbolic of discrimination faced by Jewish immigrants.

“It’s very difficult to take on a new culture when part of it doesn’t want you just because you’re foreign,” Zabot says of the project, which began funding efforts in 2006. “Something like this includes them.”

At another museum and cultural center honoring immigrants, the institution’s first major event will feature a classical music troupe and ongoing interactive kid-friendly concerts. The center will also offer programming to new immigrants to the area,

In another kind of celebration of immigrants effort, a Boston area liquor store displays the Russian immigrant business owners who helped establish the business in 1933. The mural also pays tribute to the owner of a nearby shop who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in the late 1990’s.

A current national campaign branded as #ToImmigrantsWithLove is underway. As part of the city’s contributions, Boston city council members commissioned the completion of two murals celebrating area immigrants.

The Office for Immigrant Advancement, which operates under the mayor, has also been distributing postcards to provide a communications channel for general well wishes. Those participating in the campaign send messages like “Congrats on the big move!” and “My story is your story! We’re all immigrants!”

Longtime immigrant advocate and Boston College professor Westy Egmont developed the “Dreams of Freedom” exhibit held on the 50th floor of the Prudential Tower since 2005. As tourists take in the cityscape from a bird’s eye view, the exhibit also lets them take in the story of Boston’s rich immigrant history.

“If ever there was a time we needed to tell our story, this is it,” Egmont says.