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Migration Stories

Leona Strassberg Steiner | United States

When I started school in Orange, New Jersey I remember Miss. Sills’ first grade class. I was announced as a new student amongst snickers and finger pointing. “Look at her hair.” “She smells funny.” When I was tested to begin school in Orange I skipped and was the youngest in the class. The teacher called the class to attention and everyone rose and turned to the flag. The other children all said, “Stand up. You have to stand up for the salute.” “Salute? What were we saluting?” Their voices began in a chorus:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of American and to the Republic for which it stand one nation under God indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Migration Stories is a collaboration between myself, Leona Strassberg-Steiner, a recent NJCU graduate in photography, and Catherine Raissiguier, an NJCU professor of Women's and Gender Studies. During the fall of 2013, faculty members and students came together to narrate their lives, hopes and struggles as first-generation immigrants. This exhibition launches an oral history/photography project sharing their dreams and lived experiences of im/migration, through my photos and their words.





 During the spring semester of 2013, one-on-one photo shoots took place enabling me to hear each participant’s story in depth. Participants were also asked to share moments of their lives through snapshots and pictures from family albums. Some photographs are of household objects or special moments, each with a tale to tell. The narratives are stunning moments of their personal lives, and the foundation of this exhibit.

America has been known as the melting pot of the world for decades, yet immigrants today are still expected to adapt, assimilate, and formulate themselves into this thing or being, called “an American”. Each participant, in some way, expressed deep resentment on being expected to conform, almost immediately upon arrival, to change his or her language, dialect, slang or accent.

I was extremely moved by each story that unfolded before my eyes and my camera. There was a lot of laughter, some from nervousness or bashfulness, some from a deep connection all immigrants share. There are some painful stories of loss and loneliness, along with a never-ending homesickness that is always slightly present.

I hope you enjoy the exhibit, and if you are a first-generation immigrant, consider taking part in our project. There are so many stories that still need to be told.

Leona Strassberg Steiner




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