The Immigrant Experience Comes Home

As Americans debate a slew of important items, immigration stands at the top of any list.

Here in Westport, we’re far removed from our southern border. The Wall is an abstraction — not a reality — to most of us.

But — for one reason or another — the immigrant experience resonates with nearly every Westporter.

This month, several events shine historical, artistic, literary and nuanced lights on a variety of immigration stories.

On Friday, January 18 (6 to 8 p.m.), Saugatuck Congregational Church opens an intriguing exhibit.

“Art Across Borders” features the work of 18 area artists, from Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. All migrated to the US. Each will share his or her own story, through art. The bold, emotional exhibit is curated by Rene Soto, owner of a gallery with the same name in South Norwalk.

One of the pieces on display at the Saugatuck Church — by Jose Munoz, from Guatelama.

“Lots of people come to the US — and to this area — for better lives,” says Saugatuck Church Arts Committee member Priscilla Long. “And many of those people express themselves through art.”

Saugatuck Church has long been concerned with social justice. This show is a natural outgrowth of that commitment. The exhibit will remain up for a month. Click here or call 203-227-1261 for more information.

The following week, a different house of worship offers a different program, on a different immigrant experience.

In June 0f 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi terror on the SS St. Louis were within sight of Florida. Heartbreakingly, they were denied safe haven by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Canada also refused entry.

Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis.

The captain returned the ship to Europe, where countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France accepted some refugees. Many, however, were later caught in Nazi roundups of Jews in occupied countries. Historians estimate that a quarter died in death camps during World War II

Three passengers who survived — Judith Steel, Sonja Geismar and Eva Wiener — will be in Westport on Thursday, January 24. At 7 p.m., Chabad on Newtown Turnpike will screen “Complicit” — a film about the SS St. Louis’ ill-fated journey. The trio will participate in a post-film Q-and-A, led by its creator/producer Robert Krakow.

Click here for more information. Tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for students.

Meanwhile, all month long — and into February — the Westport Library sponsors WestportREADS. This year’s book is Exit West. Novelist Mohsin Hamid follows 2 refugees who — against all odds — find life and love while fleeing civil war.

WestportREADS activities include book discussions, a conversation with migration experts, art exploration, world dance instruction, storytelling, music, genealogy research, and a presentation by a Syrian refugee family sponsored by members of the Westport community.

Click here for a complete calendar, and full details.

17 responses to “The Immigrant Experience Comes Home

  1. Richard Fogel

    My cousins are Holocaust survivors. Their orthodox synagogue in Ottawa are helping Syrian refugees. Its good to reflect on history. The photo of the refugees on the boat reminds me of the wall controversy. Putting faces and stories on history and current events makes it easier to feel the pain and understand the reality. Its very sad. We are the wealthiest nation who was founded on immigrant principles.

    • Jean Marie Wiesen

      Thanks for this crucial article. It doesn’t matter where in this country we live, we’re all immigrants, or sons and daughters of, unless we’re Native Americans. Collectively, we’ve built our country and need to continue doing so. As your article illustrates, all of us have contributed. Thanks, Dan!

      • No one says we don’t won’t immigrants. It’s making sure they are coming in legally. Get it straight people. Stop spinning the truth.

        • Arline Gertzoff

          On Thursday Jan17 from 6:30pm at Saugatuck Congregational Church The UNA SWCT In cooperation with the Westport Library will present a conversation on immigration with two experts in the field(details on Westport Library Westport Reads) Before the presentation we will offer Caravan Snacks and show clips on early immigration The event is free of charge

        • Russell Gontar

          Say, whatever happened to the “caravan”?. Remember the caravan, way back in…October. Somehow, that crisis magically vanished on election day. And I wonder about what the troops deployed to to deal with that “crisis” are doing these days? And say, whatever happened to “Mexico will pay for the wall”? Somehow, we don’t hear much about that anymore either. Talk about spinning the truth.

        • Richard Fogel

          nonsense, Make America white again,

          • Richard Fogel

            the trump administration is making extremely difficult to apply for asylum. He has made numerous racist remarks. Enough of the defense.

  2. I think equating Holocaust era immigration with the current situation is as over the top as you can get (at least without a wall).

  3. Arline Gertzoff

    I could not find either of these events listed on the Westport Reads Calendar nor in the WL newsletterWere they listed later?after the Library brochure was printed ..The Chabad Event has a fee so perhaps that is the reason? Just curious .

  4. Legal immigration>good
    illegal immigration>bad
    Don’t kid yourselves people, if the current invaders to this country were to vote other than Democrat, that wall would have been built 1000′ high years ago.

  5. Alejandro Garcia

    I am a legal immigrant. I lived a couple of miles from the border for five years. I have had a privileged – yet always enrichable – first hand point of view.
    Please don’t spin it. The wall is not about solving a problem (legal vs illegal, so on). It’s a dog whistle. I wont repeat the numbers, they’re out there. The problem is not the lack of a wall, it’s outdated laws, inadequate structures and resources. Either side of the debate you are on, if you fail to acknowledge this, you have given up on facts. If you have given up on facts, any discussion is pointless.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      Although a native of Westport I now live in Texas. We are not as close to the border as Mr. Garcia but we are not that far removed and we have traveled a good deal in the Texas border communities. Mr. Garcia is right. Outdated laws, equipment and resources are the biggest part of the problem which is not as much of a threat as some would make it sound. Please check facts from independent sources. What ever happened to the idea that we could love our neighbor?

  6. I’ve been thinking that I was remiss I’m not acknowledging that the current border crisis is a direct corollary to the Holocaust. So that there is no further misunderstanding, let’s provide details of the immigrant businesses that were destroyed in Honduras, the burning of their books, the lampshades that were made of their bodies and most importantly the crematories that desecrated their remains but also (and most importantly) contributed to climate change.