Published in The Register-Mail on September 28th, 2015.
The original article can be found here.
A new exhibit entitled “The Air We Breathe — A Glimpse Into Galesburg’s Immigrant Community” features stories and photographs of Galesburg area immigrants.
“So, let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal” — President John F. Kennedy, 1963.
The artist behind a new exhibit entitled “The Air We Breathe — A Glimpse Into Galesburg’s Immigrant Community,” referenced Kennedy’s quote as part of the inspiration behind her project, which is showcased at Knox College’s art space, The Box. The exhibit features stories and photographs of Galesburg area immigrants, in what the artist said is an attempt to celebrate and embrace Galesburg’s international community.
The project was developed and implemented by Chelsea Castillo Macek, Intercultural Outreach Specialist at the Carl Sandburg College Literacy Coalition. However, Macek said much of the credit for the exhibit should go to the residents who contributed their stories to the project.
“I prefer to think of it as a communal project because all of the participants held a huge role in how the project evolved and came to light,” Macek said.
Macek explained that many of the residents featured in her exhibit are current or former students at the Carl Sandburg College Learning Center where she works. During her opening speech at the exhibit, she explained that the project was a natural extension of the work that she does with the learning center, where she assists immigrants who are transitioning to life in the United States. After hearing their stories, Macek wanted to find a way to share them with the community.
“Every day we have doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, pastors, artists, and many other professional individuals moving to our city, a community of people that can truly make a difference in Galesburg,” Macek said.
Through working on the project, Macek said that her understanding of how immigrants play a vital role in the local community was solidified.
“We as a city and as individuals need to embrace and support the international community and their diverse and important visions and goals if we want to move forward together as a united city, working towards progress and growth for the future,” Macek said.
Most of the photographs in the exhibit were accompanied by short stories, written by the immigrants, which explained their reasons for moving to the United States, their goals and aspirations and even some of the hardships that they have faced in the process of transitioning.
One immigrant, Elvira from Nicaragua, touched base on the project’s underlying theme of a united community:
“Here in Galesburg is the first time I have lived with people from other places, other countries — but every single person is the same. The only difference is the language — but when you say yes, you have to move your head up and down. And no is no. For me, everything and everyone is the same.”
Several of the immigrants who were featured in the exhibit attended the opening, interacting with other community members and answering questions. Joan Paulo Lekuya hails from Angola, a country in located in South Africa.
Lekuya explained that he was a pastor in Angola, but faced opposition from the local police force, who would often arrest him for the messages he was preaching.
“I don’t like all of the division … the government likes to divide the people,” Lekuya said of Angola’s government.
Lekuya described the messages that he preached as peaceful attempts to open the eyes of his people, by opposing conflict with neighboring provinces and the greed of the government and the police force. Because of the extreme opposition that he faced in his country, Lekuya decided to flee to a place that would allow him to do his job in peace less than two years ago. He now attends Bethel Baptist church, with hopes to someday carry on with his work.
Funding for the exhibit came from Illinois Humanities, an organization that supports and funds Illinois programs in the public humanities. Macek said that her grant application was approved by the organization in July and she has been developing the project since then.
A secondary component of Macek’s project will consist of personal video interviews with local immigrants, which will be posted each day of the project on Facebook.com and Youtube.com. The videos can be found by searching for the project’s name, “The Air We Breathe,” on either of the websites.
The exhibit will remain open to the public at The Box, located at 306½ E. Simmons St., until Oct. 4,and will then move down the street to The Beanhive from Oct. 6 to Nov. 1.