An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County
FMHC developed the exhibition with CIRI; each partner offering their skills and expertise, historical content, contemporary knowledge, and networks of clients and supporters. The exhibition featured photographic portraits and narratives of eight individuals from Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Hungary, India, Rwanda, and Syria, respectively, who rebuilt their lives locally. Their stories, spanning from WWII to present, were accompanied by their loaned objects, such as a one person’s travel bag used during his stay in a Cambodian refugee camp, and keys to a home no longer standing in Damascus. Text panels offered context on immigration patterns, refugee policy, and the resettlement process. With facts and personal human narratives, visitors were given a broad picture to understand what an immigrant or a refugee coming to America experiences. Visitors interacted with the exhibit by listening to audio excerpts of individual refugee stories, magnetically marking their personal family ancestry on a world map, trying to answer the U.S. Naturalization civics test questions, and writing messages of encouragement to recent and future arrivals.
CIRI and FMHC presented a series of impactful public programs. They included: “Women Rebuilding,” about local empowerment projects that give marginalized women entrepreneurship opportunities; a “Sanctuary: Interfaith Forum” with Bridgeport Islamic Center, Congregation B’nai Israel, and the Unitarian Church of Westport; and “Stories of Hope: From Rwanda to America” featuring survivors Daniel Trust and Evelyne Mukasonga. A film series of documentaries also shared stories of local refugees: “Refuge,” “Searching for Wordin Avenue” and “Rebuilding Hope.” FMHC and CIRI worked with the Burroughs Community Center and local African refugee women to curate a companion exhibition of fabric artworks by “Our Woven Community,” a program for Bridgeport refugee women that provides networking and income. FMHC still offers their beautiful work for sale in the Museum’s Gift Shop. Family audiences also actively participated through workshops, storytelling, and performances throughout the run of the exhibition.
The Fairfield Museum and History Center believes in the power of history to inspire the imagination, stimulate thought and transform society. We connect people around complex history so that together we may shape a more informed future. As a public forum for the process of shared discovery, we celebrate and cultivate the elements that create and bind community: complex stories from multiple points of view that explore the diverse legacies of our region. FMHC and CIRI brought audiences together to learn and exchange ideas regarding immigration, which enabled FMHC to reach its goal of serving as a place for learning and dialogue about contemporary issues.