Immigration exhibit features Malibu East residents

Posted on Mon, 02/01/2016 - 11:30am

By Beth Robinson

The impact of immigrants in Edgewater is the focus of “Voices of Edgewater: Immigration Then and Now,” currently showing at the Edgewater Historical Society and Museum. The exhibit, which spans from the 1840s through the present day, weaves together information about national immigration trends and policies, local history and settlement patterns, and the personal stories of immigrants who live in Edgewater. Drawing on interviews conducted with more than 50 immigrants, the exhibit incorporates personal experiences as well as artifacts from their home countries and the transition to becoming residents of the United States.

Immigrants played an integral role in the history and growth of Chicago. In the late 1700s, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian of French and African descent, and his wife, Catherine, a Potawatomi Indian, established a farm at the mouth of the Chicago River in an area that would be incorporated as the city of Chicago in 1837. By 1870 almost half of the city’s population was foreign-born. Through the 1900s and into the year 2000, the Chicago area continued to be one of the major destinations for immigrants to the U.S. Today, immigrants make up a smaller portion of the total number of residents, but the Chicago area is still counted among the cities with the largest immigrant communities in the country.

Edgewater is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Chicago. In 2000, 36% of the population was foreign-born, from many different countries. Over time, the arrival of immigrants in Edgewater has reflected national trends and policies. In the 1800s the first non-native farmers on the land were families from Luxembourg and Germany. Swedes, Russians, Irish and other Europeans came, as well. They established businesses and community institutions. Andersonville still reflects the Swedish community that was once centered there. St. Henry Roman Catholic Church was founded by Germans and Luxembourgers. After national immigration reform in 1965, the immigrant population became more diverse, coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 2010, 21% of foreign-born Edgewater residents were from Mexico, 8% from India or Pakistan, and 7% from Nigeria.

Many immigrants come to Edgewater seeking economic opportunities. Others come to the United States seeking safety. A number of Europeans escaping World War II settled in Edgewater in the 1940s. In more recent years, Edgewater and Uptown have become entry points for refugees fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries. The neighborhoods offer affordable housing, public transportation, diversity and multiple organizations that provide assistance to refugees.

Voices of Edgewater” uses information about national and local immigration patterns to frame the stories of individual immigrants such as Rabbi Hermann Schaalman, who left Germany in 1935 to study in the United States and became the rabbi of Emanuel Congregation for many years before retiring. Malibu East is home to many people born outside the U.S., and a number of our residents are featured in the exhibit, as detailed below.

The exhibit includes a beautiful photo of Aida Calvopina with her late husband, Oswaldo, both immigrants from Ecuador. As a young woman, Aida came to the United States in 1955 for an extended visit. Oswaldo followed her here and proposed marriage. The couple moved to Malibu East in 1977, and Aida worked in the banking industry for more than 30 years before retiring. Aida says that, in her heart, she believes that she has fulfilled the American dream.

Tracy Poyser grew up in Germany and came to the United States in 1972 to marry her late husband, Jack, whom she had met in Düsseldorf, Germany, while working as a linguist/translator for a Chicago-based international consulting firm. They lived in Lincoln Park for many years. Tracy moved to Edgewater in 2005. A photo of her first day of school, her German identity card and passport reflect her immigrant experience.

Episcopal priest Father James Dunkerley left England to attend Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston in the 1960s. When he became rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Belmont, he accepted the position on the condition that he would return to England within 10 years. But over time, he changed his mind and remained in the position for 40 years.

Born in Haiti, Betty Graham moved with her family to Mexico when she was six years old, and then to New York City, where she attended college. Betty came to Lombard to practice chiropractic medicine, but in 1995, she left the suburbs for Edgewater, where she feels people are more open to diversity.

Sukhdev Sawhney was born in a Himalayan village and grew up in northern India. He was a member of an elite unit of the Indian air force for 22 years before coming to the United States. A photograph of the unit, the Thunderbolts, is included in the exhibit.

Parviz Giga, a member of the Indian minority community in Kenya, lived in the country under British colonial rule and after it gained its independence. She came to Chicago in 1981 to work as an economist and settled in Edgewater, where she has remained. She still has her old Kenyan passport, on display in the exhibit, and identifies with her Kenyan roots.

Children’s outfits for Diwali (the Hindu “Festival of Lights”), a brass sculpture of an oxcart and a white inlaid marble plate on display illustrate the heritage of Archna Bhondwe, who moved to the U.S. from India. Born in Delhi, she studied occupational therapy in Mumbai, and was recruited to work for the Chicago Public Schools.

Alice Liu and Anthony Liu might never have met if they had not both chosen to study in the United States. Anthony is from Taiwan, and Alice is from Thailand. They met in the United States, married, and decided to make Edgewater their home.

Lawrence Wong, whose parents emigrated from China to Canada, first came to the United States to get a business degree. After having worked in Canada for several years, he moved to Denver to take a job in drafting and then transferred to Standard Oil in Chicago. He first lived in Chinatown and later moved to Edgewater after marrying. He and his wife have lived at Malibu East since 1977.

Sandra Barge is one of the people who help to make Edgewater a welcoming neighborhood for immigrants and refugees. She moved to Edgewater after she retired, and began to volunteer as a receptionist at the Pan-African Association, and during special events at Care for Real. She finds the work uplifting. It has made her more aware of the difficulties that some immigrants and refugees face and more sensitive to the needs of others.

Asked why they chose to live in Edgewater, interviewees mentioned the diversity of the residents, the friendliness of the people and the freedom to express their own ethnic identity.

Voices of Edgewater: Immigration Then and Now” is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1‑4 p.m. and runs through May 28 at the Edgewater Historical Society, 5358 N. Ashland Ave. Admission is free. Small groups can make an appointment for special viewings by phoning 773‑506‑4849. Transcripts of the oral histories for the immigration project can be found at