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An American Story: Finding Home in Fairfield County

An American Story:
Finding Home in Fairfield County

October 2 – January 6, 2020

A celebration of the determination, resilience and courage of the human spirit

Co-sponsored by the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants and the Fairfield Museum and History Center

A diverse cross section of immigrants and refugees from five continents who came to Fairfield County seeking safety and opportunity was the focus of a dynamic exhibition shining a spotlight on the human capacity for hope and perseverance. Organized originally by the Fairfield Museum and History Center and Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI), and expanded by the Greenwich Historical Society, the exhibition opened on October 2, 2019  and ran through January 6, 2020.

Touching accounts of 10 immigrants’ often perilous journeys from Cambodia, Chile, Congo, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Hungary, India, Rwanda, Syria, and Venezuela were featured on dramatic banners suspended from the Historical Society’s museum gallery ceiling. A dynamic wall of historic and contemporary photos illustrated how many other individuals, including immigrants to Greenwich from Chile, Italy, India, Mexico, Moldavia and the Soviet Union, have sought opportunity and added to the fabric of Fairfield County’s communities.

Exhibition Highlights: 

Vitaly and Valentina Tropp left the Soviet Union in 1990. They spent one week in Austria, then went to Italy for 6 months. They were able to bring Vitaly’s parents over to the U.S. in 1992.They were sponsored by an organization HIAS (founded in 1881 as Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – See Vitaly had a Masters in Civil Engineering and a Ph.D. in Soil Foundation engineering. Vitaly and Valentina left because of strong anti-Semitism and lack of opportunity for themselves and their young children. Their daughter Anna was 9 and their son Sasha was 3 at the time they left the Soviet Union. 

Maha Karahamad fled Syria with her young daughters when bombings from the civil strife became unbearable. With the help of volunteers, she now resides in Greenwich and works for Save the Children.

“I miss my country and my family. But I love that I have this chance to start again and rebuild my life. I am in the land of opportunities. My kids feel safe and are so happy. They’re back to normal again.”

Diana Venegas was only two when her parents emigrated to the U.S. to give her the opportunity for a better life. Raised in a one-bedroom apartment on Greenwich Ave, she attended Greenwich public schools and eventually transferred to Stamford High School. She joined the marine corps and is now about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree at U Conn Stamford.

“I learned how to play hockey at the Boys and Girls Club. It taught me to be tough and resilient, so I joined the Marine Corps to make my family proud. I was the first person in my family to serve in the U.S. military and will be the first to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Everything my parents wanted for me will be achieved. They would have been comfortable living in Colombia, but they sacrificed their comfort for the opportunities in this beautiful country.”

Icli Zitella is a renowned musician who came to the U.S. in 2012 to obtain his master’s at the Manhattan School of Music. He previously was a violinist with the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Venezuela and served as professor of Theory at Mozarteum-Caracas School of Music. Icli has a 01 Visa, given to individuals who demonstrate an extraordinary ability in their field. He lives with his family in Greenwich and works as a teacher and composer with premiers worldwide.

“Let me show you the lyrics of the liberty song. ‘In freedom, we are born, and in freedom, we will live. Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady. Not as slaves, but as freemen, our money we will give.’ We are victims of theocracies, communist system, totalitarianism. This idea in the U.S. to be protected by the law is amazing. I think it is the most important contribution of the world civilization.”