Exploring Immigration in Virginia

Books & Literature  •  Culture & Identity  •  Global Virginia

Prio Bangla Festival, Columbia Pike - Photograph courtesy © Lloyd Wolf / www.pikedoc.org
Prio Bangla Festival, Columbia Pike - Photograph courtesy © Lloyd Wolf / www.pikedoc.org

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) announces a series of public events examining the influences and legacies of immigration in Virginia.

In 1970, only one in every 100 people living in Virginia had been born outside the United States. In 2012, the figure was one in nine*. As we come to understand this evolution, we have the opportunity to reconsider what kind of place Virginia is and what kind of place it can be, in terms of public education, electoral politics, local economies, and the basic social fabric of our communities.

This exploration lies at the core of VFH’s work, which uses the humanities to help all Virginians better understand the world and the state in which we live. Through the generous support of a  National Endowment for the Humanities grant, VFH will host a series of public events in 2016 that explore this topic at sites across the Commonwealth.  It all begins in March with two Virginia Festival of the Book programs.

Virginia Festival of the Book

On Thursday, March 17, 2016 the Virginia Festival of the Book, a program of VFH, will explore the diverse range of cultural identities within our state through two free, back-to-back book talks at the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre.

A State of Many Nations: Immigration and the Changing Face of Virginia, will take place at 6:00 p.m. Authors Gustavo Pérez Firmat and Tom Gjelten, along with photographer Lloyd Wolf, will present a combination of stories, data, and images related to Virginia’s changing demographic and the faces, cultures, and voices of immigrants.

  • Gustavo Pérez Firmat, author of Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way, has published a number of books of literary and cultural criticism, as well as poetry collections in English and Spanish.
  • Tom Gjelten is an NPR correspondent, veteran journalist, and author of A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, a story of the transformation of America since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, as seen through families in Fairfax County, Virginia.
  • Lloyd Wolf is an award-winning photographer and co-author of Living Diversity: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project, which captures the exceptional diversity of people living and working along the Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia.

The program will encourage a more complete understanding of the evolving makeup of the Commonwealth and the extensive contributions made by immigrants to our state-wide and national culture. A leading scholar in immigration law, David Martin will moderate this program.

Beyond Background Characters: Life in Hyphen-American, the second program in the Virginia Festival of the Book series, will continue the exploration of diversity through young adult fiction. Authors Sara Farizan, Lamar Giles, Meg Medina, and Wendy Shang will share their stories featuring diverse cultural identities among Americans.

  • Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, is the daughter of Iranian immigrants.
  • Lamar Giles is author of the young adult thrillers, Endangered and Fake ID, and a founding member of We Need Diverse Books.
  • Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban-American author of children’s and young adult books, including Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and the forthcoming Burn, Baby Burn.
  • Wendy Shang, author of The Way Home Looks Now, received the Asian-Pacific American Librarians Award for Children’s Literature for her first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu.

This program will provide an opportunity for all of us to hear new stories and to better understand and appreciate more diverse characters and experiences. Gustavo Pérez Firmat will moderate, and this program will take place at 8:00 p.m.

Both book talks take place Thursday March 17, 2016 at the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theatre. For additional details, visit VaBook.org.

More to Come

Later in 2016, VFH will convene a series of six book and film discussion programs in partnership with organizations in communities around the state. These free public programs will provide a way to continue the exploration of the history and impact of immigration on Virginia and each respective locality, inviting a wide range of participants to take part in the dialogue. These community events are planned to take place in Arlington, the Eastern Shore, Harrisonburg, Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Richmond, and Roanoke. Additional details will be made available at VirginiaHumanities.org.

Finally, this project will conclude with the publication and distribution of a Teacher’s Guide on Latin American Immigration designed for use in middle and high school classrooms, both in Virginia and throughout the United States. It is our hope that this publication will help teachers and their students gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the history of Latin American immigration, of the immigrant experience generally, and of the challenges and opportunities presented by recent immigration from Latin America and from other parts of the world.

Please join us at the first two of these events at VFH’s Virginia Festival of the Book this March in Charlottesville. To find out about other events in this series, make sure you’re subscribed to VFH’s e-newsletter. You can also follow VFH on Facebook or Twitter for updates.

* Weldon Cooper Center: Immigrants in Virginia published March 2014

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Arts.