Did you know that one in every four Bostonians was born overseas, or that Boston has the sixth highest concentration of immigrants of any city in the United States?
A new multimedia installation on the 50th floor of one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers explores the richness of these realities, while bringing to life the diverse experiences of the thousands of immigrants who have made Boston their home over the past 400 years. Called Dreams of Freedom: Boston’s Immigrant Experience, the exhibit was conceived under the direction of curator and BCSSW Professor Westy Egmont.
“This city thrives because of the foreign born, and we get to tell that story,” said Egmont during the grand re-opening of Dreams of Freedom on March 10. “What a great privilege.”
2015 marks ten years that Dreams of Freedom has appeared at the Prudential Tower’s Skywalk Observatory. This year’s installment was completely re-imagined and refurbished under Egmont’s direction, and designed to be a uniquely interactive experience.
“I am deeply excited about Dreams of Freedom,” said Mayor Marty Walsh. “Immigrants are influential, historically, and presently, to our city, which I know firsthand as the son of immigrant parents. This exhibit is crucial in sharing and presenting the stories of numerous immigrant movements in Boston, and how their search for identity and place in their adopted home helped shape and build our city.”
In addition to enjoying the unparalleled views of Boston that come with a trip to the Prudential’s observatory, visitors have the opportunity to truly immerse themselves in Dreams of Freedom. Exhibit highlights include:
- “Who Wants to Be An American?” An interactive game show that children of all ages can compete in. The challenge: Can you answer questions that appear on the test to become an American citizen?
- The Whispering Wall: “Hear from” some of the city’s most prominent immigrants, such as Pedro Martinez, Elie Wiesel, and Yo-Yo Ma, as they talk about their experience coming to, and thriving in, America.
- Faces of Boston: A large navigable touchscreen map showcasing images of immigrants from countries around the world who are now living in the Hub.
- A short documentary on immigration in Boston, including the perspectives of Mayor Walsh, and Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry, a first generation American and Boston College graduate.
Dorcena-Forry, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, also provided keynote remarks at the grand re-opening, putting in perspective the critical importance of positive immigrant integration in her constituent state:
“This exhibit is not just a tourist site, this exhibit is our story here in Massachusetts. We are a destination of choice and a commonwealth committed to equal opportunity and shared promise… As the immigration debate continues and remains to be a polarizing issue, as I looked around [Dreams of Freedom] I read a quote on a wall here by Franklin Roosevelt, and this is important for all of us to remember. ‘Remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists…’
Audio highlight: Linda Dorcena-Forry
Listen to the senator talk about her experience growing up as a first generation Haitian-American.
In the spirit of depicting this true nature of a state, and more specifically, of a city built on the foreign born, Egmont collaborated with photographer Mark Chester to create portraits of an immigrant living in Boston from nearly every country across the globe. While its history has been marked by its own share of ethnic struggles, today, as a true melting pot of the world, Boston can proudly claim its place as a city resolved toward inclusion.
“What makes Boston, Boston is that this is the city that has the highest per capita diversity of any city in the United States. Boston is a place where the foreign born’s dream of freedom is fulfilled. And that’s what I think binds us all together… We are bound together in confidence, in hope, in a belief that the best thing we can do for each other is to welcome each other. To live together well. To give each other the freedom of spirit, of thought, of mind so that we prosper together. Because we do it, it happens.
“I love Boston. And I love the fact that we have a place where we can tell our story to the rest of the world.”
Audio highlight: Westy Egmont
Hear more from the exhibit curator on why he loves the diversity of Boston so much.
Professor Egmont leads the team at Boston College’s Immigrant Integration Lab, an applied research lab exploring the intersection of social work, social policy, and immigrant inclusion. Recently, he taught a class of MSW students at the Arizona/Mexico border. He also appeared on CNN to discuss President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration.