by Dennis Dalman
Two Sartell residents, Zurya Anjum and Itoro Emmanuel, are being honored in a traveling exhibit dubbed Green Card Voices, which is now prominently on display in the lobby of the Sartell Community Center.
The exhibit will run through May 11, after which it will be shown in all of Sartell’s public schools. Previously, the exhibit was shown at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud, at Cold Spring and in Little Falls. It is made possible by grants from the Blandin Foundation, the Initiative Foundation, the Central Minnesota Community Foundation and coordinative work by UniteCloud.
Green Card Voices pays tribute to 18 people who are immigrants to central Minnesota – two who live in Sartell, two who live in St. Joseph, one who lives in Melrose and 13 who live in St. Cloud. The exhibit is intended to let viewers learn about the astonishing range of talents and skills of immigrants, as well as the challenges they overcame to adjust to a new country, a new culture, a new society.
Green Card Voices features very tall panels with the face of each immigrant, along with a quote from each and a brief biographical essay. Each panel also contains a bar code from which a video of each immigrant can be downloaded and viewed on a smartphone app.
Born in Quetta, Pakistan, Zurya Anjum is the youngest of three daughters. Because her father was a military man, the family moved quite often from city to city.
Her family placed a very high premium on education. Her mother, an educator, earned two master’s degrees. Her sisters are also highly educated.
In a country like Pakistan where many women do not work outside the home, Zurya, with full support from her family who valued education, completed medical school and began working.
Like most Pakistani women, Zurya’s marriage was an “arranged” one. In fact, she met her husband only shortly before the actual wedding.
They moved to the United States 17 years ago. Her husband is a physician at CentraCare, and after completing intensive further education, Zurya became a psychiatrist and now works at the VA Health Care System.
Moving to Minnesota was a bit traumatic for Zurya because of the extremely cold winters, but she gradually adjusted. The Anjums have two children, and Zurya often talks to her children’s Sartell classes about her culture, religion and her own experiences.
Zurya’s quote on her Green Card Voices panel is this: “We all pretty much have the same life. We’re just living it a little bit differently.”
One of five siblings, Itoro Emmanuel moved to the United States from Eket, Nigeria, inspired by a friend who decided to come to America.
With a student visa, he registered for classes at Indiana State University. While a student, his father back in Nigeria died of diabetes complications, but Itoro did not know of the death until after the funeral – an outcome that left him devastated and then determined to become a nurse, which he did, becoming an LPN, then an RN and earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He works at the CentraCare Family Health Center and the Neuro and Spine Unit at St. Cloud Hospital.
He and his wife have two daughters, both students in Sartell schools.
Emmanuel’s featured quote in the exhibit is this: “I go in (to work) every day and try to make a difference in somebody’s life. That’s what I try to leave in my community.”
Visitors to the Green Card Voices exhibit will quickly note the commonalities but also the stunning diversity of the people featured in the exhibit.
Some of them experienced terrible traumatic sufferings in war-torn countries, including in some cases years of living in refugee camps (such as Somalis trying to survive in squalid refugee camps in neighboring Kenya).
All of the immigrants endured dislocations, having to adapt to a new country, like strangers in a strange land. There were language barriers, cultural clashes, adaptation challenges, misunderstandings and sometimes instances of prejudice, bullying and rejection.
However, despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges and obstacles, the most astonishing thing about every one of the 18 immigrants is their abiding belief in the transformative powers of education, hard work and a fierce determination to succeed in becoming a part of the “American Dream.”
The people in the exhibit run the professional gamut and include those working in the medical field, teachers, journalists, immigrant-support groups, a truck driver, a technology specialist and many more.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, Green Card Voices will travel to all of Sartell’s schools where it will be welcomed as a learning experience for students and others.
The exhibit ties into a committee on multiculturalism that was formed by Sartell-St. Stephen Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert with input from many parents, including immigrant parents.
Schwiebert had this to say in a press release about Green Card Voices:
“My great-grandparents came here from Germany. I learned so much from the stories passed down from my grandparents and parents, so I think the Green Card Voices exhibit is an invaluable resource for us to learn from the immigrant voices of today.”
Jennifer Richason also thinks Green Card Voices is an ideal learning tool. As a social-studies teacher, Richason was approached by a student about maybe starting up a multicultural club for Sartell Middle School students.
Richason agreed to facilitate such a club.
“I think it’s really empowering for students to get a chance to educate their peers about the racial, cultural and gender issues that are present in our society,” she said.
The following are some of the other people and their featured quotes in Green Card Voices.
Hussein Muhammed, freelance journalist, St. Cloud: “Some people think refugees are dangerous, that they’re terrorists. I want to change that perception and tell people refugees are like me who want to come and build this great state.”
Florence Orionzi, from Uganda, parent educator and cultural transition specialist, St. Cloud: “I came to learn that home is not a building . . . wherever I stay will be home as long as my family is together.”
Joe Sanayoko, from Guinea, accountant, St. Cloud: “This is the land of opportunity, and now it depends on what you make of the opportunities.”
Evelyn Melendez, from a Spanish-speaking village in Chicago, sexual-assault advocate, Melrose: “I consider my community to be anyone that has been oppressed or marginalized in any way. So it’s a broader sense of community I perceive to be my own.”