Tanya Starinets For The Daily
Dancers and musicians helped celebrate a new home for one of the nation’s leading immigrant research centers.
Latvian-American singers dressed in native, white flowing summer outfits and silky cloths tied around their hair and sang traditional Latvian songs, as musicians played accordions and flutes in the background.
“We take every opportunity to come to cultural events to preserve our heritage,” said Zaiga Jatneiks, a young Latvian singer.
The Latvians were one of the 15 groups attending the Immigration History Research Center’s open house on Sunday, said Joel Wurl, center curator and assistant director.
Nearly 300 people attended the event to celebrate the center’s move from an off-campus warehouse to the new Andersen Library. The 35-year-old institution has one of the nation’s leading repositories of materials on immigration and ethnicity.
It locates, collects, preserves and makes available records of 24 ethnic groups that originated from eastern, central and southern Europe and the Middle East who were part of the great migration in the 1880s.
As part of the celebration, sponsored by Friends of the IHRC, an independent support group, visitors toured new facilities and watched ethnic musicians and dancers perform and sampled a variety of ethnic desserts.
But for the director of the center, Rudolph Vecoli, this was an even bigger celebration. When the center was located off campus, it didn’t have proper facilities for preserving historic records.
“I felt extreme guilt because we weren’t doing our job,” Vecoli said.
Now the records are stored in 600-foot-long caverns underground, which provides an ideal environment to preserve paper. Some of the documents are 150 years old.
“Now we can be assured that the mementos and memories of our ethnic past will be stored here forever,” said Cheslaw Rog, a member of the Polish American Cultural Institute, following a tour through the new facilities.
But one good thing about the old location is that there was free parking, said Christian Skjervolo, president of Friends of IHRC.
Some of the group’s supporters, such as John Sydorenko and Ludmila Karkoc of the Ukrainian American community, attended the event. Karkoc and Sydorenko, who were imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II, immigrated to the United States in 1952 to escape oppression.
“This is one of the finest facilities to house writings of ethnic groups,” Rog said.
The center’s collection includes more than 23,000 books and pamphlets, 3,000 serial titles and more than 900 newspapers. Researchers can find thousands of personal experiences of people who emigrated from Europe and whose journals, diaries and letters make up some of the center’s resources.
With the center – which is part of the College of Liberal Arts – on campus, it’s more accessible to researchers, faculty, students and the public. The director hoped that more people would start coming in, and after over two months at the new location, it has already started to happen, Vecoli said.
As part of the White House Millennium Council in partnership with the National Trust for Historical Preservation, the center was designated as an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures in June 1999.
The theme for the open house was “Stories Worth Remembering.” Leading immigration historians have come through the center, Skjervolo said.
And the final product is that books get written based on research here, on people “who have been left out of history in the past,” Vecoli said.