The Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) will host a local author and artist this weekend to showcase his new book, Portraits of immigrant voicesat its 24th annual Asian America Celebration tomorrow.
Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta have teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who came to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.
Alfonso Pérez Acosta painted the original portraits while Joe Kutchera wrote the personal stories. Proceeds from the author will benefit Afghan and Asian refugees who have settled in Virginia in a fund established and managed by the Asian American Society of Central Virginia, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organization.
The event is free and open to the general public. The duo will present the book on stage at 2 p.m. and immediately after, AASoCV will organize a signing session at 2:30 p.m. The book will be on sale for $40 during the event.
The 24th Annual Asian American Celebration features cultural performances, food, hands-on activities, exhibit booths and merchandise from Central Virginia’s Asian American communities. This year’s theme is “Weddings and Our Heritage”. The celebration will take place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center at 403 North Third Street, Richmond VA 23219 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Stories of Gratitude, Progress and Manifested Dreams
By Joe Kutchera
In the fall of 2020, following the George Floyd protests along Monument Avenue in Richmond, I saw an African American woman wearing a t-shirt with this message in bold print.
I am the wildest dreams of my ancestors.
As a (white) writer, I was amazed how one sentence could leave me speechless and make me feel such a wide range of emotions. At first I felt infinitely small, humbled by the brutal African-American story behind that sentence, reflecting the violence and intimidation that black Americans suffered during slavery and Jim Crow, which took them away from the America’s prosperity. And seconds later, the phrase gave me incredible hope as it communicated that great progress and change is indeed possible, measured through a multigenerational lens, taking into account the sacrifice and suffering of previous generations. The once wild dream of freedom and opportunity is now hopefully finally possible for today’s African Americans, though we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable outcomes for all Americans. .
Many Americans may know Richmond, Virginia (RVA) for its history as the capital of the Confederacy with its Civil War Museum and the now-removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals along Monument Avenue. The ugly history of slavery and the myth of the “lost cause” permeate much of the city, but a more complex and hopeful picture of its citizens is emerging.
In recent decades, the majority of RVA’s population has been black, with whites making up most of the rest of its population. Yet a more multicultural, and even international, population is growing out of RVA’s black and white history. The 2020 census shows that RVA’s African American population has fallen below 50%, while its white population has increased due to gentrification. Blacks seem to have left Richmond City for the suburbs (Henrico and Chesterfield counties), where the black population grew. Still, the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population grew by double digits in Richmond City, Henrico, and Chesterfield counties, and people who selected “another race” and “two or more races” grew by triple digits. This reflects an increase in the number of children of interracial couples, immigrants from Africa (as distinct from African Americans), as well as “mestizos,” or people of mixed races, from Latin America. Small as these populations are today, the growth rates indicate that the RVA, like the rest of the country, is becoming much more diverse.
With that in mind, I am grateful to work with the Asian American Society of Central Virginia to sponsor the publication of this book. The AASoCV represents 18 diverse Asian communities who have spoken out against racism and xenophobia, as described by AASoCV President Julie Laghi in the foreword. AASoCV provides a perfect example of how people from vastly different language groups can come together to build community and cultural bridges, thereby promoting tolerance and diversity.
The AASoCV has allowed me and the team involved in this book to take this project to the next level, deepening our mission to share immigrant stories and reflect on how they embody the American dream. Tida Tep, Pim Bhut’s daughter, featured on page 70, joins us in bringing these stories visually into print.
Our project first started organically. In August 2020, around the time I saw the “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” t-shirt, I got a call from Karla Almendarez-Ramos, who runs the Engagement Office of Immigrants and Refugees (OIRE) in the City of Richmond. She asked if I would be interested and available to write immigrant profiles as part of the National Immigrant Day celebration on October 28, 2020. Richmond-based Colombian artist, teacher and muralist Alfonso Pérez Acosta , presented the idea to Karla. after making his first computer-drawn portraits.
I immediately told him yes, that I would like to work on the project. I have written and thought about the subject of immigrant travel before, both interviewing recent immigrants and researching my own Eastern European immigrant ancestry in the United States. My wife, Lulu, emigrated from Mexico, joining me in Richmond in 2013. And before that, I had emigrated to Mexico and the Czech Republic for work, at different chapters in my life. Therefore, I also understand the immense challenges that immigrants face when moving to a new country.
National Immigrant Day has been celebrated since 1986, but mostly in places like New York. We wanted to bring this celebration to Richmond, Virginia to highlight the diversity of its community and the variety of languages spoken (in addition to English). With the support of a grant from Virginia Humanities, we unveiled the portraits on October 28, National Immigrant Day, at RVAStrong.org/portraits and posted regular updates through Thanksgiving, to honor themes of gratitude. of our subject. The exhibit’s social media campaign ran until December 18, which the United Nations named International Migrants Day as a testament to humanity’s “will to overcome adversity and live a better life”.
Many of the people we featured were initially migrants, temporarily moving to the United States for work or educational opportunities. While others came as refugees, fleeing war and violence. And still others have come here simply because they fell in love with an American! Yet they all became immigrants when they decided to settle permanently in the United States.
Each portrait features the subject’s name, country of origin, and language, written in English and their respective language. To create the color behind each portrait, Alfonso blended all the colors of each subject’s flag from their home country to formulate this unique, albeit blended, color. For example, the red and white of the Swiss flag become pink behind the portrait of Dominik Meier (page 62). I have written personal stories to accompany each portrait to shed light on the challenges of migration and displacement, as well as to explore the commonalities of learning English and integrating into the culture American. Their stories show the incredible creativity and ingenuity of these immigrants who overcame many obstacles in their journey, some of whom went on to start businesses and earn advanced degrees.
Speaking with everyone we’ve featured in this book taught me how much more diverse and vibrant Richmond is than I ever imagined. They really appreciate freedom, democracy and the way their neighbors have accepted them. As a result, I see Richmond and the United States through their eyes. Listening to their stories, I feel like they too have realized their dreams and, in some cases, even the wildest dreams of their ancestors.
“Virginia is for lovers. … But we have to keep that slogan alive,” says Mahmud Chowdhury of Bangladesh (series #19), referring to Virginia’s state motto. love, let’s be our brother’s keepers and support each other,” says Hannah Adesina from Nigeria (series #17). Immigrants are here “to show our best selves, show our hopes and our dreams,” says Brenda Aroche from Guatemala (#13 in the series). And Ping Chu from China (#12 in the series) encourages us all saying, “We have to build a united country. This is United United States, right? »
The United States has an individualistic culture with an “I” oriented English language. Even so, the immigrants featured in this book have taught me that when we work together and support each other, WE can become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
When the Chinese New Year celebrations took place on February 1, 2022, the very day Black History Month began, I learned that 2022 was the year of the tiger. I realized that 2022 couldn’t be a more perfect year for us to launch this book with a symbol of bravery, courage and strength on our side.
Joe Kutchera is the author of four books and the founder of Latino Link Advisors where he develops digital and content marketing strategies, with a focus on reaching the American Hispanic market.