From 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, The Greensboro Public Library hosted an event on-site entitled “Hidden Figures of the Immigrant and Refugee Community.” The event was a part of their biennial “One City, One Book” initiative where the Greensboro Public Library developed programs to engage as many residents of Greensboro as they can in their community-wide book club. This year, Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” was the most popular request from participating residents in the city.
Shetterly’s book is a nonfiction account of the accomplishments of the black female mathematicians, employed by NASA, who were instrumental in America’s space achievements in the 1950s and 1960s. These women contributed profoundly but went largely unrecognized. Taking this message seriously, the Greensboro Public Library wanted to provide a space dedicated to Greensboro’s own hidden figures.
Franca Jalloh, Chair of the city of Greensboro’s International Advisory Committee, moderated the “Hidden Figures” event intended for the six panelists to share their hidden talents, stories and passions with the community. “It’s not easy making a living for yourself,” Jalloh said, “let alone making a name for yourself and being recognized like these people.”
The accomplished panelists included: Ernesto Casillas, from Puerto Rico, Emily Tutt, from Liberia, Dulce Verenisse, from Mexico, Rahman Al-Saleem, from Iraq, Lek Sui, from Vietnam; and Rosamaria Varona with Cuban heritage. Each panelist took about ten minutes to briefly describe their hardships and successes in immigrating to America.
Sui, a first generation college student, described her experience coming to America and navigating the education process by herself. “Adjusting to American culture and the college life and being excited at the same time was difficult for me,” said Sui. In addition to school, she completed 140 hours of community work each semester as part of her scholarship and worked two part-time jobs. Sui admitted, “I was running all of the time. I never stopped.” And she means it: when Sui got into a car accident in October 2014, she was directed by doctors to take medical withdrawal from school due to a severe concussion.
As soon as doctors gave her the all-clear for class, she came back taking the maximum credit hours and took summer courses to graduate on time. She has since graduated from Guilford College with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies along with a Political Science and Business minor. She now works as a community organizer and a metrologist.
Among the other panelists, Casillas was retired from the US Military and a retired champion bodybuilder. Tut stared a powerful story, having not received an education as a young girl, of starting her own daycare center in America. Dedicated to providing others with the tools to learn, she now sends school supplies to children in Liberia. Verenisse works as an immigrant community advocate, supporting incoming immigrants in Greensboro in ways she never experienced when coming to America herself. Al-Saleem described his journey to being able to share his talents in America through his artwork and caricatures. Lastly, Varona shared a moving poem about witnessing the sacrifices of her father, an immigrant from Cuba.
The panelists’ stories were both touching and inspiring as they described the incredibly hard work each person put in to get to a place where they could pursue their passions. Upon finishing their stories, Jalloh described them as “hidden no more” and prompted the audience to consider that you never know what someone else has been through just by looking at them.
In the audience for the evening was Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter, who expressed her appreciation for the members of the panel and hoped to see more residents attend events like this in the future. She noted that in the city of Greensboro, “we want to embrace [people of] all cultures and all languages and all countries.”
In light of DACA, “Hidden Figures of the Immigrant and Refugee Community” was a relevant reminder that in order to truly appreciate what an immigrant and refugee has gone through; you need to sit down and listen to what they have to say.
If you’re interested in attending more programs from the “One City, One Book” initiative, there are events scheduled through November, including a visit from Shetterly, on Sept. 28 at GTCC and Guilford College.