The first decade of the 20th century witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants coming to America: over 9 million new arrivals, almost three times the number of the previous decade. Many came to New York City, where they mingled with “internal immigrants”—people flocking to the city from other parts of the US, particularly African Americans escaping post-Reconstruction segregation and oppression in the South. Like the immigrants of today, most undertook this difficult transition in response to the “push” of hardships at home—a lack of economic opportunity, religious discrimination and political persecution—as well as the “pull” of the chance for a better life in their new locale.
Every American has an immigrant story—one’s own, or one’s forebearers’, either foreign or internal. What’s yours? If you’d like to share it, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the immigrant stories of the cast and student stage manager of Intimate Apparel, the fall production by the Dartmouth Department of Theater, which runs November 4-13. Set in 1905 New York City, it tells the intertwined stories of six people, most of them immigrants, struggling to overcome prejudice based on their ethnicity, social status, gender or religion. [Read more about this production of Intimate Apparel.]
Jovanay Carter ’19 (Mrs. Dickson)
Mrs. Dickson is a Southern woman whose late husband left her with a tenant house, of which she rents the rooms to different people to earn a living. She has experienced the downs of life, appreciates the highs and shares her wisdom. She is very similar to my great-grandmother. My great-grandparents owned a house in Chicago until my great-grandfather passed away after the Vietnam War and left my great-grandmother with the house and four children. Her house, a lot like the tenant house Mrs. Dickson owns, always has a bed for visiting family who need it, but is also a permanent residence for those who don’t have another option. My great-grandmother and Mrs. Dickson both have houses as their main remnant of their husbands and spend their time surrounded by people so that they are not lonely. Both of my parents and their families are from urban areas of Chicago, Illinois, and have lineages in Arkansas. My paternal family owns a plantation in Arkansas that my ancestors have been living and working on since the 1700s, which we often visit for family reunions.
Kyle Civale ’20 (Mr. Marks)
I initially had a hard time identifying with my character. It was hard to see how an 18-year-old born and raised in LA could identify with a mid-30s Jewish Romanian immigrant who sells fabric. However, I’ve definitely connected with his sense of confusion over his emotions and passion for what he loves. My maternal grandmother was born in North Korea and escaped to South Korea before the war. She met my maternal grandfather while he was serving in the U.S. military, and although he went back home to the U.S. after the Korean War, he came back for her, pled their case to the U.S. embassy, and gained permission to bring her to New York City, where my mom was born. She and my dad grew up in apartment buildings 100 yards apart, and they started dating in eighth grade. Basically, I’m part three of the greatest love story ever told (no pressure, ladies).
Kelly Gaudet ’17 (Mrs. Van Buren)
Mrs. Van Buren, a Southern woman living on Fifth Avenue, is one of several representations of the resiliency of the female spirit that drew me to Intimate Apparel, perhaps because I have been surrounded by female strength from a young age. My mother—of First Nations and French Canadian descent, born in New Hampshire—was hired as one of the first alumna officers at Dartmouth College and managed, by nothing short of magic, to simultaneously contribute incredible work to the College and raise three children. My paternal grandmother—of Irish descent, born and raised in Boston—entered the workforce at age fifty-four and worked for eighteen years, after raising five children. My maternal grandmother—born in Tennessee– attended college and received her nursing degree after raising three children. As the saying goes, “Here’s to strong women—may we know them; may we be them; may we raise them.”
Gabriel Jenkinson ’20 (George)
“We call him Songbird, because he sings to speak.” George sings the tale of a skilled construction worker from Barbados who immigrates to New York City in search of love and a better life, only to be disappointed by both the woman he marries and by how harsh America was to men of color back in those days. Interestingly enough, my father’s story is like the one George dreamed of, coming to America. My father was born in a village without wooden floors in rural Jamaica, and moved with his family to Toronto at a young age. Through his work in the film industry, he met my mother–a film producer from Milan, Italy–and they bridged their distance by emigrating together to Los Angeles.
Spencer Jorgensen ’17 (Stage Manager)
Stage-managing a production like Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel is a true blessing. Not only have I got to experience and work alongside a talented director like Tazewell Thompson, but also I get to do all of this in an environment that I love. The Dartmouth College Department of Theater welcomes new faces, new adaptations, and new ideas to emerge from its department. As the student stage manager for the MainStage production, I utilize not only the skills I have learned so far in the department, but also from my family. My mother grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, a refinery town, and her family immigrated to the United States from the Cayman Islands and the Texas/Mexico border. Her determination and drive make me the stage manager I am today.
Nashe Mutenda ’20 (Mayme)
Mayme is a black prostitute, a singer and a formally trained pianist. When I was first cast, I could not imagine how I was possibly going to be able to play such a complicated role. However, as we began to rehearse, I, as a musician, began to connect to my character through our mutual love for music. My father is from Zimbabwe and my mother is from Sri Lanka. Both their countries were not stable during their university years, so they came to Japan as university students. They met each other, got married and have been living in Japan for the past 26 years. So I am Zimbabwean-Srilankan-Japanese. (Talk about a mix!)
Zahra Ruffin ’17 (Esther)
Dedication, inspiration, and love. I look to Esther Mills and I see so much of what I see in every Black woman I know. She is an innovator of her time, groundbreaking in what she wants and how she chooses to go after it, relentless in her pursuit. Esther’s strength of spirit and character in Intimate Apparel are what drew me and continue to draw me to this role, because it falls in line with everything I know from my own female role models. My mother—Jamaican-born and raised, with a work ethic that could move mountains and a heart that could hold thousands—moved to America for better opportunities and worked through the night to achieve her goals, following in the footsteps of my grandmother, who took in countless friends and strangers who needed a place to stay without complaint, and ultimately took to greener pastures in Canada to support her two daughters and those she loved back home. I never met my great-grandmother, and yet the stories of a quick wit and kind soul vibrant enough to care for her 14 children selflessly have carried through history to tales around the kitchen table. Working to better themselves and those around them, with so much love to give, I hope to carry on what seems to be the legacy of unconquerable women in my family and do Esther proud, regardless of what life has chosen to throw our way.