Immigrant Heritage Month

Categories: News

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June 2016 is Immigrant Heritage Month, and CSCI is partnering with Welcome.us to celebrate both our diversity and our shared American heritage by telling the stories of individuals that, together, comprise a uniquely American narrative. More information can be found here: http://welcome.us/

Our stories make up the American story, so we decided to find out the stories of some of the people who are involved with CSCI, and we will be uploading them below throughout the month.

Rolf Achilles, Co-Chair of the Hamburg Committee

 

Rolf's lecture 2Background
Name: Rolf Achilles

Occupation and employer: Art Historian

Birthplace: Letmathe, Germany

Year moved to Chicago: 1975

Tell us your story of what brought you to live in the U.S.

I was born in Germany at a time when there were few jobs and my father, a mechanical engineer, sought employment elsewhere. The Brazilian navy offered him a job and we departed from Hamburg to Rio de Janeiro. We lived outside of Rio where a distant relative from DeKalb, Illinois visited us and offered to be our sponsor to the U.S. My parents accepted and we moved to DeKalb. I went to grade school, high school and college there. My parents became very successful photographers, an occupation I was also involved with in high school and college. My parents and I spoke German at home. During college I visited Germany several times and after graduation I decided to attend the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. I was accepted and was asked to be an assistant to Theodor Adorno. Adorno died a few weeks before I arrived, but I met his followers and attended classes during the student riots in Frankfurt and Paris. For some tranquility, I studied Art History and Classical Archaeology, receiving stipends and travel grants. Deciding that I would live permanently in Germany, I continued my studies and assistantships in Heidelberg, Munich, Rome and Utrecht. While in Utrecht I visited my parents in DeKalb and visited the University of Chicago where in December 1974 I was offered a full tuition and housing scholarship that I accepted. I moved to Chicago on January 1, 1975 and have been in Chicago ever since.

What does being a citizen and/or resident of the U.S. mean to you?

I appreciate the freedoms available in the U.S., the ease of domestic travel and possibilities of change. It’s also easy to be self-employed, a work option available in the EU, but difficult to pursue.

How has the immigrant experience contributed to your success?

I was easy to establish myself in the US as a knowledgeable “foreigner” and then to be self-employed.

How has Chicago impacted your life?

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many interesting people and in the process become an “expert” on Chicago art, architecture, history and culture.

How do you think Chicago’s wide ethnic diversity contributes to its success as a major global city?

The city’s great ethnic diversity and its tolerance of this diversity allows for self-expression and work opportunities unlike other comparable cities in the US. I think this is what made and continues to make Chicago unique in the US, and a city of global importance. 

What does it mean to you to stay connected to your cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International?

To me cultural heritage is the singular important force that drives a vibrant society. It’s the diversity that Chicago’s Sister Cities nourishes that makes the organization vital as the link to old and new cultural and business traditions and opportunities.

Linda Quarshie, Chair of the Accra Committee

BackgroundLinda Quarshie

Name: Linda Quarshie

Occupation and employer: Insurance Manager – Invenergy LLC (a global renewable energy company)

Birthplace: Ghana

Year moved to Chicago: October 1996

Tell us your story of what brought you to live in the U.S.

I moved to the US partly due to over-crowding in the colleges in Ghana. In 1996 there were only 3 universities in Ghana. The other reason was to seek out a better life than what I had grown to know, my parents had to save a lot of money to send me abroad and they hoped that it will give me a leg up in life.

Questions

What does being a citizen and/or resident of the U.S. mean to you?

Being a citizen of the United States is a privilege that very few get to enjoy. I am successful in my own unique way today because of my citizenship. I owned my first home at the age of 25, a privilege that I am not sure I would have today at the age of 40 if I wasn’t a citizen. I have traveled the world, a privilege I am sure I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t a citizen of this country. The opportunities and the exposure I have had in my life would not have been possible if I hadn’t been a citizen of this country. My life is so full and fortunately, I will be able to pass this fullness on to my children and generations to come; for this I am very grateful.

How has the immigrant experience contributed to your success?

Being an immigrant is a positive reminder that I have to work harder to achieve the goals and dreams my parents had for me and to set an example for my siblings and my children that having a head start is important but you have to use that opportunity make things happen. Being an immigrant in this country is such a priceless gift that you can choose to use any way you look at it, you can choose to live a life of blending both cultures to make you unique and stand out or not. As a first generation immigrant, I am able to tell my story to convince people that I have conviction and as a candidate for a position, be it a job or otherwise, that I am the best person because of my diverse background.

How has Chicago impacted your life?

Chicago is such a multi-cultural city which makes it liberal enough and accepting of individuals with different backgrounds plus it boasts of several companies with their headquarters here, making it a city of opportunity. Chicago is indeed an immigrant’s dream place to live because it makes it a bit easier to overcome one’s differences and creates an opportunity for an immigrant to thrive.

How do you think Chicago’s wide ethnic diversity contributes to its success as a major global city?

The diversity in this city makes it very welcoming to immigrants. Furthermore it is just a beautiful place with several landmarks and airports close to the city which allows easy access to meetings and conferences. The cleanliness of the city, the trees, parks, flowers, restaurants, nightlife and the beaches make the city very inviting.

What does it mean to you to stay connected to your cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International?

It is vital. Everything I am today, my uniqueness, my ability to leverage that uniqueness to be successful is dependent on nurturing and maintaining my heritage. Without my heritage, I have no story, without my story I am just another candidate with nothing special.

Ieva Dilyte, Manager of International Programs at CSCI

BackgroundPadeka I Dilyte

Name: Ieva Dilyte

Occupation and employer: Manager of International Programs at CSCI

Birthplace: Vilnius, Lithuania

Year moved to Chicago: 2008

Tell us your story of what brought you to live in the U.S.

I was born and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania. My father, currently retired, was a scientist researcher of Natural Sciences (Geography) and my mother managed a division at one of the leading textile companies in Lithuania that designed and produced luxury fur apparel. During my final years in high school, the historic events took place: the former Soviet Union broke apart and we witnessed all the progressive changes brought about by the Perestroika and Freedom movements. In 1990, Lithuania was the first of former Soviet Republics to declare a re-establishment of its independence. The walls opened up, and the citizens were free to travel the world.

My first trip to Chicago was in 1993. As the opportunity came, I decided to visit the United States and come to Chicago to explore the world outside my country, and at the same time, visit my grandfather and my father who was visiting there at the time.

It would take an entire book to tell my grandfather’s story and how he ended up in Chicago. He fled Lithuania during the war in 1945 and settled in Chicago. My dad visited him for the first time after not seeing him for over forty years. I spent a few extraordinary years in Chicago then, which I consider deeply formative years of my youth. After that, I returned to Vilnius where I went to study Art History and Theory at the Vilnius Academy of Fine Art. Later, I spent a year in Budapest, Hungary, and earned an MA in Gender Studies at the Central European University. After returning to Vilnius, I started working at the Vilnius Municipality and later at the National Art Museum of Lithuania as a Head of International Relations and independent art curator.

My final and permanent move to Chicago was in February of 2008. Prior to that, I would sometimes come back to Chicago during summers to visit friends and family, and in the summer of 2007 through our common friends I met my now husband Chris, an industrial designer from the UK who lives and works in Chicago. After dating long-distance for some time, I decided to move to Chicago to be with Chris. I think some call it an “immigrant of love”?

Questions

What does being a citizen and/or resident of the U.S. mean to you?

It means, first and foremost, freedoms: freedom to travel the world and freedom to pursue opportunities that may not be available elsewhere. It is an opportunity to be a part of a much larger, global community. It also means a responsibility to my community to support preservation of its history, culture and identity. And, a responsibility to continually educate myself in history, culture and politics of the country and city that has become my home.

How has the immigrant experience contributed to your success?

I think the strong support of my husband and our families is one of the most important contributors to my success.

Being an immigrant, I learned ways of creatively “re-inventing” myself and adapting to circumstances. It thought that often a perceived “disadvantage” (like speaking with an accent) can be your strength (knowledge of languages other than English).

How has Chicago impacted your life?

My professional career took a slightly different direction when I moved to Chicago; however, it opened new horizons to pursue diverse professional interests as well as continue former engagements by being able to work with our Vilnius Committee to support Lithuanian culture and explore artistic life on a more global scale. 

How do you think Chicago’s wide ethnic diversity contributes to its success as a major global city?

Chicago is one of the most open and global cities that I know. The fact that there are so many ethnic communities that preserve and celebrate their culture makes a city welcoming to many immigrants and unique to visitors.

What does it mean to you to stay connected to your cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International?

Staying connected to my cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International makes me feel connected to my cultural roots; it allows me to be engaged in the cultural and artistic life of my country. Most importantly, it helps me attain a global perspective which allows for deeper understanding of my own culture as well as others around the world.

Aleksandra Efimova, Co-Chair of the Moscow Committee

AleksandraJune2016Background

Name: Aleksandra Efimova

Occupation and employer: Founder, Russian Pointe

Birthplace: St. Petersburg, Russia

Year moved to Chicago: 23 years ago in the year of 1993

Tell us your story of what brought you to live in the U.S.

I moved to Chicago in June 1993, so this month I am actually celebrating 23 years of residency in the United States. I came here with my family, because my step-father is American, and we had moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to Ann Arbor, MI. I attended two years at Huron High School and four years at Eastern Michigan University for undergraduate studies. I frequently go back to Russia, usually two or three times a year to visit my family and for work.

Questions

What does being a citizen and/or resident of the U.S. mean to you?

The United States is a country of opportunity; this is the image of the United States I had growing up in Russia. So when an opportunity came for me to move to the United States and build my life here, I welcomed it with open arms. Ever since I moved to the United States 23 years ago, I’ve tried to make the best out of it by investing in my education by attending some of the best universities in the United States like Eastern Michigan University and Harvard Business School, and I still continue my education with additional studies and self-development.

It is important for me to be a citizen and resident of the United States, and I choose to call it my home because of the great opportunities this country represents for entrepreneurs. I started my business 18 years ago; since then I’ve employed hundreds of employees—legal workers who contributed to the trade. Through my small business ownership, I could prove that women can became more successful running businesses and achieving their dreams.

I also became a member of numerous business and community organizations in Chicago like the Economic Club of Chicago, International Women’s Forum and Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs. I also contribute to the community by being a chair of the Moscow Committee of Chicago Sisters Cities International, chairing Senator Mark Kirk’s Eastern European Advisory Board and actively working with Congressman Dold of the 10th congressional district on building a stronger bridge to the Russian-speaking community. I strongly believe in the undeniable relationship between being a strong leader, successful business owner and involvement in the community you choose to live in.

How has the immigrant experience contributed to your success?

Growing up in Russia and travelling across the world, the United States has definitely contributed to my strengths, built my character, taught me that overcoming challenges gets rewarded, and trained me how to visualize what I want to be as a person, and what I want to achieve in my life as well as what I want to contribute to the community that I live in. As a result of it, I embraced the challenges of immigration, adapting to a new country and making new friends, learning a new language, learning the way the system works with pleasure. I knew that it was an important stepping stone on becoming a fulfilling and valuable resident and citizen of this country.

How has Chicago impacted your life?

I chose Chicago as my city to live in 11 years ago. I always wanted to live in a cosmopolitan, international city that has a great arts community, business community, and international community—a city with a downtown where people live, work, dine, and entertain; and Chicago has it all and much more. Beautiful architecture, a gorgeous lake, numerous arts organization, and a very strong business community that is both diverse and very philanthropic. Every day I wake up here happy to be a resident of Chicago. I miss Chicago when I travel, and I am honored and delighted to be able to contribute to the city as a job creator and community leader, as well as a resident.

How do you think Chicago’s wide ethnic diversity contributes to its success as a major global city?

In today’s 21st century world, global cities are cities with diversity. A city that welcomes diverse, multilingual, educated people from all over the world who want to contribute to the city are valuable citizens who enrich our lives through cultural experiences and numerous festivals, and by adding a great talent pool of workers to the workforce. I view Chicago’s diversity as one of its greatest assets.

What does it mean to you to stay connected to your cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International?

As a chair of the Moscow Committee, I am honored that we host events and that we introduce all residents of Chicago to Russian culture. Those events foster trade and economic development between the two countries. We have also hosted numerous arts organizations and athletes, and it is a great privilege to share Russian culture with the people of the United States, and Chicago especially.

Chicago Sister Cities International plays an important role in Chicago and hundreds and thousands of people are touched by the events that we host each year. I feel honored to be a part of this great organization, and I am looking forward to hosting more programs and events that showcase the best of the Russian-speaking community to Chicago.

To learn more about Aleksandra Efimova, please visit aleksandra.com and to learn more about Russian Pointe, please visit russianpointe.com.

Adriana Escarcega, Co-Chair of the Mexico City Committee

BackgroundMexico City Sister City Resolution

Name: Adriana Escarcega

Occupation and employer: Cross-Cultural Marketing Professional

Birthplace: Mexico City, Mexico

Year moved to Chicago: 2005

Tell us your story of what brought you to live in the U.S.

I was born and raised in Mexico City. The third of four siblings, I was encouraged by my parents to be independent, choose freely and never settle. After a rewarding marketing and advertising career in Mexico City, I came to the U.S. motivated by a desire to learn about Hispanics in the U.S. from a professional perspective. I thought 2-3 years would be enough to develop a strong knowledge of the market and then go back home to help companies in Mexico and Latin America enter this important market.

I was lucky enough to receive two job offers almost simultaneously to pursue that goal, one in NYC and another one in Chicago, I am certain I made the best choice by accepting the job in Chicago. Little did I know that almost 11 years later, I would call Chicago home.

 

Questions

What does being a citizen and/or resident of the U.S. mean to you?

It means having the responsibility to contribute with as much passion as I would if I would still be in Mexico. It gives me a dual sense of belonging and an opportunity to achieve my goals. But the question I like to ask myself is how I can make my presence meaningful to Chicago and the U.S.

How has the immigrant experience contributed to your success?

Being an immigrant has given me motivation and inspiration. While immersing myself in the culture, I discovered the great value of immigrants to the U.S. and to their countries of origin; I also discovered the role I have the opportunity to play.

Having an international perspective and understanding of a different culture has been an advantage in my professional life. It has also given me the opportunity to learn about other immigrant cultures that I wouldn’t have been exposed otherwise.

How has Chicago impacted your life?

It wasn’t until I came to live to Chicago that I understood the importance of actively giving back and getting personally involved in causes I believe in. Chicago has a culture of sharing and I embrace the opportunity to contribute to the extent of my ability.

I have learned to appreciate the seasons for what each has to offer, although I have to say I do prefer being outdoors during the summer, I love seeing the tree leaves change to beautiful colors during the fall and discovering all the city has to offer in the winter and spring. I have had the opportunity through my work to promote travel to Chicago and I always feel proud to talk about all there is to do year-round.

How do you think Chicago’s wide ethnic diversity contributes to its success as a major global city?

I believe it is key for the city’s growth and global positioning. Each ethnic group represented in Chicago is an open door to promote an exchange in culture, business, education, talent, etc.

What does it mean to you to stay connected to your cultural heritage as part of Chicago Sister Cities International?

Through Chicago Sister Cities International I am able to contribute in strengthening the relationship between Mexico City and Chicago; increasing the understanding of culture, finding opportunities for economic growth, technology advancement, tourism and sports.

I am always enthusiastic about sharing my cultural heritage with others and enabling connections with Chicago’s cultural heritage. I feel honored to co-chair the Mexico City Committee.

 

If you’d like to get involved with Immigrant Heritage Month 2016, please tweet us at @ChiSisterCities and/or use the #IMH2016 hashtag.