Begin the conversation. A novel concept in today’s hyper-partisan world filled with sound bites, slogans, and news so fast if you blink you miss it. The concept of simply sitting in a room to have a discussion about who we are and where we are going may appear quaint . . . even antiquated. What we have discovered is that nothing could be further from the truth. The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and Global Cleveland are collaborating to deliver a five-part series focused on conversations with immigrant communities in Cleveland today. To date, we have delivered two: one focused on Arab immigrants and one on the Pan-Asian community.

“As humans, we should help each other.” These simple and profound words, spoken by Dr. Ahmad Bana at the inaugural program most eloquently state why we organized this series. The Maltz Museum has a vision to build bridges of understanding between peoples of different cultures and backgrounds, and our core exhibition details the immigrant experience of Eastern European Jews to Greater Cleveland. Simply put, we want to bring history to life and people together. When I asked Joe Cimperman if Global Cleveland was interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities experienced by other people who relocated to Northeast Ohio, I had no idea the power we would unleash with these panels.

I have the distinct privilege to serve as moderator of these discussions. From that vantage point, I am struck by the richness of diversity in our community, and equally by the repeated narrative of nearly every immigrant community. The story is remarkably similar—one of hopes for a better life, of increased opportunity, or as Nupur Goal stated “the actualization of the American Dream.”

From my seat, I also see and hear the fears in our community, stoked in no small part by our relentless 24-hour news cycle. Will “those people” assimilate to “our culture”? History shows us (and we have artifacts on hand at the Museum that support this) that every immigrant class faces the same challenges from the dominant culture. It is a tremendous act of courage and vision to come to a new place, with little more than hope, to build a new life. These panels remind us just how challenging it is to maintain your own unique cultural voice while also navigating the norms and customs of a new nation.

And, as I look at at the audience, I see the faces of people with genuine desire to know—to better understand and wrestle with these questions. Our goal may have been to “begin the conversation” but we have learned that we have a moral obligation to dive deep and uncover all aspects of the story. Without exception, I have heard that we need to have this type of conversation “more often.”

The time could not be better. We live in an amazing, championship city. We stood tall and proud as a community before the world this summer during the RNC. Yet we have much work to do, as we are also one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the country, with 55% of residents living in a homogenous zip code. If our neighbors “look just like us,” how then can we truly expect change and understanding? Perhaps this series of conversations is just the start we need. I hope you will join us as we continue the journey, discovering who we are, where we are going, and the path to do it together.

I invite you to join us at our next community conversation September 14th at 7pm at the Maltz Museum. I will moderate the conversation between key leaders in Cleveland’s Latino immigrant community and everyday citizens in a candid conversation about the challenges and the opportunities that relocating to Northeast Ohio presents. We’ll hear from Bernie Mereno, Lucy Torres, Sylvia Perez and Veronica Dahlberg.

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Written By Jeffrey Allen