New exhibit at Neenah Historical Society highlights local immigrant stories

Updated: May. 9, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - A new interactive exhibit at the Neenah Historical Society shares personal and unique stories of immigrants who helped shape the Neenah community. The “Tracing Our Paths: Neenah’s Immigration Stories” exhibit opened on Sunday at Neenah Historical Society’s Octagon House. Officials there said it shares stories of immigration in Neenah’s history. Nine immigrant stories are featured, some from long ago, and others more recent.

“When we learn people’s background stories, I think it really helps us to connect to each other and to have better relationships with those who live with us in our own community,” said Jane Lang, Executive Director, Neenah Historical Society.

Visitors will get the chance to see what the process is like to become a U.S. citizen, people can test their knowledge of American culture by taking a citizenship test, and walk through a simulated steerage compartment of a voyage ship headed to America.

Lang said all of the stories are about people who were in some way connected to Neenah, whether that be they lived in Neenah, or currently live or work in Neenah.

One Neenah Menasha Fire Rescue Firefighter who is featured in the exhibit, Anthony Leiton, comes from Costa Rican origins and said he had a great experience growing up in Menasha and loves being a part of this community.

”The Spanish has helped me on a few different calls or certain incidents that I’ve been on, granted they’re not Costa Rican but they are Spanish speaking and I have been able to, you know, offer assistance just with a little bit of translation,” Leiton said. “This is a great community, I’m really happy that my mom chose to raise me here after coming back and the struggles she had, you know, getting started, starting over as a single mom,” said Leiton.

“We’re on about the sixth generation of Neenah residents and really enjoy living in this area, all that there is to do in the community, and the great life that it gives us here in America, so we’re very appreciative of my great grandfather coming and getting that started for us,” said Julie Hawkins, a family member of featured immigrant in the exhibit.

Officials say what they hope people take away from this exhibit is understanding the people they share this community with.

“It helps people from the community, to see how their own lives have emerged from history, and how our own communities history is part of a larger national story of immigration,” said Steve Sheehan, Associate History Professor, UW-Oshkosh at Fox Cities.

People can visit the interactive exhibit now through the fall of 2022.

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