“Portraits of Cape Ann Immigrants” exhibit opens at Sawyer Free Library


DANIELLE DENMAN, Staff Writer, Editor

The 14th of November marked the opening of the Sawyer Free Library’s photographic collaboration with the Wellspring House. The exhibit titled “Portraits of Cape Ann Immigrants” features the stories, hopes, and dreams of Gloucester immigrants.

Photos include people who hail from Cuba, Syria, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and more. Some stories are triumphant. Some storytellers still have far to go. 

Wellspring’s Melissa Buchannan and Beth Pocock of the Sawyer Free Library began the exploration of the issue in Gloucester. The concept was brought to life by Wellspring tutor Mariam Weinstein, who conducted the interviews for the project. She was helped by photographer Tracy Davis. 

At the opening reception, immigration issues that affect Gloucester were addressed such as access to social security numbers, IDs and licenses, and  gaining acceptance into the community

At the reception, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Thaken spoke on her background of working with immigrants, and asked for members of the city to welcome them with open arms.

“They didn’t come here for a piece of paper,” said Romeo Thaken. “They came here to survive.”

Romeo Thaken also insisted that she would respect members of her city, whether they were born here or not.

“Any law they [the federal government] will produce, I will find a loophole,” she said. “And I’ll do it until the day I die. Because I’ll be damned if people don’t feel like they’re humans in my city.”

The parents of Gloucester High School student Mohammed Alsweidani were featured in the exhibit. Alsweidani and his family left Syria in 2015.  His brother and him moved to Turkey, and his father and younger brother followed. There, Alsweidani worked for eighteen months, and did not attend school. They arrived in Gloucester on October 26th, 2016. Him and his brother Yassir began school at GHS. 

At first, Alsweidani said he felt like he stood out. 

“Not a lot of people speak Arabic,” said Alsweidani. “It was weird for some people to meet Arabic people. It is a different language, alphabet, and writing. We write from right to left.”

Alsweidani believes it was very important for his family to share their story and to correct the misconceptions people may have about their journey.

“They [my parents] shared their story to let people know about them,” said Alsweidani. “We didn’t come for fun, we came to be safe.”

The exhibit will run in the library through December, and is free to the public.