University of Minnesota
Immigration History Research Center

Immigration History Research Center's home page.

The Elmer L. Andersen Library gallery is free and open for public viewing 8 - 4:30 Monday - Friday

A Heart Connects Us: Immigrant Letters and Experiences of Migration

Running February 14 - April 8, 2011

The immigrant letters in this exhibit are part of the Digitizing Immigrant Letters Project created by the Rudolph J. Vecoli chair in Immigration History at the Immigration History Research Center. The letters have been digitized, transcribed and translated so people can see, study and understand the conversations between immigrants in the United States and their loved ones. A pilot project is available online:

A Heart Connects Us Exhibit presents letters in Croatian, Finnish, Hmong, Italian, Latvian and Ukrainian. The letters date from 1899-1990.
Upon entrance into the exhibit one hears a tea kettle whistle and "Translating Love," a video by Michael Joyce begins telling the story of Ilze Garoza's experience and feelings about working with the Digitizing Immigrant Letters project as a contributor and translator.
Each case showcases a different ethnic group's letters. In addition to the letters, the IHRC strives to contextualize the letters with the politics of emigration specific to an ethnic group during the time period the letters are being written. Here is the case showcasing the letters between Edward and Anna Paikens (son and mother). Anna resides in Latvia while Edward has emigrated to the United States. They remain separated by the Iron Curtain but continued to write letters which now belong to a collection housed at the IHRC of more than 250 of their letters.

In this case is a tape player because these letters were spoken and recorded on cassette tapes and send between Hmong families emigrating from Laos. The tapes, belonging to the Vue family are one hour in length and were collected over a time period between the mid 1980's and the 1990's. The tapes contain messages from several 'writers' to a family, separated after the Vietnam War in 1975.

Here is a table, typewriter and basket containing letter writing paper. The IHRC has asked that community members contribute to the exhibit by writing a letter they wished they could have written to a loved one.
The community letters are then attached by ribbon to the front gate of the exhibit.