‘Women of the World’ shows diversity of Valley

The influx of immigrants who passed through Youngstown in the early 1900s has given the area a history rich in diversity; these roots are reflected in “Women of the World: A Photographic Journey of New Americans in the Mahoning Valley.”

The exhibit, featured on the fifth floor of Youngstown State University’s Maag Library, has been on display since March 8, as part of Women’s History Month.

The exhibit includes 15 women from around the globe who have settled in the Mahoning Valley. It shows a picture of each woman and a small biography.

Rosemary D’Apolito, associate professor of sociology, conducted research for the exhibit. She had help from students Sarah Lowry and

Molly Toth, who were under the guidance of Mehera Gerardo, associate professor of history.

“The exhibit originally went up in September at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor,” Gerardo said. “This particular event was actually Molly’s idea.”

But it was Toth who wanted to bring the exhibit to YSU.

“Even though the center is so close and free for students, she felt that not a lot of students had seen the exhibit because it was slightly off campus,” Gerardo said. “That was essentially the birth for idea of bringing it here.”

The women featured in the exhibit came from places all over the world, including Peru, Vietnam, the Ukraine and Palestine.

Eight of the women came to campus to talk on a panel, held in honor of International Women’s Day, about their immigration experiences.

“Dr. D’Apolito and I interviewed the women on their stories beyond what was on the bio, and they were really remarkable,” Gerardo said. “What amazed me was how each of these women went through such remarkably difficult circumstances, and how they all saw their own stories as something that wasn’t as difficult as the women they were sitting next to.”

Gerardo mentioned two women, who each told their story about fleeing from their respective country’s oppressive regimes.

One woman, Irena Perlman, started her speech with, “I haven’t gone through anything that is nearly comparable to these women; my story is much more subtle.”

Gerardo disagreed. Perlman’s story told of her going to the synagogue in Russia and the KGB, Russia’s former secret police and intelligence agency, coming in with garbage trucks to circle the synagogue during services. Not only did it create a stench, it also deterred people from going to the synagogue. This was due to the anti-Semitism being enforced through the Russian government.

“There was no sense of self-pity, no sense of self-aggrandizement,” Gerardo said. “Just a beautiful sense of ‘this is what I went through.’”

Even though the women came from different cultures, they shared hardships.

Ana Bobby came to the U.S. from Peru out of high school in the late ’80s and landed in New Jersey. She then went to the University of Miami in Florida to study architecture for about two years. But after her father died, Bobby married young, moved to North Dakota and started a family. She later returned to Florida to finish her education. After remarrying, she landed in the Mahoning Valley.

“I think what’s similar about our stories is leaving behind our families,” Bobby said. “Sometimes they would have to leave their children and wait to have them come later, or, with me being so young, leaving my siblings.”

Bobby made a note of the Hispanic culture being very family oriented.

“You’re close to your cousins, your relatives, your aunts and uncles,” Bobby said.

Bobby is part of the access services at Maag Library. Originally, she was employed as a library assistant. Bobby is also president of the YSU Women’s Club.

Though she is now acclimated to American culture, it wasn’t always so.

“The hardest part was learning the English and then being submerged in the culture,” Bobby said.

It’s been 25 years since Bobby left Peru.

“In a way, we were able to put a voice to our stories and those of the women that have migrated here for centuries and still continue to migrate,” Bobby said. 

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