New Virginians

With the approach of the 2020 federal census, a new exhibit at the Library of Virginia highlights the human experience behind Virginia’s increasingly diverse population.New Virginians: 1619-2019 and Beyond showcases the stories of immigrants who now call Virginia home and explores their contribution to the Commonwealth’s past, present, and future.

A joint effort of the Library and Virginia Humanities, the free exhibit features video interviews with 34 first-generation immigrants and refugees from 29 different countries, according to David Bearinger, director of grants and community programs at Virginia Humanities. All interview subjects have become residents of the state since 1976. A wide range of circumstances led to their arrival in Virginia, but the insights they share about their individual journeys reveal many common elements.

Opportunity, Belonging, and Challenges are the main themes of the video interviews. Participants discuss the ways in which they have adapted to their new environment, how they have preserved and passed along their native customs, and the array of receptions – from warm welcoming to discrimination – they have encountered as newcomers.

Artifacts ranging from musical instruments to religious texts and ceremonial articles reflect the rich variety of cultures and values that Virginia’s immigrant population represents. A Bolivian stringed instrument called a charangoand a ritual tsammask, crafted by a Virginian from Mongolia, are among the personal items that interview participants have shared for display in the exhibit.

With support from the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, New Virginiansexplores 400 years of immigration into the Old Dominion, beginning with the first recorded arrival of Africans to English North Americain 1619. That year also saw large-scale recruitment of women into the Virginia colony.

Neighbor to the nation’s capital and home to several organizations involved in resettlement of immigrants and refugees, Virginia continues to draw large numbers of new residents from abroad, explains Bearinger, who conducted the interviews. The result is an ever more multicultural population contributing to the shared economy, culture, and identity of the Commonwealth. New Virginians contextualizes these contributions with statistics, noting that immigrant-owned businesses generate over $2 billion in annual revenue, more than half of immigrants to Virginia become naturalized citizens, and one in six workers in Virginia is an immigrant.

“There were Spanish settlers in other parts of North America prior to the Jamestown Colony,” notes Bearinger, “but it’s still fair to say that Virginia has the longest immigration ‘story line’ of any state.” 

New Virginians: 1619-2019 and Beyond, a Legacy Project of the American Evolution,2019 Commemoration, is open to the public at the Library of Virginia until December 7, 2019.

CategoriesCommunity Builders, General, Live

Anika has contributed to Richmond Grid magazine since its launch and has covered everything more the city’s vibrant music scene to nonprofits making an impact in the community. Anika works at TMI, a Richmond based diversity and inclusion management consulting firm.