On The Fourth, An Ode To Immigrants

 Omar Rajeh, who owns and runs Mediterranea restaurant on Orange Street, immigrated from Syria in 1989. He called President Donald Trump’s most recent travel ban “a disaster” when asked his thoughts on it.

Omar Rajeh, who owns and runs Mediterranea restaurant on Orange Street, immigrated from Syria in 1989. He called President Donald Trump’s most recent travel ban “a disaster” when asked his thoughts on it.

Pepper-flecked kimchi on State Street. Beef empanadas and camarones al ajo and sizzling carne frita all on Grand Avenue. Mercimek Çorbası and oxtail on West Haven's Campbell Avenue. Soft yellow patties on Fitch Street, and foul mudammas on Orange Street, and airy falafel on Whalley. 

Across New Haven, immigrant business owners open their doors each day, some to closet-sized corner stores and others to sprawling restaurants with white tablecloths and long-stemmed wine glasses. By the time customers roll in, pots have already been simmering on the stove, bread and baked goods rising in the oven, dough kneaded on the counter,.

And those are just the restaurants, bakeries and markets that populate the city. Other immigrant business owners may be starting another day as pharmacists, barbers, nail technicians, budding entrepreneurs and doctors and lawyers who have opened their own private practices.       

And so today, as some in this country declare that our borders aren’t as open as they one were, we want to celebrate the immigrants and refugees who make our city what it is. We’re dipping into the archive of immigrant stories, pulling out some of out favorites. It’s in our wheelhouse—arts, culture, and community—and it feels right.  

And timely. As of this month, we’re bowing out of print for a while, and inching toward our one-year anniversary online. Almost a year ago, one of our first pieces on this site explored how First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in downtown New Haven was working to take in immigrants as one of five sanctuary congregations in the area. Around that time, we also started working on an issue of our print paper dedicated entirely to immigrants, refugees, and Native Americans, learning about some of the resources and organizations in our own backyard.

Since, we’ve worked to keep an eye on the intersection of arts and politics, bringing our readers stories of sanctuary, community activism, and faith leaders who are fighting for civil rights and just immigration policies. We’ve seen spoken word and comedy in the name of immigrant bail, visual arts, music and several works of theater that take on patterns of migration, and shake their audiences to the core. And we’ve watched the community rally time and time again.

We also want to recognize that we are not entirely a nation of immigrants—although our newest, and sometimes most vulnerable, residents arguably do make us stronger. We are also a nation of vibrant Native American educators and policymakers who risk erasure through language. And today, of all days, is a decent time to remember that too. 

In the photos below, we give you just a tiny slice of the city’s vibrant immigrant community. We focused on food because that’s readers asked for last week, as we crowdsourced favorite businesses in the area. We threw in some of the file photos that stuck with us as well. But we know it’s barely scratching the surface. There’s so much more here, and we’re excited to dive in.

Join us on that trip, won’t you? 

Photographs by Lucy Gellman. To listen to an archival episode of WNHH Community Radio's "Kitchen Sync" also about the Fourth, click on or download the audio above.