Exhibit gives insight to immigration

Marcellino Signorelli

On exhibit at the Beaumier Heritage Center is the Immigration Exhibit, providing a firsthand view into the attitudes and mentality of America from the Civil War to World War I, an era of mass immigration.

The collection involves numerous graphics relating to immigration, all from the time period.

The exhibit is on loan from Michigan State University and available for viewing until March 30.

The exhibit is opened Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in 105 Cohodas.

“We deal with a lot of immigration stories at the Center, dealing with immigration to the Upper Peninsula,” said Daniel Truckey, director of the Beaumier Heritage Center. “We felt that this exhibit has similar ideas and perspectives, which is a great way to tie it in with what we do.

In fact, this is the first time the exhibit has ever been in the Upper Peninsula.”

The images are all framed and each contain a caption beside them to explain what they show. They are also original documents from publications, not reproduced copies.

Many of the images contain caricatures and some display negative stereotypes of certain races.

“Immigration was a contentious issue just as it is today,” Truckey said. “These images show how incredibly racist certain politicians and journalists were during this time era.

“It’s important to see because people forget how immigrant groups were portrayed in the late 19th century.”

A certain work on display in the exhibit titled “Welcome to All” displays Uncle Sam reaching out with open arms to all the immigrants.

There are signs around that state, “free education, free lunch, no oppressive taxes, no knouts or dungeons.”

However, upon close observation it is noted that the immigrants all look like they are from northern Europe. Nowhere to be seen are any immigrants from any other area of the world.

“The venues the exhibit goes to are mostly universities or museums with historical societies because it is facilitating dialogue about tough issues,” said Marsha MacDowell, professor and curator at the MSU Museum. “Not every museum is comfortable with this material.”

The exhibit has already been to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia, the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, N.Y. and the Dreams of Freedom Museum in Boston.

The collection was donated to MSU by John and Selma Appel. When donated, the collection had more than 4,000 pieces which the Appels spent years collecting. The exhibit has been on tour close to four years.

“The Smithsonian really wanted the collection,” MacDowell said. “However, John Appel had spent most of his career at MSU and had worked with the MSU Museum, so he decided to donate it to them.

“Not only is the part of the collection on exhibit but faculty at MSU use it for teaching students.”

John and Selma Appel have both passed away since their donation over a decade ago but the exhibit is a well-known and respected resource to this day.

“Unfortunately in our society there is the notion that museums are just dusty repositories,” MacDowell said. “However they can act as forces of social change and education when they bring in collections accessible to exhibitions.”

For more information on the exhibit, call the Beaumier Heritage Center at (906) 227-3212.