Greenbelt in 2012

A photo blog about Greenbelt, Maryland in its 75th anniversary year

Greenbelt Museum Lecture: International Greenbelt

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July 17

The Friends of the Greenbelt Museum sponsors four lectures a year. In January, museum curator Megan Searing Young talked about the new Greenbelt photo book, and in April, two University of Maryland professors spoke about housing in Greenbelt. July’s lecture is titled International Greenbelt.

“Join us on Tuesday, July 17 at 7:30 pm to meet and hear from our small panel of Greenbelters who were born in other countries but who emigrated to the US and who now call the City of Greenbelt home. As we celebrate Greenbelt’s 75th Anniversary throughout 2012 and examine not just Greenbelt’s past but also its present and future, we want to focus on one of Greenbelt’s growing strengths—its diversity. What better way than to hear about the personal stories and journeys of some of Greenbelt’s international residents? The panel discussion will be accompanied by light refreshments & international dishes.”

From right, Greenbelt Museum Curator and Director of Historical Programs Megan Searing Young and Education and Volunteer Coordinator Sheila Maffay-Tuthill talk to Ana Gasper, a panelist tonight.

A variety of food is offered by the four panelists and other members of the Friends of the Greenbelt Museum, from Scottish shortbread to Chinese sticky rice balls, German sauerkraut, Lithuanian fried bread, Indian yogurt, Persian potato dishes and Costa Rican salsa. At the table from left are Elaine Jones, Lore Rosenthal, Jacqueline Byrd, Bonnie Shields, Lee Shields, and Jean Snyder.

Lee Shields is a Greenbelt pioneer, and he has volunteered as a docent for the Greenbelt Museum for many years.

Greenbelt Museum Curator and Director of Historical Programs Megan Searing Young introduces tonight’s lecture. She says that this year’s lectures are co-sponsored by the city’s 75th Anniversary Committee. Standing next to Young is Heidi Fishpaw from the University of Maryland, College Park. Fishpaw is a graduate student in anthropology and she has brought to today’s lecture an exhibit titled “The Immigrant Experience in Prince George’s County.”

Heidi Fishpaw opens by saying that she was born and raised in Virginia, in a rather homogeneous environment, but she appreciates the diversity of the Washington region, with people from all over the world. She says that the foreign born population in Prince George’s County is growing faster than Maryland and the U.S. She talks about the exhibit and invites audience members to fill out a survey afterward on the public perception about immigration.

Ana Gasper speaks first. She opens by saying that coming to live in Greenbelt was a turning point in her life. She tells that she grew up in a small city in Costa Rica and came to the U.S. to visit friends in Florida and then Kansas City, Missouri. Another friend invited her to Greenbelt and she recalls arriving on a dark and stormy night at BWI Airport. She walked around Greenbelt and was impressed by how green it is: “I came from Costa Rica and thought only it is green, but Greenbelt is green too.”

She helped out at the New Deal Café, and while she was there she heard someone playing piano. Then, “on a belly dance day,” she met the pianist, Fred Gasper. She came to Greenbelt in June, met Fred in July, and they were married in September. That was four years ago. Now Ana’s son bikes (“the Greenbelt way”) to Howard County Community College to take classes, her daughter is a student at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and works with Chef Maria at the New Deal Café, her eldest daughter was married at Greenbelt Lake, and her youngest daughter was born in Greenbelt and is now 15 months old. “We are Greenbelters,” Ana Gasper concludes.

Fred Gasper listens to his wife Ana tell their stories.

The Greenbelt 75th Anniversary logo is displayed.

Vijay Kowtha came from India and now works at the Naval Research Lab in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. He tells about an uncle who came to the U.S. because of the Hart-Celler Act in 1965. (The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national origin quota system.) This uncle eventually brought about 50 relatives to the U.S. and 15 of them are in Maryland. Vijay Kowtha went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn and came to the NIH for his post-doc. He moved to Greenbelt in the 1990s, and his daughter went to Eleanor Roosevelt High School and University of Maryland and writes for the Greenbelt News Review. Kowtha mentions William Albert Zisman (1905-1986) who was a founder of Naval Research Lab and who worked for the New Deal agencies responsible for the design of Greenbelt. He also talks about Edna Belle McNaughton, founder of the University of Maryland’s Center for Young Children where he volunteers.

Jean Snyder shares a smile with Yali Pan, a graduate student in education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Pan studies the experience of Chinese international students at the University of Maryland.

Vijay Kowtha’s father Venkata Kowtha says that beside Vijay he has another son in Howard County and he comes to the Greenbelt Library often and is an avid stamp collector. (He later tells me that his other son works for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, and he himself used to be a fashion designer for Liz Claiborne.) Here he recites a poem in Sanskrit from Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture. The poem is about duty to community.

Family friend Daya Gilra says that he is an adopted Greenbelter as he lives in Lanham only steps from the City of Greenbelt. He tells that he got his Ph.D. in 1968 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and lived in Europe for 10 years before coming to Lanham. He reads aloud a couplet in Urdu. Being an astronomer, he chooses a poem about “love and astronomy.” It translates to “It is very difficult to count stars / one cannot fall asleep, what is there to do.”

Next speaker, Sylvia Lewis talks about coming to America from England. She says that her knowledge about America was drawn from American movies and the GIs her older sister dated. She was trained as a social worker and wanted to see the world before settling into a stable job. So she found a job as a mother’s helper in Indianapolis. That family paid for her passage and she took care of three little girls, cleaned house, did laundry, and cooked, all for $25 a week plus room and board. Before arriving she had many fanciful dreams about Indianapolis which included “sitting under magnolia trees and sipping mint juleps.” That lifestyle did not materialize but she still liked America, its “freshness, openness, and acceptance.” She felt that in England she was bound by her working class status but in America that was not relevant. She pokes fun at her English accent: “I heard from a British student, ‘If you talk with an English accent, Americans give you credit for being more intelligent than you are.’ Don’t think I haven’t milked that for all these years.”

Her husband’s job took them to Hagerstown, Maryland, Bethesda, Maryland, and finally Greenbelt in 1968. Their two kids were 6 and 8 and living in GHI, they could walk everywhere to school (which was in this Community Center), lake, woods, playgrounds, swimming pool, and summer camp. “They had a richer life than they had had in Bethesda because here they had that precious independence.” She believes that the ability to walk everywhere is “even more precious” to her husband and her now as “it promises us a continuity of the same independence in our old age that it gave Janet and Drew in their young years.” Sylvia Lewis concludes: “You can never be bored in Greenbelt and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

From left are Holly Nunn, a reporter for Gazette Newspaper, Heidi Fishpaw, Barbara Havekost, a founder of the Greenbelt Museum, Virginia Beauchamp, founding director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Maryland and a long-time staff member of the Greenbelt News Review, and Jacqueline Miller Byrd.

Sandy Lange chaired Greenbelt’s 50th Anniversary Committee which established the Greenbelt Museum in 1987.

Kian Mahlooji came from Iran in 1986. Having worked as a nurse she soon passed board exam and started working in hospitals. She worked at Doctors Hospital until last year. She finds Greenbelt a pleasant place and particularly enjoys the swimming pool. Mahlooji lives in Charlestowne Village and says that she is happy to see different faces and cultures in her neighborhood, more and more each year. “So beautiful,” she says. Her children went to Eleanor Roosevelt High School and her son now lives in Australia. She says that after she retired, her son has invited her to go to Australia to live with him. She has visited him five or six times. “So beautiful,” she says, “but no place is better than home.”

During the question and answer period, Daya Gilra asks whether there are city council members in the audience. He says that he lives in Lanham, only a few yards from Greenbelt, and he wants Lanham to incorporate into Greenbelt, “so we can come and use the swimming pool.”

Megan Searing Young asks the panelists to tell something about the food they brought. Ana Gasper says that she made a black bean salsa very popular in Costa Rica.

Vijay Kowtha says that he made two dishes: one yogurt dish and one vegetable dish. He says that vegetable dish is a little spicy, and the yogurt “takes the spice off.”

Sylvia Lewis: “I didn’t bring anything but I’ll take credit for the shortbread.”

Kian Mahlooji made Persian dishes involving potatoes, eggs, ground beef, and vegetables.

Jean Snyder asks the panelists to say how much they have participated in the government of Greenbelt and at the state and national levels.

Vijay Kowtha says that he has been actively involved with the city’s Advisory Committee on Education and Roosevelt High School PTA. Sylvia Lewis says that she ran for city council (in 2001) but did not win. She has voted at every election and has registered voters. Megan Searing Young adds that Lewis is Greenbelt’s current Outstanding Citizen. Ana Gasper says she has taken up painting since moving to the U.S. and she placed second at the Labor Day Festival Art Show in 2010 and first last year. Fred Gasper mentions that Ana’s art works are currently shown at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier.

Fred Gasper, holding his daughter Naomi, chats with John Henry Jones.

Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis chats with Daya Gilra and Venkata Kowtha.

Virginia Beauchamp and Jacqueline Miller Byrd

Jean Snyder talks to Yali Pan and Amy Carattini, both are University of Maryland students studying immigration issues.

Bill Norwood (left) talks to Heidi Fishpaw.

Megan Searing Young (right) talks to Kian Mahlooji.

Holly Nunn (right) from the Gazette talks to Ana Gasper.

At the 75th Anniversary Committee’s table are from left Sheila Maffay-Tuthill (committee member), Dave Mills (committee co-chair), Elaine Jones, Lois Rosado (committee member), and Venkata Kowtha. Sheila Maffay-Tuthill tells me that she brought sauerkraut tonight because her mother Elizabeth Maffay came from Germany in 1948. She came to study at the University of Maryland, married John Maffay, a Greenbelt pioneer, and later became Greenbelt’s first city council member from Germany. A current member of the city council, Silke Pope, also grew up in Germany and is a naturalized American citizen.

Kathy Labukas (right) chats with Barbara Havekost. Labukas’s father’s parents came from Lithuania and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her father won a football scholarship to attend the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was hired as a summer lifeguard at Greenbelt and met her mother Eileen here. Kathy Labukas brought some fried bread popular in Lithuania. She says that her grandmother used to make it.

The exhibit is part of the Anthropology of the Immigrant Life Course Research Program at the University of Maryland, directed by Judith Freidenberg. Here the titles are “Who are the foreign born” and “What’s happening now? The most current immigration data in the United States, Maryland, and Prince George’s County.” “In Prince George’s County, as of 2010, there are approximately 170,000 foreign-born, which is about 20% of the entire Prince George’s County population.” The top five countries of origin are El Salvador, Nigeria, Mexico, Guatemala, and Jamaica.

Amy Carattini, a graduate student in the anthropology department who is working on this study and helped to design the poster, points to some of the interviews done with immigrants, from a retired Peruvian international organization professional to an Argentinean doctoral student, an Uruguayan construction worker, and a Vietnamese restaurant manager and former boat person.

Various facts about immigration are collected on this poster. Celebrities who are immigrants include Madeleine Albright (Czechoslovakia), Jerry Yang (Taiwan), Sammy Sosa (Dominican Republic)… “The Texan state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the state spent on services, with the difference being $424.7 million.” “In 2003… over 90% of undocumented men worked, a rate higher than that of U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.”

Carattini points to a photo of the U.S.-Mexican border showing a bustling city at the Tijuana, Mexico side and a much less developed scene at the San Diego, U.S. side.

Attendants of tonight’s lecture look at posters.

The Gasper family poses for a group photo.

Elaine Jones and Sheila Maffay-Tuthill look at a poster with a timeline of events related to immigration.

Elaine Jones fills out an “Immigrant Life Course Program Exhibit Survey.”


Written by eric

July 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Anniversary, Museum

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. […] Mr. and Mrs. Kowtha, originally from India. (Read more about the Kowtha family in the recent Greenbelt Museum discussion on international Greenbelt. Venkata Kowtha and his son Vijay talked about coming to America from […]

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