New Haven’s ethnic communities have a story to tell. A new Ethnic Heritage Center building provided by Southern Connecticut State University may have just made it easier for them.
Run by several local cultural societies, the recently dedicated center aims to tell the history of various ethnic groups and their role in the creation of New Haven as it exists today.
“We’re collecting the history of what we call the ethnic community, not the original settlers, but all those who came through later immigration,” said Herbert Setlow, a member of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven. “We’re telling the story of what they did and how they did it.”
Although the center is not formally affiliated with the university, SCSU aided in the project by undertaking a $150,000 renovation of one of its maintenance buildings and then donating it to the center, which was formally dedicated in a public ceremony on Oct. 28. University officials believe the center, which is located at 270 Fitch St., will become an invaluable resource in the study of the cultural diversity of New Haven.
“We think it’s very important to provide a study of the rich diversity of New Haven,” said Patrick Dilger, SCSU’s director of public affairs. “New Haven has a tremendous history from its immigrant groups.”
He added that the center was a natural proposition for the university to undertake.
“We have a diverse group of students here at Southern, many of whom are drawn from this area and are descendants of these various ethnic groups,” Dilger said. “We have been partners with the center for quite a while now, so it was a good proposition for the university.”
Setlow said the center will also become an important resource for Yale students and researchers studying early New Haven history.
“Students and researchers from Yale will be able to come and see what life was like in New Haven 100 years ago,” Setlow said.
Becky Bowman ’02, a Yale history major, said she was enthusiastic about the new center.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for students to become more aware of our history,” Bowman said. “In today’s world especially, having centers like this reminds us how lucky we are.”
The new building features various artifacts from the Connecticut African-American Heritage Society, the Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society, the Italian-American Historical Society of Greater New Haven, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven, and the Ukrainian-American Historical Society.
The center also features special collections, such as the current exhibit on the history of New Haven’s schools.
“We have a lot of interesting records on New Haven’s schools dating back to 1850,” Setlow said. “People can come and look at the schools they went to, some of which are not in existence anymore, and see what grades everyone got.”
The center’s member ethnic groups agreed that the center will help in breaking down barriers of race and culture in the world today.
“The center will show the history of people of diverse backgrounds,” said Marvin Bargar, a Jewish Historical Society archivist. “To have this information readily available will prevent ingrown biases and misunderstandings of that type.”
Setlow said the center is an important demonstration of how different cultures can cooperate towards a common goal.
“The center is a point of pride in that it shows how different cultural groups can come together and make important contributions,” said Setlow. “We break down prejudice that way by coming together as five cultures.”