History museum

A new exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum traces the diverse journeys of immigrants to Chicago’s western suburbs

The United States is home to over 40 million immigrants, more than any other country in the world.

Although Chicago has always been a hub for immigrant workers, the suburbs have become home to a larger and more diverse foreign-born population since World War II.

The result is a visible diversity in the suburbs, and particularly in the DuPage County area, which is evident not only in religious sites, schools, stores and restaurants, but also in the growth of activist groups and the civic participation.

The new exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum explores the unique journeys of immigrants to the region and their descendants who forged a sense of cultural identity and belonging in this region. “The Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities” runs through May 14 at the museum, 120 E. Park Ave.

The exhibition explores the personal stories and activities of immigrant residents and their families through first-person interviews, photographs, treasured artifacts and more to reveal the challenges, pride, perseverance and humor in establishing a new life.

It is co-curated by exhibitions consultant Sandy Denninger who researched and wrote the content for the exhibition, and it is curated by exhibitions curator Dan Bartlett.


Denninger has 20 years of experience working with primarily small to medium-sized museums, and she has researched and designed several award-winning exhibits. Denninger earned an undergraduate degree in art history and anthropology as well as a graduate certificate in museum studies from Northern Illinois University.

An immigrant from Poland shares treasured possessions, food and more as part of the Elmhurst History Museum exhibit ‘The Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities’.
– Courtesy of Elmhurst History Museum

To develop the exhibit’s content, Denninger interviewed 17 area residents over the past two years, and she was often impressed and surprised by the powerful and candid stories she heard from those interviewed.

“This experience was a real eye-opener for me as a fellow American and a historian,” Denninger said. “I was moved by the honesty, strength and humor I encountered throughout this process. I hope that visitors who view the exhibition will feel the same empathy that I felt and will take away a better understanding of what it means to be an immigrant in our country.”

The exhibition covers a number of different topics related to the theme of immigration, including:

• The Path to US Citizenship, including essential documentation, language barriers, biases and more, with a real citizenship test that museum visitors can try.

• The history of immigration laws that both support and hinder potential citizens.

• Video stories from a variety of DuPage County immigrants, refugees and their descendants who share their diverse experiences and discuss their first impressions and what brought them to this country.

• Exhibitions of significant and precious objects from the countries of origin which have been transmitted from generation to generation.

• The special traditions, including foods, language, music, rituals and clothing that immigrants share with their families and communities to maintain a sense of cultural identity.

Many of the area residents interviewed for the "In pursuit of happiness: Immigrants in our communities" the exhibition share some of their precious objects or particular traditions to be exhibited.

Many of the locals interviewed for the “In Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities” exhibit shared some of their treasured items or special traditions to display.
– Courtesy of Elmhurst History Museum

Special programs

The Elmhurst History Museum presents an eclectic range of related programs related to the exhibition “The Pursuit of Happiness: Immigrants in Our Communities”. More information can be found at elmhurshistory.org/320/Programs.

• On Saturday, November 5, the museum partners with Immigrant Solidarity DuPage to present a family celebration of the deep tradition of Día de los Muertos rooted in Mexican culture.

The free event from 6-9 p.m. includes a presentation on the history of the Day of the Dead celebration and its symbols, artwork by local school children, face painting and craft activities while supplies last. stocks.

The evening also includes performances by pre-Hispanic musicians Grupo Nahui Ollin and the Chicago mariachi band Gavilanes and access to the exhibits after hours. Join a procession of catrinas around the museum campus at 8:45 p.m. accompanied by mariachis.

• On Friday, November 11, Nestor Gomez, author, podcast host and multiple Moth Story Slam winner, presents a storytelling showcase featuring immigrants, refugees and their descendants to explore issues surrounding American immigration, including national identity, culture, family and borders. It will be presented at 7 p.m., in person at the Elmhurst Public Library, 125 S. Prospect Ave., and virtually on Zoom. Register at elmhurstpubliclibrary.org.

• On Thursday, November 29, join the “One Book, One Elmhurst” book discussion led by staff at the Elmhurst Public Library and Elmhurst History Museum by reading “American Like Me: Reflections on the Life Between Cultures,” featuring personal essays by prominent Americans of diverse cultures. The discussion of the book, edited by America Ferrera, will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the museum. Participants will have access to the exhibits after hours. One must reserve.

• On Sunday, January 15, take part in a free talk in the exhibition gallery at noon. Sandy Denninger will guide attendees through exhibition highlights and answer questions about the development of the exhibition. Reservations required.

• On Sunday, January 29, Sam Mitrani, author and professor of history at DuPage College, presents a lecture on why and how the Chicago area has attracted waves of immigrants throughout history who have shaped and been shaped by this region. “How the World Came to the Shores of Lake Michigan” will begin at 2 p.m. in the museum’s Education Center. Cost is $5 or free for museum members. Reservations required.

• On Saturday, February 25, join Haley Sliwa, Brewpoint’s Chief Roaster, and Melissa Villanueva, Founder and CEO, for a discussion about coffee and its relationship to cultures around the world. “Cultural Connections Through Coffee” will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. at Brewpoint Craft Elmhurst, 617 N. York St. It also features live music performed by Brazilian guitarist Luciano Antonio. The cost is $10 per person. One must reserve.

Sample of a gallery panel depicting demographic change from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Sample of a gallery panel depicting demographic change from the 1940s to the 1960s.
– Courtesy of Elmhurst History Museum

Museum hours are Sunday and Tuesday through Friday 1-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free and a limited number of free parking spaces are available. The exhibit is sponsored by the Community Bank of Elmhurst; Feze roof; Kriezelman Burton & Associates, LLC; Michael V. LoCicero, attorney; Rotary Club of Elmhurst; Storino, Ramello & Durkin, lawyers; and superior ambulance service. For the latest information, visit www.elmhurshistory.org.