PPL Announces “Within a Lifetime: Immigration and the Changing City,” a Discussion Series

October 4, 2019

Discussion series is co-presented by PPL and the Pond Street Project and funded in part by Rhode Island Council for the Humanities; all events are free and open to the public

Providence Public Library (PPL) and the Pond Street Project are pleased to present “Within a Lifetime: Immigration and the Changing City,” a free and open discussion series to continue through December.  Christina Bevilacqua, PPL’s Programs & Exhibitions Director and the Pond Street Project creator/writer/educator/researcher Taylor Polites invite community members to consider Providence’s rich history of immigration and connect it to life in our city today.

Through these discussions we’ll examine the evolution of a neighborhood in the West End around Pond Street (of which only a stub now remains) from its 19th century heyday, when immigrant labor enabled this city to become one of the highest-producing, most prosperous cities in the nation; to the mid-20th century, when loss of industry led to population and income decline and made federally funded “urban renewal” programs attractive as desperate cash-infusions, dramatically reshaping and displacing this largely immigrant, undercapitalized neighborhood, and wiping out what hard-won assets and security its residents had been able to build up; to our current moment, when the Pond Street area is still home to a workforce of immigrants — but a very insecure home, given gentrification’s incursion.

Join artists, scholars, and community practitioners for this series of conversations about how today’s most pressing debates around labor, housing, education, and the definition of citizenship have been shaped by our history of immigration.

UPCOMING DATES & LOCATIONS (Please register for all events)

Thursday, October 10, 6 – 8 pm, Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Avenue): “Who’s Hiring?” Immigration and Labor  REGISTER at: https://provlib.libcal.com/event/5439482

Whether fleeing economic hardship, religious persecution, cultural subjugation, or natural disaster, people cross deserts, oceans, and continents to make new lives, and these new lives depend on finding work. Migration and labor, then, are inextricably bound together, whether we’re describing 19th-century migrants from conflict-ravaged European nations who arrived in the US and never looked back, or 21st-century laborers endlessly crossing and re-crossing unstable, unpredictable geographical borders and legal boundaries to follow seasonal work.

Join artists, scholars, community practitioners, and moderator Christina Bevilacqua, PPL’s Programs & Exhibitions Director, for a conversation about the relationship between immigration and the evolution of workers’ rights and labor relations. Panelists include:

Josephine Devanbu, lead artist and co-founder of Look At Art. Get Paid, is an artist committed to engaging non-traditional audiences, including overworked doctors in a rural health clinic in India, inmates in a Rhode Island prison and migrant workers in California’s Central Valley. Devanbu holds a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and a BA in Science and Technology Studies from Brown University. She is based in Providence, RI.

Raul Figueroa is a community organizer with Fuerza Laboral, a grassroots workers’ center located in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Originally from El Salvador, Raul moved to the U.S. when he was 19 and worked in the construction and restaurant industries in New York, Boston, and Providence, before becoming a full time organizer. A child during the civil war in El Salvador, Raul knows first hand the way U.S. imperialism caused and continues to cause havoc and how capitalism and racism interact to oppress immigrant workers today. Growing up during a time of constant distress and economic challenges understands the importance of workers cooperatives as way to creating our own economic ecosystem to lift our communities out of poverty and into a path of prosperity and job stability.

Morgan Grefe is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. She has been at the RIHS since 2005, serving as the Director of the Goff Center for Education and Public Programs until the summer of 2011, when she took the helm of the RIHS. Her work as a historian focuses on U.S. social, cultural and public history, with special attention on R.I. She holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown and a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in the same. Her recent publications include, “ ‘Jews, Turks, and Infidels:’ How Rhode Island’s Lively Experiment Helped Chart the American Way” and “Sourcing a Rhode Island Legend: The Story of Kady Brownell.” She lectures widely on topics relating to Rhode Island’s social and cultural history, as well as the history education crisis in our state and nation. She makes her home in Pawtucket with her spouse, artist Gage Prentiss.


Tuesday, October 29, 6 – 8 pm, Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave.): “Who Lives Here?” Immigration and Housing  REGISTER at: https://provlib.libcal.com/event/5439492

Migration means leaving a homeland far behind, and creating a new home starts with just finding a bed, a roof, a room each night. What does it mean, practically and emotionally, to find shelter in a strange, new place? Have the locals, already at home, made room for anyone new? How have messages of “welcome” or “not welcome” been communicated? How have they been understood? In a space of unfamiliarity and instability, how does a person come to feel “at home?”

Join artists, scholars, community practitioners, and moderator Christina Bevilacqua, PPL’s Programs and Exhibitions Director, for a public conversation about the relationship between immigration and the evolution of neighborhood development and housing policy. Panelists include:

Kristina L. Brown is a research and policy analyst for HousingWorks RI where she conducts mixed- methods research on the intersection of health and housing in Rhode Island. Her work centers on analyzing systems with the goal of supporting and advancing equitable policy solutions. She has a diverse background of experience in a range of community development practices including place-based environmental education through art and creative practice, fabrication and design for public amenities and public art, facilitation of participatory public processes, and art for social justice movements. She holds a Masters in the Arts of Community Development, with an Urban and Regional Planning certificate from Roger Williams University. She is an active part of many local coalitions working to make Rhode Island a healthier, more equitable place to live.

Dr. Taino J. Palermo has worked as an education and nonprofit leader for over 15 years focusing on community and economic development, urban education and neighborhood revitalization. He has a history, personally and professionally, of advocating for underrepresented communities and urban youth before spending the last several years in higher education as a researcher and the academic director of two degree program departments: Healthy Communities and Community Development. Dr. Palermo founded the first and only graduate degree in Community Development at Roger Williams University. Dr. Palermo still serves as faculty in the program as he has stepped down to pursue his Juris Doctorate degree from Roger Williams University’s School of Law as a candidate of the Class of 2022. Dr. Palermo has received numerous local and national awards for his community leadership including: the 2013 recipient of the New YorkState 40 Under 40 Rising Latino Stars; the 2014 recipient of the National Action Network’s Bea Gonzalez Award for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of the Latino communities in Syracuse, NY; was named one of Providence Monthly’s “Ten to Watch” in 2017 as well as one of the Providence Journal’s “11 Education Innovators to Follow in 2017;” and in 2018 delivered the Providence TEDx talk entitled, “How Anchor Institutions Can Drive Community Development.” Dr. Palermo serves on board for several local and national organizations focused on the advocacy, education and community development.


Tuesday, November 19, 6 – 8 pm, Bell Street Chapel (3 Bell St.): “Who Can Know?” Immigration and Education   REGISTER at: https://provlib.libcal.com/event/5439548

For some period of US history, public education aimed to ensure that children from varied backgrounds would acquire shared knowledge and experience, thus preparing them to communicate in a shared language about a shared world, despite coming from many enclaves of culture and language – with the idea that those enclaves would grow weaker over time. Today we can see the biases underlying that goal, but have not come to consensus on an alternative that will prepare children for the world that awaits them. In the meantime, if they look to their educational experience to understand what we hope for their future, how do we explain why their schools, curricula, and expectations differ so widely across our city? Whatever its goals, does our current system communicate the idea that children come from different worlds, and education is meant to shore up the borders between them?

Join artists, scholars, and community practitioners for a conversation about the relationship between immigration and the evolution of our educational system.

Tuesday, December 10, 6 – 8 pm, Southside Cultural Center of RI (393 Broad St.): “Who Belongs?” Immigration and Citizenship  REGISTER at: https://provlib.libcal.com/event/5439550

What is a citizen? Who gets to be one? Who created the criteria? How have the criteria changed? Who called for the changes? Who made them happen? How long did they last? What happened next? What happens now? In our current charged environment, we tend to talk about citizenship as though it has had a consistent definition throughout our history, with a reliable set of verifiable criteria determining who is, and who is not, a citizen. But it’s not true. The definition of citizenship, along with its rights and responsibilities, have changed throughout our history, always reflecting larger political and cultural forces in flux.

Join artists, scholars, and community practitioners for a conversation about the relationship between immigration and our contentious, ever-evolving understanding of what makes a citizen.


“Within a Lifetime” is made possible with major funding support from the RI Council for the Humanities, an independent state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Council seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders.