TORRINGTON — European immigrants found their way to Torrington in the 18th and 19th centuries, establishing themselves as founders of the city’s industry, government and businesses, and sharing their culture and traditions.
Many of those families are documented at the Torrington Historical Society in its exhibits and archives.
Now, the society and a group of students from Northwestern Connecticut Community College, the Team Success Scholars, want to tell the stories of the city’s newest immigrants — people from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Mexico, who live and work in the city and bring their own cultural contributions.
The scholars, with help from society Director Mark McEachern, are conducting the grant-funded program by interviewing the “new” immigrants, and telling their stories on videos, which will be shared on the society website and the Torrington Mosaic Project Facebook page.
Brianna DeFranceso, an early childhood education major at NCCC, is part of the Team Success Scholars. “The program helps us get into the community, interact with them and helps us to be leaders in the community,” she said.
The mosaic project’s purpose is to document and celebrate the diversity of the immigrants who have chosen to call Torrington home, DeFrancesco said. “We want to serve as an online place where neighbors of various ethnic backgrounds can get to know and understand one another, thus building a stronger community,” she said.
DeFrancesco works at the Torrington Preschool Center, where her mother, Diane, is also a teacher. Diane is Mexican and Italian; Brianna’s father is Italian.
“I do a lot of ancestry research on my own, and I’ve learned a lot about our heritage from both sides of the family,” she said. “We celebrate Cinco de Mayo (a Mexican holiday on May 5) and we do a lot of Italian things too. My father came here without any English at all, and he had to learn how to do everything on his own. He lived in the mountains in Italy ... he didn’t know anything when he came here.
“My Mexican grandfather told me that when he came here, he stuck with the Italians, because they could talk to each other, and he learned a lot from them,” DeFrancesco said. “So I’ve learned about my family. There are lots of people who are new to Torrington who probably have good stories to tell.”
The stumbling block for the Torrington Mosaic Project, DeFrancesco said, is the pandemic.
“So far, we’ve done one interview with a 4-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic, and it’s great,” she said. “We asked her why she came here, what her experience has been. We’re trying to contact people, but it’s very hard because right now we can’t get into the community to reach out to people, or meet with them right now.”
“We want to know why they came to the United States, and why they picked Torrington,” DeFrancesco said. “We want to hear what their experience was like, when they immigrated here from another place. People could tell us how the culture here is different and what kinds of culture or traditions they brought here from their own country.”
McEachern said the Torrington Mosaic Project idea started in 2018. “I think it was our suggestion that we work on capturing the history of those recent immigrants to Torrington,” he said. “We’re excited about it, because one of our main areas of collections is immigration history. We’ve been doing that for decades; so collecting stories of our newest immigrants is a natural progression.
“It’s also a way to build a stronger community, to have a better understanding of our shared past,” McEachern said. “We’re interested in stories from anyone who’s come here, from anywhere. The most recent groups are Ecuadorians, Dominicans and Mexicans, so those would be our primary interests.”
“The historical society has so much about European immigrants, but nothing about the Hispanic community. We want to make sure they feel comfortable here, and to know that they’re part of our history. Their history isn’t written down anywhere, and I feel like everyone’s history should be known — that they came here to make their life better.”
DeFrancesco said a member of the Torrington Mosaic Project speaks Spanish and is ready to interview anyone who wants to be part of the work.
“We want their stories, of people coming here now,” she said. “If anyone who’s an immigrant wants to do a Zoom call for an interview, we’re looking for people to do that ... from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Ecuador ... I know Puerto Rico’s a territory, but it’s a different place.”
DeFrancesco said McEachern has been a great support to the group. “He’s very dedicated,” she said. “He wants to make sure everyone has their voices heard.”
McEachern realizes it might be difficult for some people to talk about their own history. “It’s touchy nowadays,” he said. “People’s willingness to speak with us might be directly related to their security of their immigration status. But I’m sure there are some good stories out there.”
If you are interested in participating in the Torrington Mosaic Project, email Brianna DeFrancesco at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.facebook.com/TorringtonMosaicproject . Or, call the historical society at 860-482-8260 and leave a message.