History student Isabel Serrano interviewed her grandfather for the project:
“It was really interesting to see how difficult it was for him to speak about his parents and hardship in Mexico. He kept jumping to how he came to America. For him that was connected with happiness, while Mexico was tied to sadness and a struggle to survive.”
Classmate Michael Salazar, like Isabel, came to the park in his Sunday best. She’s in a black-and-white dress; he’s wearing slacks and a blue button-down shirt. Michael interviewed a man from Peru, asking him when he came to the USA, what his obstacles were, and how he had adjusted.
“What surprised me the most is that he said he didn’t like America at first. How could you not like America? To him the pace of life here was too fast and everything focused on work. What moved me was that he said that now, he would rather have his son grow up in America than in a different country.”
From Berlin to Los Angeles
For months, college students, school children, and [Cal State Fullerton Professor Cora Granata] have been working to bring die Lange Tafel to Los Angeles. Lange Tafel Berlin Founder, Isabella Mamatis, came here from Berlin just for the occasion.
“The goal is to put on this installation in the public sphere so that we can recognize that all people have a history of immigration. Immigration is a valuable cultural achievement.”
The student Isabel is now on stage, joined by three other students. They are reading excerpts from their interviews. These are stories about hasty departures, long trips, improvised hiding, and uncertain futures—from war and conflicts all over the world.
For example from Kristallnacht in Berlin.
“My mother had a little grocery store, a little mom and pop type grocery store, and almost immediately they came. They painted the windows in the stores with Nazi slogans and prevented people who were shopping from coming in.”
And from the Vietnam War.
“You would hear the air siren and then you would go into your bunker and the Viet Cong would rocket the air base. It was frightening at first, and then [as a kid] you kind of get used to it.”
Many stories tell of violence and gangs in Central America.
“But then violence was escalating in El Salvador, and the army took the university. And when the army took the university, they took a lot of people with them, students and professors. And after that they destroyed the university, and they went to the central library and all the books were piled up and burned.”
After the oral history performance, schoolchildren led their parents to the fluttering pages on the clothesline. Here were the stories that the children had written. These were children from the Goethe International Charter School. Their parents and grandparents are immigrants from all over the world. Yet very few of them had to flee violence and war. Several parents and grandparents were interviewed for the Lange Tafel.
[Child’s voice] “That’s my story. You have to read it!”
[Parent’s voice] “Okay, I’ll read it!”
From Hamburg to the USA
Carlotta is eight years old. She shows her German mother the story she wrote. Carlotta interviewed a friend’s mother. She came to the USA from Hamburg with her husband, because he found a new job here.
[Carlotta’s mother reads from Carlotta’s story]: “She likes Germany and America equally, but she does miss some things: her family, her friends, and Milka [German] chocolate!”
Jay reluctantly stops playing soccer with his classmates to tell his story. He interviewed the mother of a friend.
“I interviewed a woman named Andrea who is from Paraguay. She brought a teddy bear with her to Los Angeles. She probably missed her family a lot.”
Coming from Switzerland at age 19
At home [Jay] asked his mother what she brought with her from her homeland. She came from Switzerland at age 19 to work as an au pair in Los Angeles.
“I have an old clock from my grandparents that I display at my house. I also have an old rug from my other grandmother that I brought all the way from Switzerland. I keep it unpacked in the garage, but I have it here.”
Students Isabel and Michael try to talk with as many Long Table guests as possible this afternoon. They both agree—what they have learned here is more interesting than anything they can find on the Internet or in books.
“You can see their reaction, you can laugh and cry with them and see their facial expressions. It’s much more personal.”
“It opened my eyes to the fact that we never have serious conversations about our pasts. We might hear a few stories now and then, but we hardly ever stop to ask about what happened, or why did you come here?"