“Her story inspires me tremendously because she was so young, and so brave to make that trip and arrive in a new land where everything was unfamiliar, including the language. She settled in New York and worked in a factory sewing buttons onto sweaters. When she died at 94 years of age, you could see the toll this work had on her fingers; they were deformed from the tedious work.”
Immigrant Story Inspired Creation of "Against the Railing"
The story of Maddalena is the original inspiration for Mullins’ choreographed piece, Against the Railing, first created in 2007 to capture the sacrifices her grandmother made in her own life, and for the lives of her children. In the original choreographed piece there are two characters at first: a soloist dancer and a trunk – the kind that people brought with them when immigrating. Later in the performance they are joined by more dancers; collectively they move through the story of courage, loss, opportunity and new beginnings.
“In recent years there has been so much dehumanizing talk about immigrants, about the wall. I not only choreographed some additional sections, but I also rethought the project and wanted it to reflect the stories of the immigrants that are living right here in our NC State community,” Mullins said.
In February 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, Mullins completed the updated version, which was scheduled to be performed in April. “We couldn’t perform this dance with the social distancing restrictions, so the only choice was to re-work it into a pandemic version with social distancing and masks as part of the piece. This was part of our series called "Concert From Your Couch.”
As an infant in China, a police officer found me in a box in a park. He took me to an orphanage where I lived for almost a year until my American family found me. My mom wrote letters to me throughout my life and kept them in a journal, which she recently gave to me.
On the day of my adoption, my mom wrote, “Finally number nine was called, and we ran in…we have a priceless video of being handed LilyGrace. This is the tiniest little girl we have ever seen. Her eyelashes must be ¾ inch long and her eyes are huge and black as coal. We doubted her age until later when she began to play and crawl.”
My parents were really good at celebrating adoption and teaching me to feel good about it, and that this is part of my story. They helped me celebrate and remember where I came from, so my adoption story is very positive; I’m very blessed to have this be part of my story.
-- LilyGrace Wolfe (communication media ’21, art studies minor)
When my mom was 20 years old, the same age I am now, she knew her only hope for a future was to flee the Civil War in El Salvador; it broke her heart to leave. I applaud her courage to leave, yet to this day she lives in fear. She was ashamed of her culture and has hidden it, and her language. Yet, with her family, she shares some of the beautiful traditions.
One day we were in the grocery store laughing and speaking Spanish. A little girl looked at us in terror, and her father warned her to get away from people like us. I wanted to react, but mom took the high road. Even though she’s the most scared, she’s also the bravest.
Only when I got to university did I realize that people don’t care if I’m different. Here, we celebrate our differences. Here, I’m conquering my fears and helping mom conquer her own fears.
-- Carmen Bollman (biochemistry major ’21)
My family is deeply rooted in North Carolina – I see it as more than a home; my whole family has been here for so long. I feel proud to be who I am and where I come from.
My mom’s side came from Poland and Canada and made their way to North Carolina. Dad’s side are Cherokee Indians, the original inhabitants of Iredell County. We can trace the line back to 1810. We don’t have many stories, but we do have pictures.
My grandpa was Henry Troutman – of the Troutman line. The town of Troutman is named for my ancestors. We have these wonderful family reunions there with huge catch-all buffets filled with traditional foods like fried chicken, deviled eggs. We have family reunions in Troutman, about 25 miles north of Charlotte.
Henry Troutman was the Sheriff for Iredell County and now my brother is a detective for the same county. It’s come full circle. I appreciate where I come from.
-- Aubrey Dixson ’20
We’re Spanish, Portuguese, French, Irish, Scottish, British, Brazilian, Mexican, Swedish, Native American, and African.
There’s been a lot of immigrating in my family at different points of time. I was adopted as a child and didn’t grow up knowing about my biological family’s traditions. But in 2018, I met my biological family. I learned that we’re big in theater and education – that we value getting a college degree and continue to educate ourselves. We’re big on being multilingual. I carry this ability and speak Japanese, Chinese and other languages.
I’m told I look just like my paternal grandmother who, as legend has it, wrestled a tiger while on her farm in Texas. My other grandmothers were very feisty and sassy – my aunts are the same way, and I’m like this too.
When you know who you are, it adds to your growth. You can advance in life, so you know your place, what your family has been through, where they came from, this is my heritage and culture – and how it runs through me so I can make it better.
-- Terryn Queen ’20