WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Sharing The Air We Breathe

Oct 11, 2015

A new photo exhibit strives to demonstrate the great diversity in Galesburg's immigrant population.

“We have people from all over the world of all ages. We have individuals who have come alone (and) those who have come with their entire family,” said Project Director Chelsea Castillo Macek.

“I think something that is unknown to many is that we have an extremely educated professional immigrant community. We have members who are surgeons, engineers, marketing professionals, teachers, pastors, artists – the diversity on that level, professionally, is also really profound.”

Chelsea Castillo Macek next to the portrait of her husband, Yamir, who’s from Nicaragua.
Credit Rich Egger

Macek took all of the photographs in the exhibit, The Air We Breathe – A Glimpse into Galesburg’s Immigrant Community. It opened at The Box in late September and can now be seen at the Beanhive Coffee House through the end of October.

Macek also recorded video interviews with immigrants. Links to those can be found on the Facebook page for The Air We Breathe or you can look for the videos on the project’s YouTube channel.

Macek said the title for the exhibit is inspired by a speech given by President John F. Kennedy in 1963:

“Let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests … For our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air.”

Macek said the project came about as a result of her work as the Americorps VISTA -- Intercultural Outreach Specialist for the Carl Sandburg College Literacy Coalition.

“I work one-on-one with many members of our international community here in Galesburg, and as I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve gotten to hear their amazing stories of where they’ve come from and why they’ve moved here,” Macek said. “It was something I wanted to share. I felt like it needed to be heard by many people.”

Komi Adamessi is one the people featured in the exhibit.  He grew up in Togo and came to the United States in November, 2011. 

Komi Adamessi poses next to his portrait. “If we can bring together the young people around the world and share new mindsets - I think we really can make this world better,” said Adamessi in the statement posted next to the photo.
Credit Rich Egger

“If you live in another part of the world, the United States is like a dream. We want to come to the United States because of what we saw in the news and what we learned in school,” he said.

Adamessi stayed with a family in Chicago for a couple months, then moved downstate when he got a job with a meat processor in Monmouth.  He quit that job a few months ago to begin his own business in Galesburg, the community in which he’s lived for nearly two years.  His business does graphic design, provides immigrant assistance, and offers a variety of other services.

“This country (the U.S.) has a lot of opportunity. You can increase your chance to succeed and increase the chance for your children to be successful,” said Adamessi, who feels the photo exhibit encourages people to place a greater value on human life.

Chelsea Castillo Macek said opportunity is a two-way street.  She considers the international community to be a valuable resource for Galesburg and the surrounding area.

“Galesburg has had its share of struggles throughout the years and I feel like this influx of people from all over the world brings new ideas and new visions,” she said.