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Throughout the past two years, Changing Gears has looked at the role that newcomers play in the Midwest. This afternoon, we’ll be talking about them — and talking with you. 

Join us at 3 pm ET/2 pm CT for “Hidden Assets,” a call-in show airing on WBEZ Chicago, Michigan Radio and ideastream Cleveland. We’ll also be holding a live chat here at ChangingGears.info.

WBEZ’s Steve Edwards will host with a variety of scheduled guests, including Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, and Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo. The Changing Gears team will chat with you here during the show.

Throughout the past two years, Changing Gears has looked at the role that newcomers play in the Midwest. On Wednesday, we’ll be talking about them — and talking with you. 

Join us at 3 pm ET/2 pm CT for “Hidden Assets,” a call-in show airing on WBEZ Chicago, Michigan Radio and ideastream Cleveland. We’ll also be holding a live chat here at ChangingGears.info.

WBEZ’s Steve Edwards will host with a variety of scheduled guests, including Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder. They’ll be looking at ways the Midwest is trying to attract immigrants, and how they can be a competitive business advantage for our region.

“Hidden Assets” welcomes your participation, on the air and here.

When we asked what cultural traditions people have kept or lost, many wrote about the difficulty of fitting into American culture while staying connected to their own roots.

Yen Azzaro tried to learn her mother’s native Mandarin Chinese in college, but never mastered it. “I never learned how to read or write Chinese. Sometimes I feel inadequate or guilty about this,” said Azzaro. “But most of the time I just feel relieved that I understand some Chinese. Many people my age worked so hard to assimilate; they lost all knowledge of their native tongue,” she said.

Those who hold on to traditions often have a way of adapting and updating them to reflect new cultural experiences.

Sausage making in Anette Kingsbury's family. Credit: Annette Kingsbury

One way to track those changes and adaptations is through the way people cook and share food. We heard from a Sicilian family that once made 700 cannolis and another that (enthusiastically) honors their Sicilian roots by making hundreds of sausages.

Our culture project incorporated many stories from people who keep up a family food tradition and put their own spin on it.

Sharlene Innes writes: “The most important Polish tradition for my family and for me is Wigilia, the Christmas Eve celebration. We come together to share a meal which now includes items like a large nacho prepared by my Mexican-American brother-in-law.”

An updated tradition can help to make culture more meaningful for younger generations. Rosalyn Park hated stuffing mandu as a child. Eventually, though, making mandu became a special, Christmastime tradition that Park looks forward to. It’s now a way for Park’s family to come together once a year.

“Over the years, our Christmas making mandu tradition has expanded, and we now invite close friends to participate in the event, open a bottle or two of wine, and make merry. The big bowl would come out, the mandu skins laid forth, and we’d sit down for another several hours of mandu-making,” said Park

Park’s mother added a twist to keep everyone in the mandu-stuffing spirit. “My Buddhist-born, now Catholic mother forced us to wear Santa hats. Never mind that our foreheads itched under the synthetic white fur, we were her “elves” and this was how we now did it.”

Stuffing mandu with the Park family. Credit: Roaslyn Park

Some culinary traditions are difficult to keep, no matter how hard you try. Like a foreign language, complex recipes can become easier with total cultural immersion. We heard from many children of immigrants who never learned these skills as they grew up in the U.S. Most regret it.

Brigitte Kirchgatterer has found her mother’s German recipes challenging to master. “My Mom passed in 2005 and she really was active in trying to retain a lot of the Germanic Cooking,” said Kirchgatterer. “I find I just do not have the time to prepare the same labor intense or process laden dishes even though I miss them. It makes me very sad.”

You can read more about food, traditions, and cultural adaptation from our collection of family stories. Or, you can share your family traditions with us.

As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousin’s famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings or any dish that your family has enjoyed.

We’re collecting recipes until midnight tomorrow. We’ll publish all the recipes. The winner, to be chosen by the Changing Gears team, will be announced here and on our partner websites. They’ll collect a grab bag of public radio goodies.

Today, Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard shares this recipe for Mazurek:

My father’s family, which is of French descent, has been in the United States for many generations, settling primarily in Massachusetts. But my mother is a first generation American. Her family came to the United States around 1905. Her father hailed from what was known as Byelorussia, and now Belorus, an area also known as White Russia.

My mom learned European dishes from her mother and New England recipes through my dad, so we enjoyed a varied menu at home. I’ve always heard my mother say what a good cook my grandmother was. But, I didn’t know until this year that my grandmother was co-owner of a bakery in Grand Rapids. The Northwestern Bakery stood on Leonard Street, although the building is no longer there.

Each Easter, my family gathers for brunch, and Mazurek (pronouncd mah-ZUR-eck) is always the last dish that is served. We sit over coffee and tea and enjoy this dense, rich pastry, very much like a soft shortbread. My mom was always the Mazurek baker, until she offered to teach me. She also shared the recipe with my brother, who baked the Mazurek that you see here.

Want to add Mazurek to your repertoire? Follow this recipe.

For the shortbread base:
2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsp cream or half & half

Sift the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. In a separate small bowl, mix egg with the cream. Add it to the flour mixture. Mix lightly (it may be a little sticky). Spread the mixture in a buttered glass or ceramic pie dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until baked, but not brown.

Topping:
1/3 cup almond paste (more, if desired)
1/3 cup raspberry jam
1/3 cup apricot jam
candied fruit, if desired

Allow the base to cool until slightly warm. Spread the almond paste on the base (thin it with a little milk if needed to make it pliable). Decorate the top with the apricot and raspberry jam — you can create quadrants with each flavor, and separate them with almond paste borders, or drop the jam in spoonfuls. Add candied fruit if desired.

Mazurek keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week; you may also freeze it. Warm it briefly in the oven or microwave if desired, but take care not to melt the jam.


Last year, Alabama enacted the country’s most restrictive laws against illegal immigration. One week later, Dayton, Ohio, set out a welcome mat for immigrants. And it’s not alone.

In the second part of our look at immigrants and the Midwest, we’ve found many local governments are trying to attract immigrants as an economic development strategy.

Tom Wahlrab from Welcome Dayton speaks to Global Detroit.

Dayton got attention from all over the world last fall when its city commission unanimously approved a plan called Welcome Dayton to make it an “immigrant-friendly city.” Since then, the town has been inundated.

“We have people calling us from South Africa that read about us in the local paper,” Tom Wahlrab, one of the plan’s architects, said recently in Detroit. “We have people from North China that want to immigrate here, they thought we could help them.”

All that attention so far is just for a plan. It’s a rebranding campaign for Dayton, as well as a framework for helping local government make it easier to integrate immigrants into life there, whether that’s buying a house, starting a business or learning English.

Wahlrab spoke at the invitation of Global Detroit, a network of organizations and individuals that describes itself as promoting immigration as an economic development strategy.

Dayton’s attention might have made a few other Midwestern cities a little envious. Global Detroit’s Steve Tobocman was quick to point out that Dayton isn’t the only one trying to get immigrants to relocate.

“We’ve been at it a lot longer, we’ve attracted a lot more money,” he said at the event. “But I believe there is a certain elegance and opportunity in the plan that Dayton has put together. They’ve done certain things so profoundly right that I think we have a lot to learn from it.”

Global Detroit recently received a $2.6 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation that it will use in part to fund small businesses in two predominantly Arab and Hispanic immigrant neighborhoods in Detroit. The money will also go to further fund its Detroit Welcome Mat initiative, which involves 75 local social service agencies that work with immigrants.

Audrey Singer, who studies immigration for the Brookings Institution in Washington, said modern waves of migrants into the U.S. have mostly gone to Chicago, the South or Southwestern United States. Those who relocate to the Midwest are different.

The Midwest attracts “a very strong, small group of immigrants who have higher education levels much higher than other parts of the country,” she said. Her research shows that in Cleveland, there are 169 immigrants with at least a bachelor’s degree for every 100 immigrants with a high school diploma or less. Pittsburgh has the highest ratio of any metropolitan area in the country – 391 high skilled immigrants for every 100 low-skilled immigrants.

In the U.S., those concentrations of high skilled immigrants are found only along the East Coast – and across the Great Lakes states.

Singer thinks that’s one reason why governments in this region tend to be more welcoming to immigrants.

Addison's Mayor, Larry Hartwig (Niala Boodhoo)

One such place is Addison, Illinois, about 20 miles west of Chicago. It’s a small town – technically, a village – and the type of place where the Mayor has his home phone listed on the town’s website. In the past fifteen years, the number of immigrants living in Addison has grown to almost half the town’s 40,000 residents.

Addison’s Mayor, Larry Hartwig, told me that 34 percent of the community is also foreign-born. While most of the immigrant population is Mexican, there’s also a growing Polish, Albanian and Southeast Asian population. A Hindu temple was recently built nearby.

I spoke with Hartwig at the Henry Hyde Community Resource Center. It was deliberately built in what used to be a tough neighborhood, in hopes of turning it into a more hospitable place.

Now, about one hundred local kids come here after school. There are 750 adults who use it in the morning and evenings for ESL classes – so many, in fact, that the center has a waiting list.

Hartwig says that integrating immigrants, some of whom have come directly from small towns in Mexico, has required adjustments for everyone. It’s something the town has worked hard at for the past 15 years. A few years ago, the village hired consultants who provided cross cultural training for key people in town. Those people, in turn, have trained others – even the local PTA groups at Addison’s schools.

Kids exercising in the afterschool program at Addison's neighborhood resource center (Niala Boodhoo)

“From village halls to the schools to the park district everyone’s making a concerted effort to see what can be done to integrate the community,” said Kiki Deluna, a first generation Mexican-American who is the executive director of the Resource Center.

Unlike Dayton or Detroit, Addison never promoted itself as a place for immigrants to move to – they came on their own. But Mayor Hartwig said that now the town realizes “the essential role immigrants play in our economic development”.

Hartwig wants to be clear that he doesn’t think Addison is doing things perfectly. But he knows that Addison has to be successful at integrating the entire community.

“Immigrants are going to be an important part of our workforce,” he said. “If we are out in front welcoming and integrating and making it work I think it’s going to give us a great competitive advantage, over other areas of the country, and probably other areas of the world.”


Michelle Guevara writes:

My great-grandfather migrated from Sicily. Like a lot of Italian migrants, he was poor but carved a name for himself and ended up having a large family.

I miss the big family gatherings. Most of us are grown now. Weddings and funerals are the only time the extended family gets together any more. The older generation held more of the old traditions together than we do now. I find that a shame. Those were some of my best memories.

I remember cannoli day, a tradition that my family and cousins continue to this day. Everyone brings a batch of cannoli dough and we set up an assembly line. A few roll the dough out then pass it along to those rolling the forms. They drop the rolls gently into the deep fryer.

Michelle demonstrates her cannoli rolling technique

Before the last batch is done, my cousins start dinner of spaghetti, meat balls or sausages, salad, and garlic bread. We fill our bellies to the point of bursting.

For dessert we eat…what else? Cannolis! By the end of the day, we pack the shells into boxes and divide them among the family. One day we made 700 shells.

-Michelle Guevara, Michigan

(In case you’re wondering—700 cannolis would add up to 4950 cubic inches of Italian dessert, or: one giant 3.5×1 ft cannoli.)

Most Americans have ethnic and cultural roots outside of the U.S. We’re asking you to share cultural traditions that are still important to you.

Changing Gears is looking for stories, recipes, songs, and pictures. We’ll be collecting these stories  on the Your Family Story page. They’ll also appear at changinggears.info and we’ll even put some on the air. You can share your story here.


Dustin Dwyer

Bing Goei came to the United States as a child. Now he runs a company with 60 employees and more than $5 million in annual revenue.

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In many ways, the headquarters for Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids, Mich. is like a factory. It’s in an old building with brick walls. The floor is smooth, cold concrete. A noisy printer rattles off new orders.

But of course, it smells amazing in here. Designers stand at long wooden tables, primping and pruning flowers. Red tulips. White daisies. Yellow roses. And just about any other flower you can imagine.

Bing Goei, the owner, says this work is more like artistry.

“I think you have to be born with that.” he says. “I was not. I admit it.”

Goei says this with a laugh.

But he was born with something else that turned out to be its own asset. He was born with a foreign birth certificate. His parents were Chinese. He was born in Indonesia, then moved to the Netherlands. From there, they moved to Grand Rapids, like a lot of Dutch people before them. Except, they have a Chinese name.

And like many of those immigrants before him, Goei worked hard. He started in the flower business in high school. Now, Eastern Floral has seven locations, about 60 year-round employees – twice that around Valentine’s Day – and the company has over $5 million in annual revenue.

Goei says being an immigrant, and being an entrepreneur, there’s a connection there.

“Almost every immigrant that comes to this country has come because they see America as that land of opportunity,” he says. “So immediately, their drive is to fulfill that dream.”

The data on this backs Goei up.

The Kauffman Foundation reports that immigrants are twice as likely as people born in America to start a business.

Richard Herman is an immigration attorney in Cleveland. Herman and Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Robert Smith wrote a book called Immigration, Inc.

Herman could go on all day with stats about how entrepreneurial immigrants to the U.S. are.

“Immigrants are filing patents at a two-to-one ratio [compared to] American-born,” he says. “Immigrants are more likely to have advanced degrees than American-born.”

The Kauffman Foundation

From "America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs," by the Kauffman Foundation (click for larger version).

And there’s more:

Immigration is controversial in this country right now, because of added social service and enforcement costs, and because many believe unemployed American-born people could fill some of the jobs taken up by immigrants.

But in study after study, the data all points in one direction: Immigrants create more jobs than they take.

In the Midwest at least, policy makers are starting to take notice.

“I’m not into the politics of immigration, says Michael Finney, who heads up the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “The facts of immigration says it’s good any place in the United States. The politics of it, obviously, says something different. And I think there’s just an awful lot of confusion with regard to the kind of immigration that’s really good for the United States.”

Finney says his office does work to increase opportunities for people born here.

“But we’d be remiss if we decided to ignore or work against the immigrant population,” Finney says. “Particularly those that are educated at our universities, and in many cases, they’re earning advanced degrees. And after completing those advanced degrees, we’re requiring them to leave the United States and go back to their country, and compete against us.”

Retaining and attracting immigrants has become a major focus for Finney, and the man who hired him, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. They’ve started an initiative called Global Michigan.

More programs like it are popping up in the Midwest. In the next story for our series, we’ll look at some of those efforts.

The hope is, investing in immigrants will pay off, like it has many times before in this country.