Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present and Future

In 2015, The Office of Historic Alexandria was awarded a grant of $8,000 from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to begin the initial phase of a multi-year project entitled Immigration Alexandria: Past, Present and Future.

Page updated on Jun 13, 2021 at 2:56 PM

The Immigrant Alexandria Project

This initiative is examining the history of immigration from the mid-nineteenth century to today in Alexandria. Founded in 1749 on the banks of the Potomac River, the City of Alexandria has a long history of receiving immigrants. After World War II, American diplomatic and military expansion overseas and the formal development of refugee programs facilitated an increase in immigration from all over the world to Alexandria. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, about 24% of Alexandrians, or a little over 32,000 people, were foreign born.

Oral histories of those representing different ethnic groups in the post-1970 immigrant communities of Alexandria, fundamental to the overall project, were conducted as the first phase of the project, with the VFH funding.

Valuing and recognizing Alexandria’s diversity is one of the major goals of the City Council’s Strategic Plan. Community leaders recognize the need to have Alexandria’s history better reflect the community and celebrate the variety of people from throughout the world who have made Alexandria their home. OHA sees the Immigrant Alexandria project as a way to fulfill this goal and promote a more inclusive history that recognizes the diverse groups within Alexandria.

The overall project will:

  • 1) document and interpret the experiences of immigrants;
  • 2) explore the various responses to immigration in Alexandria;
  • 3) increase knowledge of the history of immigration in Virginia; and
  • 4) promote conversations about the complexity of the immigrant experience and the ways in which it impacts our community today and in the future. The purpose of this first city-wide endeavor is to increase public understanding of the historic and contemporary significance of immigration to Alexandria and its impacts on our social and cultural fabric. Funding for planning and research, as well as implementation to celebrate Alexandria’s diversity through public programming, is now being developed in partnerships with both government and the private sector. 

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Immigration Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future
Oral History Interviews, January 1, 2015 through April 30, 2016
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Grant Report, VFH 15-12

The 2015 Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (VFH) grant to the Office of Historic Alexandria (OHA) has provided the City of Alexandria the opportunity to take the first steps to fulfilling a city-wide interpretive initiative, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future. Immigration was a timely issue in 2015 and in the years leading up to it, often in the news and sometimes fraught with controversy. Since 2010, valuing and recognizing Alexandria's diversity has been one of seven goals of the City's Strategic Plan. The Immigrant Alexandria initiative will fulfill this objective by documenting and highlighting the valued contributions of the immigrant community and the people from around the world who have made Alexandria their home.

To this end, the VFH grant enabled OHA to conduct and transcribe oral history interviews of 20 immigrants to Alexandria, plus one interview of a descendant of Chinese/Taiwanese immigrants and another of a native-born American who has spent decades working for immigrant rights. Digital recordings of the interviews in audio and video are curated at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum and also backed up by the City of Alexandria Department of Information Technology. The city's website now contains transcriptions of these interviews, highlighting both the hardships and triumphs inherent in the immigrant experience.

The Oral Histories

This program has been funded in part by a grant from Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

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