Bolivian Blog Post (number four) – Mackie Moncure-Williams

An excellent source of information on Bolivian immigrant experiences is Tom Gjelten’s book, A Nation of Nations. In the second chapter of his book, Gjelten discusses a family who moved from Bolivia to the United States. Edu Alarcon states that it is her “drive”[i] that allowed her to make it to a better life. Coming from a poverty stricken and very rural area of Bolivia, Alarcon and her two friends arranged themselves go “to the nearest big city, Cochabamba, about sixty miles away.”[ii] Finding work there as house keepers, Edu and her friends were able to live on their own. When Edu was growing up “there was no school in her village, and at the age of fourteen she had not yet learned to read or write.”[iii] When her daughters first travelled to the United States in 1980, “only about sixty Bolivians visited the United States on an average day that year.”[iv] Coming to a country where they did not know anyone, spoke no English, and were very far away from home; Edu’s daughters (and herself later on) could have surely used some comfort. While seeing each other was an option every now and then, there was nothing compared to having a piece of home with them at all times.

One man who began a Bolivian newspaper in 1986 was Julio Duran. Stating that “every time he picked up a local paper looking for news about Latin America, he found himself reading about earthquakes, political coups, and cocaine trafficking,”[v] Duran wanted Latinos to have a more accurate view of Latin American politics, culture, and society. Duran named his newspaper Impacto, and he became successful even though he faced adversity for being foreign.[vi] Despite going through a difficult process of proving himself; Duran’s newspaper helped bring the Latino community together in the United States.

For Bolivian immigrants, newspapers like Impacto could really help them be more connected in the US with things going on in South America.

[i] Tom Gjelten, A Nation of Nations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 20.

[ii] Gjelten, 21.

[iii] Gjelten, 20.

[iv] Gjelten, 23.

[v] Dianne Sanez, “Bolivian-Born Va. Man Starts Local Paper With a Latin Beat,” The Washington Post, December 11, 1986.

[vi] Ibid.

Ethiopia Blog Post (Blog Post three) – Mackie Moncure-Williams

From the late 1970s until 1991, Ethiopia was under the control of Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was responsible for creating its infamously harsh communist regime. Due to the rise in fighting and violence, many individuals fled to the United States. Not only was the United States extremely fearful of communism, but there were refugee acts in place that made it easier for those coming from communist countries. Those who did immigrate, however, discovered a country that was just beginning to recognize civil rights for African Americans. Although this changed later on, individuals immigrating from Ethiopia found themselves subject of the same racial biases.

Leaving Ethiopia for the United States was vastly different than what many expected. While they were safe from civil war and communism, Ethiopian immigrants still face discrimination due to the color of their skin. Tom Gjelten’s book, A Nation of Nations, discusses in detail the racism that Ethiopians faced. He takes time to mention the opinions of a politician from North Carolina named Sam Ervin who states that he “doesn’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.”[i] During the mid-twentieth century, racism against African Americans was an ever present issue. Despite the 1960 U.S. Census showing that “Americans of African descent outnumbered Scandinavian Americans by a margin of two and a half to one,” those with dark skin were still forced to endure the cruel treatment of Jim Crow while living in the southern United States.[ii]

Thanks to modern technology during the twentieth century, historians have been able to conduct interviews with individuals who experienced what it was like to move from Ethiopia to the United States during the presidency of Mengistu Haile Mariam. One of these individuals was Aida Abdul-Wali. Abdul-Wali was born around 1966, and lived in Ethiopia until the age of eight. Abdul-Wali describes the suddenness of the civil war breaking out in Ethiopia, stating “it was a peaceful time, and the next thing you know, it was like a military takeover.”[iii] After moving to both Yemen and Egypt, Abdul-Wali moved to the United States at the age of fourteen to reunite with her mother in 1980. Abdul-Wali and her family stayed in the area of Northern Virginia, moving back and forth between Annandale and Alexandria. When asked about being an immigrant, Abdul-Wali considers herself and her family lucky. “My father was an American citizen, so when we came here he basically sponsored us. So we had our green cards and what not when we arrived.”[iv]

Unlike Abul-Wali, Rhoda Worku’s move to the United States was not so smooth. The civil war greatly affected the Worku family. Worku’s father and uncles, who were all members of Haile Selassie’s government cabinet were executed by Mengistu Haile Mariam regime.[v] Worku and her family were not allowed to leave the country at first, but eventually she was able to escape to live with Presbyterian missionaries in California. However, Worku agrees with Aida on the subject of naturalization. She states that the process was “very nice,”[vi] and that the exam for naturalization “wasn’t that hard.”[vii] Worku was also fortunate enough to escape the harsh racism that plagued the African American community until the early 1970s, but she also had a more difficult experience finding a job due to her lack of citizenship. It is not surprising that Rhoda has found success in running her own business, because that would have been her simplest option as an immigrant.

While both Abul-Wali and Worku never experienced full on crimes against their civil rights in the United States, they still had the difficult task of becoming citizens and acquiring jobs. Each group of Immigrants faced their own unique hardships when arriving in the United States, and each individual had his or her own special story that caused them to leave their first home.

[i] Tom Gjelten, A Nation of Nations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), 120.

[ii] Gjelten, 121.

[iii] Aida Abul-Wali, interviewed by Apasrin Suvanasai, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future, Adept World Management, August 25, 2015.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Rhoda Worku, interviewed by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future, Adept World Management, May 20, 2015.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[vii] Rohda Worku, interviewed by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future, Adept World Management, September 10, 2015.

Fiermonte Brothers

While working through the 1920 and 1940 U.S. Census, I came across an interesting family–the Fiermontes. James and Tony Fiermonte, two Italian immigrants, ran a store in Alexandria Virginia.[i] These two men peaked my interest; not only because they are two brothers living together, but also because of their financial situation.

While the U.S. Census from 1940 states that James Fiermonte owns a store, it is his older brother Tony who peaks my interest. Although the census names Tony as a clerk at his brother’s store, it also says that he is not making any money.[ii] One would assume that because Tony is employed, he would be making some amount of money. I found it extremely confusing that Tony claimed that he was making no money. By 1940, the two brothers had been living in the United States for forty years, so one would think that they would be well established. One finds it hard to imagine a man who is sixty-four not having a penny to his name. When I saw Tony Fiermonte’s finances, I knew that I had to research a bit to find out what was causing this money mystery.

My confusion was solved with some simple research. While I was looking through the internet, I found a newspaper article from August 15, 1911. This article states that Tony Fiermonte is filing a divorce lawsuit against his ex wife, Helen.[iii] After reading this article, it made sense to me why Tony was not forthcoming about his finances. Divorces can be extremely expensive, and Tony was probably trying to protect his assets. This also explains why it states that he is living with his younger brother in the census.[iv] What I had assumed to be a simple lack of information turned out to yield a pretty interesting discovery. I was surprised that a local newspaper would print an article about a divorce hearing, but without that piece of writing the questions that I had about the Fiermonte brother’s finances would have never been answered.

A second piece of information that I was able to find was Tony Fiermonte’s death certificate. Tony passed away on February 16th 1953 at the age of 75.[v] What was also interesting was that sometime between the year 1940 and 1953, he had remarried. His certificate of death lists that he is widowed, and lists his wife’s name as Rosie Spinks.[vi] I find it amazing that the last thirteen years of Tony Fiermonte’s life were so turbulent. Within that time Tony married his second wife, suffered through her death, and became a United States citizen. Once my research was complete; I felt as though I knew the Fiermonte family on a much more personal level, and solved some of the mystery behind their withheld information.


[i]  1940 census data, Alexandria Virginia

[ii] 1940 census data, Alexandra Virginia

[iii] Louis Duffey, “Post From the County Court Clerk’s Office,” Alexandria Gazette, August 15, 1911.

[iv] 1940 census data, Alexandria Virginia

[v] Department of Health and Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificate of Death for Tony Fiermonte,

state file #2841. Registration district number 2020.

[vi] Ibid.