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The Heritage Organization of Romanian Americans in Minnesota



June 5th 2021

Community civic engagement and social entrepreneurship panel:

The fifth presentation highlighted the expertise developed by the Heritage Organization of Romanian Americans in Minnesota (HORA-MN) in implementing high-quality, high-visibility oral history projects. The president of the organization, educator Eugenia Popa is not only one of the most effective leaders of a community-based diaspora based organization that punches way above its weight, but also an empathic, dedicated mentor, nominated this year as Minnesota's Teacher of the Year precisely because of her work with children of migrants and with English as a Second Language students. Mrs. Popa shared HORA’s “pandemic survival kit.” The organization faced the challenge just few months after opening the Romanian American Cultural Center in the Landmark Center of St. Paul’s, a venture that came at substantial operational costs. Just as they were getting visibility in the local press for this cultural center in the heart of the city, they were faced with the prospects of not being able to hold any public events, dwindling visitors, lack of volunteers willing to risk their health and fewer donations as the small diaspora community braced for an uncertain future. The silver lining was that it forced the organization to partner with other diaspora entities, to reach larger audiences and focus on grant writing and bigger projects. They too shifted to virtual cultural and peer support events, they used the time to develop a public library with Romanian literature and cultural resources, they organized with IRF’s support virtual screenings of the excellent documentaries developed about the waves of Romanian migration to Minnesota. They too continued to offer Romanian language classes online both for children and adults.

One project of great success during this time of social isolation was “Stitches of Love,” involving women in the community learning to sew traditional costume patterns, their symbolism, and regions of provenance. The unique twist is that these patches will be collected and put together into a quilt in the shape of the state of Minnesota. Patchwork quilts are popular American crafts and so the project symbolically brings together an appreciation of the host community’s signature craftsmanship with that of the visual language of Romanian lore and motifs. It is precisely the kind painstaking community effort that is essential and timely in American society. It is a community conscious effort of sewing an all-encompassing embracing identity, appreciative of the values and unique contributions of each, a “coat of many colors,” a protective layer that gives warmth and affirms the colorful diversity of American society.

HORA is embarking on implementing their fifth oral history documenting project, the final part of a trilogy of documentaries about Romanian migration to Minnesota. They offer their expertise to other community-based diaspora organizations seeking to replicate such projects and create professional documentaries. Mrs. Popa provided a brief planning guide relevant for grant applications, for production and distribution. She spoke of the substantial human and material resources required in mobilizing for such a multi-year project, the importance of finding the specialists with precise expertise. Such resources are not readily accessible for small diaspora hubs and replicating such projects will require the building of teams within which the niche of each organization may be leveraged in creating deliverables that truly give the diaspora a chance in becoming visible through national television stations and implicitly in national consciousness.

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