Whitehall Digital Storytelling Workshop

January - March 2017

Immigration Journeys: Old and New

Stories bind us by creating a personal lens that helps us understand the “other,” creating empathy as we look at the individual experience rather than the labeling of the “group,” which can create misunderstanding and a lack of acceptance. The Allegheny County Library Association’s Immigration Journeys - Old and New: A Digital Storytelling Project builds on Pittsburgh’s history of immigration, linking the region’s history to the current immigrant and refugee populations moving to Allegheny County. This project has been built on stories, intrinsic to libraries.

The Digital Storytelling Project addresses the social integration of newcomers at the personal and community level, empowering participants and creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue.

Sally Rafson and Kara Sambrick led a series of four workshops where participants created short digital stories (videos) retelling either their immigration experience or that of a relative. The workshops helped to promote understanding among the diverse participants. Long-term residents of Pittsburgh were focused on the telling and preservation of history and their accounts of their relatives’ hardships and road to success. The newly arrived refugees and immigrants chose to participate in order to tell their stories to the wider community.

The project included public discussions following the workshops at two libraries and two universities, with a panel of refugees and long-term residents responding to audience questions. These events drew very diverse audiences, culturally, racially, and generationally.

Surveys showed that viewing the videos and participating in the discussions increased knowledge and support for the resettlement of refugees into Allegheny County. This positive change in attitude leads to greater understanding of the refugee and immigrant experience, and creates a more welcoming atmosphere in Pittsburgh.

A son tells the story of his father, an Italian immigrant who fights on both sides of WWII, and builds a life in Pittsburgh as a stone mason.
A Bhutanese refugee explains the difficulty of explaining to his young daughter how the Bhutanese civil war has impacted their family.
Fleeing poverty in Guatemala, a family finds a new beginning in Pittsburgh as immigrants
A young boy, separated from his family in the Sudanese civil war, learns to survive and, as a refugee, builds a new successful life in Pittsburgh, PA. He is reunited with his family many years later.
A family from Mexico flees violent crime to find a better life in the Pittsburgh, PA.
A young couple struggles with religious prejudice in Ireland and Wales in the the early part of the 20th century, fleeing to the United States for freedom.
The Immigration story of a young man from Fulda Germany, who studied painting, comes to Pittsburgh after WWI, but faces discrimination during WWII. He worked hard painting houses and holding down several jobs to support his family. Finally ending up at Gulf Oil, he wins first place in a corporate art competition.
Forced to leave Bhutan and live in a Nepalese refugee camp, a family must struggle to survive before finding refuge in the Pittsburgh, PA.
The story of three generations of a family that immigrated from Bremen Germany 165 years ago to work on railroads in Mexico and New Mexico.

Additional Project Refugee Videos


A mother and her daughter escape violence and gang threats in Colombia in search of a better life.
Story of a young man fleeing violence in Bhutan to start a new life serving others in Pittsburgh, PA
A refugee story of exile and settlement in a new country.

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art included the videos created during Immigration Journeys: Old and  New.  On February 9, 2018, the videos were featured at the opening exhibition of Tell Us Your Immigration Journey. It was a festive reunion of  the workshop members. 

Sally Rafson, Courtney Lefebvre, Helen Owens, Dominic Fratangelo reuniting at Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Sally Rafson, Courtney Lefebvre, Helen Owens, Dominic Fratangelo reuniting at Westmoreland Museum of American Art.

Helen Owens, video creator,  and Carol Fratangelo

Helen Owens, video creator,  and Carol Fratangelo

Dominic Fratangelo creator of "My Father's Story"

Dominic Fratangelo creator of "My Father's Story"

Sally Rafson, founder,  and Courtney Lefebvre, volunteer

Sally Rafson, founder,  and Courtney Lefebvre, volunteer

Sally Rafson can be reached at sally@sharingourstory.com.