Other Voices


Mohammad Yadegari — hard truths in an immigrant's experience

Mohammad Yadegari of Guilderland has written a book, “Always an Immigrant: A Cultural Memoir” that describes his life in three parts: as a child, growing up in an Iranian family in Iraq; as a young man, learning about life on his own in Tehran; and as a newcomer to America where he studies in Albany, marries, and becomes a teacher. He spent a decade writing the book, crystallizing a lifetime of experiences into compelling stories, which reveal some hard truths. As a schoolboy, he was told by his teacher, describing empires that had over history, risen and fallen, that America did not build an empire but brought many people together and melded into a nation. Deep down, he is sad seeing the news now because he cannot understand how someone feels better than another because of the color of his or her skin. He writes, “We are what we observe, learn, and experience in our momentary journey on earth. The degree that separates us from one another is the way we come to regard our perceptions as facts.” — Photo from Mohammad Yadegari

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Ellen Zunon — the journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert

Ellen Zunon of Guilderland was brought up on stories of her Dutch ancestors. Her father’s side of the family goes back to Cornelis Van Slijck who came to Fort Orange, now Albany, from the Netherlands in 1634. He married a Mohawk princess, the story goes, although now Zunon is “not so sure about the princess part,” she says in this week’s podcast. Bridging two worlds, van Slijck’s daughters became interpreters; a son founded Schenectady Village in 1661, she said. Zunon is a member of the Dutch Settlers Society, established in 1924, and also a trustee of the New Netherlands Institute, a not-for-profit that supports the translation of old Dutch documents in the State Archives. Zunon notes that Albany has a sister city in the Netherlands — Nijmegen in the province of Gelderland — a relationship that began in 1947 after Nijmegen had been bombed at the end of World War II. The bulbs Nijmegen sent in thanks for the goods from Albany were the beginning of Albany’s Tulip Festival, she says. This week, Zunon gave a talk, online through the Guilderland Public Library, based on a journal — “A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635” — kept by a young Dutch barber and surgeon, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert. Van den Bogaert kept a daily journal as he traveled, in the midst of the Little Ice Age, with two other young Dutchmen and five Mohawk guides 100 miles west from Fort Orange into central New York to negotiate prices for beaver pelts with the Mohawk and Oneida people. Zunon notes the account has the first recorded listing of the five tribes making up the Iroquois Confederacy and also, judging by their reaction, their introduction to guns. Zunon has developed her own recipes from the descriptions of the food the men ate on their journey — made from corn, beans, and squash, staples for the Iroquois diet. Zunon is Dutch on her mother’s side, too, as her mother’s parents immigrated from the Netherlands in 1911. As a child, Zunon learned to play the Dutch national anthem on the piano. She has her mother’s music book of Dutch songs and her next research project is linking songs from the 1500s and 1600s to the Dutch Eighty Years’ War for independence. In her own life, Zunon has bridged two worlds. As a student majoring in French at the University at Albany, she joined the French club where she met Denis Zunon, a student from the Ivory Coast in Africa who became her husband. They raised their two children there until, when their daughter was 12 and their son was 6, political unrest brought the family to the United States. “Living in two cultures gives you a broader view of the world,” says Zunon. “It makes you less judgmental of other cultures.”