Community leaders are bringing Columbus to life through the eyes of immigrants with two welcoming projects to be displayed this summer.

“Columbus in My Eyes” and “Discovering Columbus: The Experience of Women Immigrants” are intended to illustrate the experiences of immigrants from around the community through images and written stories.

When Felipe Martinez first arrived in the United States in 1981 as a 14-year-old Mexican immigrant, his eyes were opened to a new world. That is why he is inviting members of the community to see Columbus in a new light.

Born in Mexico, Martinez was a stranger to the American culture.

Recalling his experience, Martinez, now 50, started searching for a way to ease the transition for immigrants entering the United States.

“When we talk about diversity in Columbus, sometimes that diversity is not very visible,” said Martinez, who serves as pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus.

Martinez is joining forces with community leaders and St. Bartholomew Catholic Church to assemble a welcoming exhibit for immigrants around the city.

Through “Columbus in My Eyes,” immigrants in Columbus can enter photographs to be displayed around the city. Details of the project’s placement have not been identified, but Columbus City Hall has approved plans to possibly host the exhibit.

In order to participate in the project, people submitting photographs must be born outside of the United States or have at least one parent born outside of the U.S.

The exhibit curator, Esmeralda Gonzalez, said it gives an opportunity for all of Columbus’ immigrants to express themselves, sharing the way they view life in the city through photos.

“I hope the community knows more about how immigrants feel in this community after the completion of this project,” said Gonzalez, who also is from Mexico.

The project is one of two being funded by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, which awarded more than $48,000 in awards to area groups, agencies and organizations for programs designed to promote diversity and inclusion.

“Columbus in My Eyes” received a $5,000 Welcoming Community Arts and Culture Grant for the project.

“What I see in this is it gives us an opportunity to see ourselves in a new light,” Martinez said. “For me, this is an effort to highlight one aspect of diversity.”

The Rev. Clem Davis, pastor at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, is on the project planning committee. He said “Columbus in My Eyes” will help the community evaluate its own efforts in regards to welcoming immigrants.

“As a pastor, I’ve experienced personally that Columbus is a welcoming community,” Davis said.

But with a large, growing Hispanic population, it’s important for Columbus to always strive to be more welcoming, he said.

This is one way Davis hopes Columbus can do just that.

Experiences of women

The second project, led by faculty members at IUPUC, highlights the experiences of immigrant women in the community through stories paired with photos that also will be displayed at Columbus City Hall.

Aimee Zoeller, coordinator of sociology and women’s studies at the university, said “Discovering Columbus: The Experience of Women Immigrants” will give immigrant women in Columbus an outlet to voice their experiences.

Zoeller said workshops will take place over the next two months to help participants put their Columbus experience into 250 to 500 words. Photo shoots will also be scheduled by a professional photographer.

“We’re just trying to provide a platform,” she said. “If I have a location in the community to open up a space for women to tell their stories, that’s what is important to me.”

“Discovering Columbus: The Experience of Women Immigrants” draws inspiration from Brandon Stanton’s best-selling book, “Humans of New York Stories,” a compilation of photos and short stories about New York residents.

Zoeller said the idea stemmed from a story on National Public Radio in February that featured Dalia Mohamed, a Columbus immigrant from Sudan, and her fears of President Donald Trump’s executive order seeking a travel ban for people from a handful of Muslim countries. In the story, which aired in Feburary, Mohamed said she feared that she would not be able to visit relatives on her annual trip to Sudan if Trump’s immigration order went into effect.

Mohamed, a Muslim woman, hesitated to go out in public after several of her friends were harassed early this year.

After hearing Mohamed’s story, Zoeller knew she wanted to create an environment for women to paint their vision of Columbus through individual experiences.

“Me to be the one who inspired them just makes me speechless — completely,” Mohamed said. “That is what we need to live peacefully in this country, which believes in justice for all.”

Martinez said he hopes both projects can find synergy with each other, ultimately inviting the community to celebrate Columbus’ diverse population.

Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development, said the projects are a great way for the city to welcome people of all cultures.

“Columbus is a very international city,” Ferdon said. “The goal is to recognize cultural differences as best as we can.”

Both Martinez and Zoeller agreed, adding that they hope to increase immigrant engagement within the city while also building relationships among the community.

The welcoming projects are set to be completed by late August in conjunction with Exhibit Columbus, a three-month exhibition that combines art, architecture, design and community into multiple projects displayed throughout the city.

Both “Columbus in My Eyes” and “Discovering Columbus: The Experience of Women Immigrants” will be displayed for at least a month, city officials said.

Ethnic groups in Columbus

The Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization consists of nine member associations.

  • Columbus African American Association
  • Columbus Chinese Association
  • Columbus Japanese Business Association
  • Columbus Korean Association
  • Columbus Latin American Association
  • Indian Association of Columbus
  • Middle Eastern Association
  • Pakinstan Association
  • Trinbago Association

For more information on the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization, visit columbuscameo.org.

Diverse languages

Nearly 60 different languages are spoken among Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students.

Source: Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Ethnic diversity

Bartholomew County’s population in 2015 was estimated at 81,162. Of that number:

  • 5,111 (6.3 percent) are Hispanic
  • 4,697 (5.8 percent) are Asian-American
  • 1,676 (2.1 percent) are black
  • 1,334 (1.6 percent) are of other races
  • 12,818 (15.8 percent) make up the total non-white population

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

How to get involved

“Discovering Columbus: The Experience of Women Immigrants”

Contact Aimee Zoeller at anzoelle@iupuc.edu or 812-348-7330.

“Columbus in My Eyes”

Contact Felipe Martinez at felipem@fpccolumbus.org or 812-372-3783.