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Neenah Historical Society shares immigration stories of community in ‘Tracing Our Paths’

From the Local 5 Digital Desk

NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – The phrase “There’s no place like home” may sound cliche, but for one Neenah family, it’s true. The Neenah Historical Society is debuting a new exhibit Tracing Our Paths.

“We wanted to tell some of the inspiring stories of the people from our community who have made Neenah their home over the past 170 years. There are so many stories of courage and inspiration that we were able to find,” says Jane Lang, Executive Director of the Neenah Historical Society.

The exhibit shares the stories of families who immigrated to Neenah. The Joshi family, who are featured in Tracing Our Paths, is one of the first Indian families to live in the Neenah area. Devendra (Dev) Joshi immigrated to the United States in 1958 after being selected to attend college at UW-Madison to receive his Master’s degree. Dev’s wife, Hansa, a former teacher, immigrated a year later. The couple had three children, Mark, Shalini, and Swati.

“They knew at the time that it was going to be easier for them to accept going to a school in the North than in the South, because this would’ve been in the 50s in the time of the civil rights movement, where they would have certainly encountered a lot more racial discrimination if they were in the South,” says Passales.

Joshi says while she and her sister didn’t experience significant discrimination, there was still a lot of adversity their parents faced.

“Our parents came at a time where nobody knew much about India. We were often confused with American Indians, particularly in Wisconsin. Mom and Dad did a lot to educate the community on India and on how the differences were actually positives,” says Swati.

Dev and Hansa wanted to make sure their children understood their heritage, so they started the Fox Valley India Association and Puja (prayer) group.

“They really made it home for us, but they really raised us as bi-cultural kids,” says Joshi.

Despite no longer living in the Fox Valley, Passales and Joshi say Neenah will always be home.

“It doesn’t matter where I live in the world, it doesn’t matter what my heritage is, I will forever be a Packers fan. I will forever be a Cheesehead. My roots are instilled in Wisconsin. My roots are instilled in India,” says Joshi.

“I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’ve lived in Washington D.C. in the suburbs, and there is no place like home. That community is really, really special,” says Passales.

The exhibit Tracing Our PathsNeenah’s Immigration Stories will open to the public on May 9 and will be on display until October of 2022. For more information on Tracing Our Paths, click here.

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