Julia Frengs is a third-generation American, and her parents often shared their experience of coming to the United States with her. She said people need to hear immigration stories to understand another person’s situation because they are going to encounter people who are different from them.
Frengs, assistant professor in the literature of French at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, focuses on women’s writing, body representation, indigenous emancipation and environmental engagement of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
“My family was from the Ukraine part,” she said. “There was a kind of mass migration between 1880 and 1920 of Jewish people because there was a lot of antisemitism.”
Frengs said most of her family came to the United States, and some went back to Israel. It was dangerous to be a Jewish person in the Soviet Union during that period, she said.
“There was a lot of political unrest going on,” she said. “There was the Bolshevik Revolution around the time that my grandparents came over.”
Frengs said her grandparents were young, about 17 years old. After they arrived, they married and had her dad and aunt.
Sam Burstein, Frengs’s father, was a hematologist and oncologist specialist in private practice in Illinois before he retired.
“When we migrated to the United States at the beginning, my parents were very poor and uneducated,” Burstein said.
Burstein’s grandparents were uneducated and did not have the money to get a good education for his parents, so they were workers, laborers and cobblers living in an expensive area.
Burstein said he worked hard and was awarded scholarships for college and then medical school. It was the family’s path out of poverty.
“My wife would come to my daughter’s, Julia, house at elementary school to make black cups and all the traditions of the Christain religion to retain that part of our culture, even though we already migrated,” Burstein said. “Honestly, I always told Julia we were Russian, and then she found out not long ago, about 10 years ago, that we were not Russian, we were Ukrainian.”
Frengs said the relationship between migration and diversity is complicated and simple at the same time because migration is growing.
“Students at Nebraska are mostly white with a small foreign resident population,” she said. “The university population’s demographics are 77% white, 5% Hispanic, 3% Black, 2% Asian and some other ethnicities mixed in the community.”
Frengs said Nebraska is a refugee relocation community. In particular, Lincoln, Omaha and UNL are trying to take some steps in the right direction, like The Institute for Ethnic Studies developing a race and diversity minor in its program.
“There has been a commission on equity and inclusion in the recent year following the Black Lives Matter protest in the past summer,” she said. “They are trying to find solutions to it and working towards diversity and inclusion at the Husker community.”
Frengs said the best way for the Husker community to improve diversity and inclusion is to take some language classes because language opens up to different cultures.
“I think language classes are really helpful because classes in anthropology, global studies and the institute for ethnic studies help increase awareness of other cultures,” she said.