Welcoming Week Photo Series: Immigrants of Gainesville

During our September 2017 Welcoming Week, we shared the following “Immigrants of Gainesville” photo series on our Facebook page. Each photo and accompanying story was provided by Gainesville’s own Reneé Hoffinger and her “Humans of Gainesville” page on Facebook. We hope you enjoy it!

September 15

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Today’s featured neighbor is Aziz who says his life motto is to “be open.”

“I’ve been really welcomed. I feel like Gainesville now is a second home for me. I’ve been telling my friends that I feel like I’ve been reborn again here. The amount of unconditional love and acceptance is really moving.”

September 16


We’re pleased to share the story of Shazara, pictured here with Jason and Sam while observing the solar eclipse from the La Chua Trail boardwalk.

Her words to live by: “Be kind always.”

“There certainly have been challenges throughout life growing up as an immigrant, but for the most part I’ve found that people are very warm,

generous, and accepting – especially my husband, who is obviously not of my own culture. Especially as a child I think I met with a more difficult time growing into my own. I think maybe you just tend to reap what you sow and I just tried to be nice to everyone.”

September 17



We love Baye’s word to live by:  “Love.”

Originally from Senegal, Baye says, “There are ups and downs, but more ups than downs. Every experience is only what you make of it. So, I just decided to take what is positive and what is good for me and everything else I let go.”

September 18


How sweet are these two?

Today’s share highlights Perry and his partner Olga, who was born in the Dominican Republic, but has lived in the

States since 2003. Catch her at the Publix deli sometime soon!

Olga: “He is my big support, his sense of humor.”

Perry: “Olga is just a great person. I just really appreciate who she is. Plus, she is funny and we have a lot of fun together.”

Perry: “She lived in Spain for 5 years before coming to the States and then was in New York before living in Gainesville. She used to have the Green Plantains, a fusion Caribbean/Latin/Chinese food restaurant down by Williston Road.”

Olga: “Now I work for Publix in the deli. It’s still food-related but having your own restaurant is a lot of work. Everybody keeps asking me if I will open another one and I say ‘no way.’”

September 19


Cheers to you, Rosanna!

Rosanna is an environmental horticulturist at the University of Florida. Born in Peru, she came to the United States at age 25 to pursue a PhD in Michigan. She’s lived in Gainesville for the past 11 years.

Of her experience as an immigrant, she says, “I’ve been lucky that I’ve been legal the whole time. After the last election, me and a many of my friends were a lot more sensitive and just had the feeling that a lot of people would hate us just because of our appearance, which I had never felt before. But I haven’t actually experienced any of that.”

September 20


WG&AC loves Chopstix Cafe! Today’s feature shares the story of Titi, one of the owners of Chopstix and Chopstix Bistro.

“My dada told us: ‘Always appreciate everything you have today because not everyone is fortunate.’ We escaped in the 70s after the communists, but I still have family in Vietnam that didn’t get to leave. We were refugees in camps in the Philippines and then in Indonesia before we came to the States. So, just appreciate everything that we have today and work hard at it.

“When we first arrived to the States, we felt as a minority. We came to Gainesville, and there were only 3 other Vietnamese families at that time. We had to keep it in the family, to speak Vietnamese. My brother, sister, and I–we all speak Vietnamese fluently. Now that we have kids, we try to get them to speak it as well. We have always felt absolutely welcomed in Gainesville. We are still in close contact with our parents’ first friends with whom they went to school. We love Gainesville! We arrived here in the 80s and never left.”

September 21


Meet Eric, an “English person” who came to the United States in 1981.

“I never thought I would ever come to the States. ‘America? Sort of a big foreign country. Nah, that isn’t something an English person would do.’ … I need to go back to the old country to visit the place, as well as family, so I do that once in a while. Also, to recharge my accent. The accent is invaluable, because you Americans think that anyone who talks like me must be intelligent, well-educated, and has a deep ability to spell words correctly. There are a number of other special features about having this accent.”

September 22


Pongruethai (aka “Andrea”) moved from Thailand with her family when she was 12. The new house manager at the Hippodrome Theatre, she says her words to live by are: “Don’t live in the past.”

“I started middle school here so I was a little scared. The education system is different and I had to spend most of my time telling my teachers, ‘You need to speak slower or I can’t understand what you are saying.’ I remember telling one teacher I had a question and she said, ‘Shoot!’ I just stood there because I didn’t quite understand what was happening. I eventually did learn all these idioms.”

September 23


Today we’re sharing the story of Nigerian-born Nike (pronounced ‘knee-kay’) who has been a Gainesville resident since 1996 and is now a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Words to live by: “Be good. No matter where you are, do good.”

“We came to the States because my husband got a job and then moved to Gainesville because I started school. I now teach high school biology. My immigrant experience has been very good, very easy. I’ve never faced any difficulty. I love living in Gainesville. It’s very international–so many people from all over the world–and people are so accepting.”

September 24

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It’s the last day of Welcoming Week, and we are thrilled to highlight one of our board members, Aqueela Khuddus!

One of the most generous and open-hearted people we know, Aqueela is pictured here with Senior Pastor Beth Farabee from First United Methodist Church who says she appreciates Gainesville’s interfaith collaboration and celebration.

“I’ve been really excited about is I did interfaith work down in Orlando, but then I went to Eustis for 4 years and didn’t have as much opportunity. So to be able to come here and do it and meet Aqueela, I feel free. It just feels so good.”


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