Oct. 20 2010 12:00 AM

Book recounts journeys of 18 immigrants who came to Michigan

“The Sweetness of Freedom” started off as just a research project. Eventually it turned into a 2005 exhibit at the Michigan Historical Museum entitled “Movers and Shakers: Michigan Immigrants and Migrants.”

Now, Martha Aladjem Bloomfield and Stephen Garr Ostrander have captured 18 stories of Michigan immigrants in a book published by the Michigan State University Press.

"Movers and Shakers" looked at the stories of immigrants and migrants that made their way to Michigan, using artifacts, documents and photographs.

Bloomfield spent an extensive amount of time interviewing these immigrants and their families. She urged Ostrander, her colleague and the designer for the exhibit, to meet some of these people.

At first, Ostrander was very hesitant. His role involved more conceptual visualization and execution of the exhibit. But Bloomfield was persistent, and he finally came with her to meet some of the immigrants.

“It was really kind of an a-ha moment,” Ostrander said. “We were meeting these fascinating people, who just invited us into their homes. They opened up to us and gave us their shoeboxes of photographs.”

Together, Ostrander and Bloomfield traveled all over Michigan, from Saginaw to Southfield, meeting immigrants and learning their stories.

After the exhibit wrapped up, it was Ostrander who made the suggestion that he and Bloomfield turn the exhibit into a book.

“We didn’t want these stories to disappear once the exhibit was over,” Bloomfield said.

The book focuses on why the subjects left their homelands, why they came to America, and more specifically, why they came to Michigan. It also looks at the challenges they faced, and what contributions they have made to the state.

Bloomfield and Ostrander made an effort to keep the stories of the immigrants very much intact. acting as editors — and sometimes translators — to polish the accounts.

The title of the book comes from a quote from one of the immigrants.

“As I walk along the street looking at the big green trees and enjoying the cool breezes of the summer, I can almost taste the sweetness of freedom," Lance Truong is quoted as saying.

"As for me, I could never forget that event (escaping from Vietnam) for the rest of my life.”

Truong said that he hopes his story will inspire others, something Bloomfield also hoped to accomplish with the book.

“We all came from somewhere.

Everybody has a story, and no one can take that story away from us,” she said.