Elizabeth Forum I

Two Communities: Elizabeth, NJ USA And Cali, Columbia

Elizabeth NJ has a substantive and growing population of residents from Colombia, South America. One member of that community, Yamil Avivi, a graduate of New York University and a Fulbright scholar, became interested in the distinctive features of the two Colombia communities: one in the US and one in Colombia, South America.

His Fulbright scholarship took him to Cali, Colombia where he interviewed residents who had immigrated to the United States and returned to their homeland. What exactly were the gains and losses of this experience?

In Cali Avivi learned that recent returnees from the United States had bought substantive residences and land that they could not possibly have afforded had they stayed and worked in their homeland. In a graphic presentation to Elizabeth residents Avivi’s slide photographs provided evidence about how substantially Colombian had improved their status and their quality of life by their American experience. Features of these immigrant patterns bear analogy to both past and present transnational dynamics.

Avivi ‘s research examined the issue of drug violence and danger associated with Cali.
Why would people return to such a place fraught with the threat of death? His findings suggest that familial, economic and cultural ties were stronger. However, the price of the American experience and return to Colombia seemed to require no political participation in either country, not in the United States nor later in Colombia after they had returned. However, in both areas their civic organizations provided an operational social order.

The gains and losses of these choices form the focus of Avivi’s ongoing research.

However, he was able to present his evidence and his questions to an interested audience of Elizabethans on January 19, 2001 at the Historical Society’s Inaugural Elizabeth Forum. His work set a standard for subsequent Elizabeth Forums: exactly what are the unprecedented features of the American urban experience? What do the new immigrants contribute differently to American culture by contrast with older immigrant experiences? What does the process of “assimilation” mean now, that it did not mean at the beginning of the 20th century?