Heritage, history, and culture continue to be great sources of strength in Scranton, including in West Scranton, with its electric Main Street restaurants, stores, and businesses.
As part of its humanities-based approach to civic engagement, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative designed the Heritage Series—presentations on cultural heritage coupled with opportunities for storytelling and affirmation of shared values. The aim was to spark conversations about the rich diversity of the West Scranton community and to bring residents into conversation about the future of their neighborhood.
The series began in November 2014 with Turkish Coffee, organized by Maureen McGuigan, deputy director of arts and culture for Lackawanna County, and sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center Scranton Branch. Yasin Kucak, director of the Turkish Cultural Center, and another young Turkish man who had grown up in Russia, gave a presentation about Turkish culture and cuisine as well as their experiences as immigrants.
Most of the residents who participated in Turkish Coffee were of Welsh, Irish, or German descent. Following the main presentation, McGuigan asked the assembled group to talk about their own cultural heritage as well as their feelings about West Scranton, including economic challenges and fears about change in the neighborhood.
“Although some of the conversation started out negatively, once people were talking more in depth and about specific things, the mood shifted. It was very touching to see the pride people had about West Scranton,” McGuigan said.
Members of the group mentioned specific churches and schools they had attended, and they reflected on how much they liked the people of West Scranton and the sense of community they had always found there.
The success of Turkish Coffee warmed other groups up to the possibility of hosting Heritage Series events. Subsequent events, including Welsh Tea, Dominican Carnival, Irish Supper, and Italian Antipasto were well attended.
McGuigan facilitated the Welsh Tea event, with the West Hyde Park Neighborhood Association providing traditional Welsh foods. Roughly 45 people attended to hear presenters on Welsh cultural themes, including a woman recounting a trip to Wales, an author who wrote a historical novel, and two seniors who talked about growing up in Scranton.
Audience discussion followed each presentation. Beyond expressing cultural points that resonated with them—encouraged by the photos shown or novel excerpt read together—the group discussed how Welsh culture could be reflected in future designs for parks in West Scranton.
“One woman mentioned that she hadn’t previously thought of a park in this way, which to me was a great moment,” McGuigan said. “It’s inspiring to me that just having a dialogue and focusing on the positive aspects of a neighborhood could help a community open up to possibility and, instead of being defeated by challenges, come together to face them.”