Congolese immigrants chasing the American dream in Galesburg
In recent years there’s been a growing wave of Congolese immigrants settling in Galesburg.
Like Gogo Kupa and Yannick Kapita, immigrants have come to Galesburg in pursuit of a better life.
Kupa and Kapita are the owners of the Galesburg Selfie Museum, a new destination in the former National Guard Armory building in downtown Galesburg. Visitors are provided with seasonal or permanent backgrounds to take selfies and then post to social media.
Shortly after marrying, Kupa and Kapita came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo through the diversity lottery program, a government program that lets foreign nationals acquire the ability to settle in the states by chance.
At first, they settled in Boston. But the high costs of living among other challenges made life hard to sustain.
“Life was very expensive. It wasn’t easy for him to integrate,” Kupa said. “So one of his friends told him ‘Hey, I live in this small city, and life is cheaper there. Come and you can build your own family and your own dream.’”
After resettling in Galesburg, the city soon started to make a difference in their lives.
“It was easy to achieve some of our goals. It was easy for us to learn English and save money, and build our family. So that’s what we did,” she said.
Out of all the resources offered, the one that made the most difference was the opportunity to learn English, Kupa said.
“We have the Regional Office of Education, they have a program for English class that’s free. We have the church. They organize English classes every Thursday and Friday that’s also free. They also arrange free rides so that if you don’t have a car they can pick you up,” Kupa said.
Kupa and Kapita got the inspiration for the selfie museum from a place in Atlanta and were set on bringing something unique to Galesburg.
They were especially motivated by the chance to provide an attraction for young people through the lens of social media.
“My husband and I want to create a place that will benefit the entire community. For our young people, there’s nothing to do in Galesburg. They have nowhere to go. When it's a holiday, people just want to go away. So we tried to figure out what doesn’t exist in Galesburg, and bring something new to the city,” Kupa said.
The couple received a women/minority startup assistance grant from the city of Galesburg for the selfie museum.
Kupa said even with the city’s support, opening a business wasn’t an easy task.
This was the couple’s second venture in Galesburg, after starting an event planning business.
Kupa considers the endeavor worth the effort.
“We heard about the needs of people who want to take pictures with, like their pets, or people who want to celebrate their birthday. Every day, we try to improve by having the service that people need,” Kupa said.
It has been five years since Kupa and Kapita arrived in Galesburg.
They are now a family of four with two sons.
Kupa said her favorite experience in Galesburg so far is the sense of community it fostered. She said there was less racism in Galesburg than in other places she has lived, and it was much easier to integrate with the support that the community provided.
“I love the diversity here. I love the fact that you can go to anybody and ask a question and they will be there, to listen to you, to give advice, to share their experiences. It’s very easy to talk to people,” Kupa said.
Kupa also shared that Galesburg has a close-knit Congolese community.
The Congolese community in Galesburg has frequent gatherings and exceeds more than 300 people, with many of them working for Smithfield Foods in Monmouth.
Kupa said Galesburg has changed her and she believes both in the city’s future and her family’s ability to continue making a positive impact.
“What I teach to people every time is that nobody will create your American Dream, you are the one creating it. So my husband and I, we believe in Galesburg, because every one of our goals were achieved because we live in Galesburg. I don’t think if I was living in DC, I would have two businesses. So we try every day to improve, we try every day to make Galesburg a better place to live,” she said.
The Galesburg Selfie Museum is at 149 N. Broad St., Suite 203.
People can rent the space for family or event photos to be taken, or pay an hourly admission to take pictures with their friends.
Editor’s note: Kapita was unable to participate in the interview with TSPR due to a work commitment.
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