answers sought on how to help immigrants
Forum highlights need for facts, ways to assist
Middlesex Community College history professor David Kalivas opens a public forum Immigration and Community Challenges in Lowell at the Lowell National Historical Park visitor center on Tuesday. SUN/ROBERT MILLS
LOWELL -- In a year when immigration has been a hot-button issue charged with heated rhetoric, several of the city's most prominent organizations came together Tuesday to host a public forum on the challenges it brings.
The forum was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and co-sponsored by Middlesex Community College, UMass Lowell, the Lowell National Historical Park, The Coalition for a Better Acre, and the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association.David Kalivas, a history professor at MCC and director of the Commonwealth Honors Program, moderated the event.
At the public forum, on stage from left, panelists Julia Gavin, of the Coalition for a Better Acre, Bopha Malone, of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, David Kalivas, an MCC history professor, and Christoph Strobel, associate professor of history at UMass Lowell. SUN/ROBERT MILLS
It began with presentations by Kalivas; Bopha Malone, of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association; Julia Gavin, of the Coalition for a Better Acre; and Christoph Strobel, an associate professor of history at UMass Lowell.Kalivas said the evening was aimed at starting a conversation about immigration and the challenges it brings that will carry over into curriculum and classrooms, while also helping those involved build partnerships.James Mabry, president of MCC, opened by discussing his German and English roots and his wife's Italian roots."The contributions of so many different people from so many different nations have made this city," Mabry said.
"And during this season of very angry political rhetoric, it's great that we can come together and talk about this with facts and open minds instead of slogans and demagoguery."
Strobel, who has studied immigration, said that while roughly 10 to 12 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born, 22.1 percent of Lowellians were foreign-born as of 2000.
While the Irish, Greeks, French-Canadians and other groups have been a part of the city's fabric for decades, Cambodians continue to find their place, and new immigrants from Burma, the Middle East, and several African nations have started to arrive.
"We've built temples, we own businesses, we own homes now, and we're -- sure there's still a lot of work to be done, but we're starting to have a voice," Malone said.
Kalivas discussed the history of Greek immigration in Lowell, noting the challenges Greeks faced, including being called "the garlic lovers," because they allegedly carried the scent of garlic with them.
"There was animosity," Kalivas said.
Gavin, who discussed the history of the CBA and the Acre neighborhood, noted that the Acre had a rather literal beginning.
"It was started as literally an acre of land that was set aside for the Irish canal diggers," she said, noting that the neighborhood has continued to be "the landing and development area" for new immigrant groups.
Malone recounted her family's history of fleeing from Cambodia and coming to America as refugees.
There was little discussion of illegal immigration outside of the question-and-answer session when someone asked what could be done to make the discussion of illegal immigration more factual, instead of based on fear.
Questions were probing, and not all could be answered by the panelists, who welcomed difficult questions as a starting point to think about the issues.
One young man asked what could be done to reach out to new immigrant groups, while a young woman who moved here from Africa noted that many of her fellow immigrants try to conceal their problems instead of seeking help from the broader community.
"What can we do to mobilize this community so they can have support and so they know there are places they can go to when they have problems?" she asked.
Kalivas had no clear answer, but asked the woman to speak at length later so all the parties involved in the forum could start to look for solutions.
Elkin Montoya, president of the CBA, noted that Hispanic immigrants united around their churches when they first arrived here, and recommended church as a resource that can help such groups.
Despite being a three-hour event, several people in the audience still had hands raised to ask more questions when Kalivas had to cut off questions due to time constraints.
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