I grew up in an inner-city north of Boston. Though it had been a booming mill town during the Industrial Revolution, my hometown went through hard times when jobs went south, and then overseas. Over the years, it has been reborn several times, first as a hotbed of technology with Wang Laboratories at the heart of the revitalization; then Paul Tsongas helped Lowell become a part of the U.S. National Parks System with the establishment of the Lowell National Historical Park. Most recently, artists and filmmakers have brought new life to the city (The Fighter). Though the industries fueling the city’s economy have changed throughout the years, the heart of Lowell has not.
Since its inception, Lowell has become home to wave after wave of immigrant and refugee communities from around the world. My own Irish ancestors came to Lowell in the late 1800’s, determined to escape the horrors of the Potato Famine in Ireland. They settled in what was, and is still called, “The Acre,” a one-acre tract of land Lowell’s Irish laborers were allotted for their living space. As the population grew, what began as an acre of rickety huts eventually developed into a neighborhood of low-income housing. When the Irish moved out, they were followed by Eastern Europeans, Southeast Asians, Africans, and most recently, Middle-Eastern and Burmese refugees. These immigrants and refugees came to Lowell for the same reasons as my own ancestors – to escape the miserable living conditions of their homeland in hopes of finding a better life in America. My great-great-great grandfathers helped dig the canals that powered the mills of Lowell. My great-grandmother worked in the silk mills. From immigrant, blue-collar beginnings, my family found opportunity, and most importantly, a community, in Lowell.
Lowell is still very much a blue-collar city, with an incredibly diverse population. Our differences have become a source of pride for the city – we are an example of how people from all over the world, with myriad religions and belief systems, can form a community. As my Auntie Debbie says, Lowell is not a melting pot, it is a stew. It is a place where people come and are able to retain their individuality and culture while finding a place for themselves within the larger community.
With this pride intact, you cannot imagine the feeling I had when I found out that someone recently threw a 20lb. stone through the window of Babylon, a local restaurant owned by Iraqi refugees. I was especially upset because I know, and have worked with, Rafal, the daughter of the owner. Last year, one of my students, Connor, created a film about the refugees attending the high school. Rafal was featured in the film, and we actually shot her interview in Babylon.
Luckily, there was a witness who was able to get the license plate of the car, and police tracked down the culprit. He will soon have his day in court. However, this act was a stark reminder of the prejudice and racism that still exists in America – even in Lowell. (The perpetrator WAS NOT from Lowell.) Yet, in the face of such a cruel act, the response of the community was incredible. U.S. Veterans from Lowell and surrounding towns staged an “Eat In” earlier this week to show their support of the family. The event was picked up by Rachel Maddow, and featured on her TV show. It was an incredible show of support for a deserving, hardworking family who are chasing their own American Dreams, just like the many immigrants of Lowell before them.
This event underscored for me the importance of the film that Connor made, Hard Truth, Levity & Hope. Though it has been screened in Lowell, and at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival in Ohio, and the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Film Festival in New York, it needs to reach a wider audience. So here it is – please watch and share. It is a powerful film that eloquently tells the stories of the refugees we work with at school. Hopefully, as we reach more people, tolerance, understanding, compassion, and love will continue to grow among the American people.