Immigrants at Ellis Island

The contrast could not be more stark.

As the pace of preparation accelerates for the annual induction ceremony for the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame in Connecticut, the daily headlines trumpet a more hesitant, even hostile, view of immigrants and their continuing contributions to our state and nation.

Immersed in the histories of immigrants thriving in our state, historically and currently, the invective aimed lately at the next generation of immigrants is concerning, as they, like others before them, seek to contribute to this nation while providing their families with the safety and opportunity that America has long exemplified.

The Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame, established in the Constitution State of Connecticut in 2013, celebrates the diverse ethnic heritage of our state by honoring individuals and institutions who exemplify the best of their immigrant heritage and have made outstanding contributions to the cultural, economic, and civic development of the state.

The non-profit initiative aims to preserve this varied and dynamic heritage by publishing the biographies of the inductees and the history of their ethnic communities, by educating the public about the importance of immigrant heritage to the identity of the American nation, and by highlighting the considerable contributions of immigrants and immigrant communities.

From the outset, the vision has been — and remains — to establish an institution that will promote and publish research, lectures, and conferences on the immigrant heritage of our state, and the role of immigration in the American economy and culture.  Much of that work remains ahead of us, but a solid foundation has been established through the annual induction ceremonies, and the selection process that precedes it, focused on an array of remarkable individuals with life stories of perseverance, accomplishment, tenacity and vision.

Inductees in recent years have included Igor Sikorsky and Tariq Farid, Michael Guida and Michael Budney, Angelo Tomasso and Bessy Reyna.  And nearly a dozen more who have contributed mightily to life in Connecticut and beyond.  The newest class of inductees reflect far-reaching and inspiring achievement.

Scholar, author and Dominican Republic native Daisy Cocco De Filippis is president of Naugatuck Valley Community College and a pioneer in the field of Dominican women studies.  Pakistan native Adnan Durrani is Chief Executive Officer of American Halal/Saffron Road Foods in Stamford and recognized as one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs.  The Koh Family of New Haven are widely recognized for their monumental contributions in the fields of international relations, health and human rights.  The late Dr. Stanislaw A. Milewski, the former chief of ophthalmology at Manchester Memorial Hospital, overcame oppression in war-torn Poland during World War II to become a leading ophthalmologist, mentor and humanitarian in our state.

Spend time learning about these individuals and their families and one cannot help but come away with a strong sense of gratitude.  Our communities were made more vibrant by their presence.  The same is true for hundreds of thousands of immigrants through generations of our shared American history.

Immigrant heritage ought to be a rallying cry for unity, rather than the divisiveness and derision that has too frequently characterized the recent public debate.  With few exceptions, we all – at some juncture in our family’s history – hailed from somewhere outside the boundaries of this nation.  Our addresses may have differed, but our determination to build a better life was universally held and consistently applied, often in the face of unrelenting prejudice and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

As reflected in today’s interest in personal heritage, as the rapidly increasing popularity of genealogy services, programs and products in the media and marketplace amply demonstrates, we are a nation of people with roots afar.

As the official Connecticut state motto “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” emphasizes, he who is transplanted still sustains.  That phrase has echoed through our history and remains as true today as ever. We are a forest of family trees that have flourished here in the aftermath of journeys from elsewhere.

We would do well to remember not only who we are, but where we have been; what has come before as well as what has transpired since.  It is the best way to build a future that honors what America has always been – a nation of immigrants.

Andre Blaszczynski is a professor of economics at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, president of the Polish American Foundation of Connecticut, and co-chair of the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame.

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