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Connecticut Immigrant Day Keynote

"Good afternoon.  It is an honor to be here with you on this fine occasion.  Secretary of State Denise Merrill, members of the Connecticut Immigrant and Refugee Coalition, distinguished honorees, ladies and gentlemen.

"I begin my remarks by congratulating the State of Connecticut on its proud history of recognizing the valuable presence and contributions of its immigrant population.  Congratulations to all the honorees and their respective families and significant others on this meaningful event.

"As I consider the presence of immigrants in this country over the centuries, two fine examples come to mind and illustrate two very significant points I’d like to make this afternoon:

  • This is a country where, as the best- selling author Marilynne Robinson reflects “The great truth is that is in the nature of people to do good to one another”(NYTimes, Book Review, April 22, 2012, p. 12), and consequently, we, immigrants often find ourselves on the receiving end of much goodness, in my case as one of my examples will illustrate,  from the hands and the hearts of teachers;
  • Another significant point I’d like to illustrate is that there is a tremendous source of energy and creativity that emerges from the presence of immigrants, as much of American history illustrates.

"Teachers, professors, do “great good” to so many.  The poet Al Zolynas, in his poem Love in the Classroom, for my students, shares with us his experience as he strives to maintain balance between the requirements of the tasks at hand and his urge to embrace a moment of beauty and learning.  As he struggles with these imperatives, his students desire to please him and to respond to his assignment, yet his sense of duty prevents him from seizing a moment to engage the music and broaden the lesson, dilemma faced at one time or another by many of us who teach.  This instance illustrates the challenges of thoughtful educators.

'I stand in front of my students

telling them about sentence fragments.

I ask them to find the ten fragments

In the twenty-one- sentence paragraph on

   page forty-five

They’ve come from all parts

Of the world-Iran, Micronesia, Africa,

Japan, China, even Los Angeles-and

    They’re still eager to please me…”

He continues further on…

“The melody floats around and through us

In the room, broken here and there,


re-started. It feels Mideastern, but

it could be jazz, or the blues-it could be

anything from anywhere.

I sit down on my desk to wait,

and it hits me from nowhere-a sudden,

sweet, almost painful love for my students.'

(Selected from Teaching with Fire.  CA: Jossey-Bas, 2003, p. 53)

"As a thirteen year old reluctant immigrant, I was the recipient of much creativity and support from Mr. Grey, a cantankerous and demanding English teacher, who in the end reached out to me and brought me to engage in reading and to find relevance in my new language and the work at hand.  Many immigrants can recall similar instances of having benefited from the nature of a people who in great numbers “do good to one another”, similarities and differences put aside. 

"So much of what we consider “American” is the result of this “happy coincidences and coming together of cultures,” even as the poet muses, when we can’t tell whether the music is “Mideastern, jazz or the blues, and could be anything from anywhere”.  Let us recall now one such happy co-mingling, more than a hundred years ago:  After the failed 1848 revolution, many Genovese fishermen fled Genova, and some settled in California (particularly after the gold was discovered there).  The Genovese used to wear heavy blue overalls that were called “blu Genovesi”.  In the early 1850”s, a German immigrant named Levi Strauss came to California to sell wagon covers and other stuff to the gold miners.  He found that the miners needed good strong pants, and took the bottom half of the overalls from the Genovese fishermen he encountered and turned them into pants.  They became known as “blue jeans” as a shortened, and Americanized name.

"This beautiful story illustrates the ways in which immigrants come together, in this case Italians and German, and make new things that then come to constitute part of a culture.  Blue Jeans are recognized world-wide as a quintessentially American garment.

"There is much to celebrate today for we live in country where most of us believe that “the great truth is that it is in the nature of people to do good to one another” and where immigrants bring ingenuity, creativity and new ways of addressing needs and to participate in the evolution of American life and ways.    Congratulations to us all on the beauty of this day!  One of the Indian expressions, Namaste, is a greeting that indicates that goodness flows from the goodness that lives in my heart and inhabits yours!  Namaste, Connecticut!"

Immigrant Day Celebration
State of Connecticut
Old Judiciary Room, State Capitol Building
April 23, 2012

Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D.
President, Naugatuck Valley Community College

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