On March 8, 2017, nearly 400 people – including employees of 38 Greater Boston companies – joined clients and staff of the International Institute of New England (IINE), Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and WCVB news anchor Maria Stephanos to celebrate International Women’s Day.
This year, IINE observed the day by hosting a luncheon in the impressive Great Room at 60 State Street in downtown Boston to recognize the contributions and success of global women and to honor three extraordinary women: Boston Common Asset President and Founder Geeta Aiyer, WGBH Reporter, Creator/Host of “Otherhood” and Co-Host of “The World” Rupa Shenoy, and AARP Chief Medical Officer Charlotte Yeh, M.D.
Telling Their Stories
IINE was honored to have Boston Mayor Marty Walsh provide welcoming remarks, during which he spoke of the city’s increased focus on gender equality, diversity, and the wage gap. “I’m a labor guy. I stand for equal pay for equal work,” he said. “We’re going to stand for women’s health. We’re also going to make sure that we celebrate the diversity of our city.”
Maria Stephanos then moderated a panel discussion where the honorees shared inspiring personal stories about how their personal and professional lives were shaped by being an immigrant or the daughter of immigrants.
When asked how she would counter the argument that her parents should not have come to the U.S., Dr. Yeh, whose parents flew in from Pittsburgh for the event, responded: “My parents have demonstrated fearlessness, resiliency, compassion, and the drive to put education above all else. It is these characteristics and qualities as a child of refugees that I have emulated to become a doctor, a surgeon, a businesswoman, and the Chief Medical Officer of AARP.”
For many, the immigrant experience has left them feeling conflicted about their identities. “I have always felt like I’ve lived a hyphenated life,” said Geeta Aiyer, who was the second woman immigrant from India to attend Harvard Business School and has since built one of the largest woman-owned investment firms in Boston. “I strive to be the best Indian-mother, the best American-mother, and the best woman-entrepreneur.”
As a child of immigrant parents from India, Rupa Shenoy also has always felt as though she’s had a foot in two worlds. Through her podcast “Otherhood,” she elevates the conversation about what it means to be ‘other’ in this country. “My podcast was born out of my obsession to give a voice to first-generation immigrants, otherwise known as ‘new American’ citizens. Through storytelling, my voice is also heard,” she said during the discussion. She bonded with Geeta over the legend that somehow all immigrants from India come to the U.S. “with seven dollars in their pockets”.
The conversation between these remarkable and talented women underscored how significant new Americans are to the vitality and renewal of our nation, and how strong women leaders in all their diversities strengthen our communities. “I made the choice to remain in the U.S. It was my ‘free will’ to become an American citizen,” said Geeta. “I feel a sense of loyalty and am motivated to contribute to this country in exceptional ways.”
The Discussion Isn’t Over
The International Institute of New England serves nearly 2,000 refugees and immigrants each year. The majority of those we serve fled nations where they were persecuted for religious and political beliefs, and even their gender. Many of these women protected their families as they fled war and violence in places like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other countries. They have overcome incredible odds to come to New England and they are determined to contribute to life in their new country. It is for this very reason that we must continue to support and provide critical services to vulnerable populations, especially women, not just on March 8th, but on every day of the year.