More than 600 people gathered at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday, May 1 to mark the centennial of the International Institute of New England (IINE) and to recognize the enduring legacy of immigrants and refugees in the Lowell community. IINE is one of the oldest and largest refugee resettlement and immigrant services organizations in the region. Each year, the organization serves 2,000 people in Lowell, Boston, and Manchester, NH. The nonprofit’s century of service will be celebrated in the city where it all began. As part of the centennial celebration, IINE invited the greater Lowell community to help identify 100 of the most admirable leaders from Lowell’s immigrant community who have made achievements in their fields, as well as locally-born Lowellians who have supported immigrants and immigrant issues.
Guest speakers included Massachusetts State Rep. Rady Mom, and Lowell City Manager, Eileen Donaghue. UMass Lowell professor Robert Forrant spoke about the history of IINE in Lowell, and about the research that went into sourcing the Lowell 100 honorees.
Biar Kon, a former refugee and one of the Lowell 100 honorees, spoke about his own immigration journey and the welcome he found in Lowell.
“My family was granted refugee resettlement to the United States, and suddenly, everything changed,” he said. “We finally had a home we could call our own where we could lock our door and be safe. I was able to study English and attend school regularly.” Biar said he is looking forward to a bright future in Lowell.
The highlight of the evening was the recognition of 100 people who have had an impact on in the immigrant community of Lowell. Included in the list of honorees are professors, priests, public servants, educators, executives, entrepreneurs, and advocates. The Honoree List represents 35 different countries, many generations, and dozens of industry sectors. Many honorees attended the celebration in person, and others were represented by co-workers, friends, or descendants. All attendees received a copy of the Lowell 100 Commemorative book that lists biographies of the honorees, and information about IINE’s history and people.
“To my knowledge, no attempt has ever been made to honor 100 Lowellians in this fashion,” Dr. Robert Forrant said. He is a professor in the History department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a local history expert helping IINE delve into its own archives and others to present a topical examination of the legacy of immigration in Lowell.
“In such an inclusive way, to review the city’s history and come up with an honor roll of 100 immigrants and refugees who have helped to vitalize the city is a big undertaking,” he said. “But one worthy of the impact the honorees will have made on the city.”
A group of women from Lowell and the surrounding area founded the International Institute of New England (IINE) in 1918. They banded together in response to rising nationalism in the USA following WWI. Originally, IINE welcomed refugees who arrived by boat and helped them with housing, employment, and language training. Today, much of that same work continues, but with a modern slant on services. IINE staff greet new arrivals at the airport, secure their housing with local landlords, and set them on a fast-paced 90 day route to self-sufficiency. Immigrants who are not refugees participate in IINE’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, job-training programs, and legal services.
To see videos and photos from the Lowell 100 Celebration, click here: https://www.iine.org/100