More than 500 people gathered in the Westin Copley ballroom today to celebrate International Women’s Day, enthusiastically support the International Institute of New England (IINE), and bring attention to immigrant women in our region.
Boston City Council President Andrea J. Campbell kicked off the lunchtime speaking program with a hopeful message of solidarity, and a challenge to those in the room to do more to make Boston a welcoming city where immigrants can thrive.
The highlight of the day was the panel discussion moderated by 7News Anchor Amaka Ubaka. Amaka brought out the best from our fascinating trio of honorees: Monica Grewal, Pardis Sabeti, and Christina Qi, who were forthright about their personal and professional experience.
Humble and inspiring, they lifted the conversation into a true celebration of the spirit of immigrant women. Each spoke about the challenges she faced, and shared stories – some of them humorous – about times when they have been underestimated as a woman, and as an immigrant, and about how growing up in an immigrant family influenced their outlook on life.
Christina Qi, who emigrated with her parents from China when she was a child, told a story that sounded familiar to many in the room. She said she used to beg her mother to cook chicken nuggets, like all the other “American” kids, since her schoolmates would tease her about the traditional Chinese food on offer at her home.
“And today,” she said, “my friends eat Chinese food all the time. They’re Instagramming their plates!”
She said the evolution in her immigrant pride was not restricted to cuisine, but it impacts her approach to work, to risk, and to promoting herself in a field dominated by men – a challenge all the honorees had in common.
The themes of the day resonated throughout the audience as well, as all of the honorees reflected on the ways that being an immigrant in today’s world has made them value their upbringing and how the lessons they learned that are unique to the immigrant experience.
Guest speaker Yari Golden-Castaño shared the story of the women in her life who gave her wings to fly all the way to the stars. Majda Hennani, a current ESOL student at IINE-Boston spoke movingly about her own immigration experience and how learning English has given her a new outlook.
IINE employee Sofie Suter, manager of our Boston-based Unaccompanied Minor program that reunifies children from Central America with their family members in the U.S., explained to the audience how current federal policy impacts mothers who are separated from their children.
“As a new mom, I am always impressed by the strength, resilience, and perseverance the children and their families show in the face of great obstacles,” she said.