Immigrant Mural Unveiled on Washington St.; Rep. Vargas Delivers Remarks
Irish, Dominicans, Italians and more -- Haverhill families featured on new mural downtown.
The following are remarks as prepared.
Good morning everybody! Thank you all so very much for coming out on a cold Sunday morning to celebrate and recognize the rich history of immigrants in our city. There are several people that should be recognized, especially City Council Vice President Tom Sullivan – my partner throughout all this – this idea came up while I was still on the council and he was crazy enough to jump into a project with me so thank you Tom! To the Garibaldi Club, their entire board and volunteers – this literally wouldn’t be possible without your support and enthusiasm – so thank you!
I especially want to thank our talented, persistent, and thoughtful muralist – Alexander Golob!
Since day one of this project, Alexander has asked how he can create the most value out of this mural—whether by hiring folks locally or supporting local businesses while putting the project together. I’m a big advocate for public art because this guy opened my eyes to the return on investment that pieces like these bring to a community: not only do projects like these beautify a community, but there are real economic development benefits that boil down to the fact that for every dollar invested in a mural, a community will see $9 back on average, while both commercial and residential values rise. Most importantly, murals make art accessible to those who perhaps never would experience the thrill of a museum or gallery—much less see themselves reflected in art.
But this project is about more than the economic might of public art. This project is about the center of America’s founding and soul– immigrants.
It was George Washington who said that “America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…”
Immigrants are rooted in our founding.
And yet, it’s no secret that immigration is often used as a wedge issue – an issue to divide us, to cause fear and misunderstanding so that some might profit politically. Yet, let me just say this – there is nothing more common in each of us than our immigrant story. We can all trace back to a point where someone in our family tree came because they were persecuted, threatened, or famished in their native land.
And, by the way – you know what else we hold in common? The fact that when each of our families got here, they faced painful prejudice, nativism and xenophobia:
• Whether it was persecution of those fleeing famine in Ireland, who arrived and faced: “Irish Need Not Apply”
• Or folks from east Asia who faced The Chinese Exclusion Act and the fear of “Yellow Peril” in America.
• Or in the late 19th century when the largest public lynching in US history occurred to 11 Italians in New Orleans who were described as “... sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins." Sound familiar?
The nativism and xenophobia we face today is an old playbook. It’s not new, but the response from this generation can be. The response from this generation of living Americans can be compassionate, cautious, and pragmatic. Fear and nativism may be contagious, but so are hope and resilience. Let us choose and spread hope and resilience.
Our American history is sometimes uncomfortable. But, if we remain students of history, we can be watchful citizens and protectors of our great American society.
While we have a complicated history, I fully recognize that you’ll have a tough time finding another place on earth where a kid who grew up on Arlington St. in Haverhill, the son of a Dominican family– can run for office, serve on the City Council and today be your State Representative. In other countries, my story is improbable at best, but in America it is just another example of this funny thing we call -- the American Dream.
Robert F. Kennedy described this best when he said, “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
Our great American experiment is unique around the world. No country on earth has been able to thrive and build the greatest economy in the world-- not in spite of -- but because of its diversity.
Our population, technology, innovation and workforce are the envy of the world because of immigrants. Our city, our Commonwealth and our Nation are the beneficiaries of the grit, hard work, and tenacity that immigrants exhibit out of necessity.
With nothing but scrappy hands, empty pockets, and full hearts – immigrants built this city from the ground up. They built factories, they produced shoes, they put Haverhill on the international map. Many of their stories are reflected on this wall.
This mural here today is an ode to immigrants-- past, present and future. An ode and reminder to us all—that there was a time when we were all foreigners too.
Thank you, God Bless you, this city, this Commonwealth and this land of immigrants known as the United States of America.