The ornate Old Judiciary Room at the Connecticut State Capitol was overflowing with proud immigrants and their friends and family, accompanied by high ranking state officials, as 19 individuals from across the state were recognized for their contributions to Connecticut on Immigrant Day.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal described the gathering as “a celebration of America,” stressing that “we are a nation of immigrants” and expressing appreciation to immigrants for sharing “your talents, your character, your courage, your example of giving back constantly.”
Nineteen immigrants to Connecticut from 16 countries were honored by the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition (CIRC). The individuals, including many who have been in the state for decades and some more recent immigrants, came to the United States from Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Korea, Lithuania, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine.
“Immigrants have always been – and continue to be – an abundant and enduring strength of our great nation,” said Robert Fishman, Executive Director of the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition, which sponsored the 22nd Annual Connecticut Immigrant Day observance. “Connecticut is fortunate to have many remarkable individuals who have contributed tremendously to our state, and we are proud to honor them and their contributions to our shared community.”
The mission of CIRC, a coalition of about a dozen organizations across Connecticut, is to promote the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and to foster their civic participation.
Attorney General William Tong, the first Asian American statewide office-holder in Connecticut and the first American in his family, highlighted the current struggles of immigrants in Connecticut due to shifting federal policies.
“Immigrants are part of the fabric of our lives and our economy,” Tong said, who “work every day and make sacrifices and struggle…[doing]many of the critical, vital jobs that we need here in our state in our businesses and our public institutions and we should see and recognize them,” Tong said.
“We are thankful,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, saluting the “incredible perseverance and contributions of immigrants to our state,” and recalling her own family’s immigrant history. Blumenthal, Bysiewicz and Tong are children of immigrants. Merrill’s ancestors came here two generations ago.
The CIRC honorees are residents of 14 communities in Connecticut: Avon, Berlin, Bloomfield, Bristol, Danbury, Hartford, New Haven, Newington, North Haven, Norwalk, Orange, Simsbury, South Windsor, and West Hartford. They are:
Fatma Antar, retired Prof. of Economics at Manchester Comm. College, on the boards of Muslim Coalition of CT and Islamic Assoc. of Greater Hartford; very involved with Interfaith understanding and resettlement of refugees.
Darek Barcikowski, Honorary Consul of Poland in Connecticut; owner of White Eagle media which publishes Polish newspapers in eight states.
Peter Barzach, currently Vice President of Operations for Data-Mail and, with his wife Amy, after the tragic death of their baby son, co-founded Jonathan's Dream, the first playground in the U.S. for disabled children, providing opportunities for play with all other children in a fun and safe playspace.
Andre Brel, owner of Juniper Homecare which provides healthcare services for thousands of older adults and families throughout the state. He has volunteered in many ways to assist the Russian elderly refugees in the Hartford area.
Michael Chambers, an Electrical Engineer and contractor; established the Cricket Hall of Fame and coordinates scholarship, beauty and sports pageants and the West Indian Parade in Hartford every year.
Peter Iosifides, a Plumbing contractor, has helped many churches in the state by providing materials, labor and workers, including for two Baptist churches in his community of Norwich. He has given in-kind and financial and mentoring support to the Hellenic Studies Paideia at UConn.
Min Jung Kim, the CEO of the New Britain Museum of American Art. She worked at the Guggenheim Foundation and Eli Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University.
Georges Annan Kingsley, an Artist and art teacher in Hartford and a radio host. He and his wife volunteer with Asylum Hill Neighborhood as community leaders who work toward acceptance and well-being of refugees and immigrants.
Zdzislawa Lempicka, at the age of 16, joined the Polish Home Army (underground) and fought in some of the bloodiest engagements in the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. She has spent decades mentoring and educating young people in the Scouting movement.
Dr. Mohammed Reza Mansoor, a Cardiologist at Starling Cardiology, is president of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, founding president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, and past president of the Islamic Council of New England. He is the author of Stigmatized: From 9-11 to Trump and Beyond – An American Muslim Journey.
Dr. Ezequiel Menendez, director of Music for the archdiocese of Hartford, is also the Chapel organist for Ethel Walker School. He co-founded Concerts for Charity and raised money to rebuild Sri Lanka and has assisted charities in Hartford.
Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale. An enthusiastic advocate for science, she speaks in high schools, on the radio and TV on the importance of scientific literacy.
Emanuela Palmares, editor and Partner of Tribuna Newspaper and chair and founder of the committee to plan Connecticut's first International Children's Museum.
Carla Squatrito, founder of Carla's Pasta, employing over 300 people from 21 different countries. She is a proud member of the National Women in Business Owners Corporation.
Sorin Todeasa, a senior Software Engineer in financial technologies, has been a pillar of the Romanian community.
Ada Ustjanauskas, the only child of Jacob Gens, was born in 1926 in Lithuania. Growing up in a mixed Roman Catholic and Jewish family she and her mother lived in a house right outside the Vilna ghetto while her father became the Jewish head of the ghetto police. She speaks publicly as a witness to the Holocaust and World War II. She and her family own Cosmos International in West Hartford.
Dr. Meera Viswanathan, head of the Ethel Walker School, has written extensively on transformative education.
Abby Weiner (being honored posthumously) was devoted to sharing his Holocaust story to many schools throughout the state. He received an Honorary High School Diploma from Avon High School, which showed their love and devotion to him.
In addition, Sue Ingall received the Myra M. Oliver Memorial Award, posthumously. The award is given to those who work above and beyond the call of duty to help refugees and immigrants, in memory of Myra M. Oliver’s lifetime of leadership and service. Ingall, who died in January, made immeasurable contributions to the work of the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. She brought “her passion for social justice, her activism, and her remarkable combination of imagination and execution” and led the way in the resettling of immigrants to Connecticut.
The Angela R. Andersen Memorial Award, created to honor students who demonstrate deep commitment to issues impacting refugees and immigrants, is named after an individual known for her dedication and passion for helping refugees and immigrants in Connecticut. The 2019 recipient is high school student Sophia Jacobs and the Weston High School Youth Group, for their creation and implementation of a Refugee Youth One-on-One Mentoring Program. The group was conceived by Jacobs, now a high school senior, and meets weekly, providing homework help and getting the students in grades 1-5 on their feet moving! The partnership fills a great need for refugee youth who can feel socially isolated, especially in the afterschool hours while parents are at work.
The Salma Khatoon Farid Award was presented for the first time to a teacher of longstanding who has made a significant contribution to understanding and awareness. The inaugural recipient was Hartford educator Nancy Caddigan. The award is named for Salma Khatoon Farid, born in India, who immigrated to the United States in 1981. She raised her family in Connecticut and played a fundamental role in nurturing a sense of generosity to the community while supporting the business aspirations of her children, including Tariq Farid, the founder of Edible Arrangements.
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, the presiding officer in the State Senate, spoke briefly while the Senate, meeting down the hall, took a brief pause in its afternoon session.
“You make us so proud,” Bysiewicz said, expressing appreciation to the immigrants to Connecticut for “your talents, your work ethic, and bringing your families to our state, we are so happy to have you. We welcome immigrants. Thank you for making our great state even better. ”