Our 7th and 8th grade is exploring immigration as one lens through which to examine the theme Identity: National and Individual Perspectives. Immigration has played an important role in the history of our nation and is deeply relevant to current events. Recognizing that many local communities have a long, rich history with immigration, the class decided to venture out to our own backyard to see an incredibly diverse community: Lowell, Massachusetts.
Students toured the Boote Mill where waves of immigrants found their first employment in the United States. They learned about the challenges Mill Girls faced: long working hours, dangerous working conditions, the fight for shorter work weeks, and the fashions that arose from women having independent incomes for the first time. The curators also talked about the waves of immigrants who have moved to Lowell: the Irish, French-Canadians, Greeks, Portuguese, Colombians, and Cambodians and the pattern most immigrants follow - Reasons to Leave, the Journey, Initial Hardships, Assimilation, and Preservation of Culture.
Following the trip to the mills, the class investigated the modern population of immigrants at Asados Dona Flor, a restaurant owned by Colombian immigrants, An Ecuadorian immigrant told her harrowing story of coming to the US with a coyote as a guide, but for her the journey was worth it because it meant she is free from the prejudice she had experienced.
The following day, the group headed to Lowell High School to meet with Jessica Lander, a history teacher and Fayerweather graduate. Jessica’s students are immigrants and refugees from countries as diverse as Cambodia, Nepal, Burma, Vietnam, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Liberia, DRC, and Kenya. Fayerweather students and Lowell students met and talked about their hopes and dreams in the United States. Fayerweather students noticed that the Lowell students spoke of how grateful they are to have the opportunity to be in school and get an education in the United States and they were impressed by how motivated the Lowell students were and their command of English, even though some had been in the United States for less than a year.
In the spring the students will travel to New York to continue their exploration of immigration and how it shaped America. But, the trip to Lowell was an important reminder that there is much to learn about our country and world just by stepping into our own backyard.