NEW BRITAIN - Connecticutâ€™s Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame inducted its largest group ever at a gala event Saturday night at Central Connecticut State University. They included people of Hispanic, Italian, Jewish, Pakistani, and Polish heritage.
The two who attended the ceremony were Bessy Reyna, a Cuban native raised in Panama who is an award-winning bilingual poet, activist, lecturer and journalist; and Mohammad Nawaz Wahla of Pakistan, the first Muslim to serve as a state Superior Court judge.
It is â€śvery exciting, very humbling, tooâ€ť to be honored, said Reyna, who read a poem at the event.
Itâ€™s important to remember the role that immigrants have played in the United States, she said, â€śespecially in this particular political climate, we all have to be very active about reminding people about all the contributions to this country by all of us.â€ť
Wahla, who gave the keynote address, told how the first immigrants here faced hardships and had common goals: to create a better life for themselves and their families and to make America their home.
â€śThey came and they became doctors, engineers, businessmen, and they became teachers, and artists. They gave all that they have, bringing with them a little piece of where they came from. Bit by bit, piece by piece, season by season, they made America new and special. They made it a place like nowhere else, where every race, every religion and every walk of life could become a single community, and we must strive today to carry on that project,â€ť he said.
Four honorees were inducted posthumously. They are:
n Franciszek Herzog, a survivor of Siberian exile after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 and a longtime leader in America of Polish Scouting.
n Rabbi Henry Okolica, a German native of Polish heritage, a Holocaust survivor and inspirational leader of New Britainâ€™s Congregation Tephereth Israel, who died in September at the age of 103.
n Angelo Tomasso Sr., an Italian immigrant, business and community leader who founded the Angelo Tomasso Inc. construction company.
n Angelo Tomasso Jr., who followed in his fatherâ€™s footsteps to make the Tomasso name synonymous with Connecticut construction and philanthropy.
â€śWe and the city along with our nation have a storied history of immigrants who have played a role and continue to play a role in the development, of not only our New Britain community, but across our entire country,â€ť said Mayor Erin Stewart, who noted that she is â€śa proud productâ€ť of immigrants from Italy and Poland.
The night also featured performances by Monika Krajewska & Friends, the Polanie Dance Group Singers, and Naila Khalid.
Over the past four years, the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame has honored 17 iconic individuals and families who have made major contributions to the cultural fabric that is Connecticut and America.
â€śOur 2017 class is our largest and truly reflects not only the enormous diversity at the heart of who we are as Americans, but the yeoman contributions of immigrants and those of immigrant heritage to our country,â€ť said Andre Blaszczynski, longtime Tunxis Community College professor of economics, chairman of the IHHF Organizing Committee and president of the Polish American Foundation of Connecticut.
The Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame is a program of the Polish American Foundation of Connecticut Inc., a 501(c)3 charitable organization.
The IHHF celebrates the diverse ethnic heritage of Connecticut by honoring people and institutions who exemplify the best of their immigrant heritage and have made outstanding contributions to the cultural, economic and civic development of our state and nation.
The IHHF preserves heritage through publication of biographies and histories, and strives to educate the public about the importance of immigrant heritage to the identity of America and about the contributions of immigrants and immigrant communities.
It is the IHHFâ€™s vision to establish an institution that will promote and publish research, lectures and conferences on the immigrant heritage of our state and the role of immigration in the American economy and culture, and build an endowment to sponsor, and offer research fellowships in support of these activities.
For more information, visit www.immigrantheritage.org or call 860-829-1215.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.