By Wayne Jebian
Dr. Jose B. Gonzalez, an English professor at the United States Coast Guard Academy, emigrated from El Salvador to New London, Conn., at the age of eight. His father used to sell soap on the streets of San Salvador before his family decided to move, one member at a time, to the United States during the Salvadoran Civil War.
Although he knew no English when he first arrived, Gonzalez went on to receive a Ph.D. in English and countless honors and awards. He recounted his family’s journey to the United States as the keynote speaker for the 16th Annual Connecticut Immigration Day ceremony at the State Capitol.
The ceremony was sponsored by the Connecticut Immigrant & Refugee Coalition (CIRC) and Office of the Secretary of the State of Connecticut to honor outstanding immigrants who have made an impact in their communities. The CIRC is an association of volunteer ethnic and social service organizations working to promote the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees in Connecticut and to foster their civic participation.
Several state officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of the state, gathered in Hartford in support of the honorees.
“I am very proud to be a resident of Connecticut,” Gonzalez’s speech began, before he then launched into a poetic and poignant recounting of his family’s former life in San Salvador and the separation they faced as they individually left their homeland.
After the ceremony, Gonzalez spoke to CTLatinoNews.com and said if there was one lesson to take away from his parents’ story, it could be summed up in one word: sacrifice.
“That word means so much. There is something that all immigrants give up,” he said. “Think about how difficult it might be to say goodbye to friends, never mind to family, to friends, to parents, to start a new life.”
In all, seventeen immigrants from fifteen different countries were honored during the ceremony.
Lucy Nalpathanchil, of Connecticut Public Radio, served as master of ceremonies. Her parents came to the United States from southwest India in the late 1970s.
“I remember when I was in elementary school, my parents would work long days, as many immigrants do when they come to this country,” she recalled. “They would come home, prepare dinner for my sister and I, and then after we ate together as a family, they would start to study for their citizenship test.”
Nalpathanchil said that because she was so young at the time, she did not fully understand the magnitude of her parents’ naturalization ceremony. “Looking back, I wished that I had asked my parents if I could miss school that one time, so I could see them become citizens of this great country.”
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who had just come from a naturalization ceremony at the Hartford Public Library, also recounted a personal story of her grandparents’ passage from Ireland.
“I still have the seventeen cents my grandmother had in her pocket when she arrived,” she said.
Touching on immigration policy in the state, Gov. Malloy praised Connecticut for passing its own version of the Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrants permanent residency in the United States on a conditional basis.
“In passing that legislation in Connecticut, we moved the ball forward nationally, so much so that the President embraced the concept,” he said.
Two of the Dream Act’s most visible proponents, Carolina and Carmila Bortolleto, the two Brazillian sisters who founded Connecticut Students for a Dream, also attended the ceremony.