Learning Lowell Anniversary Totally Terrific Top Ten Countdown

As Aurora pointed out in Learning Lowell’s anniversary post, it’s been a year since we’ve been blogging in Lowell! She talked about why she (and I) started blogging and the benefits we’ve gotten from it. I thought I would take a look back on some of our posts and a look forward on what we hope to do. I thought reflecting on our little corner of the internet would be very timely, as the Lowell Social Media Conference is coming up tomorrow, December 6.

Our blog is hosted on wordpress.com, a free (ad-supported) service with some great tools. One of those tools lets us see how many people are reading our blog and which posts get more clicks. We reached 2,000 views a month when we first started, but we’ve settled into about 1,000 views a month. This is way more than we ever thought: we figured our families might read an occasional post and that would be it! I thought it might be fun to review our top five posts, then talk about a few we wished had hit bigger.

Top Five Posts

5. An Engaged City Manager Recruitment Process

citymanagerposition-01-01Almost a year ago, the Lowell City Council began the process of selecting a new City Manager to replace departing Bernie Lynch. We reviewed guides made by groups such as the International City/County Managers Association, who recommended allowing 60 days for candidates to apply, and 30 days to interview candidates. During those 60 days, they recommended sending letters to qualified candidates identified knowledgeable sources inviting them to apply.

It’s interesting to compare this to the timetable the council ultimately used to solicit and screen candidates. They allowed a bit over a month for applications, and I believe they only advertised in a few publications and websites. The interviews focused quite a bit on the council’s hot topics: safety/security and economic development.

4. A Historic Preservation Story Unfolding: Bowers House, Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, and the City of Lowell

Updated Concept Perspective Drawing

Around the same time, another surprisingly controversial issue was unfolding: a proposed razing of the Jerathmell Bowers House. The issue prompted us to write a series of posts, culminating in the blog’s longest-named and fourth-most-popular post. We talked about how, in 2010, the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust worked unsuccessfully to find a new owner but brought a lot of attention to the oldest house in Lowell. Then, in 2013, Kazanjian Enterprises bought the property and proposed a commercial structure to replace the house. The City of Lowell and Kaznjian worked to find a solution that retained the house and the structure.

As far as I know, this final proposal is the one moving forward, although a tenant still has not been found for the Bowers House. We suggested a themed restaurant, although I would expect that the house could service as offices for a real estate or insurance agent as well. If anyone has updates, let me know!

3. Quite a Task: Downtown Lowell Task Forces

Lot to Like PostcardFebruary, 2014, Councilor Belanger motioned to request that the Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force. This prompted me to do a review of all the different groups who are active in downtown planning and all the different plans created for downtown. I still hope one day to do a follow-up on each plan, as some of them are very interesting historically and others still have great suggestions we could advance.

In April, that task force was formed, including councilor Corey Belanger; Deb Belanger, Executive Director of Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau; Danielle McFadden, President and CEO of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce; Jim Cook, the Executive Director of the Lowell Plan; and Adam Baacke, Director of Campus Planning at UMass Lowell. Additionally, the council formed a Downtown Redevelopment Subcommittee at the request of Councilor Kennedy, which includes himself, Councilor Leahy, and Councilor Milinazzo. I wasn’t able to find any meeting minutes for the Task Force or Subcommittee, so if anyone has any updates, let me know!

2. Mill No. 5: Local scene blooms where once there were power looms

Mill #5 sign is hungI feel a bit proud that we were among the first talking about Mill No. 5, which has gained a lot of traction since last March, when we wrote about the history of the building, which was built to take advantage of Steam Power, about Jim Lichoulas III’s flexible plans that change based on feedback, and about the way Amelia Tucker recruited vendors for the monthly “Little Bazaar” marketplaces.

Since then, the Luna Theater and Coffee and Cotton have both opened, along with a number of smaller shops. Mill No. 5 has some exciting programming going on during December, including a Farm Market each Sunday, 10-2:30; Holiday Shopping Pop-Up shops every weekend; a 12/13 OtherWhere Market featuring fantasy and sci-fi goods; and the second annual Totally Bazaar tomorrow, 12/6, at noon!

1. Bicycle Lanes, Data-driven Decisions, and Community Visions

Truck in bicycle lane in Lowell, MassachusettsThe most popular post was something we had to write very quickly, as it was in response to a City Council motion we had learned only days before: removing the bicycle lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard. We showed some pictures of the lanes, looked at the goals as articulated in several city plans, and examined the design of the lanes in relation to National Association of City Transit Official (NACTO)’s comprehensive Urban Bikeway Guide. Our conclusion was that two lanes should be enough for the small amount of vehicular traffic on Father Morissette, that the bike lanes conformed to recommended design but could be improved (with more money), and that we constantly need to show our support for the plans we made together.

Councilor Mercier suggested she worded the motion in such a provocative way as to determine if there was support for the bicycle lanes and encourage cyclists to come to the meeting. The council passed an amended motion to “call for the city manager to review the configuration of the bike lanes and traffic lanes on Father Morissette Boulevard, and report back on ways to make the road safer for vehicles and cyclists.” The City’s former transportation engineer, Eric Eby, invited the community to a public meeting to discuss options, and I have heard the City finally settled on painting “Bicycles Only” in the lanes. There was discussion of forming a public Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee as well, but that has unfortunately not occurred, even as several pedestrians have been struck, with one fatality, in recent months. I hope to make a follow-up post on bicycle and pedestrian issues in Lowell in the coming weeks.

My Personal Top Five

I also wanted to highlight posts that I thought were especially important or interesting, but never got as many views as the more popular posts. I suppose this is my personal top five:

5. Lowell’s Buried Past: The Cemetery and Beyond

Dick Howe in front of Bonney Memorial

This was a short post that Aurora and I put together, but we felt that there was so much to say about Dick Howe’s cemetery tour beyond that it’s simply fun. We wanted to suggest that all of Lowell can be like the very-popular cemetery tours. It can surprise, educate, and make us reflect on ourselves in ways other cities simply can’t. I hoped to start a conversation on how we can bring that side of Lowell forward with the same strategy Mr. Howe uses, and I still hope that conversation starts.

4. The Buzz about UMass Lowell Fuzz

Community members and police officers speak at Coffee and a Cop event in Lowell MAWe didn’t see too many community members at the Coffee with a Cop event in October, but everyone there seemed to really have a great time. It felt as if it advanced the goal of creating community between police and residents, and we learned quite a bit behind the philosophy of the UMass Lowell Police. We were surprised that some officers were attracted to UML so that they could interact with people beyond the usual roles of “criminal” and “victim” and that officers feel that things have improved only in the last few years. We hoped to share some of those benefits with our post.

3. A Tale of Two Cities: Salem and Lowell

salem3Aurora made an amazing comparison of Lowell and Salem, which attracts thousands upon thousands of tourists. She noted that Lowell had similar advantages to Salem, including roughly the same distance from Boston and a walkable core, but didn’t capitalize them in quite the same way. As the city talks about marketing, I think the suggestions in this post are a great way to think about how to package Lowell as an immersive day experience for visitors and residents alike.

2. First Thursdays: Art Battles and Big Pictures

Live Art Battle in Lowell on First Thursday artists painting

Our post about Lowell’s First Thursdays wasn’t just a description of our experience at the fun summer event, it was also about how a single, key person was instrumental in bringing a great event to Lowell; about how a series of events might have to build over time; and about what goals we’re trying to meet and what audiences we’re trying to attract when we talk about “downtown revitalization.” I have thought about this post quite a bit when thinking about the own Lowell projects I’m helping organize.

1. What can Lowellians do about homelessness? LTLC Interview Part 2

ltlcI did an extensive interview with the former director of the Lowell Transitional Living Center, David McCloskey. Part 2 of that post and a follow-up about Living Waters didn’t receive the large number of views captured by Part 1. Mr. McCloskey discussed the difference between passive and aggressive panhandling, the discussions he had with former clients about panhandling, and his experience with Lowell’s cooperation with the center. Perhaps even more importantly, we discussed the problem with Massachusetts’s housing costs and how people can volunteer to help or even take political action. If I could ask everyone to read just one post, it might be this one.

What’s Ahead?

Writing this post, it makes me think of all the posts I still hope to write. We just released the first in a series about refugees, and more will be coming soon. Another series is also in the works: discussing Lowell High School’s location and the dilemma of moving or keeping it in-place. As I mentioned before, I hope to discuss traffic and transportation in Lowell: where the traffic is, how it can (or can’t) be addressed, and what is planned for Lowell. We also would like to talk about friends and family we’ve hosted and their impressions of Lowell.

We also go to a number of events and restaurants, and have a lot of photos and stories. We wonder how people like reading about them: should each event or restaurant be a very short post, should there be some sort of Lowell guide that we update each time we go out, or is there another good way to share our stories and photos? Please let us know in the comments! We try to respond to all requests as quickly as we can.

Immigrants in Lowell: Responsibility, Cost, or Something More?

As the stories in the rediscovered International Institute archives highlight, immigration and refugees have been an integral part of the Lowell story since its founding. People from other countries built Lowell, labored in its factories, and created the diverse institutions we enjoy today. Nevertheless, the question of costs of providing services is valid. This is the first in a series of posts exploring immigrants and refugees in Lowell.

The issue of refugees in Lowell was elevated last July when Mayor Rodney Eliot made a motion requesting a report regarding the costs of newcomer students to Lowell’s school system. Councilor Belanger also spoke, expressing concern of the cost of immigrants:

…we got a problem that’s serious and it’s going to get far worse, of refugees, undocumented or illegal aliens, which ever term you choose to use, are pegged for Lowell.  We are on that list.  Many of which are unskilled and uneducated.  And they’re on their way. -Corey Belanger

Richardhowe.com transcribed his complete remarks here.

The concern grew out of Governor Deval Patrick’s offer to shelter unaccompanied minors who crossed the US-Mexico border, but Councilor Belanger mentioned resettled refugee families from the Congo in the same breath.  The off-the-cuff remarks may be a symptom of a genuine confusion about the differences between immigrants, refugees, and other populations.

Although there ultimately was no need to shelter children due to falling numbers and increased immigration processing capacity, immigration and refugees remain a central issue in Lowell. Councilor Belanger and Mayor Elliot aren’t alone in worry about the cost of providing education and social services to newcomers.

However, is their fear justified? Moreover, are immigrants simply a burden the state places on Lowell, a genuine humanitarian effort the good citizens of Lowell provide, or an investment that pays dividends? We couldn’t let discussion of the costs rest without exploring all sides of the issue, because from my perspective, Lowell’s story is all about generation after generation of newcomers.

Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Immigrants

About 30,000 foreign-born people a year are granted legal permanent residence in Massachusetts, most of who follow one of three paths: Refugees, Asylees, and (for lack of a better term) Economic/Familial Immigrants. Last year, an estimated 415[1] of these moved to Lowell. Each has a different legal status than one another and the unknown number who have immigrated to the US illegally. Before talking about foreign-born citizens in our community, I wanted to make sure I have my terminology correct!

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) uses a 1951 Geneva Convention definition of refugees: those who have fled their country for fear of racial, religious, ethnic, or political persecution. In some cases, agencies and nations expand the definition to include those fleeing violence or war. The UNHCR grants refugee status to people across the world, but this status does not entitle people to many services beyond access to a refugee camp. Although counted as refugees by UNHCR, they may lack any official status in any specific countries.

Before people are officially registered as refugees, they may be more accurately called “asylum seekers.” Each country, including the US, has procedures for determining whether an asylum seeker can be registered as a refugee or granted asylum under their own law. For this reason, I believe it may be more correct to call people fleeing from violence in Central America “asylum seekers” rather than refugees or immigrants. However, the United States uses the 1951 definition and only registers those fleeing persecution or human trafficking as refugees, not those fleeing violence or war.[2] An average of 26,000 people annually crossed the United States border and were granted asylum since 1995, most of whom were from China.[3]

Approximate refugees per 10000: 2.0 US average, 3.7 Massachusetts. 2002-2012 average annual refugee count from 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, population count from 2010 decennial census.However, a larger number of refugees are granted that status in other nations (such as Kenya or Jordan) live there temporarily in an urban area or camp run by an agency such as the UN or Red Cross, then are referred by their host[4] to the United States. The US reviews those referrals, and accepts about 60,000 refugees a year (recently often reaching the limit of 70,000); about 2,400 annually settle in Massachusetts. This is the typical story of the Congolese families Councilor Belanger mentioned, along with many of Lowell’s Cambodians, Burmese, Bhutanese, Iraqis, and many other groups.

The UN estimates that 10.4 million refugees currently live in camps, shelters, and urban areas worldwide. An additional 4.8 million live in camps in the Middle East. The UNCHR is only able to resettle about 1% of those 10.4 million annually, while many live in camps for decades. Rather than getting better, this trend is accelerating in recent years due to Syrian, Iraqi, and other conflicts. Notably, the US accepts as many refugees as all other countries put together.

Finally, economic and familial immigrants are those who cross borders to reunite with family or for economic opportunity. The United States has granted legal permanent residents to an average of 870,000 immigrants annually since 1995.[5] These economic immigrants usually do not fear persecution like refugees, and the US government generally admits them because they have family in the US or have an identified job or special skills. It is difficult to count those crossing the border illegally, but it is generally accepted that people crossing the border illegally are also usually trying to reunify with family or seeking an escape from crippling poverty. An interesting 2013 study suggested that Mexican border crossers often felt they had a higher moral obligation to provide for their families than to obey US immigration law.

Lowell’s Irish, French Canadians, Greeks, Jewish, Polish, Lithuanians, Armenians, and Portuguese populations were largely economic/familial immigrants. It’s important to note that when many of these groups were arriving, immigration was largely unrestricted. Prior to 1875 there was no restrictive immigration bill, and only Asians were restricted prior to 1921.[6]  Also of note is that the Spanish-speaking population of Lowell is largely Puerto Rican, US citizens by birth.

In summary, asylees cross the US border to ask for asylum and are a relatively small group. Refugees are registered overseas, then a small number are referred to the US. Economic/familial immigrants are by far the largest group, more than eleven times as many legal economic/familial immigrants arrive in Massachusetts than refugees each year. Each of these groups has different legal status and challenges, and each must complete naturalization procedures to become United States citizens. Despite their differences, I’ve learned that the groups bring similar, quantifiable benefits to their host communities despite their differences.

*Chart: 2002-2012 average annual refugee count from 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, population count from 2010 decennial census.

“Responsibility and Cost”

Massachusetts officials clearly walked a tightrope trying to discuss the unaccompanied minors over the summer. According to the Sun, Senator Eileen Donaghue said, “The city of Lowell has always opened its arms to newcomers to this country, and that comes with quite a responsibility and a cost.” Others were more blunt. In the same article, Representative Marc Lombardo of Billerica “said Massachusetts has already allowed immigrants to take advantage of too many state resources.”

The existence of established refugee resettlement programs complicate the issue. A month before Governor Patrick’s announcement, the mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts requested a halt to Somali refugee resettlement in his city, and the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, unsuccessfully asked for a moratorium of refugee resettlement in his area in 2011. Those mayors argue their cities cannot absorb additional refugees because of scarce employment opportunities for non-English speakers and tight housing markets. Some argue these politicians are using refugees as scapegoats for deeper problems, while others argue that they are purposefully creating a wedge issue by mixing otherwise liberal voters’ negative sentiment about undocumented immigrants with legally resettled refugees.

Ostensibly, however, the Mayors’ arguments echo Senator Donaghue’s: A community has a responsibility to provide adequate housing and education to refugees and these services have a cost. What is that cost?

Immediate Costs

The first costs are immediate: transportation to the US, securing and furnishing housing, assistance with state and federal forms, school registration, and other immediate transition needs. A federal travel loan funds their transportation, while regional nonprofits provide the other services. In Lowell, the International Institute of Lowell provides these services.

I found a good estimate of costs by Baltimore’s refugee assistance nonprofit. They estimated the cost for this initial assistance as $5,291 per case in 2009—higher for families, lower for single people. The federal government provides an $1,800 per refugee grant to nonprofits, $1,125 of which goes directly to refugee families to pay for rent, clothing, and other necessities.[7] The rest must be locally raised through private donations, volunteer power, and in-kind donations. Because of their importance, we visited the International Institute, and we’ll talk about them in a future post.

Education Costs

Longer-term costs are more difficult to quantify. Mayor Elliot specifically asked for the costs of educating newcomer students. The report that Superintendent Franco provided to the council states directly:

The percent of students who are English Language Learners has not dramatically increased, however, the number of students who come to this country with Refugee status with no or limited formal schooling has increased and requires the district to expand Newcomer Programs.

These newcomer classes are specifically set up to acculturate students and teach English. According to the Superintendent’s report, the number of “newcomers” in Lowell K-12 increased by 253 students in 2013, or 49%, much higher than the previous four years. About half of these came as federally-resettled refugees, the others were other types of immigrants.[8] Each new Newcomer class costs $135,000: $115,000 for one teacher and one paraprofessional, and $20,000 for setup. In the last two years, the school system added seven of these classes, and three more are approved for next year.

However, answering the question requires more than a simple number. Other questions remain: how much more Newcomer classes are per-student than standard classes and what portion does the state already pay? The 2015 city budget plans for nearly 89% of Lowell’s school costs to be reimbursed by the state, even after increasing Lowell’s local contribution from 2014.

Healthcare and Social Assistance

Although the council did not directly suggest the cost of social assistance to refugees is a concern, I have heard this argument before. Like citizens, refugee families with children are eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and refugees with disabilities or senior citizens are eligible for Social Security. Many refugees are also eligible for Medicaid. Because they’re the same programs citizens use, these costs are shared by Massachusetts and the federal government.

The US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) funds some programs specifically for refugees. Refugees who are low-income but do not qualify for other programs can take part in a Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance programs for eight months.

However, these are not permanent costs for most refugees. The ORR’s annual survey found that about 46% of refugees that arrived between 2007-12 received cash assistance and 61% received Medicaid. However, those who had been in the US the longest were less reliant on federal programs. For example, 27% of refugee households arriving in 2007 received Medicaid in 2012, nearly identical to the overall US rate of 26% receiving Medicaid in 2011.

Finally, ORR provides additional funding for refugee services that aren’t tied to a single family:

  • A matching grant of $2 for every $1 locally raised by nonprofits such as the International Institute to assist refugees become self-sufficient.[9]
  • Competitive grants for programs that, for example, help survivors of torture or for matching refugees’ investments toward home purchase, small business development, or post-secondary education.[10]
  • Funding for social services used by refugees on a state-by-state basis
  • Targeted Assistance for areas with large refugee populations: In Massachusetts, this includes Hampden (Springfield), Suffolk (Boston), and Worcester Counties, but not Middlesex. However, the Lowell School District does receive supplemental funding applied on a formula basis on refugees resettled, which is funneled through the state.

So, how much does a refugee cost?

Long story short, studies I’ve seen that quantify the cost/benefit of refugees show a net positive after a several years. These are not selected studies of communities with skilled refugees, but the same type of mixes Massachusetts receives. Notably, the costs are mostly paid for by states and federal government, while local governments and states reap most of the benefits.

While exploring the costs of refugees, I learned that it is hard to estimate a per-capita cost for all the services refugees use and how they’re funded. The ORR budget could be one proxy, but the $1.12 billion budgeted in 2013 covered administrative and processing expenses but did not cover expenses such as Medicaid. Despite this, there have been some notable efforts to capture the direct costs of refugees:

  • 1997 paper by a University of Richmond professor made an effort to estimate the direct cost of providing social services, and came up with $9,000[11] ($14,000 in 2014 dollars) with costs going down as the families become self-sufficient. He estimated state bore 22% of these costs. However, circumstances vary so much by individual, and so much has changed since 1995, I do not know if that number is useful beyond an order-of-magnitude estimate.
  • A more recent 2000 paper by a Hamilton College researcher estimated a local cost of $4,413 ($6,111 in 2014 dollars) for the first year of refugee households in Utica. This is nearly double the $3,080 estimated in 1997, but includes education and counts households, not individuals, unlike the 1997 study.
  • Finally, a 2013 paper considering state/local costs of healthcare and education in Tennessee estimated an average education cost of $1,692 per individual refugee in 2012 ($1,747 in 2014 dollars).

It is at least clear that refugees do have long-term healthcare and social service costs, and hosting states may pay several thousand dollars per refugee on average, at least for their first year. The federal government shoulders the rest.

However, only looking at costs is problematic at best. The fiscal benefits often outweigh the costs in the long-term:

  • The 2013 paper also estimated the amount of taxes refugees and businesses they owned paid: it was slightly more than the amount they “cost” in health and education services.
  • The 2000 paper created a cost/benefit model that used real data and assumptions to estimate that a refugee cohort in Utica, NY becomes an annual local net fiscal positive after six years and that their program that admits 750 individuals a year essentially pays for itself in increased tax revenue by year 23.
Chart showing fiscal impact of Refugees in Utica, NY.

Chart showing fiscal impact of refugees in Utica, NY. Different lines represent different discount rates (inflation assumptions). (Hagstrom, 2000)

I was worried that research for the post would show that refugees were a net fiscal drain. I thought that we should welcome refugees simply because they need help and we are able, and I thought that they bring an unquantifiable, diverse vitality that sets the United States apart from many other nations, but I never thought that it’s a good idea because it generates additional tax revenue. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that refugees are a long-term net fiscal positive for communities.

What about jobs?

However, these studies focused on tax revenue for communities, not the impacts on existing families in the community. What limited research I could find on broader impacts on employment suggests refugees follow the same pattern as other immigrants: the increased activity their spending and businesses create more than offset the jobs they “take.” This is especially pronounced in areas that would otherwise be shrinking in population. 

Notably, research on refugee economic impact is actually difficult to tease out: many studies focus on economic/familial immigrants rather than refugees. Those focusing on refugees often examine the places where refugees are most prevalent: developing host nations such as Jordan. Even those granted asylum in the US have different economic characteristics than refugees resettled from elsewhere.

However, it might be useful to start with immigration research. Most research shows that low-skill immigrants tend to depress wages for other low-skilled groups such as earlier immigrants or high school dropouts, but they don’t significantly affect the unemployment rate. Although an immigrant may take a job a native-born person would have otherwise taken, the immigrant creates additional demand for jobs at roughly the same rate. A very well-cited 1995 study on the available research stated:

There is no evidence of economically significant reductions in native employment. Most empirical analysis of the United States and other countries finds that a 10 percent increase in the fraction of immigrants in the population reduces native wages by at most 1 percent.

A more recent 2003 study finds a larger wage depression among low-skilled workers: between .4 and 7.4%. However, that may be offset by other groups’ wages increasing by up to 10% as they see larger customer bases and can delegate low-skilled tasks more effectively. Immigration helps the overall economy, but might create problems for certain people at the lowest rungs.

However, the research on a national level does not suggest whether there are effects on individual communities that receive immigrants. In fact, research from UC Davis shows that in the long run, the greatest positive effect—an increase in output and wage per average worker—happens where the most immigration is taking place.

Are refugees similar to other immigrants? One can imagine many ways the groups are different. Economic/familial immigrants choose to come to the US, while violence or persecution force refugees out of their countries. Refugees may have more trauma and may have spent years in camps. However, some may actually be very educated and skilled. Iraqi refugees, for example, include doctors and engineers.

To begin with, refugees do find employment in their host communities. In its 2012 annual report, the Office of Refugee Resettlement found that refugees arriving 2007-2012 had an unemployment rate of 16%, double that of the US’s rate of 8%.

However, those who arrived in 2007 had only a 12% unemployment rate and in fact had a higher labor force participation rate (74% vs. 63%) than the US as a whole. Far from being a burden, a larger proportion of refugees who have had a few years to acculturate are employed than the US as a whole. In some years, the employment rate of all refugees was similar to that of the US population, but a large gap developed after the 2007-08 recession.

In fact, research bears out the idea that refugees start behind other immigrants, but make greater gains over time. A 2004 study at Princeton University found that refugees in a cohort of immigrants that arrived in 1975-1980 (at that time, mainly southeast Asians) earned 6% less than other immigrants in the cohort in 1980, but in 1990 they earned 20% more that others in the cohort.

This translates to positive impacts on hosting economies. In 2012, Chmura Economics & Analytics studied the impact of refugees on their host economies for Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland. It found a study showing a 1.5 multiplier of Afghan refugees in Young, Australia partly because they offset a native population decline. It also cited a Lewin Group study of refugees in Houston, Miami, and Sacramento, and found that 30 to 38% of refugee households owned a home, increasing the neighborhood stability in those communities.

The Chmura researchers used a computer model to estimate the direct and indirect impact of refugee spending in the Cleveland area and the increased economic activity attributable to refugee-owned businesses. It estimated that the economic impact of refugees in Greater Cleveland was $48 million or the support of 650 jobs in 2012. It’s not a bad return on $6.4 million, presuming Ohio spends roughly the same amount per refugee locally as Tennessee.

This is a lot of information and a lot of assumptions that Lowell might behave similarly to other similar places, but it seems that there’s more research pointing toward immigrants helping overall economies on the local level than not. However, there is not a lot of consensus on whether low-skilled immigrants depress wages for other low-skilled workers. If we are concerned the benefits of immigration disproportionately are given to higher-skilled workers and leave lower-skilled workers behind, I might suggest crafting policy based on reducing inequity.

What’s It All Mean?

Arabic language class at International Institute of Lowell

Arabic language class at International Institute of Lowell, from Richardhowe.com

Researchers contest the effects of immigration, and refugees aren’t well studied, as they are only a tiny subset of immigrants. However, even when you ignore all the immaterial benefits refugees bring such as vitality, offsetting population loss, and a greater diversity of cultural offerings, it is clear that refugees aren’t simply a cost or burden on struggling economies. Rather, they get jobs, pay taxes, start businesses, and offset the costs of early assistance: with one study saying that starts after refugees pay for all the local costs of resettlement after only a couple of decades.

Aurora and I hope to dive in with more research on this issue. We’re going to visit the International Institute, talk to a refugee family, and compare Lowell’s refugees to other cities. We hope to discuss all the unquantifiable benefits (and possibly costs) in these posts, but most importantly, try to understand the men, women, and children that we’re hosting. Regardless, I’ve definitely come to believe the price we pay for supporting newcomers isn’t just a burden; it’s an investment for Lowell.

Notes

[1] 2013 US Census American Community Survey 1-year estimate. Margin of error 335. Counts US citizens born outside of the country (Such as those born in US Territories or those born to citizens travelling abroad).

[2] The UN, for its part, pushed for an update to that definition over the summer. Also notable is that the immigration law works somewhat differently for adults, children from Mexico and Canada, and children from elsewhere. Although that’s not a focus of this article, there’s a bit of easy-to-read information in this Vox article.

[3] All stats current to 2012 from http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_yb_2012.pdf

[4] Almost all refugee referrals come from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and referrals are evaluated by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. See the US Department of State’s webpage on the matter.

[5] Including refugees, recent years rival the turn of the century for era with the most immigrants to the US, although immigrants were a higher proportion of the population in the 1900s than now.

[6] In a 1921 bill, later amended in 1924, the US set “quotas” for each country. Those countries could not send more immigrants than their quota. The quotas were set to limit the amount of people immigrating from countries the US found “undesirable” at that time. These bills limited the number of Jewish refugees the US could accept during the Holocaust. Only in 1943 was the exclusion of Chinese immigrants repealed, and in 1965, our modern immigration system was more or less put in place with the Hart-Cellar Act.

[7] The grant was increased substantially in 2010. Prior to that, it was only $900. However, the value of the grant decreases each year because it does not track with inflation.

[8] Students scored with an English Proficiency 1 or 2 on a scale to 6 are given “newcomer” status. Thanks to Kim Scott for “Our Changing Population” report from Superintendent Jean Franco, and thanks to Derek Mitchell for an estimate on children arriving as federally-resettled refugees.

[9] Maximum of $2,200 per refugee served. According to Derek Mitchell of the International Institute, this money is highly restrictive and only applies to certain families. It covers rental payments for up to six months for certain families involved in certain employment programs. Self sufficiency is tracked as part of the program. Last year, the national average was about 72% of families self-sufficient within first six months of arrival. The International Institute of Lowell’s numbers were similar.

[10] CMAA and Lowell health providers have received many of these grants.

[11] This does not count the author’s estimate of initial resettlement costs, which was somewhat lower.

Happy Anniversary, Learning Lowell

Checking in on the blog last week I had a little orange notification from wordpress: Learning Lowell is one year old. Time flies when you’re blogging! I thought it’d be fun to reflect a little on how the blog came to be.

A year ago we had lived in Lowell for almost three months, but we were still struggling to get our bearings and to get connected to the city. We’d started reading a bunch of the local blogs to try get tapped in, and they were all hugely helpful in their own way. We owe a special debt to Richard Howe Jr., whom we met after he spoke as part of an innovation event at Merrimack Valley Sandbox (now Entrepreneurship for All). When we introduced ourselves and said how much we appreciated his website as we learned about the city, Dick immediately invited us out to lunch. This friendly gesture was a real kindness on his part, and it was the first of many times people in Lowell’s social media community made us feel welcomed and at home.

One of the reasons we were trying so hard to learn about our new home is that there was an election on the horizon, and we were finding it hard to get up to speed. We often found that the news and blogs assumed we knew everything that had ever happened in Lowell, and it could be hard to untangle what was really going on. We spent a lot of time going to candidate debates and reading up on the issues, and we started to think about other people like us who were new to the city but might not have the time or the encouragement we had to get so involved. We began to talk about making our own blog to share what we were learning.

It was around this time that I first heard the term “blow-in”, and learned that there can be surprising hostility in Lowell politics against people who haven’t lived here their whole lives. I say “surprising” because I’ve never encountered that attitude anywhere but a small town, and I’ve never encountered it in Lowell anywhere but in the midst of political rhetoric. Empty rhetoric or not, hearing that negativity really upset me. Here I was, trying hard to make a new home, and finding so much that I loved about the city. A big part of what attracted me to Lowell was its history of becoming a home for newcomers. To hear that there were people who didn’t want me to be a part of that, it was truly disheartening.

Part of the reason I got excited about the blog was because I wanted to show that a new Lowellian can care just as much about the city as a life-long resident, and to reflect that “new” can also mean respectful, passionate, and happy to learn and contribute. Best decision I think we’ve made while living here. Starting a blog about our journey to become knowledgeable and connected citizens became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we wrote about the city, the better we got to know it. Through the blog we’ve met so many dedicated, friendly, interesting neighbors, all contributing to the city in a million different ways.

It’s sometimes work to keep the blog going, to find new things to write about and to find the time to research and write. But it’s extremely rewarding, and the blog is an excellent motivation to get off the couch and go to the next event, meet a new person, and try a new restaurant or store. I’d urge anybody thinking about blogging to give it a shot, it’s really a lot of fun. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged us this year, especially the rest of the Lowell blogging community and anyone who took the time to help us with an interview or our research. And of course to you, dear Reader. It’s been a good year.

Dick Howe leading tour of Lowell Cemetery

Lowell’s Buried Past: The Cemetery and Beyond

The Lowell Cemetery was founded in 1842, and Catherine Goodwin gave tours of it for forty years. She passed away in 2011, so I was sadly never able to meet her or take one of her tours. In Ms. Goodwin’s obituary, Marie Sweeney of the Lowell Historical Society said, “Her passion was contagious. That, combined with her gift of storytelling, made her an invaluable teacher. She knew how to engage a crowd and make learning so much fun.” Her book and DVD, Mourning Glory, is on sale from LHS.

In 2009, Ms. Goodwin passed the role on to Richard Howe Jr., a local historian, blogger, and Register of Deeds. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend his tour for two years, and he certainly carries on her legacy of teaching through storytelling in a beautiful setting. Last Friday, I enjoyed an amazing fall day while listening to Mr. Howe’s stories. I also heard a mix of people whisper things such as “I didn’t know that!” and “Oh, I know which one he’ll go to next—it must be the chair!”

Dick Howe in front of Bonney Memorial

Mr. Howe in front of the Bonney memorial. Many think she’s dubbed “Witch Bonney” because she’s tantalizingly clad and spooky, but we think the legend grew because the statue is so visually powerful.

In fact, I’ve never heard anything but positive comments in person and on Facebook: “Fantastic,” “Richard makes it so interesting, you can’t wait to hear the next story,” “Each time we go, we learn something new,” “Your tours are to die for–no pun intended!!” Not only do they draw both new and old faces, they reach people outside Lowell. I was able to find a meetup group that normally focuses on “Portsmouth and Beyond” for last year’s tour–organized by someone from Pelham.

It’s a “must go” in Lowell. Mr. Howe selects each story for a different reason. Some stories are of famous residents, such as James Ayer, who built one of the largest patent medicine companies in the world. He provided the funding for a town hall for a new town, which was named Ayer in his honor, yet when he unsuccessfully ran for US Congress, he was supposedly burned in effigy in that very town.

He chooses other stories because of the unique headstones, such as the afore-mentioned chair. Horace Ebert was not particularly famous, but his family commissioned an exact reproduction of his chair for his grave. Other stories are simply of everyday people: a particularly tragic one being that of Scottie Fineral, who lost his life in the first Gulf War in 1991, when he was 21.

Mr. Howe pointed it out partly to highlight that although the recency of that war hits modern audiences hardest, many who died in wars a century ago had lives cut just as short. If Scottie Fineral had lived to be my age, he would have seen the rise of widespread personal computers, the internet, smartphones, the new Star Wars, widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians, and so much more. I can only imagine we could say the same thing about those who died in the Civil War, World War II, or Afghanistan.

This is the genius of the cemetery tour: each story is entertaining in its own right, but all illuminate a larger aspect of history. Mr. Howe mentioned during his tour that although many think of history as facts and dates or even discrete movements:

I think of [history] more as a bunch of streams that come together. –Dick Howe, Jr.

As he pointed out, some of the stories cover folks who were born and fought in the Civil War, then went home to Lowell to contribute to huge social, technological, and business advances. The stories show how events in the war led directly to movements during the gilded age in a way two separate chapters in a history book never could. Yet the stories are also more immensely personal and relatable, both because they took place in Lowell and because they are about people: a person who got his start in a drugstore and built a medicine empire, a person whose life ended too quickly in war, a person who just loved his chair. People enjoy those stories because they both entertain and illuminate.

A number of folks have suggested developing more tours in and around Lowell’s downtown, which could have exactly the same effect. Each building or street can tell a story, each story can contribute to a larger picture. In addition, the tours could draw similarly large crowds if marketed well. Who doesn’t want to learn they live around the corner from where telephone numbers were invented or where the sponsor of the G.I. Bill lived most of her life?

Mr. Howe has suggested beginning a weekly downtown tour led by various experts in the community. I would love to see a series of tours featuring, for example, French-Canadian Lowell, urban planning innovations in Lowell, or Lowell from a youth perspective. These tours could not only entertain and enlighten, but bring folks who don’t normally visit Lowell’s historic areas to local businesses.[1] I’d love to hear people’s ideas for tours they could lead in the comments, in emails, or on Facebook!

Finally, I’d like to share fellow bloggers’ reflections and photos:

Notes

[1] Notably, most studies include walking tours as an effect (For example, increased historic preservation creates walking tour guide jobs). If downtown tours are started, perhaps it would be a good opportunity to create a small study to measure impact, such as estimating the number of tourists eating lunch downtown.

Community members and police officers speak at Coffee and a Cop event in Lowell MA

The Buzz about UMass Lowell Fuzz

Last week, “Coffee with a Cop” invited the community to meet with UMass Lowell, Lowell Police Department, and National Park Service police. We took advantage of the event, spearheaded by UML, and the free coffee and pastries, provided by the University Crossing Starbucks.

Community members and police officers speak at Coffee and a Cop event in Lowell MAThe remarkably informal event was a good opportunity to meet with UMass Lowell officers in particular–dozens were in attendance. We talked with many. One said it was nice to be able to talk with actual people and suggested that patrol officers often only talk to “criminals” or “victims.” The sentiment was echoed by another officer, who enjoyed the opportunity to socialize with others and often stops locally for coffee. This was the goal of the event, part of a nationwide program started in Hawthorne, California:

This informal contact increases trust in police officers as individuals which is foundation to building partnerships and engaging in community problem solving. – Coffee with Cop Website

Our longest discussion was with UML Police Chief Randolph Brashears. He believes the big story at UMass Lowell is its expansive growth, with not only more students admitted, but higher admission standards. However, the most interesting story was one of the evolving relationship between the three police departments of Lowell. Only a few years prior, in his words, there used to be a “lot of friction” between departments. In only four or so years, regular CompStat meetings improved communication and the forces have begun cooperating in new ways.

Chief Brashears mentioned that the Lowell Police Superintendent once called him late at night about a problem, and he investigated and resolved the issue that day. He gave me the impression that years ago, that phone call wouldn’t have been made and would lead to festering animosity between the two departments over what might have even been a misunderstanding.

Community members and police officers speak at Coffee and a Cop event in Lowell MAAnother interesting theme came up: UMass Lowell Police have some flexibility in how they handle student-related crimes, which have led to a reduced number of repeat offenders. The Lowell Police Department will refer student-related crimes to UML Police. The UML Police can refer the offending student to student services, who are able to give an academic penalty such as suspension or expulsion that are a more powerful deterrent than a night in jail, but doesn’t give the student a criminal record that might damage their future. In addition, UML Police can and do follow up with students and neighbors the day after minor crimes such as violation of noise ordinance during a party. Several of the officers credited this kind of diligence to virtually eliminating repeat offenders.

Every officer asked us what our perception of the student population was–if they were giving us problems. We had to answer honestly that although we’re relatively near UML Inn and Conference Center, we had no student-related concerns. Chief Brashears partially credited this to the nature of UML students: many commute in, and many are first-generation students who are focused on their studies, not parties. It was an interesting perspective. For our part, we asked about whether the students felt safe in Lowell, and an officer said he believed that the students had a perception of crime in Lowell that was probably worse than the reality.

Finally, we had an interesting conversation with Chief Brashears about the issue of sexual violence on campus. There are few reported incidents, but he acknowledged that it is a crime that is usually underreported. He did mention there were many semi-anonymous ways to report on campus, including to clergy, student services, and other places, a full list available on the web here. We discussed the fine line between advocating safe behavior and victim-blaming, which could warrant a post all on its own.

Reflecting on the event, it’s notable that CompStat has proven to be a useful tool to improve interdepartmental communication. I understood CompStat as essentially collection of crime statistics, but it’s actually a process that began in 1994 in New York City and has since been adapted in many other cities, including Lowell. It involves the collection and analysis of data, but also development of strategies, rapid implementation (such as deploying additional officers to hotspots or contacting derelict property owners), and follow-up. I now believe it’s a natural place to improve cooperation, as interdepartmental strategies may be generated.

This interdepartmental communication and community outreach is terribly important. Questions about the appropriate role of university police have come up in other communities, and I wonder if the discussion and cooperation between the three police forces in Lowell have headed off controversy by assigning each force to its most appropriate role. However, we didn’t actually get a chance to talk to NPS or LPD officers at the event (although it looked like a valuable opportunity for them to communicate with each other and other community members). Hopefully we can follow up with those forces in the future!

Folks gathered around at 2013 Harvest Festival Mill City Grows Lowell

Mill City Grows and Grows

One of the best things about working on this blog is the way it encourages Chris and I to get and stay involved in the Lowell community. It’s so easy, too easy, to get bogged down in grumpy facebook threads and the discouraging daily grind of city news. But there’s still so much going on in Lowell that’s exciting, encouraging, and even inspiring. Mill City Grows is a great example of the best of Lowell: diverse community members working together to make the city a better place for everyone.

Children pressing cider at 2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

Prepping apples for cider press at 2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

Why a Mill City Grows post now? I won’t bury the lede too far. It’s because their big, annual celebration of local foods, the Harvest Festival, is this Saturday. As previous years, it’s in their original community garden location, Rotary Club Park in Back Central, just about a ten minute walk south of downtown. It’s the culmination of the growing season and all that Mill City Grows does throughout the year: education, farmers markets, and community gardening. Mill City Grows takes over the park and provides an afternoon of games, demonstrations, and food. They and their partners provide hands-on activities involving cooking, bicycle safety, a “stone soup” table in which every participant contributes an ingredient and gets a sample of soup and a cider press demonstration and sampling.

Chris and I got to sit down and chat with co-founder Francey Slater and learn a little bit more about the Mill City Grows story. She said that she and co-founder Lydia Sisson had the idea for years. They had been working as an educator and as a commercial farmer outside of Lowell, but felt there was a great opportunity and need in Lowell:

There was this amazing opportunity in Lowell, given the cultural richness of the city, and the food culture in the city, and… there was a lack of opportunities for residents to get involved in growing food and in accessing healthy, fresh, and local food.

Lydia Sission and Francey Slater

Lydia and Francey, co-founders of Mill City Grows (Photo: Jen Myers)

She noted that culturally-appropriate food was also difficult to find. However, their opportunity came in 2011, when Back Central was the focus of the City Manager’s neighborhood impact initiative. Among other things, the initiative funded a project that the neighborhood itself identifies. That year, Back Central Neighborhood Association identified a community garden. The neighborhood nor the city knew how to create a community garden, so they brought in Francey and Lydia, who jumped at the opportunity.

They worked with the city and neighborhood group to recruit gardeners throughout the fall, and in the spring, they worked with the city’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Public Works to build the garden. The first garden snowballed into new gardens and new programs, including school education, urban commercial farming, and a mobile market. Each new program was a response to a community request. The staff at Mill City Grows has many ideas, but rather than imposing those ideas, they have used community feedback to choose their focus areas.

Lowell’s support was critical. We didn’t realize how close the partnership with the city government was: it allows Mill City Grows to use designated city land and have access to water and inclusion in the blanket insurance. This has really helped Mill City Grows get started, as raising money for land leases, insurance, and other necessities is often a roadblock to new organizations.

Mill City Grows West 3rd Garden

West 3rd Garden (Photo: Mill City Grows)

Chris and I nearly lost count of how many different dividends that initial investment paid. The gardens are used by a diverse population of Lowell residents-Francey says that at least eleven languages are spoken by their gardeners. She said, “It’s a fascinating world tour to walk through, to see things I don’t recognize or see gardeners harvest parts of plants I would never think or know were edible.” The education is both cultural and practical, as community gardeners learn from one another and from the organization:

Education has always been something that we weave into every aspect of our programming, whether it’s the very technical “when to plant this seed”… to the more theoretical “how do we build a more just, more sustainable food system?”

The benefits that go beyond the gardeners: the community impact of transforming the physical spaces is difficult to quantify, but it is impossible to deny that changing a vacant lot to a raised-bed garden with folks bustling about improves the vibrancy and confidence of a neighborhood. Francey has said she has seen entire neighborhoods transform after a lot has been turned into a garden.

Apples at 2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

The larger community benefits as well. Francey mentioned that during the Market Basket problem, many people had trouble finding fresh vegetables within walking distance or at an affordable price, while local farmers were not able to move their stock and were losing money every day. This brought up questions to Francey on how much the community can rely on its food system when a single entity was so important. She said food banks saw their demand increase during the crisis, and she actually saw a measurable increase at Mill City Grows markets. She suggested one simple thing anyone can do to help food security:

Even if it’s one simple crop, learning how to grow a small patio garden is something we can all do.

The more direct support to farmers and local food grown and shared, the more an impact to the food system can be blunted. Of course, there are many other ways to support Mill City Grows. If you can’t make it to the Harvest Festival event, there are other ways to get involved. They’re one of many vendors selling tasty fruits and veggies at the Lowell Farmer’s Market in City Hall Plaza every Friday afternoon.  After we chatted with Francey we headed over there and stocked up almost everything you’d find in the produce section, but fresher and often tastier. It’s also important to note that many booths can take EBT/SNAP and WIC. The Farmer’s Market goes on through Halloween, so check it out, and follow them on facebook here.

Vendors selling produce at Mill City Grows Lowell

Mobile Market at Lowell Community Health Center (Photo: Mill City Grows)

Mill City Grows also does this really cool thing called the Mobile Market, where their mini Farmer’s Market van sets up around town. This is an excellent resource for those of us that the regular Farmer’s Market time doesn’t suit. The schedule is on their website here, and you can also get updates on what they’re up to by following them on Facebook or Twitter. They are always looking for volunteers, from folks who can help staff the markets to longer-term skill-specific projects such as web design.

Finally, there may be a new garden coming, so stay tuned to Mill City Grows, and maybe you can start your own plot!

Harvest Festival activities include:

2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

2013 Harvest Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

  • Rotary Club pumpkin decoration
  • Boys and Girls Club face painting
  • Lowell Community Health Center Teen Block nutrition-themed carnival
  • South Bay Early Childhood Education toddler games
  • MCC and YWCA zero-waste activities and information
  • Murkland School arts and crafts
  • Raising a Reader scavenger hunt
  • Lowell Bike Coalition bike safety and maintenance demonstrations
  • Photo: Jen Myers

    Photo: Jen Myers

  • Next Step Living home energy information
  • Lowell Parks and Recreation kids’ games
  • Lowell National Historical Park pop-up museum about “connecting with your roots”
  • Mill City Grows cider press, stone soup, garden tours, and mobile market and popcorn station
  • Spiceventure, UTEC cafe, Sweet Lydia’s, Brew’d Awakening, and other food vendors
  • Music, live-painting, garden awards, and more!
Cider Press at Mill City Grows

Cider Press at 2013 Festival (Photo: Jen Myers)

Community Gardens

Community Gardens at Rotary Park (Photo: Jen Myers)

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Stage of MRT before play begins

Year Zero at MRT

Aurora and I attended a Merrimack Repertory Theatre performance for the first time. Year Zero was a dramatic and at moments comedic look at the experience of second-generation Cambodians. It takes place in Long Beach, California, the only US city with a larger Cambodian population than Lowell.

Daniel Velasco as Ruthy holding skull (Image: MRT)

Daniel Velasco as Ruthy holding skull (Image: MRT)

In it, a brother and sister (Vuthy and Ra) struggle with their mother’s recent death. Vuthy is a high-school geek who isn’t accepted by the Cambodian or Noncambodian kids in school, and Ra is a college student torn between Glenn, her Chinese boyfriend living in Berkley, and Ra, her ex-boyfriend recently released from prison.

The characters deal with the gulf of understanding among each other and with their deceased mother, the pull and influence of gang life when no alternative seems to exist, and the problem of identity and individuality. Aurora noted that it spoke to how complex dealing with the aftermath of tragedy can be: sometimes the people we are closest to are the ones we are least able to be vulnerable with. As we move forward, we create new versions of ourselves and often try to plaster over the sadness. Is the new version a lie, hiding the most important parts of our story? Or is it more wrong to define us by the sadness of our past, rather than the new life we’ve worked hard to build?

It honestly kept us guessing as to which choices each character would make, so we won’t give away any more than that.

During the play, I wondered how true it would ring to the children of refugees in Lowell. Juliette Hing-Lee, the actor playing Ra gave an interesting interview in the Boston Globe. Her experience mirrored her character in a way: her parents separated and she moved to Long Beach when she was eight. Her mother, like her character’s mother, had many siblings killed by the Khmer Rouge. She said, “The piece is extremely important because it puts into words the experience of Cambodians who came to this country and what they’ve gone through.”

However, in an after-show talk, Charles Towers, the artistic director, said that it was the only play he could find that focused not on the Cambodians who came to the US, but on their children. He also said that he hoped it wasn’t only about Cambodian-Americans, but simply about the coming of age of a brother and sister, a boyfriend, and an ex-boyfriend. To me, it succeeded on this level. In one scene, Ruthy plays Dungeons and Dragons with a friend who moved away over the phone. Having done the very same thing myself, I can’t say the gameplay was accurate, but the sentiment was very on the mark (down to goofy jokes about “Orcs chilling drinking Orc Ale in Orc 40s”).

The one thing that struck me was that the director asked how many folks were subscribers, and nearly the entire house rose their hands. This might be an effect of opening night, but I thought more people would take advantage of MRT’s $5 opening night offer (if paid same-day in cash at the box office.) There’s a similar $10 offer on the first Wednesday of each new show for Lowell residents, and I would encourage anyone wanting a unique night out to take advantage of it.

In addition, there are a number of free engagement activities scheduled for the rest of September, several of which we hope to attend:

  • Wednesday, September 17, 7:30 pm: A discussion with panelists from Lowell’s Cambodian-American community
  • Sunday, September 21, 5:00 pm: A discussion and book-signing with Seng Ty, author of Years of Zero: Coming of Age During the Khmer Rouge
  • Tuesday, Sep 23, 7:30 pm: The Luna Theater will screen Monkey Dance, a 2004 documentary about teens in Angkor Dance Troupe
  • Wednesday, September 24, 7:30 pm: A discussion with panelists from Lowell’s Cambodian-American community
  • Sunday, September 28, 5:00 pm: Presentation and discussion with Angkor Dance Troupe
  • Tuesday, Sep 30, 7:30 pm: The Luna Theater will screen Still I Strive, a documentary about a Cambodian orphanage transformed by the arts

All the activities are at the MRT except for the screenings at the Luna. Hope to see you there!