Sunday, January 29, 2017

Early Muslim Immigrants in Waterbury

Waterbury was one of the first places in the United States to become home to a community of Muslim immigrants, when Albanians began arriving a few years before World War I, fleeing war and massacres.

Although Muslims have lived in the United States throughout the entirety of the country's history, it was not until the twentieth century that sizable Muslim communities were able to establish themselves and thrive. The first recorded instance of communal prayers being held by American Muslims happened in 1900 in North Dakota.

Waterbury had one of the first mosques in the United States, established by the Albanian community in 1919. Earlier mosques included ones in North Dakota and Michigan in 1912 and Biddeford, Maine in 1915. Waterbury's mosque may well have been the fourth mosque to be established in this country. I have found very little information about it. By the 1930s, it was gone, but Waterbury's Albanian Muslim community would continue to grow as new wars and political oppression forced more people to flee their homeland.

Albanian American Muslim Center on Raymond Street, built in 1969.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Waterbury at the Women's Marches

I'm doing something a little different with this post. I wasn't able to attend the Women's March yesterday, but I noticed many of my friends did. I reached out to some Waterbury people who went and asked them to share photos of the event and their reasons for attending. I want to make sure the Waterbury experience of this national historic event is preserved (because that's what historians do).

There's still time to participate in this blog post. If you're from Waterbury, send your photo(s) and reason for participating in the Women's March to and I will add them to the post. [Latest update: Tuesday, January 24, 2017]

Women's March in Hartford. Image courtesy of Robert Goodrich.

Peace and Unity Community Gathering

The Naugatuck Valley Project partnered with Waterbury's United Muslim Masjid and St. John's Episcopal Church to host a community gathering on Wednesday, January 18, 2017. As soon as I heard about it, I was determined to attend and show my support for my Muslim friends and neighbors who face an uncertain future with a president who gladly stoked people's irrational fear of Muslims during his campaign.

I was so pleased to see a large audience at the community gathering. When I arrived, the church was nearly half full and many more people arrived after me. The Rep-Am estimated some 200 people were in attendance. Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, unaffiliated voters, and more came together to take a stand against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance.

The scene when I arrived, before the church filled up.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Grassroots Organizing and Funding

I am a member of the Grassroots Grants Committee at the Connecticut Community Foundation. In the year or so that we've been active, we have been privileged to see some of the amazing individuals and groups that are changing people's lives in Waterbury and to make funds available for their programs. It has been a profoundly heartwarming experience to see how many people truly care about others, to see how many people who have experienced difficulties and suffering in their own lives turn that into a determination to help others facing the same challenges they once faced, and to see how many people are working to lift up those around them out of the goodness of their hearts.

The Grassroots Grants program is open to any Waterbury resident who wants to make positive changes in their neighborhood or community. This can include things like starting a community garden, offering a program for homeless youth, or building relationships between community members.

Melissa Green, co-chair of the Grassroots Grants Committee, speaking at the Silas Bronson Library