What makes Malden special? The city’s diversity, says Mayor Gary Christenson to a packed house on Thursday, August 27 at City Hall.
Organized by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the event called “Immigrant Entrepreneurs Revitalizing Malden: A Story Tour” showcased business owners from all over the world who now call Malden home.
“After serving four years, the thing that really makes me proud to be the mayor of this great city is the rich diversity that exists in Malden,” explains Christenson.
“You can feel the energy in the air. Malden is a city on the move,” says Kevin Duffy, the city’s strategy and business development officer. “You are going to hear some of the stories I’ve heard over the years and you will be amazed.”
After the kick-off speech from the mayor and Duffy, small business owners from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America shared their stories to dozens of locals and town officials at an invite-only walking tour in collaboration with the Immigrant Learning Center. Participants learned about the diversity of people, products and services offered in downtown Malden.
Entrepreneurs like Shane Smyth, owner of Hugh O’Neill’s Restaurant & Pub, shared their stories of making their American dream a reality. “My business to me? It’s my livelihood,” said Ireland-born Smyth, one of a handful of local business owners who opened their doors and served up compelling first-hand stories. “I love being a business owner in Malden. It’s a great community and a great place to do business.”
Sifu Mai Du, founder and chief instructor at the Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy, talked about her journey from Vietnam to America. Her family, ethnically Chinese, escaped after the Vietnam War in the early 1980s. “I came to Boston on Halloween of 1984, a night full of goblins, witches, and vampires at Logan Airport to begin our American Dream,” shares Du, adding that she lived in Chelsea for five years before moving to Malden. After her story, she demonstrated several Wah Lum-style Kung Fu and Tai Chi moves.
“Unfortunately, two months after we got to the U.S., my family was robbed in our first apartment in Chelsea, where my sister was held at knife point. As you can probably tell, we had a rough start at the beginning of our American life.”
Du says she has always felt welcomed in Malden. “My hometown has been Malden and my vision was to serve my home community.” She founded the Academy in her driveway in 2004 and now the school is internationally recognized.
“People come from all over to train here,” she continues.
Du’s group recently attended the 2015 U.S. International Kuo Shu Federation Championship Tournament in Baltimore, Maryland. Wah Lum Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy won the grand champion trophy.
Following the story tour, conference participants convened at the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC) on Main Street for lunch and a presentation by ILC Director Diane Portnoy. The ILC holds a two-pronged mission: to teach English to new immigrants and to promote immigrants as assets to America. The center will be offering their first class in immigrant entrepreneurship this fall.
Story tour participants had an opportunity to debrief with small group discussion following the presentation.
Below is a taste of the first-hand stories shared on the tour: