Lowell vs Lowell

There is a misconception that the rift between residents of Lowell who lived in Cambodia is something new. Based on my talking to various members of the Cambodian community in the past few weeks, there seems to be an unalterable rift between those persons still loyal to the sitting Prime Minister, and the elected officials who were, before massive genocidal actions reputably carried out by high ranking members of the current Cambodian government, specifically its Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

It is not that easy. While there have been a great many victims of the genocide, no one in current Cambodian government is taking credit for the holocaust.

People who first came here as friends are, in some cases, not speaking with one another in view of the charges being leveled against one another. Successful politicians are being hounded out of office, not by their fellow Americans, but by their own kind. It is Cambodian-American against Cambodian-American out there and it shows no sign of “bottoming out.”

So, Rithy Uoung, the first elected Cambodian-American in Lowell or any other American city, lost his election to a little-used law which stated that he could not hold down his job as an employee of the Lowell School Department and be a member, even a nonpaid member, of the Lowell City Council. Vesna Nuon, who strongly wants to get his job as City Councilor back has been very active trying to get elected again. And Rady Mom, who has sworn to me that he does not back the Met regime in Cambodia, has been tarred by both of the other Cambodian former office-holders as a member of that regime, largely based on a handshake with the Prime Minister – a handshake he should have eschewed.

I asked Rady Mom if he was in favor of the Met regime. He unequivocally said a resounding “NO!” His handshake was as one dignitary to another. What people should be judging him as is a person who has delivered to Lowell. His fellow Representatives believe he has delivered well, and plays the game of politics well. That is what they have told me. Whether or not he was trapped may be inconsequential, it is the situation he felt he was placed in during his visit to his old country. Many can say, He claims it was an attempt to be proper.

If the Prime Minister was the ghoul they paint him to be, it would have been better to not shake his hand. But this is not the first time that a politician from Lowell has made such a mistake. Both the Irish and the Greeks had their differences with members of their former nationalities.

We will go backwards. In 1906, I learned at a Middlesex Junior College event, the Greeks in America, were struggling to push ahead in the United States. They had all joined together to build a massive, gold-domed church called the Holy Trinity. Its gold was partially found on the hands of young Greek women who gave their rings to the contractors to melt down and put on the dome of the church. All of the Greeks worked together. But there was a rift. Half of the people supported a man back in Greece who was the Prime Minister, while the other half, who were interested in the Greek Monarchy, wanted to support the sitting King. After church one Sunday in 1906, fisticuffs broke out en masse after Mass. Greek took on Greek in a tussle that was so violent it spread to the church itself. It took place, the speaker said, in front of the church. The end result was that another beautiful Greek Church, the Transfiguration, was the result of the melee. Greeks would not speak to Greeks, would not vote for Greeks, would have nothing to do with one another in some cases, for years. Two separate churches were the result. They are still in widespread use today.

Now, it is time for the Irish. In 1831, the Portsmouth NH Journal wrote:

“In the suburbs of Lowell, within a few rods of the canals, is a settlement, called by some, New Dublin, which occupies rather more than an acre of ground. It contains a population of not far from 500 Irish, who dwell in about 100 cabins, from 7 to 10 feet in height, built of slabs and rough boards; a fire-place made of stone, in one end, topped out with two or three flour barrels or lime casks. In a central situation is a school house, built in the same style as the dwelling-houses, turfed up to the eaves with a window in one end, and small holes in two sides for the admission of air and light. In this room are collected together perhaps 150 children.” {Our Story: 175 Years of Service; St. Patrick Parish, Lowell, MA}

According to “The Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell,” {George O’Dwyer, 1920} Boott was troubled by the increasing violence in the Camps. His Irish maid, a Mrs. Winters, told Boott that “the only way to control the Irish was by getting a priest.” So Boott worked with Bishop Fenwick of Boston and started a Catholic Church. The first priest to visit the area was Father Mahoney, who came monthly to Lowell, and reported to Bishop Fenwick about the growing numbers. In May of 1831 a small riot took place in the Acre between Yankees and the Irish. Women picked up stones and held them in their aprons to allow the Irish to have ammunition. “During the construction of the church a group of Yankees entered the Acre decrying the Irish presence. So far so good. Irish (the Red Sox) against the Yankees. English language newspapers “made it a point {ibid.}” that many of the English rioters did not represent the view of the majority of the Yankee population. The first church was completed by July 3, 1831. The church population consisted of “1,000 souls. {ibid.}”

Cholera and typhus killed many people. So did accidents. Father James McDermott followed Father Mahoney. He negotiated with the School Committee for public funding of Catholic Schools. “Potato Famine” Irishmen and women fought with the Irish Americans already in Lowell. There were skirmishes.

“There were periodic outbursts of violence within the Irish community, often based on rivalries between counties back in Ireland.” [ibid.} Many of the original dissenters were members of the St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s Churches. It was easy for the early priests to make St. Patrick’s the
Mother Church of Lowell.

I have repeatedly written of Sister Desiree. She became Mother Desiree and was very well-known and loved by the girls in the Acre. The Rule for the Sisters’ did not allow them to teach boys. Brothers ran Keith Academy until the 1970’s.

The point is, that the Irish, particularly around 1842, fought with each other. As early as 1831, Bishop Fenwick oversaw the spiritual needs of the Lowell area. Successive priests saw patterns of people who did not support other Catholics or other Irish. Their dedication to education made it possible for them to acheive great things. Cardinal O’Connell was a Lowell boy. He still is remembered with a horse trough and statue by City Hall.

The nonjoining of various persons of one immigrant nation or another is a part of Lowell. We believe that we have the right to disagree with one another. It is what spices our politics. Lowell is known for its political divergence. Nothing really changes, we are all tenants here and eventually we will be called “home.” It is how we practice for our roles as citizens that counts. Hopefully, we will do it well. Our lifetimes are what is measured not the time we spend after our deaths. Lowell is being Lowell.

2 thoughts on “Lowell vs Lowell

Comments are closed.