GROTON — Three minutes isn’t long enough to tell a life story or explore a big subject such as diversity. But five panelists at a program called “Bringing the World to Groton,” sponsored by the Groton Woman’s Club last month used their allotted time well, tapping into personal and professional experiences to put a local slant on a global issue.
Thanks to an organized agenda that included a facilitator, town moderator Robert Gosselin, and those 3-minute spots, the program wrapped in just over an hour, as planned, with questions at the end. Held the week before Christmas at the Union Congregational Church on Main Street, the event concluded with a holiday tea.
The speakers’ roster consisted of American-born panelists Betsy Sawyer and Louise Gaskins, and three area residents who came here from other countries: George Stefanakos, Sunny Chong and Show Yang.
Another panelist, Lorena Novak, was slated to speak about Native American culture but had to cancel due to illness. She has since agreed to share some of the presentation she’d prepared for the program in a phone interview. (Story slated for future issue.)
Sunny Chong was born in South Korea where one daughter, a physician, still lives. Her younger daughter, now a student at Smith College, attended schools in Ayer and Shirley, where the family lived for several years.
“How can I explain about me in three minutes?” Sunny began. “I am pure Korean, as you see.” She is an American, too, and proud of that as well. When she came here 15 years ago at age 49, Sunny struggled to learn English, took courses at a community college to earn her GED and became a U.S. citizen. Speaking English is still a challenge, she said.
Today, Sunny is a licensed foot reflexologist who has been in business for several years. She’s also an activist who promotes her heritage, including books about Korean history, government and culture.
Sunny is president of the Korean-American Senior Citizens Association of Boston and supports Korean unification. “Some say Yankee go home,” she said, but many Koreans are grateful to the United States, which “did so much” in the Korean war. That’s how Sunny sees it. “I appreciate America,” she said.
Sunny brought books and other items to help paint a picture of her homeland and wore a handsome traditional outfit with a light coat she said Korean women remove indoors.
George Stefanakos didn’t come in traditional native garb, but he’d brought doll-size figures to show the colorful parade uniform Greek warriors wore, minus the armor. Born in Athens, Greece, in 1960, Stefanakos came to America in 1978.
He obtained a chemical engineering degree from the University of Lowell. Later, he added a degree in business management. Once, he had hoped for a military career. “I wanted the (Greek) Naval Academy,” he said. But when an uncle offered him a chance to come to the United States and go to school, he didn’t hesitate to accept.
After his parents came here, they bought the Groton House of Pizza, which they owned for five years. By then, he was out of high school so he sought “kindred spirits” as friends, he said; people who shared his ethics. “That’s very important to me,” he said. Proud to take a stand against racism, he said it was off-putting to see a job application recently on a high-profile Web site that had check-off boxes for sex and ethnicity. “If we don’t discriminate, why ask?” he said.
In 1992, Stefanakos returned to Greece to join the sales staff of cosmetics giant Estée Lauder. Today, he’s back in the United States, living locally with his wife and two children. He rehabs houses and breeds dogs, likes to travel and frequently visits Greece.
Show Yang was born in Beijing. She came to the United States in 1981 on a scholarship to Tufts University, where she majored in international law and diplomacy. She also holds a doctorate degree in economics from Boston University, she said.
In 2005, she launched her own business in Groton, promoting Chinese art and culture via programs, tours and a Web site, www.cidermillgroton.com.
“It is an honor to be part of this community,” she said.
On the subject of native garb, she said it was hard to find a costume so she chose accessories instead. “China has 56 ethic groups,” she explained. The necklace she wore represents an ethnic minority whose art she is currently promoting, she said.
In China, Show’s family was fortunate but also knew tragedy. Her great-grandfather was one of the first in his generation to get a college degree, she said. He became a millionaire, but lost all his money during the Depression. “He drank himself to death,” she said. Her grandfather was a railroad engineer; her parents were Chinese diplomats.
Her husband is Sicilian. “We fell in love with the old cider mill and with the town,” she said.
In Show’s view, there are two types of immigrants — those who come to America for economic opportunity and those who come seeking liberty. She counts herself among the latter, she said, and is dedicated now to helping other Chinese-Americans benefit from the freedom and opportunity offered by a democratic government.
“I want to create a bridge between cultures and people,” she said.