Q+A The Ultimate Party Planner

Plymouth 400 Executive Director Michele Pecoraro reflects on the significance of Plymouth’s upcoming historic anniversary.

Michele Pecoraro’s eyes light up whenever she talks about the upcoming 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony in the year 2020. Whether building relationships with international collaborators or promoting cultural exhibitions and multi-day festivals, Pecoraro’s days are spent finding creative ways to help shine a spotlight on America’s hometown. Before landing at Plymouth 400, Michele Pecoraro’s diverse career path included posts at Plimoth Plantation and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, where she honed her tourism and destination marketing skills. She currently serves on the board of directors for Destination Plymouth and the Plymouth County Development Council. We caught up with her shortly after a meeting with the Massachusetts 400 initiative.

Q: What was the incentive to create the Massachusetts 400 initiative?

A: Massachusetts 400 was conceived for some important reasons. First, it brings together Massachusetts cities and towns turning 400, with the big kick-off being Plymouth in 2020, so we can cross-promote and support each other in our efforts to attract visitors from around the world to our state. Secondly, it allows us to learn from one another as we venture into this significant undertaking. Finally, it creates a sustainable plan to capture the increase in tourism dollars from Plymouth’s 400th by promoting 10 years of 400th anniversaries. Through collaborative itineraries and apps, we anticipate moving visitors around these communities as they come to the Commonwealth to join in the commemoration activities.

Q: What are some examples of international participation in the Plymouth 400 Commemoration?

A: We fully expect that the world’s eyes will be on Plymouth in 2020. The voyage of Mayflower is known worldwide and connects several countries—the United States, England, and the Netherlands as well as the Indigenous Wampanoag Nations— all of which played a key role in the history of Plymouth colony. Also, the Thanksgiving holiday is an American phenomenon that is known and practiced in several other nations. We have invited these nations to participate in Plymouth 400’s signature events and programs, as well as hold events in their respective cities. We have ongoing meetings and work sessions with our U.K. and Netherlands partners to plan for 2020. In an effort to promote these partnerships, we have events and programs already being cooperatively produced, including the Plymouth International Chorus, a 150-voice chorus currently comprised of U.S. and U.K. students who serve as “musical ambassadors” for our countries. Plymouth 400’s Illuminate Thanksgiving event (an inspirational candle-lighting ceremony created to highlight William Bradford’s quote, “As one small candle may light a thousand”) is another example of international cooperation as Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Plymouth, United Kingdom, have hosted this event together for the last two years, with the Netherlands joining us in 2016. People don’t realize that there are over 60 places named “Plymouth” around the world, and we are working to get all of them involved.

Q: How are Native American perspectives being incorporated?

A: Plymouth 400’s mission is to create a commemoration that is historically accurate and culturally inclusive, and that means presenting the history from all perspectives. Unlike past commemorations, the 2020 anniversary will feature both the English and the Wampanoag history. Our organization is committed to inviting the Wampanoag to share their voice, as indigenous peoples have faced misrepresentation, omission and censorship in previous anniversary events. “Our”Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History, Plymouth 400’s first exhibit, is a vital part of our programming. The Indian Spiritual and Cultural Training Council Inc. and SmokeSygnals Marketing and Communications conceptualized, researched and produced “Our”Story, and members of the Mashpee Wampanoag and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes portrayed historical figures for the exhibit. We have a Wampanoag advisory committee that reviews, advises and works alongside Pilgrim descendants, historians and educators to ensure that every event has representation from all. After 400 years, it’s time to get it right and create a thoughtful dialog around our 17th century history for future generations.

Q: Where will the exhibit “Our Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History” be shown this year?

A: “Our” Story is being exhibited at Pilgrim Hall Museum in downtown Plymouth through mid-May, before moving to Plymouth North High School’s library. Additional locations include Aquinnah, this summer, and Quincy College in the fall. Keep an eye on our website for more information!

Q: Have you always been interested in American history?

A: I’m intrigued by history and how it has the power to inform our future decisions if we take the time to examine it. Our American history tends to begin with the Revolutionary War since that’s the point when we became an independent and free nation. However, the seeds of what we now know to be America were sown in the exploration that led the to the Mayflower voyage, which is one of the world’s most significant ocean voyages because it brought an unlikely group of travelers, the Pilgrims, to the shores of this continent in search of a better life. It’s truly the beginning of America’s immigration story. However it was not without its controversy. A nation of indigenous people was here long before colonization, so Native American history is impacted by the founding of Plymouth colony and subsequent Massachusetts Bay colony as well.

Q: What are your hopes and goals for Plymouth 400?

A: This is a once in a generation opportunity, a milestone where we can reflect on the past and act on the future. First, it’s important to honor our past and the people, both Pilgrims and Wampanoag, whose courage and sacrifice led us here. So one important outcome is to tell the accurate and inclusive story of these two cultures, and own our history with all of its triumphs and tragedies. Second, we will use this opportunity to open discussions and build legacies through educational events, civic engagement, and national and international participation. Finally, this is an economic development project that can last beyond 2020 and benefit communities throughout Massachusetts and greater New England.

For more info, visit plymouth400inc.org.

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