BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
In honor of the City’s Annual Immigrant Heritage Week Celebration sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigration and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) hosted his second Immigrant Heritage Awards ceremony at Elmhurst Hospital on April 15.
“I have been touched by so many of my immigrant students as a teacher,” said Dromm. “The tribulations and trials their families face is the reason we host this award ceremony, because most of the parents work jobs less than what they had back home.”
“The idea of this event is to highlight all the contributions immigrants have made and it’s more special this year because of the debate happing in D.C. right now,” Dromm continued. “We all have high hopes about immigration reform because the millions of undocumented residents can offer something to this country. They also want to live out the dream, they are all dreamers.”
Dromm announced legislation he is pushing, which would allow permanent residents to participate in municipal elections throughout New York City.
“Politicians would pay more attention to communities like ours if legal immigrants could also vote,” said Dromm.
Legendary Colombian TV host Jorge Barón was honored with a Lifetime Dedicated to Promoting the Unity of the Latin American People award. Sweta Srivastava Vikram, an award-winning poet, writer and novelist, shared her poems, which romanticized about her heritage and her life back home.
“The Immigrant Heritage Awards was the right remedy for the havoc inside my heart and the world. Righteous people rightly rewarded,” Vikram said. “Diversity fit in every corner of the room with such grace. I felt honored to have been invited to share my poems with people who want to make the world around them a better place, not end it.”
Others honored at the event included Yunsung Choi, Kazi Fouzia, Cecilia Gavigan, Shazia Kausar, Layla Menashe and Neal Stone.
Fouzia, a designer and seamstress at a retail shop in Jamaica, has been an influential member of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) since 2009. She continues her fight for human and civil rights as an undocumented Muslim immigrant worker.
“It is not an easy life here because I see a lot of injustice, but I am not alone because I have strong friends and leaders like Councilman Dromm,” said Fouzia. “I would like to dedicate this award to all those working overtime without pay, those who never earn minimum wages, to all my undocumented friends and taxi friends, who run the City.”
Menashe, an immigrant from Bolivia and a resident of Jackson Heights, is a businesswoman and single mother. Ricky’s Café, a popular restaurant in the neighborhood, is home to many employed immigrants.
“I see so many cultures all living together in harmony, regardless of your heritage and color,” said Menashe.
Kausar, a resident of Astoria, said this honor will push her to work harder and continue to save the small businesses in Jackson Heights and women’s rights in the South Asian community. She is one of the founders of the non-profit group, SUKHI New York, which works alongside the Dept. of Transportation to improve the quality of life in Jackson Heights and the controversial 37th Road Pedestrian Plaza. The group continues to host community-based events that aim to help the plaza reach its full potential.
“We are proof that a society can learn to live together, regardless of our differences and religion,” Dromm said. “Let’s all push for immigration reform. I have a belief – if we did not have as many immigrants as we do today, we would have been a weaker country around the world.”
Reach Reporter Trisha Sakhuja at (718-357-4000), Ext. 128, or at email@example.com.