BY JON CRONIN
Queens residents, civic leaders and elected officials called for unity during a rally to support the borough’s immigrant population in front of Queens Borough Hall late Sunday evening.
At the rally, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz spoke about the diversity of the world’s borough.
“We are sending a clear message throughout the country that we stand together here in the borough of Queens,” Katz said. “We are 130 languages. We are 120 countries. We are proud. We are diverse. We pray to our gods. We celebrate our parents’ traditions. We speak our languages and we do it right here in the borough of Queens because that is what America is all about.”
With approximately 48 percent of Queens’ residents being born outside the United States, Katz said that the borough takes pride in its numerous cultures.
“The country needs to know that we speak as one voice,” she said. “The country needs to hear us. People need to know that when we want to pray or that when we want to speak the language or when we want to come from other countries to raise our families and educate our children, that here in Queens, we take pride in that.”
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said that he believed the diversity reflected in Queens leads to a “better understanding of who we are and where we came from.”
“We are all one here,” the congressman said. “Queens leads the way because we stand together. In Queens, we don’t build walls. We knock walls down and we build bridges to and for one another.”
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Huntington) told the story of his father, an Italian immigrant who died at age 95, two weeks before Suozzi was elected. The congressman said he looked at his father’s high school yearbook from 1939, where his father noted that he wanted to be “a great American.”
“When I was a kid and I saw that, I thought, ‘Wow, that was so amazing that he was so patriotic,’” Suozzi said.
As an adult, Suozzi realized that when his father was 18 years old, Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini had just joined forces with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
“Italian Americans were looked upon with great suspicion at that time,” the congressman said. “Throughout his youth and as he got older, he had to go out of his way to prove what a great American he was.”
Suozzi pointed to the immigrants in the crowd and told them, “Because of your success, that is what makes this experiment [America] better and better all the time.”
“I want to thank our African American brothers and sisters, cause they’ve been here longer than anybody,” he said. “And you know what? They’ve been fighting this fight for the entire time, for over 300 years.”
Leticia James, the city’s public advocate, encouraged Queens residents to raise their voices in opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders.
“It’s only been six weeks [since the inauguration],” James said. “He will not divide us. He will not destroy us. Donald Trump is just no match for the love and the power of the people. We will not normalize hate because democracy demands dissent.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer took the stage with prepared statistics.
“I do the books in this town and I want to leave you with some financial facts,” Stringer said. “In New York City, immigrants from 150 countries earn $100 billion a year, pay millions of dollars in taxes and own over 83,000 businesses.
Think about this: Immigrants come here, sometimes with $5 in their pocket, like my grandmother; end up working in finance, medicine and education. As comptroller, I can tell you this—we could not have an economy without the immigrants of New York City.”
Imam Shamsi Ali, of the Jamaica Muslim Center, said that he believed the borough should continue to be vocal in its dissent regarding Trump’s proposed wall to separate the United States from Mexico.
“I am here today not because Donald Trump brings me here,” he said. “I am here because I am an American Muslim. We should build stronger bridges that strengthen our common humanity.”
Rabbi Jerry Skolnick, a second- generation American, said that a Muslim woman should not be afraid to walk in the street wearing a hijab, nor should a Hispanic man be fearful of being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement while traveling to work.
“[I want to] affirm the fact that the promise that my grandparents found in this country rests at the top of my consciousness,” he said. “When all is said and done, we are each other’s security blankets. The greatest sin in this culture is to fall asleep and lose awareness of what’s happening in front of your eyes.”
Skolnick followed his comments by blowing a shofar, a horn used as a call to awakening before Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish culture.
Michael Nussbaum, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council and publisher of the Queens Tribune, discussed the cloud that descended upon Europe in the 1930s.
“It is a cloud that brings hate, it is a cloud that if you’re different you could be jailed, sent to a concentration camp or out of the country,” he said. “There is a different type of cloud that is descending across this continent. It is a great miscarriage of justice when you cannot trust what is coming out of our leaders’ mouths in Washington. It is greater to be dismissed for asking questions.”
He said that he hadn’t heard anything coming out of the nation’s capital that has inspired hope since the Jan. 20 inauguration.
“If you’re a leader of this country, give us some hope, don’t give us despair,” he said. “Presidents, when they speak, they give us hope and they look to the future. The children who are out there today, don’t give up hope. Look to the future, ’cause the future is yours.”
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.