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Mayor Bloomberg Kicks Off The 9th Annual Immigrant Heritage Week Celebration

April 17, 2012

Mayor Presents American Dreamer Awards to New Yorkers Improving the Lives of Immigrants

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Fatima Shama today kicked off Immigrant Heritage Week at Gracie Mansion. Immigrant Heritage Week is a citywide celebration, from April 17-24, honoring the experiences and contributions of the millions of immigrants who have shaped New York City for generations.  During the reception at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor announced the 2012 recipients of the American Dreamer Awards, presented to five New Yorkers dedicated to improving the lives of immigrant communities across the City. This year’s Immigrant Heritage Week will focus on showcasing the immigrant experience through film and will feature five free film screenings, one in each borough. Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Shama were joined at Gracie Mansion by City Comptroller John Liu, Laurie Tisch, President and Founder of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and Neal Shapiro, President and CEO of WNET/WLIW and the Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 

“New York has always been a destination for people from all over the world who are willing to work hard and make a better life for themselves,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “After four centuries of immigration, we’ve become a true international city – brimming with new ideas and defined by a curiosity and respect for each other’s culture, religion and cuisine. During Immigrant Heritage Week we learn more about our shared immigrant histories and celebrate those who are helping our newest New Yorkers take advantage of all our city has to offer.”

“This Immigrant Heritage Week we are focusing our efforts on sharing some of the compelling stories that connect immigrants to our rich history as a City and as a country,” said Commissioner Shama. “We are committed to promoting the well-being of immigrants in our five boroughs and celebrating the rich cultural heritage of our City.”

Established by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004, Immigrant Heritage Week is celebrated around April 17th, the day in 1907 when more immigrants entered through Ellis Island than any other date in the City’s history.  This year, Immigrant Heritage Week will take place from April 17th – 24th.  Immigrant Heritage Week was made an annual celebration by Executive Order 128, signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2009. It is a citywide celebration honoring the experiences and contributions of the millions of immigrants who have shaped our City for generations.

American Dreamer Awards

The American Dreamer Awards were created to celebrate the significant accomplishments and contributions made by an individual or organization to better the lives of immigrants and immigrant communities in New York City. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs received over 80 nominations from community organizations, elected officials and individuals from across the five boroughs in March and five winners were selected from an outstanding group of candidates. The honorees are:

Visionary Award - Tisa Chang, Artist Director of the Pan Asian Repertory Theater, is being honored for her work in making Asian American theater more popular to general audiences and for assisting Asian American actors in finding non-stereotypical roles. She has specialized in intercultural productions of works such as Midsummer Night’s Dream done as a Mandarin/English adaptation as well as Return of the Phoenix adapted from the Peking Opera and later performed on CBS TV’s Festival of Lively Arts. She was born in China, raised in New York and educated at the High School for Performing Arts and Barnard College. 

Community Builder Award - The YMCA of Greater New York/Harlem is being honored for its work with the emerging Latin American, West African and Middle Eastern communities that now call Harlem home. It’s English as a Second Language classes serve over 1,000 new immigrants and now includes citizenship preparation, computer literacy and job readiness. Families are able to attend classes while their children are cared for in a safe environment. The Harlem YMCA also houses one of six New Americans Welcome Centers in the City.

Tiffeny Forrest, Executive Director of The YMCA of Greater New York/Harlem will accept the award.

Ambassador Award - Gonzalo Mercado, Executive Director of El Centro del Inmigrante, is being honored for his relentless work with the over 10,000 immigrant workers of Port Richmond, Staten Island. He has guided El Centro del Inmigrante through difficult times including several spats of anti-immigrant bias crimes. He is a strenuous advocate for workers’ rights and community understanding among all residents of Staten Island. In addition, he also serves on the Latino Commission on AIDS and the Department of Health Immigrant Work Group.

New York’s Uniform Award - Roger Montesano, Community Affairs Director for the New York City Fire Department, is being honored for his work with New York City residents through emergencies as well as his continued regard for public safety. He is committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers are informed and have the resources they need in an emergency situation.

Business Leader Award - Yanki Tshering, Executive Director of the Business Center for New Americans, is being honored for her work in assisting immigrant, minority and women-owned businesses in the City acquire capital, specialized training and technical assistance. Under her leadership, the Center has so far made 1,229 loans totaling $8.7 million. She came to the US in 1986 and obtained a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University with a functional specialization in economic development and a regional specialization in South Asian studies.

Five Films, Five Boroughs

To highlight the diverse experiences and contributions of immigrants in New York and across the country, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs created the Film Films, Five Boroughs series featuring stories of immigrant entrepreneurs in New York, the path of immigrants who choose to become American Citizens and other stories of struggle and triumph. To register for one of the free film screenings visit

The free film series was created in partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, the New York Community Trust, One Nation, HBO, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, the Bronx Museum, Active Voice, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the Department of Cultural Affairs.   The following films will be featured:

The Apple Pushers - Directed by Mary Mazzio
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 7:00pm, Museum of the Moving Image

The Apple Pushers follows five immigrant street vendors who are bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into New York City food deserts through the NYC Green Cart Initiative. The initiative was developed by the Department of Health in 2008 to address the food crisis and skyrocketing obesity rates in parts of the city. The film was written and directed by Mary Mazzio, narrated by Edward Norton, and underwritten by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Welcome to Shelbyville - Directed by Kim Snyder
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 7:00pm, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden,

Change has come to rural Tennessee. Set against the backdrop of a shaky economy, Welcome to Shelbyville takes an intimate look at a southern town as its residents – whites and African Americans, Latinos and Somalis – grapple with their beliefs, their histories and their evolving ways of life. The documentary is directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder and executive produced by BeCause Foundation, in association with Active Voice.

Citizen U.S.A: A 50 State Road Trip - Directed by Alexandra Pelosi
Friday, April 20, 2012 at 4:00pm, HBO

Citizen U.S.A: A 50 State Road Trip (July 4) follows director Alexandra Pelosi (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Journeys with George”) as she travels across the U.S. to attend naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states and meets brand-new citizens to find out why they chose America as their home. Commemorating the Fourth of July, the documentary intersperses stories of newly naturalized citizens and interviews with notable first-generation Americans, including Madeleine Albright, Arianna Huffington, Henry Kissinger and Gene Simmons.

Light in the Darkness - Directed by Patrice O’Neill
Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 7:00pm, the Bronx Museum of the Arts

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years. Over a two-year period, the story follows Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim's brother Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents as they address the root causes of the violence, heal divisions, and take steps to ensure that everyone in their village will be safe and respected.

No Look Pass - Directed by Melissa Johnson
Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 6:50pm, Brooklyn Academy of Music

This documentary follows Emily Tay, a young woman caught between her Buddhist parents—who risked everything to emigrate from Burma and expect their daughter to comply with an arranged marriage—and her own American dream. When Emily moves to Germany to play professional basketball and falls in love with a US servicewoman living under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, her story unfolds as she struggles to find the courage required to live the life she imagines.

Celebrating the Stories of Our Community Campaign with WNET/Thirteen

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has worked with WNET/Thirteen to create the Celebrating the Stories of our Community campaign. Currently broadcasting on WNET/Thirteen and their website, Community Stories highlights the rich cultural heritage of diverse New Yorkers. Some of the community stories include Staten Island Borough Present Molinaro, New York State Assemblyman and former Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Guillermo Linares, Suri Kasirer, and a Windows on the World restaurant worker and 9/11 survivor.  Viewers are invited to share their family immigration stories by recording and uploading videos of their own that may be featured online or on television. WNET will also feature some of their immigrant-focused programming on air during Immigrant Heritage Week.

Stu Loeser/Evelyn Erskine

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