April 19, 2011
“Immigrants are the lifeblood of our city,” said Fatima Shama,
Commissioner of the Mayor’s
Office of Immigrant Affairs, the keynote speaker at St. John’s
second annual conference on “Empowering our Immigrant Neighbors:
Agenda for Action.” The event took place on March
31 at the Queens
The conference was organized by the University’s Committee on
Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) in partnership
with Touro College and The Global Organization of People of Indian
Origin. It was also made possible by the University’s Offices of
the Provost and
Multicultural Affairs, The School of Education, St.
John’s College and Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Sigma
Iota Alpha Sorority, Inc.
than 250 students and scholars from St. John’s and elsewhere
listened to diplomats, educators, journalists and other experts in
the field discuss the obstacles facing the growing number of
immigrants to New York City. They also highlighted programs that
have proven helpful in dealing with these roadblocks.
“One of the day’s goals was to raise the level of awareness
about the availability of these vital services,” said Alina
Camacho-Gingerich, Ph.D., Chair of CLACS and Professor of
Languages and Literatures.
Audience interest centered, in particular, on the remarks of
Commissioner Shama. Speaking about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
commitment to promoting diversity, she said, “ Today’s conversation
is not only important, but timely, especially given the current
anti-immigrant climate. Never before has our city been so diverse.
We are all immigrants and the city needs more — not fewer — people
from other nations.”
Setting the stage for the five-panel discussions that followed,
Commissioner Shama noted that before meaningful solutions can be
proposed to help immigrants adjust to their new environment, the
underlying problems first have to be clearly understood.
Clover Hall, Ph.D., Vice President of
Institutional Research and Academic Planning, gave an overview
of the demographic make-up of NYC’s immigrant populations,
observing that Latinos are the fastest-growing sector.
Introducing the panels, Dr. Camacho-Gingerich explained
that each one focused on a specific area of immigrant concern —
education, press coverage, psychology and activism. An additional
panel featured St. John’s students and alumni who spoke about how
they are helping immigrants adjust to their new
Brittany Wilkinson ’ 10G and Miguel Valerio’08C, ’10G spoke
about St. John’s free
Adult Literacy Program where both are currently employed as
Program Coordinator and Instructor, respectively. The Program
offers classes to Queens community immigrants who wish to improve
their English and further their education. In addition, Miguel
shared his personal experiences adjusting to New York City after
growing up in the Dominican Republic. “It is very satisfying and
meaningful to be able to give back to the community that was so
supportive of me,” he said.
Dr. Camacho-Gingerich thanked the organizers of the panels —
which provided the necessary context for helping the audience to
better understand the plight of the New York City immigrant. She
Yvonne Pratt-Johnson, Ed.D , who chaired the education panel ;
Natalie Byfield, Ph.D., who oversaw the panel on press issues;
Rafael Art Javier, Ph.D., chair of the psychology panel and
Roberta Villalon, Ph.D., and Elaine Carey, Ph.D. who selected the
panelists on activism.
Given the unprecedented growth in the number of immigrants in
the U.S. and the importance of ensuring their well being to
preserve the essential fabric of our nation, Dr. Camacho-Gingerich
said that CLACS is considering extending the conference to two days
next year. She added, “As a multicultural institution with a
student body drawn from 99 different countries,” she said, “St.
John’s is committed to bettering the lives of people of every