Jun. 6, 2019 11:16 am

Immigrants in Philadelphia, we get the job done

During June, Generocity writers and guest columnists will highlight immigrant leaders. Their impact on Philadelphia is immeasurable — and cause for celebration.

KYL/D dance performance at the IHM kick-off.

(Photo by Sabrina Vourvoulias)

In his commentary on the Hamilton Mixtape, Lin-Manuel Miranda says that a “throwaway” line from his musical, HamiltonImmigrants, we get the job done — was “getting the most reliably audible ovation, every night of the show.”

Miranda thinks that response to the line has to do with the current political climate: “It speaks to the fact that now, more than ever, immigrant has somehow become a dirty word, despite the fact that this country was built by immigrants and they are the renewable life blood and life source and strength of our country.”

In Philadelphia, we can take pride in the fact that residents recently voted to make the Office of Immigrant Affairs a permanent part of  city government. And that our city government is pro-immigrant and proactive about finding ways to both celebrate and protect the city’s immigrant residents.

On June 4, Mayor Jim Kenney and local leaders kicked off national Immigrant Heritage Month with a community celebration in LOVE Park that included a performance by the Chinese dance troupe Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, and the installation of an art piece that residents are invited to engage with throughout the month by pasting country flag stickers to its surfaces, to represent their own immigrant status or immigrant heritage.

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“Activities like Immigrant Heritage Month allow us to publicly recognize our own heritages and highlight the many contributions that immigrants have made to our city and the nation throughout history,” the mayor said during the kick-off. “I am proud that Philadelphia was selected to host this year’s national Immigrant Heritage Month kickoff, and I hope the ‘I❤️Philly’ public art piece will encourage more residents and visitors to engage in this important conversation around the impact of immigrants and immigration.”

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“It was a real honor to be selected by FWD.us to help kickoff IHM 2019,” Miriam Enríquez, executive director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, said via a release. “Seeing residents and visitors engaging with the ‘I❤️Philly’ art piece this afternoon was extremely moving, and I know it meant a lot to the members of our immigrant community. It sends a message that you are welcome here and we are happy you call Philadelphia home. We’re looking forward to keeping this energy and excitement up throughout the month.” (Click here for a listing of events scheduled for the month.)

At Generocity, we like to celebrate the contributions of immigrants and immigration-focused nonprofits and community organizations year-round.

"Nearly 1 in 5 Philadelphians in the labor force in 2016 was an immigrant."
2018 Pew report

As chance (or perhaps a certain former editor who is now managing editor of Technical.ly) would have it, this month’s editorial calendar topic at Generocity is, in fact, Immigrant Leaders.

So, throughout the month we will be bringing you stories about folks who work for, or volunteer at, the local nonprofits and community organizations that shape what it means to be a Philadelphian and to put our hearts and souls into doing good in this city we love.

As the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants; as someone who, though an American citizen from birth, first moved to the United States from Guatemala at the age of 15; and as editor of this news site that focuses so substantively on people committed to making our city better, this editorial calendar topic is near and dear to me.

My American father, the son of Greek immigrants, first worked as an executive at a business headquartered in Philadelphia, led a management buy-out of the international division of that company to keep it in Philadelphia, and later founded and ran yet another business from the Philadelphia-area. My mother, recognized by her own country with Guatemala’s equivalent to the U.S. National Medal of Arts, created sculptures which are part of Philadelphia’s public art landscape. For many years she was represented by the Marian Locks Gallery (the predecessor of the Locks Gallery in Washington Square), proudly sat on the board of the Brandywine Workshop and Archives, and never stopped claiming that the Philadelphia art scene was dynamic and vital, and seriously underestimated.

Which is all to say, that my parents loved Philadelphia, and grew Philadelphia, and gave back to Philadelphia — as immigrants and children of immigrants have always done.

I have spent the better part of my past two decades as a journalist documenting the lives of immigrants in the Greater Philadelphia area. Some of those, as Somali poet Warsan Shire says in her poem, “Home,” left their homeland because “home is the mouth of a shark.” (TW for racial slurs, xenophobic comments and sexual violence referenced in the poem, which is read by Shire.)

Other immigrants came for opportunities and freedoms denied to them elsewhere. Or even, as one immigrant told me nearly 15 years ago, because “you can’t get a loan to eat.”

The reasons for immigration are as myriad and varied as the countries immigrants leave behind. Nearly a quarter of Philadelphians, according to a 2019 Pew report, are immigrants, or have a foreign-born parent. The top ten countries of origin for Philadelphians, the report states, are (in descending order): China, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, India, Vietnam, Haiti, Mexico, Ukraine, Albania and Korea. And nearly 1 in 5 Philadelphians in the labor force in 2016 was an immigrant, according to another Pew report from 2018.

The number is undoubtedly not quite so high in the nonprofit sector of our city, but just as undoubtedly, those immigrant leaders who are part of the sector are making important and significant contributions to the growth, betterment and well-being of the city. They are, as Miranda so deftly put it, getting the job done.

We are pleased to be able to celebrate them and their work with you here.


Is there an immigrant leader at your organization, or at another Philadelphia-area organization, who you think deserves a shout-out? Send us their name and your reason for nominating them, so we can compile a list to be published at the end of Immigrant Leaders month.

Nominate someone to be on our Immigrant Leaders list




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