Longtime community leader Uma Sengupta is a hero to many. When she heard about an Indian man who was dying from pancreatic cancer and was in no condition to travel home to his country, she put up her home in India as collateral in order to get his family emergency visas so they could come to the United States and be with him.
Sengupta of Flushing was one of three honorees recognized by the New American Voters Association at its second annual awards dinner held at the Taj Mahal restaurant in Jamaica on Friday.
“We all immigrated to this country to have a better life,” Sengupta said. “When you get a green card you have to wait for citizenship and when you get your citizenship, you have to register to vote. It is your duty.”
Sengupta, a Democratic activist, civic leader and early childhood educator, immigrated to the United States from India in 1970. Throughout her life she has worked tirelessly on issues involving education, healthcare, immigration and women’s rights.
Sengupta’s godson, Sheryar Choudhry, called her “a beacon of light, a pillar of strength and a woman of her word.”
Founded two years ago, NAVA, is a nonprofit group that works to increase political awareness and voter education in new immigrant communities across the city. It has sponsored numerous events including several political forums, provided community services such as voter registration drives, polling site assistance and U.S. Census awareness. It also gets its message out through the publication of newsletters.
“Many of us came to this country from all over the world and from different backgrounds with one thing in common; we have all brought incredible cultures and traditions to this country and adopted this country as our homeland,” said Dilip Nath of Fresh Meadows, president of NAVA. “We understand and recognize that to prosper and keep the diversity alive, every citizen must take part in the electoral process and exercise their basic right to vote.”
Edison Bond Jr., the director of patient relations at SUNY Downstate Medical Center University Hospital, who works to identify and resolve medical complaints, was honored for his years of healthcare advocacy work. During his acceptance speech he reflected on the journey of African Americans to the United States.
“When I look back at my heritage and my history, my people are new to this country. The only thing is we did not come voluntarily,” Bond said. “We came because they picked us up from the continent of Africa and brought us here to work and build this great country and down through the years we held onto the promise that one day we would be able to gain our freedom and get our rightful share of the American dream.”
Maf Misbah Uddin, a father of five, was also honored by NAVA. His extensive education includes master’s degrees in three areas — mathematics, demography and actuarial science. Uddin lives in Jamaica and is the president of Local 1407, which represents the city’s accountants and is the only Bangladeshi in the United States to lead a municipal union.
City Comptroller John Liu, the first Asian American to be elected to a city-wide office in New York City, was the keynote speaker at the event. Liu came to the United States when he was 5 years old.
“I am proud to be a new immigrant. I can’t claim to be a native New Yorker. I was born in Taiwan. If you look on my neck it still says made in Taiwan,” Liu said getting some laughs from the crowd.
Prior to becoming comptroller, Liu was the first Asian American to serve in the City Council. He represented District 20 in Flushing from 2002 to 2010. He was succeed by Peter Koo.
“Not only are immigrants coming here, but they are establishing themselves economically, educationally and really understanding the true value, the true beauty of what America is all about and that is democracy,” Liu said. “The only way to take part in that democracy is every year go out and vote.”