Celebrating immigrant essential workers: Immigrant Heritage Week 1

As the City of New York works to mitigate the devastating impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our community — and as we confront personal fears about our loved ones’ well-being — what has emerged is a New York that is known the world over: a resilient and unified city.

One of the greatest examples of this is the one million professionals who are on the front lines of this crisis: healthcare workers, delivery workers, postal workers, drivers, teachers, grocery store workers, EMS staff and public transit workers. All essential workers who ensure that our families are fed, our children are educated, our vital prescriptions are filled and that New Yorkers most affected by COVID-19 get the critical treatment they need.

If you are working from home, it is likely that you’ve recently — or regularly — benefited from the hard work of an essential worker. And odds are that the worker is an immigrant.

Half of all of New York City’s essential workers were born in another country. Immigrants represent 53 percent of healthcare workers, 70 percent of cleaning service professionals and 53 percent of all food and drug store labor. And almost a quarter of them call Queens their home.

As Brookings Institute economist Dany Bahar recently noted, the same is true for the rest of the nation: about one in four physicians, and one out of every six nurses, is foreign-born. Immigrants make up the majority of all essential workers across the country. At a time when xenophobic rhetoric and federal policies are commonplace, we must acknowledge — as this crisis is laying bare — the daily contributions of immigrants that make it possible for us to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Which is why this year’s Immigrant Heritage Week — which runs from April 13 to 20 — recognizes and honors the essential contributions of immigrant New Yorkers during this public health emergency. IHW offers the opportunity to show gratitude to the things, and people, we so easily take for granted.

IHW is a weeklong celebration that honors our legacy as a city of immigrants. On April 17, 1907, over 11,000 immigrants came to the United States through Ellis Island, the most in a single day in its history. The city has commemorated this anniversary for the past 15 years, highlighting the histories, cultures and contributions of our immigrant communities, past and present.

Although this is inarguably the most important time to give thanks, we’re unable to show our physical support to our immigrant community, but that won’t stop us from honoring the incredible immigrant New Yorkers in our city. This year, IHW will shift focus from in-person to virtual opportunities and multimedia content for community members to enjoy as they #StayHome and stay healthy. The IHW 2020 logo, presented above, represents our solidarity during these unprecedented times and recognizes immigrants as the backbone of this city.

In keeping with our commitment to uplifting immigrant stories, we are thrilled to release a series of videos profiling four immigrant New Yorkers. Follow @NYCImmigrants to hear the incredible stories of Sarina Pravasi and Elias W. Gurmu, from Nepal and Ethiopia, respectively, small business owners who started their independent coffee shop, Buunni Coffee, when they moved from Ethiopia to New York in 2011; Christopher Unpezverde Núñez, a queer, disabled, previously undocumented Costa Rican dancer, choreographer and activist; and Wu Yi Zhuo, a Chinese community leader who plays traditional music in subway stations as part of the MTA’s Music Under New York program.

And lastly, we want to turn the spotlight on you. Join the celebration. Take a selfie video and share your immigrant story with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs @NYCImmigrants on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, using the hashtag, #IHW2020.

We will get through this together, like we always do as a city. And when that time comes, as Bahar writes, we will remember that “immigrants played a big role in helping humanity overcome this crisis.”

Bitta Mostofi is Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

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