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2005 New York City Community Fellowship Awards

One person plans to combat racism and promote civil rights for South Asian immigrants. The other wants to create a Mexican-American cultural center. Brooklynites Ahsanullah “Bobby” Kahn and Karla Quinonez-Ruggiero shared an honor recently when they were named winners of the 2005 New York City Community fellowship awards. George Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI), which funds social programs, gave each of the two Brooklynites $48,750 stipends, to be spent over an 18-month period, to advocate for social justice in underserved New York communities. “We’ll use the money on a community mapping project [concerning South Asia immigrants] in Brooklyn, especially in Midwood, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst,” said Kahn, who launched the Coney Island Avenue Project (CIAP) to advocate on behalf of South Asians detained or harmed by bias attacks in the aftermath of 9/11. Kahn said the map will be used to assess the needs of the South Asian community and form a community caucus to combat racism and promote civic engagement and civil rights, said Kahn. “In the second phase of the project, we will be doing surveys on post 9/11 life and how they are looking at their future in this country, and the way they should be treated and basic needs,” said Kahn. Kahn said since the September 11 terrorist attack, between 8,000 and 9,000 people from South Asia were deported and about the same number left the country out of fear. There are currently more than 100,000 immigrants from South Asia in Brooklyn, he said. “This is a very underserved and underrepresented community in Brooklyn and since 9/11 their everyday life has been one of harassment, intimidation, and discriminations such as random and door-to-door searches and several arrests, detentions and deportations,” said Kahn. Kahn said that at the same time the community has been facing these problems, the CIAP has been educating residents about learning and speaking up for their rights and being treated equally as American citizens. The CIAP office is located at 1117 Coney Island Avenue and the phone number is 859-0238. Quinonez-Ruggiero developed Nuestro Proyecto Voz y Arte Mexicano (“Our Mexican Voice and Art”) to serve the Mexican-American community in Sunset Park. The OSI funding will aid in the creation of a cultural center to increase the Spanish-language skills of Mexican-American primary-school-age children, who already know English. “This is important because in order to learn English faster these children really need to be able to read, write and speak proper Spanish first,” said Quinonez-Ruggiero . The cultural center will also offer immigration forums for adults, and host family cultural events. Quinonez-Ruggiero, who lives in Bay Ridge, said one of her goals is to help the Mexican community in Brooklyn understand their rights as both new immigrants and new citizens. “Mostly my program is focused on the first generation of Mexican immigrants here. The goal in my educational program is to bring these kids into full bilingual skills,” she said. According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, Mexicans had the highest rate of population growth of all the major racial and ethnic groups in New York City in the 1990s. The number of Mexican New Yorkers counted by the U.S. Census more than tripled, from 61,772 in 1990 to 186,872 in 2000. But according to a Columbia University report, the Census data likely reflects a substantial undercount of the total number of Mexicans living in New York. More inclusive estimates place this population in the range of 275,000 to 300,000. The Columbia report stated that more than 60 percent of all Mexican New Yorkers reside in Queens and Brooklyn, with the largest Mexican population residing in Sunset Park and Bushwick.

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