Queens takes great pride in its rich ethnic diversity. People flock here from all over the globe to put down roots, joining other family members who have established a beachhead in one neighborhood or even striking out on their own to start their own community. The borough president likes to say - actually it's a boast - that Queens has residents from more than 120 countries who speak over 135 languages. We are known as the "World's Borough."
What better way to acknowledge the invaluable contributions these immigrants have made to Queens than to honor 25 of them for their vision, perseverance and willingness to share their unique cultures with all of us. Our honorees hail from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. One is a highly celebrated framer in Long Island City, another is an exiled newspaper editor who is helping immigrants adjust to New York life, and still another is a violinist who runs the Children's Orchestra Society her father founded.
These newcomers have already left an indelible mark on Queens, achieving success despite some major obstacles along the way. At the same time, they have never forgotten their roots and are committed to giving back to the communities where they now live. It is a gift to have them living and working among us in the most diverse county in the United States - and probably the world.
Meera Venugopal Nair
Reboot in America after India started with passion for written word
In 1997, Meera Venugopal Nair gave up a successful advertising career in India, leaving family and country behind to come to America to begin a graduate creative writing program. She did not know a single person here.
In that lonely first year, she taught remedial English to basketball players at Temple University in Philadelphia. Good things began to find her, including wonderful professors, opportunities, scholarships and publications.
The most amazing moment was when "The Threepenny Review," a small California literary magazine, accepted her first story.
"I burst into tears when the check for $200 they sent me fell out of the envelope," she said. "Then I got a fellowship to NYU and a book deal."
Nair was impressed that it wasn't family money, contacts, influence, school or business connections that got her work published.
"I was touched that America believed in my merit and my hard work," she said.
In 1999, she earned an M.A. in Post-colonial Literature at Temple University and in 2001 an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New York University.
Nair grew up in a house filled with books; her father and grandfather were journalists.
"I sort of thought that writing was what I was meant to do when I grew up," she said.
Having lived in five different states in India, Nair learned to speak many languages and immersed herself in diverse cultures.
"I feel confident enough to write about people who practice different cultures, religions, to roam far and wide in my writing," she said.
Her book of short stories ("Video," published by Pantheon) is set mostly in India, where characters are forced to respond to the sudden appearance of the modern ways in their lives. This debut collection won the annual Asian-American Literary Award, was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, the Editor's Choice book at the San Francisco Chronicle, and a Kiriyama Prize Notable book. Her stories, articles, and essays appear in a variety of popular news outlets as well as anthologies.
Nair's literary life is built around heritage. She has written two books for children in India as well as stories and essays that creatively respond to things that happen to South Asians in the United States.
In addition, working with an Asian Arts organization in Queens and the Nepali social justice organization Adhikaar, she developed and was the workshop leader for a story telling project, My Letter Home, for domestic workers to write and tell their own stories. With two other Queens' writers, she has hosted Queens Writers Resist, a reading series in Jackson Heights.
Nair is currently teaching at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study and in the M.F.A. writing program at Brooklyn College. She is completing a novel tentatively entitled "Harvest of Stones" for Pantheon.
Doctor at Elmhurst Hospital focused on sick newborns after leaving India for pediatric internship in U.S.
Dr. Uday Patil was already a practicing physician when he moved to the United States at 26, in 2008. He had completed his medical studies in New Bombay, India, and had worked as a general and family doctor before he started his pediatric internship and residency at University of Oklahoma Children's Hospital. It's there he became deeply interested in sick babies and neonatal care.
After the Oklahoma work and a residency in Mineola, L.I., he became a fellow in neonatal and perinatal medicine at NYU Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital, where he trained to take care of premature babies and sick newborns suffering from serious medical or surgical conditions.
Patil is an attending neonatologist in the Department of Pediatrics at Elmhurst Hospital. His newborn patients are in intensive care, with cardiac, brain or other critical problems.
As an immigrant, Patil recognizes the ethnic, cultural and social barriers that his patients and their families face when seeking medical care.
"The whole family - parents, grandparents, siblings - are involved with the baby's care," he said. "They've been invested in this baby for nine months and then the baby is sick. There is a lot of anxiety."
He emphasized that the challenge is how to handle their emotions.
"You have to be sensitive to the information you're sharing and make sure you have support," he said. "Each group brings their own cultural bias or take."
Very sensitive to their beliefs, he described how some groups are extremely involved with their baby's care, while some distance themselves. This is when ancillary staff-like social workers, child life specialists - are brought in to help ease the parents' and babies' pain. "I have tremendous empathy for these families," he said.
He believes his own background in India, and exposure to Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs in part accounts for his receptivity to cultural differences. Some doctors feel uncomfortable talking to families, only relating through medical jargon, but he intuitively knows how to talk to the parents in ways they can understand. He is completely approachable.
In his work to enhance baby care, he stays aware and implements safety initiatives in the neonatal ICU that the New York State Board of Health and national programs like Vermont Oxford Network endorse.
Patil received recognitions in excellence during his residency years and he was involved in the evacuation of NYU Langone Medical Center during Hurricane Sandy. The doctor has a strong interest in teaching, research and family-centered care and is involved in various assessment performance activities.
"Newborns have resiliency and fight. I just help them to fight," he said. "It's a great joy when those parents return with a 2- or 3-year-old to visit and they're thriving."
Master framer left Bogota to set up global business in LIC
Diego Salazar came to this country in 1965 from Bogota, Colombia, when he was 17 1/2. Salazar was the baby out of 15 children.
"My mother would sell traditional home-cooked snacks and she raised and sold chickens and eggs in order to make ends meet. I only had a high school education and no prospects there," he said, looking back. "She encouraged me to leave." Salazar arrived in the United States penniless.
Through a friend he got a job as an apprentice in a frame shop. The shop made antique reproduction custom frames Salazar sent $15 a month home for months to pay for his plane ticket.
After five years, he opened a small business on the side, first out of his house, then out of a basement in Brooklyn. "We were just making samples," he said.
In 1970, he rented space in Long Island City and began making custom antique reproduction frames in earnest. The labor-intensive craft is an art in itself.
"Everything is by hand," he said, describing the process, "Patina, 23-carot gold leaf, clay, everything carved by hand. It's a very slow process."
He started on a small scale, making frames for art galleries.
Then he bought a small LIC building, working out of two of its floors. He trained and employed 12 apprentices, mostly Latin American immigrants.
"I helped some get work visas," he said. Later, the business expanded, employing 40 workers.
Then Salazar began buying antique frames. His first, a Louis XV antique, he bought by bartering his framing with an art dealer. He sold that high-priced one to frame a Mary Cassatt painting, which went for over a million dollars at auction.
He continued to acquire antique frames, traveling to London to add to his collection.
Along the way, Salazar has educated himself about art and its history. To this end, he supports with dollars the Queens arts community.
Salazar sponsors Long Island City artists and donates money to Queens Council for the Arts and its activities."This is incredibly valuable for struggling artists," said portraitist Betsy Ashton, grateful for the donated frames
for her Portraits of Immigration upcoming national exhibition. As Ashton puts it, "He is a true angel."
Salazar has been in the frame business for over 52 years and has framed beautiful art works that are in the finest galleries, auction houses, museums and private collections.
"I love frames. I've been very good at it. I am very passionate," he said.
Salazar now owns three buildings, including one in LIC, which has 50 offices and artists' studios.
"I was very lucky to be poor," said Salazar, who no longer manufacturers frames but sells antique frames from his two showrooms in Queens. "Because I appreciate everything I have."
Speaking as an immigrant, he acknowledged the motivation and determination that immigrants show: "Adversity builds character."
Hard-working volunteer from Guyana counsels immigrants at food pantry
Thirty-six years ago, at age 16, Parker Sarabjeet escaped a dictatorial regime and severe economic hardship when he, his mother and younger siblings emigrated from Berbice-Corentyne, Guyana. Their Greenpoint apartment, with no heat or hot water, was quite a change from their house in Guyana on land with fruit trees.
Sarabjeet went straight to work at minimum wage jobs - sometimes three at a time - to help pay family expenses. He has been working ever since.
Sarabjeet has held a series of jobs: Sanding down nightlights and chandeliers, laser printing, selling real estate. He studied and became a private investment adviser until the stock market crash in 2008.
Ten years ago, at 42, he began to volunteer, bagging produce at a food pantry called The River Fund in Richmond Hill.
Sarabjeet took on more, and became a staff member with the comprehensive position of logistics manager, responsible for the warehouse, deliveries, computer tracking of all inventories, scheduling, and homebound deliveries, as well as using the fork lift and electric jack. He also manages Saturdays' food distribution to hundreds of clients.
With an international clientel - 64 percent of whom are immigrants - Sarabjeet helps them feel at home. He notices them and tries to offer hope and humor, thrilled when he sees positive changes in their lives. He listens and shares stories with younger clients and has taught some how to use the heavy equipment. It is noticed how helpful he is to staff and to clients who wait in line for long periods of time.
"What is most important to me," says Sarabjeet "is helping people learn something new everyday and helping them to get in touch with their own resources."
When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, The River Fund responded within 24 hours with emergency food relief and Sarabjeet served as a driver.
During the following month, tons of food and other essential supplies were delivered to tens of thousands of affected residents. The River Fund's Mobile Food Pantry, for which Sarabjeet played an important role, was the primary pipeline for food and essentials. It was integral in the survival of families and the elderly after the storm's devastation.
Food pantry volunteer Jonas Gutierrez maintains a friendship with Sarabjeet that spans over 20 years, describing him as encouraging, accepting, energetic, and positive.
"Parker is always communicating in understandable ways," Gutierrez said. "He gives good advice and is already talking to me about practical ways to save money so I can purchase a house. And he taught me about global warming."
The River Fund staff member Brandon Boodhoo describes how patient Sarabjeet is.
"He calmly de-escalates stressful situations," Boodhoo said. "I often remind myself to THINK Parker and then ask myself, 'what would Parker do?' "
German dancer brings vision to public sites in Queens to celebrate movement
Born in Germany, Svea Schneider is a New York City dancer, performing artist, choregrapher and dance educator. She studied contemporary dance in Germany and moved here to extensively train in urban-break, hip-hop, and house dance, contemporary dance, floor-work, contact improvisation and the Forsythe technique. She holds a B.A. in dance anthropology and choreography from NYU.
Based in Long Island City in 2010, she founded Kinematik Dance Theater, a company that uses the body, visual imagery, technology and props to create thought-provoking and visually stimulating dance experiences. She is highly inventive in her use of bodies, movement, light, color, architecture, sometimes incorporating live music. This dynamic work often explores topics of identity, gender, technology, media culture and site-specific public space. Dance reviewer Jennifer Dwoskin has used adjectives like "weird," "smart," "quirky," "creative," "clever," "psychedelic," "funky" and "frenetic" to describe some of her dances.
Schneider's work emphasizes liveliness, authenticity and transformation and aims to allow the audience to have an experience to feel rather than to sit and watch.
She also runs the Insitu Dance Festival where dancers perform on the same day at different spots in Queens, public spaces, engaging people through dance. This past summer Insitu took place at the LIC waterfront -Hunters Point Park, Gantry Plaza State Park, Queensbridge Park, in partnership with Hunters Point Park Conservancy, Chocolate Factory Theater, La Guardia Performing Arts Center and Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement.
"It's just the most incredible thing in the world," said Rob MacKay, spokesman for the Queens Economic Development Corp.
"I am passionate about bringing dance into the public, exposing new audiences, interacting and creating community in an immediate and experimental way," Schneider said. "I create art because I just have to create. Images of new work flood my mind. Like every artist, my goal is to make good art."
Insitu invites residents and audiences to discover their neighborhood. Schneider has a call out for choreography proposals for the 2018 festival.
She has taught dance and movement in studios, school programs, colleges and community centers in this country and abroad. The dancer has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Britain, Dubai, India and Peru.
From 2014 to 2015, Schneider moved to Lima, Peru, where she was appointed artistic director, principal choreographer and teacher of the non-profit dance organization D1 Dance to work with underserved children and youth.
She has also worked for off-Broadway, film, TV and commercials.
Schneider has had local and international artist's residencies, including the KHOJ International in Pune, India, where she created a large-scale site specific public dance performance in an abandoned hotel.
Liu Tee Shu
Self-taught entrepreneur fights hard for Chinese-American women's rights
Liu Tee Shu immigrated to New York from Taiwan in 1975 with her husband and children. She worked as a seamstress in Chinatown to help support her family. Shu had no formal education or command of English. But armed with determination to make a better life for her family, she ventured into the restaurant business in 1980, eventually owning and operating eight restaurants in New York City.
In 1992, Shu's husband died suddenly, and she took sole possession of Shu Enterprise, running the restaurants while investing in commercial properties and real estate within the five boroughs. After 28 years, she divested the company's restaurants to concentrate on real estate.
The privately held, New York-based Shu Enterprise Group is a real estate property and development firm with extensive holdings in commercial real estate throughout the city. Shu also owns a day-care facility in Flushing that caters to the bilingual Chinese community and provides affordable childcare.
A firm believer in giving back to the community, Shu devotes her personal time to charitable events.
In 2006, she founded the Chinese American Women's Commerce Association, a symbol of commitment to improving the rights and welfare of women. Shu has advice for female entrepreneurs: Work hard and believe in yourself and you will achieve as much as any man. Shu is currently president of the association, which is an integral part of the movement toward uniting the Flushing community.
Shu has reached the community by setting up funds to help victims of domestic violence. She has also been integral in establishing a burial assistance fund and along with the Flushing-based World Journal Chinese daily, setting up an education financial assistance fund.
Shu served many years on the board of directors of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, which fosters commercial and economic development and enhances political awareness and the economic strength of the community. She helped promote and strengthen harmony among ethnic groups and was able to bring many other Chinese associations together.
Shu became the first woman to be elected president in the group's 28-year history, an office she held from 2010-2016 for a record three terms. Making Flushing an even better place to live and work was her goal. Under her watch, the Chinese Lunar Parade almost tripled in size with more sponsors, participants and the observing public.
The recipient of many awards, Shu received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award in 2009. She received the 2010 Asian Women in Business Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce's "Minority Retailer of the Year" award and the "Outstanding Businesswoman of Overseas Chinese" award from the Department of Overseas Affairs of the Republic of China.
Liu Tee Shu is the Shu family matriarch and has four sons and six grandchildren.
Marlene Tseng Yu
Jackson Heights artist inspired by nature in Taiwan
Marlene Tseng Yu emigrated from Taiwan when she was 26. After having graduated university and teaching art there, she headed to University of Colorado in Boulder for her master's in Fine Arts, which she earned in 1967. She taught at Denver University for a year and with a very encouraging husband, James K. Yu, moved to Jackson Heights. Yu's love of nature began when she was 7 when mountains and water were her childhood playground.
In Taiwan, she began copying famous traditional-style paintings with subject matter that included landscapes, animals, birds, flowers and figurines. During her graduate studies she began the transition to lyrical abstract expressionistic paintings of the natural world.
The colors, forms, rhythms and movements of nature inspire Yu "to capture the spirit of the universe" through her art. She takes motifs from avalanches, geysers, coral reefs, calving glaciers, black holes, stalagmite formation, amber resin, Aspen leaves and wind, red rock canyons, crystals, turquoise, and volcanoes.
Soon after she moved to New York, she had an exhibition on Madison Avenue and a 1969 TV interview with Barbara Walters catapulted her onto the national stage.
Since then Yu has had almost 70 solo exhibitions around the world, including her hometown in Taiwan. She exhibits at ACA Galleries in Chelsea as well as cultural institutions across Queens.
Her 33-foot-long works are permanently displayed on rotation in a circular room at QCC Art Gallery at Queensboro Community College alongside temporary exhibits such as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. The paintings become a topic of student-submitted essays discussing her technique and subject matter. "I try to paint nature with life," she said.
While she was inspired by nature's beauty, this connection became even more important as she slowly realized nature's importance as the rainforests were being cut down, and with global warming, glacial melting and weather change.
In 2006, her four "Elements of Life" (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) paintings were followed by her "March of the Icebergs"in response to today's growing concerns about global warming.
She has won numerous awards for her work. And she thanks her husband James for his lifetime support for her to be an artist.
In 2008, she and James founded the Rainforest Art Foundation to support her and other like-minded artists, passionate about preserving the world's natural beauty.
After the Yus' daughter and her family settled in Shreveport, La., they transformed a derelict YMCA into the permanent Marlene Yu Museum, which opened in 2015, to preserve, present, document, and interpret her life work and house some 4,000 pieces. Daughter Stephanie is the museum's director.
On Sept. 30 Yu held an 80th birthday gala at the museum unveiling a huge "Pink Marble" artwork, 20 x 40 feet.
Community activist becomes voice of Flushing immigrants
After his military service in Taiwan, Peter Tu came to the United States in 1980, joining his parents whom he hadn't seen for seven years.
"They had a market in Forest Hills," he said. What an eye opener it was for him to witness how hard they worked - all the time. For 10 years, Tu worked alongside them.
It is in part this experience that inspires Tu's work with the immigrant community, knowing the challenges they face to make a life in America.
After he left the family business, Tu studied acupuncture, which he practiced for over five years, He published a weekly community journal in Chinese from 1997-2000 and for 18 years has had a community talk radio show.
In 1996, Tu, as secretary general of the American Acupuncture Association, organized the 4th World Conference of Acupuncture in Manhattan, with 1,200 specialists from 70 countries attending.
He is completely devoted to America and the opportunities it offers and is a strong advocate of volunteerism, contributing much of his time to community services.
From October 2009 through September 2010. Tu served as acting president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, where he is currently its executive director.
Most recently to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the business association brought 200 boxes of moon cakes, provided by New World supermarket, to the elderly of CPC Nan-Shan senior center.
Flushing has one of the largest urban concentrations of Asians outside of Asia. The voice for many of these immigrants is Peter Tu. As head of the FCBA, he is a go-to voice when it comes to government and politics. And for politicians, talking to him is a way to get up to speed on what's going on in the community.
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) commented on Tu's commitment to the community and on their excellent working relationship. "He really loves America," the state representative said.
"We have a good relationship with the 109th Precinct," Tu said. "When they get new police, we give them an orientation to Asian culture."
Tu rushed to the scene after the recent bus accident in the Flushing in which three people were killed by a private carrier.
Tu has had multiple terms as the chair of the Queens Chinese Lunar New Year Committee, working to make it more inclusive. He also points out that he made sure that the politicians understood that the parade would start on time.
A member of the Community Board 7 and on the board of the Flushing BID, Tu is also a board member of the Tzu Chi Association, a community advisory board member of Elmhurst Hospital and New York Hospital in Queens, and a Democratic district leader.
Tu has received recognitions for his community work from Mayor Giuliani and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Auxiliary NYPD officer helps Rockaway's Polish community
Monika Wroblewski is a mother, wife and citizen of Queens, always on the go. She was a firm believer in volunteerism, even before she emigrated from Poland at age 25. After high school she volunteered for The Sue Ryder Foundation in England as a caregiver and learned English.
Back in Poland, she spent one year as a volunteer helping the homeless and at a rehab center for children with cerebral paralysis. She assisted at a training house where young people were taught to be leaders. There she learned about the European Union, democracy and citizen rights, inspiring her to attend college and earn a master's degree in political science.
Wroblewski lives by her mother's motto: Be good to people and don't expect them to be good to you. Just be good.
On arrival to the United States, Wroblewski got involved in the Pastoral Council at St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach, where she was married. Among her involvements, she said, "With my husband, we interpret for the Polish community as well as help with all parish activities."
After her Polish-speaking father-in-law was shot and could not understand what was going on around him, Wroblewski knew she wanted to volunteer with the NYPD and in 2014, joined the Auxiliary NYPD program. In particular, she wanted to help Rockaway's Polish community. Working out of the 100th Precinct, many times she translates at the front desk.
Precinct Deputy Inspector Holmes said "Auxiliary P.O. Wroblewski has been an inspiration to the Auxiliary Police unit." She describes her character with adjectives like "responsible," "devoted," "humble" and "understanding." She also noted "her exceptional, innovative and creative cooking that allows our command details to have the best of the best spreads. And, name an event and Aux. P.O. Wroblewski has either gathered a team or singlehandedly made sure the troops are well fed."
Holmes extolled her community involvement while citing her integrity, honesty and professionalism. "Her relentless determination with this program has brought life back to the Rockaway community and the 100th Pct. Auxiliary Police unit, also strengthening our involvement with the immigrant community."
In addition, Wroblewski is the mother of two and started a Mommy and Me playgroup with moms and children ages 5 months to 4 years speaking different languages and coming from different countries.
"We started with a baby language, the language of love," she said about her role as a volunteer reacher. The early morning routine begins by reading and singing, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance with a 2-year-old holding the American flag. "We became an American family!" she said beaming.
Wroblewski also teaches traditions, culture and language to the next generation in the Parish's Polish supplementary school.
"I am a proud American citizen," Wroblewski said. "But I will never forget I am Polish."
Flushing holistic therapist offers treatment to fellow Koreans from across the country
Margaret Yang left Korea in 1996 and immigrated to Hawaii. In 2000 she came to New York after she saw a chance to start her business, ReSam Holistic Clinic, in Flushing. Yang has been there ever since.
She started with skin care and has now expanded to holistic therapy, which her clients were so happy to see.
Then later on she introduced brain care treatment, which is called Dinamika. Using high tech information technology, it analyzes biorhythms and can give diagnoses of functional diseases. This procedure is completely safe, according to Yang, and treats insomnia, hair loss, headaches, migraines and poor concentration.
Because of the strong response to this treatment in her Flushing clinic Yang opened her second clinic in New Jersey and will be opening one in Manhattan next year. The word about her work has traveled and created demand for a Manhattan clinic.
Before coming to America, she studied in India and Europe whole body holistic treatments and brought her studies to the United States. She teaches free classes and shares her knowledge of holistic medicine and treatments.
Yang also gives free holistic treatments to cancer patients who have no funds, have given up on modern medicine and have run out of options.
People who read the Korean newspapers and have heard of her treatments visit her and she receives referrals through people who she has helped. Her clients come from all over the United States looking for guidance that they cannot get on their own.
Her goals and dreams are to continue to travel around the world helping people in need and educating them on alternative medicines. She believes this is a calling and she must continue to help make sick people well again.
Because of her many years of experience, Yang is able to sense right away that someone is having health issues as well as being in need of spiritual guidance. Many are skeptical of her findings, but after seeking medical attention, they realize that she is gifted. They continue to see her and find that their health, spirits and happiness have changed for the better in more ways than one.
She has dedicated her life to her work and continues to educate herself, which she then returns to the communities as an act of kindness.
Jorge Munoz Zapata
Harsh upbringing in Colombia instills gift of giving in borough's fight against hunger
Jorge Munoz Zapata was born poor in a small city in Colombia. In his late teens, his father was killed in a truck accident outside the factory where he worked. After struggling to feed her family, his mother moved to Brooklyn in search of a better future and two years later brought her children to the city.
Munoz experienced the difficulties of life as an undocumented immigrant.
Becoming a legal resident in 1987 enabled him to get a better job as a school bus driver. Not long after, he became a citizen along with his mother and sister.
A decade and a half after he immigrated, Munoz was chatting with some day laborers he had watched under the raised train tracks in Queens. Stories of their struggles with immigration, unemployment and homelessness moved him. Some went days without money for food.
Remembering his own journey, Munoz thought: "Seeing these guys on the street is like seeing me."
He brought them brown lunch bags with fruit and other food. It was then he realized that large amounts of food were thrown away at some places and there were many hungry people.
He started to collect food from local businesses and hand out meals three nights a week to needy people. Not long after, his mother, sister and some friends joined him at the family home in Woodhaven and he began to offer food daily, where they now prepared 65-70 home-cooked meals a night seven days a week.
In 2006, Munoz founded the non-profit An Angel in Queens Foundation to target hunger in New York City, investing a large part of his salary to support these activities. At times, he received donations from third parties.
It's no surprise that he has been called a real life angel for his commitment to help others by cooking and offering free hot meals to hungry people daily in Queens. Munoz estimates that between 2004 and 2011 he served 100,000 meals to hungry people.
"My mother is my inspiration," Munoz says. "She always told us to share, even if we had one toy, one piece of bread. She said if you have something, share it with someone who has nothing."
In 2009, he was named one of the CNN Heroes due to his selfless efforts. President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest U.S. civilian honor, on Aug. 4, 2010.
Munoz also has been recognized many times by the country of his birth. In 2012, the Senate of Colombia presented Munoz with the Order of the Congress of Colombia in the Degree of Knight for his efforts to help New York's Latin immigrants. That same year, Munoz was recognized as one of the 100 most outstanding Colombian expatriates at a ceremony in the company of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.