Nearly two years ago, Borough President Melinda Katz visited our headquarters in Brooklyn to talk to the Community News Group owners and editors about what was happening in Queens. The role of immigrants was a recurring theme in her assessment of the borough’s achievements and she suggested in passing that we acknowledge these heroes.
Fast forward to this week when the TimesLedger Newspapers was to hold our second annual Queens Ambassador Awards to honor 25 immigrants who have made an enormous difference in our communities.
The honorees have come to Queens from four continents, but many share the same story of struggling against great odds after arriving here unable to speak much English and just a heart beat away from homelessness. The memories of those harsh times remain indelible for many and have been a driving force in shaping their contributions to the borough.
Among the people we salute is Carlos Humberto Cardona, an undocumented immigrant who fled Colombia after his brothers were murdered. The Jackson Heights resident, who is married to an American, suffered severe health consequences after volunteering for four months to clean up the debris at the World Trade Center after 9/11. The governor and a Queens congressman stopped him from being deported this year, but his immigration status is still not settled.
Before Narbada Chhetri left Nepal, she was a human rights worker, but the humiliation she endured as a low-income employee during her first year in the United States set her course. She has spent 12 years promoting human rights and social justice for the Nepalese community in Queens, particularly immigrant women in domestic jobs.
Yeou-Cheng Ma, the violinist who runs the Children’s Orchestra Society in Fresh Meadows, spent her early years in a cold water flat in Paris before she and her brother, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, came to America. She started sixth grade unable to speak English. Ma, who is a Harvard-educated pediatrician, charges students very little because she and her brother were given free music lessons by French teachers who believed in them.
The Israeli-born Tahl Leibovitz, who has made history as a disabled table tennis champ on the international circuit, lived on the streets in Queens from the age of 14 to 21. Now a licensed social worker, he has made coaching videos, visited the White House five times, and started Project Table Tennis, which uses the sport as a vehicle to help people cope with Alzheimer’s, substance abuse and obesity. He works with the city Parks Department.
These are just a few of the immigrants whose impact is felt daily in the world’s most diverse borough.