Hundreds of world leaders, dignitaries and VIPs have streamed through JFK International Airport ahead of Tuesday’s opening of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, but one stood out above the rest. Little Amal, a 12-foot-tall puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl, came through Terminal 4 on Sept. 14, and was serenaded by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and its Children’s Choir.
She took her first walk outside the International Terminal to honor the refugees and immigrants who have made an impact on the life of New York City while she embarked on a 17-day tour through all five boroughs in search of her Uncle Samir.
“Everything Little Amal stands for, New York City stands for, and we are proud to welcome her to the international capital of immigrants,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “Amal’s journey brings awareness to all the displaced children of the world who need our help, as well as all the work that remains to do. Her visit to our landmarks and cultural institutions throughout the five boroughs elevates the message that New York City will continue to show compassion to those who seek it.”
Lugging her green suitcase on wheels, Little Amal’s journey through the city started at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning. She is scheduled to finish her first day in Queens at Astoria Park, where the Girl Scouts of Greater New York are planning to light her path to a resting stop where she can sleep safely, according to the organizers of Little Amal Walks NYC, one of the biggest public art projects in city history. Little Amal will make appearances in Times Square, Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, the African Burial Ground, The Bronx High Bridge, Greenwood Cemetery and Coney Island.
Playwright and director Amir Nizar Zuabi is the artistic director of The Walk Productions, which is behind her New York City tour. Little Amal recently traveled 5,000 miles across 12 European nations — including, most recently, Ukraine — as she walks for the 100 million refugees and marginalized people roaming the world in search of safety, more than half of whom are children.
“For immigrants and refugees around the world, New York is a place of opportunity and promise — but there’s a tension running through U.S. history that suggests not everyone is welcome here,” Zuabi said “This is a crucial moment to explore these themes. We’re moved and grateful that so many artists and organizations have wholeheartedly joined us to bring Amal’s message of hope and shared humanity to the people of New York.”
Yazmany Arboleda, New York City’s first “People’s Artist,” is the creative producer of Little Amal Walks NYC.
“As a young, unaccompanied minor arriving in NYC, Amal is excited and fearful. She comes to a city built by immigrants from all over the world, hoping to share stories of her journey through Europe and learn about life here,” Arboleda said. “We’re working with some of the city’s most innovative artists and diverse communities to create moments of welcome for an immigrant child.”
He said Little Amal will plant a tree in the El Jardin de la Esperanza in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in a collaboration with Mujeres en Movimiento and Micropoltan House. Other cultural organizations taking part include Queensboro Dance Festival, Krea Art Forum, Peaceful Tomorrows, Materials for the Arts, NYC Civic Engagement Commission and many more.
“The welcoming of Amal shows the power of art and culture to build bridges and bring global awareness to an issue,” NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo said. “New York is an extraordinary symphony of people and cultures, and Amal’s incredible journey represents our city’s long-standing commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees.”
For more information and a calendar of events, visit The Walk.