Refugee named ‘Immigrant of the Year’

There’s a new name going in the plaque at the Portland Immigrant Statue in Parkrose. Read this and learn who was honored this year …

At the site of the Portland Immigrant Statue in outer East Portland, people gather for the presentation of the 2016 Portland Immigrant of the Year award.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The rain had stopped by the time people had made their way to a large tent set up at NE 99th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, as the 2016 Portland Immigrant of the Year presentation was about to be begin on November 18.

The annual presentation, made with the nearby Portland Immigrant Statue in sight, is presented “In honor and gratitude for the struggles, hard work and contributions to the immigrant community” – as the commemorative plaque reads.

Christine Chin Ryan, who is involved with the Asian/Pacific Islanders community, talks with Joe Rossi.

The person behind the statue and award program, Joe Rossi, a third-generation Parkrose family member, said he was both excited and nervous about the day’s events.

“This started in 2011 when we dedicated the Portland Immigrant Statue,” recalled Rossi.

“Parkrose is the home community for this statue, which shows appreciation for the people who came to the greater Portland area from other countries,” Rossi continued. “It’s for me and families like mine who came long ago; it’s for those who are presently coming here; and, it’s also for all of those coming in the future who will make our city become a better place.”

Award program Project director Hai Nihn begins the official ceremony.

As people gathered for the awards, Rossi added, “I’m so happy to see the community come out today. Every year we pick one person from our community who equally loves America, and appreciates the American opportunity – and also still loves their home country.

“Today, we’re awarding what I call a ‘bridge person’ – a man who helps newcomers get situated here in their new country,” Rossi told East Portland News.

Charter Portland Immigrant Award conferee Jamie Lim presents an award nomination to Ramin Tohki.

The group crossed NE Sandy Boulevard and gathered in front of the Portland Immigrant Statue for the presentation.

Celebrants learned that Som Nath Subedi was selected this year from the list of nominees, cited for his display of appreciation of America; respect for others who, like him, have immigrated to this country; and for his work and volunteerism in the community.

Som Nath Subedi receives the 2016 Immigrant of the Year award from 2014 recipient Juan Carlos Chavez.

Subedi and his family came to the United States in 2008 after living for two decades in a Nepal refugee camp. He now works with newcomer communities on behalf of Portland Parks & Recreation.

After the awards, all of the attendees were invited to a hot luncheon, served in the tent.

Guests are treated to a delicious, culturally-appropriate luncheon.

“This is award is not only for me, but also for other refugees who come to Portland,” Subedi told East Portland News. “As you know, refugees and immigrants are very resilient people. Given a little time to discover being in a new situation, we can ‘come back’, there is no doubt about it.

“This kind of ceremony helps us to move forward,” Subedi added. “This award is an honor to receive, for the work that I do for the community.”

As guests finished their lunch, Rossi told the history of his family, and how it lead to the creation of the Portland Immigrant Statue and these annual awards.

Congratulate Som Nath Subedi, the year’s “Portland Immigrant of the Year”.

Rossi introduced Subedi, who spoke the gathering. Here’s the full text of his speech:

Ten days ago today, Immigrants and refugees learned how divided the country is on the issue of the US refugee resettlement program. President-elect Donald Trump needs to appeal to people across the country for one America and its values. It’s his job to make that call. It will benefit him and the country.

I know you and you know what I do, but Americans don’t know what President elect Donald Trump will do for the country. This brings a lot of anxiety and fear. I am very worried about American values of great diversity. and inclusion for all backgrounds.

You and I can’t change the election outcome. We have to accept the result. This is part of American Democracy. To me America is still a good place to live in, there is still hope. We have good people, policies and practices. I am very optimistic, because of you!

Call your immigrant and refugee friends, neighbors, listen to their concerns and stories patiently, try to answer their questions, refer them to appropriate resources. Call Muslim friends and families assuring them they are still part of the fabric of our society.  Sign up to volunteer to help immigrants and refugees, or mentor a family. Motivate refugee and immigrant champions to run for the office. We are not going away anywhere. We support each other. Be more alert than ever before; report hate crimes.

Make phone calls and write emails to your representatives when you hear of anti-refugee and immigrant bills and measures; speak out, write OpEds. And tell them you are with “Refugees and Immigrants”.

I am not urging people to stop protesting. It’s their right! Peaceful demonstrations are valid because people are in fear of tearing apart their families. Go for it, but be peaceful and alert. Protesters are fighting for their dignity, respect, inclusion and protection. President Elect Trump has to come out and unify people.

I am here because of US Refugee Resettlement program; If I didn’t get that “American chance” I wouldn’t be here giving back to the community. The new administration may pause or reduce refugee arrivals. There are 21 million refugees on the planet today. Reduction in funding for refugees domestically and internationally will impact those vulnerable refugees who are battling for new life.

Refugees and Immigrants are resilient people. They had been to these difficulties and able to come back in life. I trust them.

I am very impressed with Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler’s commitment to continuously welcoming refugees, Immigrants, and Muslims here.

I call all faith leaders (Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, Islam, Baptists, and many others) to come together and pray for Americans in need. Show the world that we are united and stay together.

Make Refugees, Immigrants, and Muslims your priority. Invite them at your dinner table, welcome and pray at your church, temple, and mosque. Invite them to your Thanksgiving dinner. Every little assurance works at this difficult time.

I urge everybody to be more determined on keeping our door open continuously, opening our hearts one more time, coming together for all. We need each other now. More than ever than before.

We must still have faith in American Democracy. Since the election, whenever my daughter hears a woman speaking on TV, she starts clapping her hands. I believe there is still a hope for a greater future in America, the best country on the planet.

One of my American-born co-workers said on Facebook, regardless of the election outcome, we keep loving you and treat you as fellow Americans. Let’s keep this spirit.

Thank you all for coming and supporting me and all of the refugees and immigrants in your community.

When you drive by the Portland Immigrant Statue, where NE Sandy Boulevard and Portland Boulevard meet, slow down, and take a moment to reflect on its meaning.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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