English Feature #7-33752 Broadcast May 29, 2000
In recent weeks in this program we've been focusing on immigrant entrepreneurs. Today the New American Voices you'll hear will be those of students - three recipients of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, who continue to maintain ties with their ethnic heritage while taking full advantage of the educational opportunities open to them in the United States.
She is a small, slender young woman crowned by a cloud of curly brown hair. She was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in a poor neighborhood of New York City, went to Harvard University, and has now come back to New York to work with her countrymen. Her name is Julissa Reynoso. Now in her second year of law school at New York's Columbia University, Julissa continues to be very involved in the Dominican community. She is the founder of an organization called "Dominicans 2000".
"It's basically a movement of young Dominicans and Latinos in general trying to compensate for the fact that for many decades a lot of leaders from our community, good people, good students and what-not, have gone from the minority neighborhood and have left when they get a good Ivy League degree. So we've decided to come back and work with community organizers and try to figure out what are the needs of the community, and define the role of Dominicans and Latinos in New York and in the country, and how people who go on to become professionals can still keep in touch and be part of the inner city and the community."
Another young immigrant who is keeping in touch with his ethnic heritage is Christian Fung. He was was born in Hong Kong, and emigrated to the United States 13 years ago, when he was 13 years old. Christian graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, and now serves as a coordinator of health services for refugees for the International Rescue Committee. Christian's heritage continues to be an integral part of his life.
"Because I came as a teenager, a lot of my upbringing in Hong Kong is simply integrated into my everyday life, and that includes everything from something as mundane as food and grocery shopping pattern to the kind of friends that I have. I think in the past thirteen years what has changed in not so much of what I've left off of growing up Chinese, or Chinese-Tibetan, but what I've gained from being here and what elements I've incorporated into my life."
And what are these?
"I think for me particularly there's a greater sense of opportunities in the realm of political activism, of making a difference, of opportunities to do something that you really want."
At Columbia University in New York, Afghan refugee Zarina Maiwandi is studying for a doctorate in English literature. She plans to become a professor.
Zarina was born in Kabul, Afganistan and came to the United States as a child with her parents, who found political asylum here. Growing up American, Zarina never let go of her Afghan roots.
"Coming from Afghanistan I felt an extreme responsibility to all of those people that I had left behind, so to speak, and I always felt a responsibility to return and contribute something to the country. I went back during high school to Pakistan and worked in a refugee camp, mostly with children, and just sort of took care of them and fed them. Also I worked with new Afghan refugees that were coming to the Washington metropolitan area and helping them sort of adjust, and speaking to them about my experiences in America, both to the children and particularly to the women."
These three young people are among some 50 immigrants pursuing graduate studies thanks to the Fellowships for New Americans. The fellowships were established two years ago with a grant of 50 million dollars from Paul and Daisy Soros, themselves immigrants from Hungary. Dr. Warren Ilchman, the Director of the Fellowships, explains what motivated the couple to set up this scholarship fund.
"I think they were saying, what will be a memorial to the things we value. And they don't like putting [their] names on buildings, so they decided that the issue that really engaged them was the issue of new Americans, because they themselves had been new Americans and because the United States has been so generous to their children. And so they wanted in a sense to give back to the United States the opportunities they had had."
Next week on New American Voices another group of students - this time, all of them immigrants from Serbia - will talk about their experiences in America.