PICC celebrates advocates that make Pennsylvania stronger
The Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) honored the most prominent local, regional and national immigration advocates during the 2015 edition of “Immigrants Make PA strong.”
The celebration held Oct. 22 at the German Society included a musical performance by the West Philadelphia Orchestra as well as a Donald Trump piñata, which guest were able to swing at for a good cause.
The keynote speaker of the night was Cesar Vargas, a prominent immigration activist who became the first undocumented immigrant to pass the New York Bar. As an honoree, Vargas told the audience that parents are the true heroes of the dreamers story.
“I would not be here if it wasn’t for the courage of my mom, and the courage of the (Dreamers’) parents.” Vargas said. “Because my mother took the brave decision to come here when I was 5 years old after my father passed away. I didn’t get (accomplish this) because I went to school and I did this and I did that. I did this because of my family and my community.”
Vargas said that one of the reasons he tells his story is because he wants to challenge the immigration narrative.
“The narrative is the ‘us vs. them’ that the Donald Trumps and other extremists have painted in the media and in the public,” Vargas said. “Our stories change hearts and minds. I refuse to let Donald Trump paint us as rapists, as killers … because we have amazing young people here in Pennsylvania, amazing young leaders who have stood up to that narrative.”
Manuel Portillo, vice chair of PICC's board of directors, introduced the second honoree of the night, Helen Cunningham, former president of the Samuel S. Fels Fund.
“We are here to honor a true ally, a friend, a true supporter of immigrant communities. We need more leaders like Helen in the philanthropic world, people who truly understand the significance of immigrant integration in America,” Portillo said. “People like Helen, who doesn’t divide our community between those who are authorized to work and those who have to work to survive. I am privileged to present her with this modest recognition.”
Present at the event was the family of Jorge Perez Rico, an immigrant activist from Central Pennsylvania and founder of Casa de La Cultura, who passed away in June. He was recognized for his outstanding advocacy efforts. Known for his keen interest in photography, several of his images were displayed during the event.
“I was looking through pictures the other day and I couldn't find many of Jorge. And that is because he was always behind the camera taking the photo of everybody else,” said Maria Sotomayor, youth organizer for PICC.
“Jorge really cared and loved so many people. He touched the hearts of every single person in his community and I know that his memory will live on forever. You can see it in his wonderful family,” Sotomayor said.
Community Leader Awards were also presented to Cathi Tillman from La Puerta Abierta (ICFamWell), an organization that provides services for immigrant communities in the Delaware Valley, and Olivia Vasquez, a youth leader of Juntos, who was also recognized for her outstanding work over the past year.