About 10,000 immigrants, mostly young families and singles, are estimated to live in Berkshire County, about 93 percent of them citizens or legal residents, according to the Berkshire Immigrant Center. And their numbers are growing compared to native- born Berkshirites.
In Pittsfield, 40 percent of North Street businesses are said to be owned by immigrants, a figure the Berkshire Immigrant Center is showcasing through a series of dinners at immigrant-owned restaurants in Pittsfield and around the county.
The dinners, now in their second year, are small fundraisers for the immigrant center, which shares the proceeds from participating restaurants.
The next dinner will be at Chez Nous Bistro, a Zagat-rated restaurant that serves casual but fine French food in Lee. It is owned by French immigrant Franck Tessier, who is the chef, and his wife, Rachel Portnoy, who is the pastry chef.
"I thought that since Franck was married to an American and that we have a successful business would make it easy, but it didn't," Portnoy said. "I wish I knew about the Berkshire Immigrant Center then."
The couple wanted to start this year's series to let other immigrants know about the immigrant center and also give back to the Berkshire community at large.
"It's going to be copious hors d'oeuvres, rather than a sit-down meal," Portnoy said. "We thought that would be more fun and maybe be able to accommodate ore folks."
In March, Xicohtencatl Mexican
Flavours restaurant owner Sabrina Tan said she and her son, William Chang, found the path to citizenship "scary" and called immigrant center program director Brooke Mead a "godsend" in taking them through the intricacies of the immigration process.
Tan will be hosting a buffet of Malaysian foods at her North Street restaurant in May, also her second, to show her appreciation.
The Berkshires does not have an African restaurant, but United Africans of the Berkshires will host a family-friendly dinner at the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield in June.
Last year, the immigrant center, which was started by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires in 1997, served over 800 clients from 72 countries, said volunteer and dining series coordinator Marge Cohan.
A program of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Pittsfield center offers citizenship and immigration information and application support, legal assistance, advocacy and referrals to the growing immigrant population of the Berkshires and beyond.
The program is funded by the Berkshire United Way, the City of Pittsfield, the Mass Bar Foundation, the state Citizenship for New Americans Program, the Berkshire Bank Foundation, and The New World Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and other contributors such as the restaurants that host dinners in this series.
Upcoming Berkshire dinners
When: Sunday, Feb. 10, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Chez Nous Bistro, 150 Main St. Lee
Owners: Franck Tessier, chef and Rachel Portnoy, pastry chef
Menu: Casual French dining.
Cost: $30 per person; 40 percent donated to the Berkshire Immigrant Center.
Information: (413) 243-6397.
When: Monday, March 18; Two seatings, 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: Xicohtencatl Mexican Restaurant, 50 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington.
Owners: Toni Bergins and Angel Espinosa, chef.
Menu: Tlaxcalan Mexican recipes.
Cost: $30 per person, 40
When: Monday, May 20. Two seatings, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Flavours of Malaysia, 75 North St., Pittsfield
Owner: Sabrina Tan
Menu: Buffet sampling of Malaysian food,
Cost: $30 per person; 50 percent of proceeds will be donated to the immigrant center.
Information: (413) 443-3188.
When: Saturday, June 1; 5:30 p.m. to 8: 30 p.m.
Where: First Baptist Church of Pittsfield , 88 South St.
Hosts: United Africans of the Berkshires
Menu: Family dinner of foods from West Africa including those of Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali
Cost: Not yet decided
Information: Berkshire Immigrant Center, (413) 445-4881 or visit www.berkshireic.com.