Sunday April 17, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Najeeb Alam learned something new Saturday.

Alam is a visiting public administrator from northeastern Pakistan here to learn how America in governed. Saturday he attended the eighth annual Immigrants Day celebration at Morningside Elementary.

He witnessed hundreds of people from all over the world sharing their music, clothing, food and dance with each other. He watched as Mayor James Ruberto received the Jane Adams American Spirit Award for heading an administration that has been so welcoming to newcomers from other lands.

During a break in the entertainment, he said the celebration was "wonderful, wonderful."

"Around the world the U.S. is seen as trying to be [made up] of only white people," Alam continued. "But here I find that all the world is already here in the United States. This country may be the most diverse. If you were to project this image to the world, everyone will love, love, love the U.S."

The event is organized by the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield, with the help of a long list of corporate sponsors and nearly 100 volunteers.

According to Hilary Greene, director of the Immigrant Center, more than 500 people attended the event.

And along with the pot luck dinner, which featured foods from around the world, there was entertainment in the form of dancers from Latin America and India, a concert by Los Ciegos Del Barrio, and a salute to more than 20 new U.S. citizens by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.


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During a short interview after his presentation, Pignatelli noted that both he and Ruberto are second-generation immigrants. He praised Ruberto for "embracing and emphasizing the diversity of Berkshire County. When we embrace and empower everyone, the community will rise. And having 500 people come out for this event speaks volumes about this city."

Along with the red, white and blue balloons and dozens of flags from around the world festooned throughout the gymnasium, there were also several dozen booths featuring businesses and services that could help new arrivals with a variety of needs.

There were booths for Manos Unidos, MCLA, the South Berkshire Educational Collaborative, the Food Bank, the Community Health Project, H&R Block, Head Start, Western Mass Legal Services and many others.

"Access to justice is important for everyone, and immigrants face a variety of issues in housing, crime and domestic violence," said Leslie Curley, a staff attorney for Western Mass Legal Services. "This can be a very scary place even if you do speak the language."

Carol McGlinchey, an English teacher with the South Berkshire Educational Collaborative, said it is important in a time when many politicians are deriding the immigrant population that someone makes an effort to let them finally feel at home.

"The immigrant community is becoming very vibrant here," she said. "And through their efforts they really support our tourist trade and our second-homeowners. And they enrich our community with their spirit of respect for the elderly and their sense of family solidarity. They've really taught me a lot."

Headlining the event was a band from New York City, Los Ciegos Del Barrio, with their lively and deep well of Latino tunes. According to band leader Alvin Suarez, they have played this event before, and always found it welcoming. He and the other four members of the band are also second-generation immigrants.

"Besides our sense of joy playing music and giving of ourselves to the audience, we also like the idea of providing resources to the immigrant community," he said. "And for us, when we play it lets them all know that no matter where you're from we all speak the same language -- music."

For the members of Los Ciegos Del Barrio, it is hard to visualize the physical differences of people from different parts of the world: All five of the band members are totally blind -- thus the name of the band, which in English means "the blind men of the neighborhood."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6241.