Monday, 15 October 2012

UMass Jewish and Muslim student groups sponsor program on immigration

AMHERST – With all the discussions about immigration as backdrop, two diverse groups from the University of Massachusetts are trying to offer a human look at the issue through food and stories.

Called “Immigration Nation: Past and Future” the event is organized by Jewish Leaders in Business and the Muslim Students Association in partnership with the Northampton-based Center for New Americans. It begins at 7:15 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom and is free and open to the public.

Fatima A. Shama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, is the guest speaker. She will talk about her work and her own immigrant past - her father is Palestinian and mother Brazilian.

UMass senior Seth Rotberg heard her speak last spring and said she really inspired him and he knew they had to bring her to UMass to move others.

“We can get all these different cultural groups to work as one team and to be successful at it,” he said.

Rotberg, who is vice president of the Jewish Leaders in Business, said not only do Muslim and Jewish groups have to be part of the conversation, but all groups do as well. “Immigration is very important in this country.” He said most everyone here has immigrant roots.

He said the groups are reaching out to various ethnicities on campus to get them involved.

And some of those students and faculty will tell their stories. “We want (people to see) immigrants don’t just go to New York, they’re in Western Massachusetts,” Rotberg said.

“People make assumptions. They see the way you dress, you just assume. You can’t judge a book by its cover.” He has learned that people “they’re just like me.”

“It’s very important to learn about diverse backgrounds.”

The discussion and stories are “a way to encourage (people) to cross cultural boundaries that you normally don’t cross,” said Scott Nielsen, alumni adviser to the groups.

It’s an essential discussion because “immigration is emblematic of the cross-cultural world all these students are going to live and work in,” he said.

“Immigration is very critical to the future of economic success of our country.”

He said “both on the personal level and economic, we do better when we work together.”

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy praised the event.

“There are two aspects that speak very highly of the students (creating the program,)” he said.

“Student groups from cross-cultural lines are working together as a team, which I think is wonderful.

“So much of what happens happens in a silo,” he said, referring to groups working singularly.

Also he said a university “has to be a venue for current social issues, no matter how complicated. I welcome the fact that students are (organizing) a forum on such a subject.” He said he hopes to attend.

Before the event, students and faculty will sample the food offerings from 15 different cultures at the Berkshire Dining Commons in a special meal prepared for the event to celebrate immigration.

Nielsen pointed out that executive chef Willie Sng is from Singapore and an example of immigration working at UMass – along with hundreds of others.

Sonya Kraus Angelu DeLeon

No comments:

Post a Comment