‘I Am An Immigrant’ Campaign Announces Recipients of Inaugural ‘Celebrate Immigrants Awards’
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the ‘I Am An Immigrant’ campaign announced the ten recipients of the inaugural Celebrate Immigrants Awards. The awards are being presented to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to the spirit of immigrant heritage, culture, and diversity. All ten awardees are immigrants and allies who have made contributions to their community and empowered immigrant communities to thrive. These awards are announced in June in recognition of Immigrant Heritage Month.
“Every country needs immigrants because we are bridges into faraway places. We bring people together, religions together, different ways of thinking, different foods together. We enrich the world; in my case, one meal at a time,” said chef José Andrés, owner of 31 award-winning restaurants, two Michelin stars and a James Beard Award. “The best we can be doing as immigrants today is telling the world: Don’t build walls that will try to separate humanity, but invest in the communities you have around you, enriching everybody along the way.”
The United States’ strength is reflected in its diversity built over generations, and every new immigrant and their family help add another chapter to the American story. Whether immigrant or ally, Celebrate Immigrants Awards recipients are dreamers and doers who recognize, exemplify, and celebrate this diversity in their communities each and every day.
This year’s recipients are:
- José Andrés – Michelin-starred Chef and Humanitarian
- Giannis Antetokounmpo – Professional Basketball Player, Milwaukee Bucks
- Greg Casar – City Council Member, Austin TX
- Diane Guerrero – Author and Actress (Orange Is The New Black)
- Kumail Nanjiani – Comedian, Actor and Writer (The Big Sick)
- Bee Nguyen – Member of Georgia House of Representatives and Executive Director of Athena’s Warehouse
- John McCain – Senior United States Senator from Arizona
- Elias Rosenfeld – Student, DACA Recipient, and Advocate
- Peter Ujvagi – Community Organizer and City Council Member, Toledo, OH
- UndocuMedia – Nonprofit Advocacy Organization and Social Media Influencer
“Although the awardees span many different fields, each exemplifies drive and heroism in defending and honoring immigrants across America and worldwide,” said Welcome.us spokesperson Keenan Toohey. “It is an honor to celebrate them––and with them, America’s brave history of immigrants and defending immigrants’ rights––today.”
Immigrant Heritage Month is a nationwide effort to celebrate immigrants and share inspirational stories of immigration in America. Now in its fifth year, IHM is an opportunity for Americans to celebrate the countless contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to the United States, and to reflect on their family’s heritage. This month, ‘I Am An Immigrant’ has held multiple a number of celebrations of immigrant heritage in communities across the country, including Washington DC, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. Additional events will be held through the end of June in Salt Lake City, San Diego and Miami.
More information about the recipients of the Celebrate Immigrants Awards is below.\
José Andrés: Chef José Andrés is the proud owner of 31 award-winning restaurants, two Michelin stars, a James Beard Award, and a signature immigrant success story. The Spanish-American restaurateur made his name opening a number of successful small-plate restaurants across the country, from Washington DC to Los Angeles. Chef Andrés is also chair of the advisory board for L.A. Kitchen, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing food waste, job training, and widening access to nutritious food. Chef Andrés’ nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, has done amazing work in Puerto Rico and elsewhere following devastating natural disasters. This past January, Chef Andrés penned an op-ed for the Washington Post arguing that removing protective status on immigrants from countries like El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras “has thrown families across the country into chaos. This policy shift also has the potential to devastate my industry and hurt the overall economy.” He goes on to lay out some of the many reasons why immigrants, like those who work in his restaurants, are a crucial part of the American experience. He became a naturalized citizen in 2013.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting young players in the NBA today. The Milwaukee Bucks forward, known by friends and fans as the “Greek Freak”, is not only the face of his franchise, but is also one of the most prominent ambassadors of a league where more international players than ever are being drafted and playing meaningful roles on the court. Antetokounmpo was born to Nigerian parents who, in 1991, emigrated to Greece in search of opportunity. Antetokounmpo has stated that, at times, he was forced to sell watches and sunglasses on the sidewalks of Athens just so the family had enough to eat. By the age of 21, however, the budding basketball star had inked a $100 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, and the adoration of fans in Wisconsin and the world over thanks in part to touching American experiences like this one. Antetokounmpo is a beacon to Greek-Americans, many of whom see him as a hero and a role model. After a game in Cleveland, hundreds stayed long after the game had ended to serenade the young star with the Greek national anthem.
Greg Casar: Austin’s youngest-ever city council member, Greg Casar, was first elected in 2014. In 2015, he was voted “Best Elected City Official” by Austin Chronicle readers, and in 2017 was given a “Rising Leader Award” from the Texas Civil Rights Project. That same year, Casar helped lead the effort to mount a legal challenge to SB4, an anti-immigrant law that would effectively turn local police into immigration enforcers. Additionally, Casar sponsored Austin’s first immigrant defense fund, ensuring that families in his district would not be broken up by deportation because they couldn’t afford an attorney.
Diane Guerrero: Actor and advocate Diane Guerrero, cast member of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was born in New Jersey to Colombian parents. The family settled in Boston, but when Guerrero was 14, her parents and brothers were summarily deported. As the only member of her immediate family with citizenship, she became a vocal advocate for immigration reform. Guerrero tells the story of this painful separation from her family in her 2016 memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. Drawing from her own experience dealing with an often inhumane immigration system, Guerrero uses her celebrity to engage communities on the ground and call for a more just and compassionate approach to immigration policy, and has passionately argued that “Not one more family should be separated by deportation.”
John McCain: John McCain has represented Arizona in the United States Senate for over three decades. The son and grandson of four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy, McCain served as a pilot during the Vietnam War, where he was shot down and captured in 1967. After returning from the war, McCain dedicated himself to public service, first as a Congressman, and then as a Senator and, in 2008, as presidential nominee. In 2013, McCain spearheaded a bipartisan effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform. It ultimately came up short, but Senator McCain continues to urge his colleagues to take meaningful legislative action to fix our broken system.
Kumail Nanjiani: Comedian and podcast host Kumail Nanjiani is the star of the Academy Award-nominated film, The Big Sick, and HBO’s hit comedy series, Silicon Valley. Born in Pakistan, Nanjiani has drawn on his immigrant experience to inform much of his comedy and commentary. In his semi-autobiographical feature, The Big Sick, Nanjiani plays an onscreen version of himself who must grapple with many of the challenges faced by immigrants across the country. From his own family’s prejudices to those of his new girlfriend’s parents, it’s an illuminating (and hilarious) look at the immigrant experience today. At last year’s Academy Awards, Nanjiani — presenting an award alongside fellow immigrant Lupita Nyong’o — concluded his remarks with a timely shout-out: “And to all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you.”
Bee Nguyen: As the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Georgia’s general assembly, State Representative Bee Nguyen has used her platform to advocate for women, refugees, and underserved communities of color. She is the founder of Athena’s Warehouse, a nonprofit focused on educating and empowering teenage girls through positive female role models, and has worked with high school teachers and undocumented students on a public art installation examining the idea of cultural identity. In 2015, when Georgia’s governor tried to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the state, Bee worked with local groups to help resettle a family of nine.
Elias Rosenfeld: Elias Rosenfeld, is a student, Dreamer and activist who has worked with immigration rights with groups such as MomsRising, FIRM, MIRA, RAC, and FWD.us. Within a few days of his mother’s death in 2009, 11-year-old Elias was informed by the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) that he was now considered undocumented, and would lose many of the rights he had enjoyed since coming to the United States from Venezuela as a child. Despite facing some incredible obstacles, Rosenfeld persevered and earned numerous awards, as well as a full ride to Brandeis University. Today, Rosenfeld is focused on building his coalition, Values Above Politics, which aims to support candidates who put their values ahead of partisanship and is a tireless advocate for immigration reform.
Peter Ujvagi: Peter Ujvagi, sometimes known as “The Mayor of East Toledo,” is a Hungarian-born former state representative of Ohio’s 47th district. Through his work with immigrant communities in Toledo, Lucas County, and across his home state of Ohio, Ujvagi has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the values and ideas that have long served as our country’s greatest strength. Thanks in part to Ujvagi’s leadership, Toledo has become a refuge for families fleeing the deadly, long-running war in Syria. The successful integration of refugees in Toledo is a perfect example of how immigrants naturally contribute to and complement existing American communities.
UndocuMedia: Started in 2012 by DACA recipients Ivan Ceja and Justino Mora as a way to keep the undocumented community informed and empowered through social media, Undocumedia has blossomed into a primary (and free) source of information and guidance for thousands of people across the country. Amid the ever-shifting politics and developments surrounding immigrant rights in America, the nonprofit Undocumedia has earned the trust of the undocumented community and continues to function as an indispensable tool for immigrants in an uncertain time.