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New York City
May 2001

Fulbright Scholars Discuss Immigration
by Jacob M. Appel

The four young scholars lounging in the lobby of the Hotel Roosevelt were a diverse set, even by New York City standards. Austrian, Gabrielle Tischler, teaches German at historically black Dillard University in New Orleans; Japan’s Mikiko Tachi is a doctoral candidate in American Civilization at Brown University; Francisco Perez Ferreira of Panama has nearly completed his studies in financial services law at IIT-Chicago Kent College of Law; and Sujintana Hemtasilpa, a Thai public administrator, has procured a year’s leave to pursue a masters degree at Syracuse.

The four of them—and 123 other Fulbright Scholars from 64 different countries—had come to New York to learn about and celebrate those who do not return during a weekend devoted to the immigrants of Gotham.

Sponsored by the Department of State and administered by the Institute of International Education, “The Immigrant Experience in New York: Integration into U.S. Society” featured a series of lectures, panel discussions and neighborhood visits aimed at showing the complexity of the social issues surrounding immigration, revealing how the city’s newest inhabitants have shaped and reshaped urban life. Guest speakers included City Councilwoman Una Clark of Brooklyn, the only Caribbean-born woman on the city legislature, and former City Councilman Guillermo Linares, the first Dominican-American to be elected to public office in the United States. Panel discussions focussed on nation immigration policy and the 2000 Census. The weekend-long series of seminars also included an excursion to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Dr. Joseph Salvo, the keynote speaker, is the Chief of the Population Division of the Department of City Planning. He spoke about “The Demographics of Recent Immigration to New York City.” Salvo explained that not only is the city becoming increasingly black and Hispanic, the diversity within those communities is rapidly expanding. “Twenty years ago,” he explained, “‘Black’ meant ‘African-American’ and ‘Hispanic’ meant ‘Puerto Rican.’ Now one third of the city’s black population comes from the Caribbean or West Africa. We have nine hundred thousand Puerto-Ricans but also more than seven hundred thousand Dominicans and immigrants from all over the Caribbean and Latin America.”

Among the other trends he noted were the return of many African-Americans to the southern states from which their parents and grandparents migrated north during the Great Migration of the mid-20th century, and the revitalization of old suburban cities (including Yonkers, Poughkeepsie and Portchester) by Latino immigrants. According to Salvo, a non-political sociologist and demographer whose expertise is tapped by both pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant partisans, immigrants take the place of the one and a half million native New Yorkers who leave the city each year. “If not for foreign-born immigrants,” he noted, “we’d lose population. We’d look like Detroit or Baltimore or Buffalo. Back in the 1950s Buffalo was a major city. But unlike New York, they didn’t have a ready supply of immigrants to replace departing natives.”

Both Salvo’s address and the Fulbright program drew praise from the visiting scholars. “The program is a passport to the world,” explained Mikiko Tachi. “It’s a wonderful way to meet Americans, a way to instantly assure them that I’m a safe person worth speaking to.”

“I’ve found the people I’ve met here to be very professional,” echoed Sujintana Hemtasilpa. “Their awareness of social issues and policies is very impressive.”

The Fulbright program, currently operating in one hundred forty countries worldwide, dates from 1946 and has boasted 234,000 participants—88,000 Americans who have studied overseas and 146,000 foreigners who have studied in the United States. The program’s mission is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” It is part of the mottled legacy of the late Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, who often justified his defense of segregation as a means to win reelection so that he could pursue progressive policies on behalf of all.


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