The American Dreamer Awards were created to celebrate the significant accomplishments and contributions made by an individual or organization to better the lives of immigrants and immigrant communities in New York City. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs received over 100 nominations from community organizations, and individuals from across the five boroughs in March and five winners were selected from an outstanding group of candidates. This year, a new category was established, the Rising Star Award, to highlight students that show promise as American Dreamers for their work to advance the lives of their fellow students.
The honorees are:
Ambassador Award - Seema Agnani, Executive Director of Chayya Community Development Corporation, is being honored for her role in combating the foreclosures that are threatening the South East Asian community of Queens. She founded Chayya in 2000 with the mission of creating a grassroots group that would address housing and community development issues in one of the most diverse communities in the city, Jackson Heights, Queens. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Association for Neighborhood Housing Development and the New York Immigration Coalition.
Business Leader Award - Jessamyn Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, is being honored for empowering immigrant women to build their economic security by opening pathways to professional opportunities in the food industry. Frustrated by the fact that despite the rich culinary history of immigrant women, they were still predominately cooking in people’s homes instead of fine dining establishments, she founded Hot Bread Kitchen out of her own home in 2007. She designed a program that trained and paid women in the technical skills and English fluency necessary to succeed in the food industry. Since then she has grown Hot Bread Kitchen into a nationally respected bakery and training program that has trained 41 women from 15 different countries, supported over 20 immigrant entrepreneurs in growing their own food businesses, and has hired over 60 full-time and temporary positions to their bakery in the historic La Marqueta in Spanish Harlem.
Community Builder Award - Ligia Guallpa, Executive Director of Workers Justice Project, is being honored for her role in improving worker rights for the over 3000 mainly undocumented Day Laborers in New York City who are highly vulnerable to wage and job safety abuses. She was instrumental in building hiring halls from shipping containers in Brooklyn so that Day Laborers would have a place to negotiate a fair wage with contractors. A few months after their hiring hall in Bensonhurst was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy, she was able to foster community support and rebuild as she noticed the increasing demand for Day Laborers in post-disaster cleanup.
New York’s Uniform Award - Sergeant Dhendup Chadotsang, of the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn, is being honored for his exemplary service with the Tibetan community. Tibetans in New York City tend to not speak English, lack a basic understanding of the law and are often victims of predatory practices. Dhendup volunteers with his community by guiding them through the often complicated process of living and working in New York City. He assists them with finding housing, filling out job applications, paying their electric bills and overall making the NYPD approachable to his community.
Visionary Award - Yolanny Rodriguez, Director of Teatro Las Tablas, is being honored for her work in raising awareness for women and children’s rights through her production of “The Vagina Monologues,” of which all of the proceeds go to various women’s organizations. She founded the non-profit cultural organization Teatro Las Tablas which promotes and produces Latino theater in Spanish for Upper Manhattan. Additionally, she is a tenant organizer, activist and proud drama teacher to students with Down syndrome.
Rising Star - Angelo Cabrera, Founder and President of MASA, is being recognized for his work in helping immigrant children achieve academic success and ultimately graduate high school. He founded MASA in 2001 as part of a campaign focused on attaining the rights for undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools. As part of this campaign, Angelo and several others held a hunger strike to urge CUNY's policy of in-state tuition for undocumented students to become law. After the law passed in 2002, MASA began to focus its efforts on promoting access to higher education for students of Mexican descent living in New York. Having immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, he understands first-hand the many complex barriers Mexican youth face today. In order to serve his community better, he is pursuing a Masters in Public Administration at Baruch’s School of Public Affairs.
Rising Star - Marybeth Melendez, Student Development Assistant for the College of Staten Island, is being recognized for her work with the immigrant community of Staten Island. She is a single mother of three who lost her eyesight to a degenerative eye disease that compelled her to retire from a promising career in a law firm. She and her seeing-eye dog Trixie have served as volunteers for three years with El Centro del Inmigrante in Staten Island by working in their soup kitchen and distributing food and supplies to home-bound immigrants in Staten Island. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she and several classmates volunteered in Staten Island delivering food, water and clothing. Their actions prompted the Coast Guard and the FDNY to designate New Dorp as a central receiving and distribution site.
Rising Star - Denise Vivar, student at Sunset Park High School, is being recognized for her work in mobilizing her school behind the passage of the DREAM Act. After attending a presentation about the DREAM Act with two other students, she led a petition in her school and the community around Sunset Park, placed advertisements in favor of the DREAM Act in businesses and filmed a PSA about the issues affecting the passage of the bill.