New York’s commissioner of immigration affairs to speak at University of Massachusetts event Monday
AMHERST — Immigration’s importance to the United States from both economic and cultural standpoints will be discussed at an event at the University of Massachusetts Monday designed to strengthen bonds between students of all backgrounds.
More than 800 students and community members are expected at the talk by Fatima Shama, the commissioner of immigrant affairs for the city of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which takes place at 7:15 p.m. at the Student Union Ballroom.
Shama’s presentation, “Immigration Nation: What’s your story? What’s your future?” focuses on how immigration changes society and how there has always been resistance to new people.
The event is presented by the Muslim Students Association and the Jewish Leaders in Business.
“This is a positive view of immigration,” said Scott Nielsen of Amherst, alumni adviser to the Jewish Leaders group.
Nielsen said Shama has been instrumental in helping other cities set up similar immigration offices to work with people who have recently arrived in the United States.
Seth Rotberg, the vice president of the Jewish Leaders, said several of the group’s members met with Shama during a visit to New York in the spring. At that time, she agreed to come to the university to address issues surrounding immigration, in particular concerns about immigrants that have developed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The partnership with the Muslim Students, Rotberg said, is a way to continue showcasing the relationship the groups and its members have.
“We’re very similar to each other, more than people think,” Rotberg said.
Last semester, the Jewish and Muslim students co-sponsored the Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour’s appearance on the campus, during which Rabbi Bob Alper and Muslim comedian Azhar Usman performed.
Besides Shama, who will talk for about 45 minutes, an immigrant woman who got assistance from the Center for New Americans in Northampton will describe her experiences.
Prerecorded remarks from Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who are reputed to have created welcoming environments in their cities for immigrants, will be shown, along with comments by Jean Kim, the vice chancellor of student affairs.
The event is expected to be a catalyst for establishing Unity UMass, a program to enhance interaction between people from various races and ethnicities.
“Our main purpose is to promote cross-cultural teamwork across the UMass campus,” Rotberg said. “People can work together and unify as one to be successful.”
Nielsen said he sees the event as promoting mutual values between Muslims and Jews.
As co-sponsoring organizations, they understand the importance of the diverse world they will enter upon graduation, he said.
Other campus organizations, including the African Students Association, the Haitian American Student Association, the Black Student Union and Latinos Unidos are also participating, Rotberg said.
Before the event, campus dining services director Ken Toong, working with other chefs, will offer varied ethnic cuisine prepared at Berkshire Dining commons.