The C-U Immigration Forum hosted its 10th annual Immigration Welcome Awards at the Urbana Free Library on Sept. 16.
The awards honor businesses, organizations and individuals that work to serve immigrants in Champaign County.
Ricardo Diaz, board chair of the New American Welcome Center at the University YMCA, said he is impressed to see how much the ceremony has grown.
“It’s kind of weird to think how we started the awards as a gesture to find friends and allies and make sure that they did not slip by without anyone noticing,” Diaz said.
“It is so weird that we became an institution out of three people who were trying to make things better, and then it just grew.”
Diaz said even though the C-U Immigration Forum sponsors the event, it takes a multitude of people to make it succeed.
The six recipients of this year’s Immigration Welcome Awards were The Refugee Center, the restaurant Shawarma Joint, along with Flor Quiroz, Pat Nolan, Citlaly Stanton and Efrain Gaspar. About a hundred people attended the event.
Gaspar received the Immigrant Leadership Award for being one of the originators of the Q’anjob’al interpreting team with Pixan Konob’ and for supporting immigrants from his home country of Guatemala.
Gaspar said he came to the U.S. 23 years ago without his family or friends. He said his mother gave him the motivation to follow his dream from a young age.
“She told me everything was possible and that I was a hard worker,” Gaspar said. “So, I tried to work hard here in Champaign-Urbana.”
Now, Gaspar has his own family and works in the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Like Gaspar, Citlaly Stanton also immigrated to the U.S. She came from Morelia, Michoacán, nine years ago.
Stanton received the Emergent Leader Award at the ceremony. She was honored for her work as a case worker at the New American Welcome Center and for being the first Latina on the Urbana school board.
Stanton said she is proud to see that the city does not shy away from helping immigrants.
“I am really thankful for this community because I can see people here fighting, working and advocating for us every day,” Stanton said.
Flor Quiroz received the Student Leadership Award for her work with The Immigration Project and as a translator at local events. She said she’s not the only student working to make a difference.
“I am one of a lot of students who go unrecognized, but they still do those efforts regardless of the end result just because it is a fulfilling process to them,” Quiroz said.
The Refugee Center, which provides immigrants with assistance in school enrollment, housing and employment programs, received the Community Impact Award.
Lisa Wilson, director of the center, said the organization cannot prosper without the community.
“I want to thank you for acknowledging our tremendous growth, but of course, that would not be possible without recognizing our roots and the very dedicated refugees that have established The Refugee Center.”
The ceremony also included a live performance by two Champaign-Urbana-based artists.
Bourema “Ibrahim” Ouedraogo and Jason Finkelman performed several original songs inspired by Ouedraogo’s West African culture.
As Ouedraogo sang and played guitar, Finkelman played congas, kalimbas and berimbau.
Diaz said the best part about the Immigrant Welcome Awards is seeing all the cultures and backgrounds coming together to celebrate.
“I am in the basement of a little town in the middle of the fields in Illinois,” Diaz said. “Yet, here we all are in Burkina, we are in the Middle East, and we are in Guatemala.”