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Council declares June to be Immigrant Heritage Month on the Beach

June 12, 2019
By LEAH SANKEY ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Town council members approved a proclamation that declares June to be Immigrant Heritage Month on the island. Council members made sure to specify that they were only referring to legal immigration. There were some council members in opposition to the proclamation, but it passed by a majority vote of 3-2.

"My dad came on a boat in 1929 with his mom," said council member Joanne Shamp. "So, I am first generation born in the US."

"My father impressed upon us our entire lives the wonder of the American dream and to never take it for granted," said Shamp. "We tried later to bring other relatives but were unable to legally do so. I have traveled to see them in Poland on three occasions. I struggle with how our country can create effective and fair immigration policy. It is complex with so many people from so many countries wanting to be here."

Immigrant Heritage Month began in 2014 under the Obama administration as "A time to celebrate diversity and immigrants' shared American heritage. It is dedicated to those who have contributed to the United States' communities, economy and its vibrant diversity."

According to the Small Business Administration, immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start a business in the United States than non-immigrants.

According to the National Venture Capital Association, immigrants have started 25 percent of public U.S. companies that were backed by venture capital investors. The list includes Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, and Intel.

The Census Bureau says that despite making up only 16 percent of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher, immigrants represent 33 percent of engineers, 27 percent of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists, and 24 percent of physical scientists.

"My parents never went to college and had to work twice as hard for everything. There's anxiety that comes from being first-generation," said Israel Pena, a first-generation immigrant and current college student. Pena works as a student advocate for first-generation and migrant high school students in Fort Myers.

"I knew my circumstances and my background so relating that to where I'm going to go when it comes to pursuing a degree, it made me feel like I was behind. I really didn't know what to expect," said Pena.

"I heavily relied on people in my community. We're all very unique but there's a commonality between all first-generation immigrants," said Pena. "Every step that I take for myself is a step for my entire family."

Milita Kennedy moved to this country in 1996 from Slovakia with her two children. She wanted to make a better life for her family. She says that initially, it was a struggle. She had to learn the language while working and raising her children. She is now a citizen and lives and works in Southwest Florida in the service industry.

"I don't feel like an immigrant," said Kennedy. "I feel like your home is where your heart is, and mine is here. This is where I made my life and raised my babies."

"You've got to do what you've got to do. A lot of people are living a life that they don't like, and I didn't want to be one of those people anymore. I just came here with a lot of hope," said Kennedy.

One of the greatest things about America is that nearly all of us are immigrants of some sort. Simply put, America is a nation of immigrants.



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