Grand Islanders turned out Saturday to celebrate the community’s strong ethnic heritage for Immigrant Heritage Month. The festival was a collaboration of the Heartland Workers Center, Multicultural Coalition, Immigrant Legal Center, City of Grand Island, Grand Island Visitors Bureau and Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce.
The celebration was held on Fourth Street between Walnut and Wheeler streets. The block was closed to traffic, as there were food trucks on the street, along with plenty of fun events for kids of all ages, voter education booths, and other vendors and exhibitors.
At the opening ceremony, Grand Island mayor Roger Steele signed a proclamation declaring June as Immigrant Heritage Month in the community.
The proclamation encouraged all citizens to celebrate their immigrant heritage and to “share stories about the immigration experience and to renew our efforts to unite as one community and one Nebraska, while respecting our cultures, languages, customs and beliefs.”
Steele told the crowd, since Grand Island’s founding, it has been “home to immigrants from around the world.”
“When I look around Grand Island, I see a diverse blend of people and cultures,” Steele said. “This is reflected in our restaurants and the cultural celebrations in our churches, schools and neighborhoods.”
In 1857, 35 German settlers left Davenport, Iowa, and headed west to Nebraska to start a new settlement on an island known by French traders as La Grande Isle, which was formed by the Wood River and the Platte River, according to Wikipedia.
Since then, Steele said, people from around the world have come to Grand Island “because they know we are a city of opportunity.”
He said those immigrants knew Grand Island was a great place for families and children, and for people “to call home.”
“They know we uphold the ideal of equality and that all people should be treated with respect,” Steele said. “People from around the world come to Grand Island because they know we hold out hope for a better future.”
The Grand Island Literacy Council provides English as a second language services to people from more than 30 countries around the world.
Steele also recognized where the Immigrant Heritage Month celebration was taking place on Fourth Street.
“The immigrants remind us that the American experience is founded on a belief in hard work, investment and supporting your community,” he said. “Grand Island has always welcomed people who want to call our city home.”
Steele said immigrants provide Grand Island a “wonderful mix of people who bring us fresh ideas, new energy and a firm belief that Grand Island’s future is bright as long as we live and work together.”
Raul Arcos, a community organizer for the Heartland Workers Center, helped with the event organization. Arcos said plans for the Immigrant Heritage Month celebration started several months ago.
While working with area youth and holding community meetings, Arcos said, “We started talking about how to incorporate the community as a whole through all the different diversity there is in the community.”
He said a unifying idea was the rich variety of food trucks in Grand Island and the surrounding area.
“A lot of the youth thought it was an event that they would love to participate in,” Arcos said.
He said a lot of people agreed Immigrant Heritage Month celebration could help bring back Grand Island’s Ethnic Days celebration of the past — when the community showcased its rich global diversity with people from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe and Asia.
“People do miss the ethnic festival,” Arcos said.