Queens is known as “the world’s borough,” a nickname slated to be even more poignant as the diverse New York City enclave is hosting the national kickoff for the YMCA’s annual Welcoming Week on Friday.
A partnership between YMCA of the USA, Welcoming America and others, Welcoming Week honors the nation’s immigrant communities while bringing them together with others via community-based events.
Last year saw an estimated 25,000 participants at more than 115 events. Attendance will likely increase this year as many Americans are against the Trump administration’s actions regarding immigrants, such as its ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim nations and its recent rollback on protections for immigrant minors known as Dreamers.
“We’re a non-partisan organization, so we don’t take public positions on anything,” said Rachael Rinaldo, senior director of the New Americans Initiative of the YMCA of Greater New York. “We just focus our energy and resources on the cause, which is strengthening the community through our three pillars: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”
To that end, Friday’s Welcoming Week kickoff at the Queens Museum from 3-6 p.m. will feature a mixed bag of events that range from drumming circles and Brazilian capoeira to yoga and meditation. There will also be a “Where In the World Am I From?” mapping activity for attendees and an opportunity to share their stories.
“When people enter, they’ll be given a bracelet that says ‘Welcome’ in all different languages and in all different colors,” Rinaldo said. “The first kick-off event will be people bridging relationships with others wearing the same color.”
Welcoming Week events will take place through Sept. 24 at seven of the YMCA’s 22 branches across the city. They include a community extravaganza in the Bronx, partnering with the Flatbush Frolic, hosting a Know Your Rights workshop in Harlem in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), hosting a food and music festival at the Prospect Park chapter, a mock citizenship swearing-in in Staten Island and a bridge walk and ethnic food celebration in Chinatown.
“In this difficult moment for many immigrant New Yorkers, opportunities to build stronger communities and cross-cultural understanding is essential,” said Bitta Mostofi, acting commissioner of MOIA, adding that the agency will also be at Friday’s kickoff and will provide info on city services at YMCAs across the city.
Beyond its events, the unity at the core of Welcoming Week is what Rinaldo looks forward to most.
“It’s really witnessing the power of togetherness and watching these invisible barriers — the political, the religious, the ethnic and racial barriers — dissolve,” she said. “New friendships are made and relationships amongst all walks of life are created. That, to me, is my favorite part.”
Visit ymcanyc.org for more info.