By Clara Galvano Rivera
Angela Fernández is passionate about being Dominican. Not only is she the Executive Director and Supervising Attorney of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, she is also Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Dominican Day Parade, set to take place on Sunday, August 14, 2016, in New York City. “I was elected to this position. My Mom would have been so proud,” she said. Fernández is a first-generation Dominican whose mother migrated to the United States from Baitoa, in the Santiago de los Caballeros province, and settled in New Jersey.
“During the 70’s there weren’t a lot of Dominicans in NJ and my house was “Dominican Central” because my mother made sure we were deeply connected to our culture, our music and our traditions. She wanted us to be deeply proud of just being Dominican! She also welcomed people from all over South America, we had friends stopping by from Chile, Peru, Venezuela. It was a wonderful Pan Latino environment.”
Her work with the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights is of crucial importance to low-income, non-citizen immigrants from the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean who need sound legal help. The non-profit organization was founded in 1982, with a mission to educate, defend and protect the rights of immigrants. The staff can help with family reunification, citizenship, deportations and more. They recently moved into their new offices at 5030 Broadway at 214 Street, in the Inwood section of northern Manhattan.
In addition to direct legal services and consultations, the NMCIR is involved in very exciting initiatives. One such initiative focuses on deportation. “We used to be overwhelmed with calls every day from detention centers,” said Fernandez.
“Someone would call and say ‘I paid an immigration lawyer $1,000 and I’m still sitting in a detention center. Can you help me?’ When someone comes to our center, they receive high quality legal service – that’s what makes all the difference.”
Fernández tells of cases where individuals are arrested for no good reason, and even one gentleman who was being deported to the wrong country! Another person was able to stay in the U.S. because the NMCIR attorney found a special visa that allowed him to remain here and continue his case. If you know someone who needs help, now you know where they can get help from someone who understands immigration law and will work honestly.
In 2015, the New York State Attorney General’s investigation of the Dominican Day Parade shook things up big time and Nelson Peña, longtime director of the Parade, was asked to resign. A newly structured nonprofit organization, Dominican Day Parade, Inc., featuring a new 12-member board drawn from diverse sectors of the Dominican-American community, was granted the City’s permit for the Dominican Day Parade.
“Something similar happened to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade a few years ago and we were able to call on them for advice and ideas,” said Fernández. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, Board Chairperson, and Ululy Rafael Martínez, Vice Chairperson, for their ideas and advice. We turned to them because we were in a similar situation and we wanted to make things right and they had the experience we needed to depend on.”
The Dominican Day Parade. Inc., organization is also working on a scholarship program. This year they awarded 17 scholarships to those entering or in college, and plan to increase that number next year.
“We are creating an organization that is totally transparent so we can continue to grow,” Fernández concluded. “The Dominican Day Parade is a vehicle for cultural learning. Culture is what makes us human.”
→See for more of this story in this month’s issue of LatinTRENDS Magazine.
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