Immigrants Are Essential: Celebrating Immigrant Heritage

Photo: Diversity Studio

By Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Immigrants have always been the foundation of New York City. Over 200 languages are spoken across the five boroughs and one in every three New Yorkers is foreign-born. Immigrants make our economy stronger, they make us a more just and welcoming city, and they make our communities more vibrant.

During Immigrant Heritage Week in New York City this month, we celebrated the history, cultures, and vital contributions of immigrant communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in every way. Yet, as we have seen this past year, many immigrants have also been the essential workers we have all depended on to keep our city running, and countless more have stepped up to directly address the needs of their communities as volunteers. As we look towards the national celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month in June 2020, I am honored to share the stories of some of the immigrant New Yorkers who have played a critical role for their communities during the pandemic.

Since 1973, Carlos Espinoza has worked in and owned a thriving bakery in Elmhurst, Queens. Throughout the pandemic, Carlos kept his bakery open while also providing food to community members in need, free of charge. Likewise, the City recognizes its important role in addressing the increased needs of New Yorkers, including food security. As we continue to face challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, any New Yorker in need—regardless of immigration status—can access free food at distribution sites throughout the five boroughs, and may even be eligible for home delivery. Learn more at

Claudya Verdiner has also worked to support her community during the pandemic by ensuring they remain safe and informed. After realizing that members of her Creole-speaking congregation were unaware of developments and resources related to the pandemic, and to address gaps in literacy, Claudya took it upon herself to share guidance and up-to-date information by recording and sharing voice messages on the messenger platform WhatsApp, which is widely used by immigrant communities. Thanks to Claudya, many in her community of Canarsie, Brooklyn have been able to access information about COVID-19 resources and policies, including rental assistance and eviction prevention services. However, this burden should not rest on volunteers. That is why the City has ensured that these resources and protections are available to all New Yorkers, no matter the language you speak and regardless of your immigration status. New Yorkers who have questions about how to access housing assistance or other City services can get help in their language by calling 311 and asking for the Tenant Helpline, or by visiting the Tenant Resource Portal at

Immigrant New Yorkers like Man Hong-Wan have also been going the extra mile to protect the health of their communities. The Hong Kong-born New Yorker has been on the frontlines of the pandemic since it began, working as a NYC Health + Hospitals/Community Care nurse in Manhattan’s Chinatown. As the only human contact that many of his Cantonese-speaking patients had at the height of the pandemic, Man put in extra effort to check in regularly in-person and over the phone with his patients to make sure that they were getting the care they needed. As Man deeply understands, it is vital that everyone receives affordable and comprehensive medical care attention, especially during a public health crisis. That is why all New Yorkers can receive health care regardless of their immigration status at NYC Health + Hospitals by calling 1-844-NYC-4NYC. Additionally, New Yorkers who cannot afford or do not qualify for health insurance may be eligible to receive low-cost or no-cost services through NYC Care at facilities of NYC Health + Hospitals in the five boroughs. Call 1-646-NYC-CARE to enroll or visit for more information.

These are just some of countless stories of immigrant New Yorkers supporting our neighbors and our communities. They are a reminder that solidarity is our greatest strength. That is why it is so important for all New Yorkers to know that there are many City services and resources you can access any time in the language you speak. Immigration status, ability to pay, and employment status do not matter. Questions about how to access City services? Visit or call the MOIA hotline at 212-788-7654, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or send an email to

Though there are still many challenges we must overcome, together we will build a just and equitable recovery so that our city emerges from the pandemic even stronger.

You can learn more about and share Carlos, Claudya, and Man’s stories at

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