Like America's forefathers, they came to the United States seeking a better life--fleeing war, religious persecution, poverty. But unlike the millions of immigrants whocame before them, 10 young newcomers representing Los Angeles at this weekend's Statue of Liberty celebration had not seen the legendary symbol of welcome before.
That is because they entered the United States through "the new Ellis Island," as Los Angeles and the surrounding area is called by the International Institute of Los Angeles, a private nonprofit agency that has been assisting immigrants since 1914.
The institute sent the junior high students--winners of an essay contest--to New York to represent Los Angeles and its diverse population at the gala, and also to give the youngsters a better understanding of the contributions made to American life by immigrants, said Agnes Matica, executive director. They are this city's only official delegation at the event, according to the institute.
Ninety immigrant students from Hollywood's Le Conte Junior High, whose student body represents 54 nations and 37 languages, took part in the essay contest--"What America Means to Me"--sponsored by the school and the International Institute. Eight winners were selected.
Eleven-year-old Dawar Alimi, from Afghanistan, and John Luk, 15, who is Chinese and escaped with his family from Vietnam, were selected by their ethnic communities to represent Los Angeles. Alimi attended Verdugo Woodlands Elementary in Glendale and Luk attended Alhambra High School.
"I am very glad to be alive and in America," Luk wrote. "Sometimes I take this freedom for granted, but I soon recall the perilous journey many people underwent to reach the land with the great lady holding the torch of freedom and the reasons that compelled them."
Kolbot By, 14, who came here with his family from Cambodia, wrote of his faith in freedom, equality and justice in the United States and of his certainty that he will be judged in this country by his character rather than looks.
"I love America because of what it means to me, but I love it more because if you have a dream like my family and I did, in America it comes true and anything you thought was impossible will come true," wrote 13-year-old Martha Vargas, who came to California from Mexico with her family.
Other students making the trip to New York are Armando Baires, 13, from El Salvador; Karina Bogharian, 14, an Armenian from Lebanon; Jae Hahn, 14, from Korea; Xuan Nguyen, 14, Vietnam; Joel Marzan, 15, from the Philippines, and Danielle Smith, 12, representing Jamaica.
A 'Naive' Portrait of Success
She was a struggling artist six years ago, selling her paintings at street shows in Westwood and Hollywood. Now, Melanie Taylor Kent is being compared to Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell. The Los Angeles woman is the official artist for the Statue of Liberty unveiling ceremonies today.
Her painting of the Statue of Liberty contains caricatures of 100 famous American immigrants as well as personalities who will be part of the weekend extravaganza. She unveiled the painting in New York recently and presented a silk-screened print to the Upstairs Gallery in Beverly Hills.
Kent describes her work as "naive, (as though she were) seeing the world through the eyes of a child," and says she makes things "more colorful, more grand than they really are."
"I never believed I would be a famous American artist. I thought I would become a teacher and have kids," said Kent, a mother of two who for 10 years did teach art at a Los Angeles inner city high school. "It's an American dream and it happened in Los Angeles."
100 Years' Worth of Appreciation
At the American bicentennial celebration 10 years ago, nine of San Bernardino's leading citizens discussed the tricentennial celebration 100 years hence. Dr. William R. Coleman, an optometrist, thought the committee planning those festivities might need money, so he suggested each person chip in $100. One of the nine chipped in $200, and they opened a bank account with an even $1,000.
At their first 10-year reunion this week, the donors learned their money had more than doubled to $2,369. Larry B. Harvey, president of Life Savings Bank and one of the investors, estimates that given a 7.5% interest rate, the amount will grow to $1,383,077 by the time the tricentennial rolls around.
The money is in a trustee account administered by the city. The donors or their heirs will meet on July 3 every 10 years to learn the balance and to propose a toast to "keep going and keep growing," Harvey said.
In 2076 the San Bernardino Chamber of Commerce will turn the money over to the city's tricentennial commission for the gala celebration. "Can you imagine what would happen if a number of cities did this?" Coleman said.