Aurora is the place where people come to make the city the hub of many cultures, a place for students, immigrants, and even the native-born. It is where they come to share stories, visions, from near and far.
These sentiments were echoed at the Aurora city hall on March 15 during this year’s “Thank You America! Campaign,” an annual immigrant celebration and recognition event organized by the city’s office of International and Immigrant Affairs. This year’s honorees are Papa Dia, Nick Metz, and Betsy Oudenhoven.
After the U.S. national anthem was sung and a proclamation from Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper was read by deputy chief of staff, Amy Venturi, students from the Community College of Aurora enacted a play, Fire and Water, to portray the city’s cultural diversity.
“A new place means confusion, misunderstanding, and fear,” said the narrator, Bali Nofuru, a student from Cameroon. “These are the stories of our parents, grandparents and neighbors.”
In his opening remarks, Mayor Steve Hogan lauded the city and the Office of International Affairs as the only office of its kind in the state of Colorado. With his characteristic salesmanship, pitching the goods of his city to a global audience, Hogan cited the many initiatives as opportunities that make Aurora unique and like no other city in America, such as the Aurora Welcome Center, The Global Fest, and The International Round Table.
He said twenty percent of the city’s residents, an estimated 70 to 80 thousand people living in Aurora, almost the size of the city of Longmont, Colorado were born in another country.
Honoree Dia, an immigrant from Senegal, founder of the African Leadership Group, and someone who has helped with welcoming refugees and immigrants to the city, offered thanks to city officials for the recognition. “This means a lot to the community,” he said.
Aurora Police Chief Metz referenced the late American poet Maya Angelou when he talked about the role of the police in the community.
“People may not remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel,” Metz said. He said the role of the police, especially in the challenging times we live in, is to lower tensions.
“We will always be willing to listen. The one thing that cannot change is that relationship between the police and the community,” Metz said. He said he accepted the award on behalf of the entire police department.
For Oudenhoven, President of CCA, she said is very lucky to be living in the city of Aurora. “I am always touched by our students, in particular our immigrant students,” she said.
In addition to the awards, there was a display of books and other literature written by immigrants and refugees in the city. A reception and networking ceremony concluded the evening.
More than 100 people attended the event, including religious and business leaders from the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and the Colorado Sikhs community.