Every year the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans holds a Fall Conference in New York City to bring together the two newest classes of Fellows. The long weekend, which is a celebration of the 60 Fellows themselves and the New American experience, serves as the foundation to the Fellowship experience and allows Fellows to get to know one another and the alumni community.
For the 2019 Fall Conference, Fellows stepped away from their studies at graduate schools around the country and descended upon the Open Society Foundations in Columbus Circle where the Fall Conference was hosted. 2018 Fellows Allan Jabri and Norma Torres came from as far away as England and Spain, respectively, where both are studying for the semester.
Fellows participated in a Connect workshop.
Fellows participated in a Connect workshop.
Fellows sang together at the PDSFA Friday evening after party event.
Current and past Fellows gathered at the PDSFA Friday evening after party.
Jonathan Marquez introduces himself during the opening session of the 2019 Fall Conference.
Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune welcomed the Fellows to New York City.
To welcome out-of-town Fellows to the Big Apple, 2019 Fellows Nancy Ko and Samir Paul organized a walking tour of Central Park before the Fall Conference officially kicked off.
This year’s Fall Conference included a welcome by 2009 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the chief democracy officer of New York City. Ayrini talked about her work helping everyone in New York City vote and highlighted her fight to expand language translation options for citizens who speak other languages besides Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Bengali.
“If you want to increase the number of people at the table then you have to make trouble,” Ayirini told the Fellows. “It’s our job to expand the voices. It’s our job to use our positions of power, which come with the Fellowship and your education. Use the Fellowship to expand access to others. Realize that it’s not easy and it’s not comfortable.”
On Friday afternoon, there was an author’s alumni conversation that featured Kao Kalia Yang (2003 Fellow) and Meera Deo (2007 Fellow), Cesar Francia (2011 Fellow).
On Friday afternoon, there was an author’s alumni conversation that featured 2003 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Kao Kalia Yang and 2007 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Meera Deo, which was moderated by 2011 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Cesar Francia. Cesar spoke to Kalia and Meera about their recent books and how they, as authors, connect to their New American experiences.
Speaking on the power of the individual, Meera discussed how she made change when she was a law school student. She reminded the Fellows, “The reason your institutions exist is because of you. You may not feel like you have a lot of power as a student. But the school cannot exist without you and your dedication.”
Meera is the author of Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia (Stanford University Press, 2019), a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and the Director of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE). Focusing on the personal and professional experiences of law school faculty who are women of color, Meera used her background in sociology and law to investigate how race and gender impact individuals, schools, and law school education.
Kalia is an award-winning Minnesota-based author who is most well-known for The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Coffee House Press, 2008), which is a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title, The Song Poet (Metropolitan Books, 2016), and a children’s book, A Map Into The World (Carolrhoda Books, 2019). She co-edited a collection of writings in 2019 titled What God is Honored Here?: Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and For Indigenous Women and Women of Color (University of MN Press).
Kalia encouraged Fellows to not over-think sharing their writing. “It is the best procrastination tool known to writers, to think about the responses to our probable work,” Kalia said. “My father taught me from an early age ‘don’t talk too much about your work; so much good art has died in talk.’”
As always, a highlight of the Fall Conference for the new Fellows was the cocktail reception in their honor hosted by Daisy Soros at her home. This year, 2019 Fellows Hilda Huang and Agata Sorotokin performed on the piano. Hilda is a piano performance master’s student at Yale University and Agata is a piano performance and composition master’s student at Stonybrook University. While the 2019 Fellows enjoyed the reception and dinner with the Fellowship’s Trustees and special guests, the 2018 Fellows had time to re-connect over dinner with Meero Deo and Kao Kalia Yang.
Following the reception at Daisy Soros’s home, the Fellowship program and the alumni association, the PDSFA, co-hosted a party featuring Tuelo, a singer-songwriter from South Africa who is based in New York City. Tuelo shared stories about growing up on a farm, her own family’s migration story, her first experiences in the United States in Connecticut, and her deep love for her mother.
On Saturday, Fellows gathered as classes for two discussions moderated by older Fellows. The 2019 Fellows had a conversation entitled, “What’s Not on My Resume?” that was moderated by 2002 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Irina Linetskaya and the 2018 Fellows had a conversation entitled, “What’s on Mind?” that was moderated by 2009 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Marianna Ofosu. In both settings, Fellows were encouraged to share with one another about their lives and the stories that have shaped them.
Following meaningful Saturday morning conversations, the Fellows spread out across Manhattan on several guided tours. Tours included visits to the Met Breuer, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Central Park, Chinatown and the Museum of Chinese in America, the Tenement Museum & Lower East Side, and a walking tour of social justice in Greenwich Village.
On Saturday night, all 60 of the 2018 and 2019 Fellows came together for a big dinner in Manhattan followed by a viewing of Oklahoma! on Broadway.
This year’s keynote speaker was 2005 Fellow Dave Chokshi who discussed his new American journey and his work as vice president and chief population health officer at NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest municipal healthcare system in the United States. The organization serves 1.2 million New Yorkers, many of whom are uninsured, across 11 hospitals and dozens of community clinics.
On being a New American, Dave talked about how important it is to not pull up the ladder behind us. Dave said, “Let’s ensure that immigrants remain the fabric of our country.” He said that we, as New Americans, have the chance to be patriotic in the tough moments; “We can remind America about the values that are fundamental to being American.”
When things feel too overwhelming to act, Dave said he thinks of Gandhi’s words to “Turn the spotlight inward.” When an issue is so big it feels paralyzing, we should turn the spotlight inward and figure out where we have power to act.
At the end of the Fall Conference, the 2018 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow read Daisy Soros a letter that they had collectively written about the Fellowship experience and presented her with a book about their New American stories.
“You and Paul created the Fellowship to give back to the country that afforded you and your family such great opportunities. In supporting the education of immigrants for over two decades, you have encouraged and enabled generations of young New Americans to enrich our communities and enliven our democracy with perspective, humanity and kindness,” the letter said. “Through the Fellowship, you have nourished the most beautiful ideals of our collective society: welcoming, caring for and supporting those who have come from afar to join us in this shared project of building a life–and world– together.”
The 2018 Fellows told Daisy that they resolved to support the values inherent in the Fellowship, like inclusivity, throughout their lifetimes just as she had done. To signify their commitment, they raised money as a class to support Detention Lifeline, an organization which they explained was, “dedicated to supporting New Americans who are incarcerated in immigration detention centers around the country by helping them to make phone calls to their families and connecting them with legal help.”
Craig Harwood ended the Fall Conference with a message of thanks and praise for not only the Fellows, but the family, the alumni, Trustees, and all the people who supported the weekend. Underscoring the messages of each of the speakers, he reminded the 2018 and 2019 Fellows that the Fellowship community is there for them not just for one weekend, but for a lifetime. “I hope over the course of this weekend that you can see that vulnerability is always accepted and appreciated in this community. You can always come to us and I hope you will do your best to reach out and be there for others in your class.” ∎