[Immigrantrightsnynj] World leaders visiting Jersey
Immigrant Rights NYNJ
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Mon Sep 22 23:05:04 EDT 2008
World leaders visiting Jersey
Monday, September 22, 2008
Last updated: Monday September 22, 2008, EDT 5:53 AM
BY SAMANTHA HENRY
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
World leaders used to fly to New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly session, conduct business and head home.
These days, however, many are making a stop in immigrant communities in New Jersey and other states a diplomatic priority.
Several leaders attending the 63rd session of the General Assembly, which gets under way Tuesday, will visit these shadow constituencies whose financial contributions - and influence over politics both in the U.S. and abroad - continue to grow.
For example, several community organizations in New Jersey's growing Turkish community are working with their New York counterparts to host a gala dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in honor of Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, while he's in town for the U.N. summit.
Osman Oztoprak of Lodi, who is helping organize the event, says it's designed as an opportunity for Gul to connect with influential members of the immigrant community, and to meet Americans who may want to do business with Turkey.
"We're trying to create a medium where they can get together," Oztoprak said. "It wouldn't have happened 10 years ago, because the Turkish community wasn't as visible and organized as we are now."
While some leaders plan similar activities, others are scheduled to give public speeches in New Jersey.
"It does reflect the global change, and the recognition, that the diaspora and migrants abroad are actually very important to the affairs, economy and politics of what's going on in a particular country," said Joanna Regulska, dean of international programs at the School of Arts and Sciences of Rutgers University. "It is the sort of local-global connection that is needed for many countries around the world."
Rutgers hosted one such gathering with Ernest Bai Koroma, president of Sierra Leone, at the New Brunswick campus Sunday. Regulska said Koroma's decision to give his first public address in the United States in New Jersey - before he speaks before the U.N. body - pays homage to the large Sierra Leonean community that helped him get elected.
When he was running for office, Koroma's campaign stops included cities across his West African nation - and Franklin Township, where 7 percent of the population is Sierra Leonean. He also plans to visit Sierra Leoneans in Connecticut during his stay.
"Talking to this community will have an impact in Sierra Leone, too," Regulska said. "These messages will be carried back to them, and they'll have a sense that the president is valuing this community here."
Mexican President Felipe Calderon plans to make the usual rounds of diplomatic functions, economic forums and a Wall Street visit before heading home. But in a break from tradition, he's chosen to make a public school in New Brunswick his final U.S. stop so that he can meet with emigrants from his country, according to Mexican consular officials.
Thomas Weiss, a City University of New York professor who directs the school's United Nations Intellectual History Project, said the General Assembly has traditionally been a venue that world leaders use to network and generate publicity back home.
As an example, he cited remarks Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made in 2006, when he took the podium for his General Assembly speech, saying it smelled of sulfur because President Bush had been standing there.
"Chavez making comments about Bush and the sulfur was designed to be seen back home," Weiss said. "Or when [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro came to the U.N. [in 1960] and stayed in Harlem to try and make a statement."
Weiss said world leaders still seek to generate international headlines with their U.N. remarks, but they've recently tailored messages for communities living abroad.
"These groups who are members of the diaspora send money home, and it's easier technology-wise to do so, so these earnings have become far more important, not just in Mexico, but in Sierra Leone, Haiti, Rwanda and everywhere on earth," Weiss said.
In many countries, remittances from immigrants now outpace foreign aid or are a leading contributor to a nation's economy. Some nations allow immigrants living abroad to vote in local elections or contribute money to campaign funds or development projects.
"The importance of these earnings to the former sending country is huge, and because of the size of these diaspora communities, they've become an important force in local politics, in supporting candidates and in lobbying the U.S. government with regards to foreign policy," Weiss said.
Last spring, both candidates for the presidency of the Dominican Republic visited expatriate enclaves in Manhattan and North Jersey campaigning for votes.
Norberto Curitomai, a leader in Paterson's sizable Peruvian community and a behind-the-scenes fixture in North Jersey politics, has been lobbying the Peruvian Congress to create a seat that would represent Peruvians living outside the country.
"In recent years, the Peruvian government has been placing more importance on our community," Curitomai said in Spanish. "Not so much in deeds, but in words, such as the proposal to create a position for Peruvians abroad to be represented in Congress."
Curitomai has hosted many Peruvian government officials in Paterson - a city with such a large Peruvian population that there is a foreign consulate there - but wishes the president would come and see the neighborhood for himself.
"We are so close by - the largest community of Peruvians in the U.S. just outside Manhattan - they could at least come over and make a quick visit to see the community," he said. "It would be great if they would come, but it hasn't happened so far."
This article contains material from The Record's staff.
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