‘I feel seen’: Boynton Beach celebrates immigrant heritage

A proclamation by Boynton Beach in celebration of immigrants has brought out many emotions from immigrants throughout the city.

The city decided in May to designate the month of June as Immigrant Heritage Month.

“Immigrant heritage month has been set in place to honor the immigrants within Boynton Beach that continue to influence the city with their diverse cultures,” said Mayor Steven Grant. “Recognizing their ability as leaders, securing their rights, fighting for equal opportunity and creating a more just society for all Americans.”

According to the U.S Census, there are 30,721 immigrants in Boynton Beach.

One of them is Raul Ortiz , who arrived in the United States in 1992 when he was 17 years old. He made his way through Florida and stayed in Boynton Beach because it was near migrant farms. Ortiz said he was in pursuit of a better life and financial stability so he could eventually bring his wife, Maribella Ortiz, from Mexico.

Ortiz said he was glad his city is taking the initiative to recognize the immigrants who have come to improve the United States.

“With everything going on today with the unknown immigration reform, it’s comforting to know that the city is recognizing us,” Ortiz said in Spanish.

Carmen Mejia came to the United States in 1994 after graduating with a bachelors degree in accounting in Honduras. Her sister needed a kidney transplant but there was no money to pay for it, so she made the decision to pursue work in the U.S. and come in illegally, she said.

“It was very hard and there were moments in jail where I was starting to regret my choices,” said Mejia.

When told about the proclamation made by the city’s mayor, Mejias’ eyes began to well up with tears.

“I’m getting emotional because I feel seen by the city,” said Mejia. “It’s funny how something so small can have this impact on people like me.”

Other residents in the city are calling on the federal government to have this sort of recognition as well.

Rebhia Daas came from Palestine in 1982 with little knowledge of American culture and a longing to create a new life from scratch. Daas has lived in Boynton Beach since then and is currently working on launching her business called “Heavenly Arts by Alia,” where she creates paintings and fabric embroidery.

Daas believes the city has done a great job of shining a light on immigrants with the proclamation. She would, however, like the United States to follow this example, explaining that she has encountered times in which she has felt like an outsider in the country she has called home.

“It’s great that Americans are starting to recognize us for our work but why did it take them until now?” Daas said in Arabic through a translator. “We need this type of appreciation all over the country by all of our American neighbors.”

Ana Lara-Cruz is a passionate photojournalist from West Palm Beach. She enjoys capturing moments as well as writing about them.