Tuesday’s Albanian Heritage Reception hosted by NYC Mayor Eric Adams at Gracie Mansion wrapped up a flurry of ceremonies and commemorative celebrations, some hosted or co-hosted by City Hall, to mark the 110th Anniversary of Albania’s Independence. The presence and role of city’s elected officials was a commonality that was carried throughout the weeklong celebrating of a milestone event starting on previous Monday with the honoring of the day at the Council Chamber, followed by Sunday’s symposium and the gala dinner hosted by Vatra, and the flag raising ceremony on Bowling Green, organized by Vatra in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs on November 28.
Coming in on the heels of several commemorations of Albania’s Independence, the Mayor’s reception nonetheless elevated further the community’s gratification for being recognized for its contributions. Ornela Beshiri, staff of Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez, said that “It was an incredibly proud moment to witness the celebration of our country’s independence being held for the first time at the Gracie Mansion. Our history, culture and traditions were well portrayed on this historic day.”
The gratitude flowed both ways as the guest speakers thanked the community for their support including in the recent electoral campaign. In the November midterm elections, two of the guests speakers won their respective races. Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez was elected the next State Senator for New York and Jenifer Rajikumar scored a historic victory by becoming the first Indian American woman ever elected to a New York State Office. Assembly Member Rajikumar acknowledged the Head of her campaign Viola Isufaj as “the secret weapon” for her successful run and conveyed reverence for the great Albanian Mother Teresa whose lifework, she said, is the “embodiment of public service”.
New York City has a unique reputation in welcoming immigrants that are part of its fabric, who in turn draw upon their experiences to make the city “a place for all” as Mayor Adams put it.
Guests, businessman, diplomats from Albania’s Mission to the UN and Kosova’s General Consulate in New York, elected representative from overseas and proud Albanians as well as proud New Yorkers were handed red and black rubber wrist bands, at the entrance, bearing the inscription: Krenar Qe Jam Shqiptar Proud to be An Albanian. Mark Gjonaj, former NYC Councilman and former NYS Assembly member, a promoter of Albanian community greeted the attendees at the Gracie Mansion reception. As the MC of the evening, Gjonaj introduced the guest speakers and several Albanian officials and dignitaries including Albanian representatives and visiting members of the Montenegro Parliament. In his introduction of the NYC Mayor and the host of the event, Gjonaj touted the working relationship with Mr. Adams going back to the time they served in Albany at the New York State Assembly, continuing afterwards in New York City public service positions. In November 2021, Mr. Adams won the race to become the 110th Mayor of the City. At the Albanian Heritage reception Mayor Adams expressed gratitude for the support of the Albanian American community of the city, their contributions in all areas, along with preserving Albanian customs and culture “infused” with the American way of life. The crowd’s applause intensified when the Mayor spread both hands in front of him in a crossed motion that has come to signify the national symbol of the flying Albanian eagle.
Dr. Pashko Camaj, Executive Member of the Pan Albanian Federation of America Vatra appreciates the fact that “the event hosted at “the people’s house” gathered many Albanian organizations from the region as well as notables from abroad in a celebration of this milestone in our nations history.” In addition, he said “the event highlights many contributions and achievements of the Albanian American community to this great City.”
Integrating the cultural component as an important part of the heritage, two folk dancing groups Nora Kelmendi and Barbana were invited to perform traditional Albanian dances. The young Albanian generation of the diaspora is proud of its birth or lineage heritage while also being part of the distinct composition of backgrounds and populations that make up New York City. Dora Nano, NYU student and recipient of the National Gold Key Award from the Scholastics Art and Writing Contest said that “as an Albanian-American child of immigrants, the event felt like a symbolic gesture and honor to the diaspora that has grown here in New York. It was a pleasure to witness this nod to the diversity of our city in such a historic location as well!!” A two hundred year old building nestled in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Yorkville, Gracie Mansion is the Mayor’s official residence dubbed as the city’s “little White House” by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.
Recognizing our heritage deserves praise but it is a step that should lead towards increasing representation of Albanians at every level of the government. According to Djellza Pulatani of Fordham College, President of United Student Government at Lincoln Center, the takeaway from the reception is about setting a higher bar. “I was deeply grateful and content that we as Albanian-Americans in New York were recognized for all of our contributions and cultivations in this city. Last night’s proceedings were a symbol of the true integration of the Albanian community here. It was a historic night that should set the foundation for the further representation of Albanians in national political spheres.”
Photo by Dora Nano