MY TURN-Immigrant bashing has become the new national sport in some areas of our country, even though some bastions of white conservatism have been revitalized by an influx of immigrants. These groups have given new life to towns once on the verge of extinction. Diversity in all areas of Los Angeles is more evident than ever. We have traveled a long way since Proposition 187. (Photo above: Corinne Ho)
I was pleased but not surprised at the generous reaction to my last article about the Culmination at Paul Revere Middle School. Most of the comments echoed each other, expressing relief at reading about something good that is happening in our city.
My search to find other good things to write about was not difficult. One doesn't have to do a lot of research to find people in Southern California giving of their time and energy to various causes. It has been my good fortune to get to know many of these dedicated volunteer activists and see the difference they make in their various communities.
Contrary to our publicly elected and appointed officials, these people don't trumpet their good deeds; and this gives me an opportunity to put them in the spotlight. I as well as others, have watched Corinne Ho (Canoga Park) devote herself to numerous civic and community endeavors for several years. I didn’t realize until now that she and her husband Behnam Mirfakhrae are completing the process of gaining American citizenship.
Therefore it is most timely that we all get to know an immigrant/almost citizen who didn't wait for citizenship to make many lives better.
Corinne and her family are of Chinese descent from Madagascar. I'm sure many of you will say, "Where is Madagascar?" We North Americans do not have a sterling reputation for our geographical knowledge. So, I am including a brief history.
Madagascar is an island country lying off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. Although located some 250 miles (400 km) from the African continent, Madagascar’s population is primarily related not to African peoples but rather to those of Indonesia, more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) to the east. The Malagasy people, moreover, do not consider themselves to be Africans, but rather, because of the continuing bond with France that resulting from former colonial rule, the island developed political, economic and cultural links with the French-speaking countries of western Africa.
Corinne’s family immigrated to Montreal and she grew up in that French speaking City. She and her husband entered the U.S. in 1998 on a work visa. They decided on Los Angeles because it was warm (Montreal looks like Ice Station Zebra in the long winter) and they had a relative here. They are internet entrepreneurs selling a variety of apparel products.
I asked her why it took so long to become citizens and she replied that with aging parents in both Iran and Montreal it was a difficult decision as to where their permanent home would be. Corinne told me she has always felt the need to help people. "Nowhere else in the world can one find so many people volunteering their time and efforts to various causes,” she said. “I found many of the projects mesmerizing."
She joined the Canoga Park Neighborhood Council in 2009 without knowing what its mission was, what her duties would be and today is finishing her last term as President. During her first few months she wanted to quit; only the cajoling of friends kept her going.
Canoga Park NC, like the community it represents is not a walk in the park! It is pretty much a microcosm of Los Angeles, having gone through some traumatic changes in the past. Now, it seems to have found its path. The Board is very representative of the community and includes all ethnicities. The upscale commercial/retail centers in Woodland Hills and Canoga Park have helped its image and have brought more business to the area.
Boosting participation in the NC elections included producing four different videos using a Yoga Teacher, a Sikh, a homeless person and a Hispanic person, each talking about the importance of the Neighborhood Council. They were posted on Facebook as well as their own web page and it helped promote a good turnout for the elections.
In looking back over her history in the NC system she commented, "Not in my wildest dreams did I want to run for elected position. My first election I was so green that my campaign was merely promising to do my best and I really didn't know what it entailed."
She added that the Neighborhood Council system, now going into its 15th year, should become more accessible to working families, as well as doing more outreach to the general public. Board members need to have more training as well as be more transparent in their dealings with the public. They have to know that their individual contribution is to the community...not their own agendas.
The Homeless situation in Canoga Park is bleak and she is hoping that the new monies for low cost housing will help her community. She has been able to join forces with her neighboring NCs in West Hills and Woodland Hills/Warner Center, collaborating on joint events and other NC activities.
Aside from Neighborhood Council work, Corinne is part of the LARRS which is a reading out loud service for the blind using the radio. While we were conducting our interview she was busy attending to details of the Helen Keller 137th Birthday Celebration fundraiser. She works with some of the animal groups and volunteers with the League of Women Voters. She said now that she will become a citizen on July 18 she will be able to do more than just tell other people to vote.
I couldn't resist asking her how she feels about the political situation in her soon-to-be adopted country. She replied, "Everyone needed a wake-up call. Unfortunately, it has been a painful price to pay; but along with all the talking...action is what is needed.”
Wise words from a wise and gracious lady.
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.