Etched on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma Lazarus was the author of a sonnet for which this quote was taken. Lazarus’ family background stems from Sephardic Jews originally from Portugal. Let’s face it, unless you are a Native American some member of your ancestry immigrated from another country. On November 9, the Times Ledger celebrated 25 of the nominated immigrants with an Ambassador Award.
New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, the first Korean-American ever to be elected to the NY State legislature, was the keynote speaker. Among the honorees were: Tahl Leibovitz, born in Haifa Israel; Yeou-Cheng Ma, of Chinese descent born in France; and Marlene Tseng Yu who arrived in the United States from Taiwan.
Forty one years ago Tahl moved to New York with his family, including his twin and older sister. His maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors. As a young teenager he and his friends spent time at a Boys and Girls Club in Richmond Hill where he began competing in table tennis. Despite suffering from a condition known as osteochondroma, which limits his range of movement, Tahl excelled in “ping pong” taking him to winning world-wide championship games that include the Paralympics. With long years of schooling, Tahl earned two undergraduate (Philosophy and Sociology) and two master degrees in Social Work. Thanks to the support of his wife, Dawn, he is able to continue his table tennis coaching, competitions and social work.
Yeou-Cheng now teaches violin at the Children’s Orchestra Society that her father founded. “Upon his retirement my brother was his first request,” Ma said. “However, at that time Yo-Yo was busy touring. He then asked me, to which I replied, ‘Yes, but not this year since I’m interning pediatrics and working 120 hours out of 168.’”
“I spoke very little English and was most proficient in math and science. Entering college I decided to major in chemistry,” Ma said. “I then applied to both graduate and medical school. Accepted in both at Harvard University, I chose medical school first. It was through the advice of a mentor along with my love for children that I opted to be in the field of pediatrics.”
Ma finally took on the role of the executive director of the Children’s Orchestra Society after getting married and having a child. Her musician husband, Michael Dadap, said he dreamed about having his own music school. It was then that Michael became the artistic and music director.
World renowned artist Marlene Tseng Yu departed Taiwan at the age of 26 to pursue her talents here in America first heading to Colorado to earn her masters in Fine Arts. Before coming to the US her father said, “Don’t stand on the shore to go fishing. Just go into the water and catch the fish.” Marlene met James Yu and moved to Jackson Heights. Her love of nature inspired her paintings and at the age of 80 continues to create murals. Inspired by nature’s beauty she became concerned about Global Warming and the importance of the rainforests being cut down.
In 2008, she and James founded the Rainforest Art Foundation to support her and other like-minded artists. One of the locations is at her studio in Long Island City. The other is the Marlene Yu Museum in Shreveport run by her daughter, Stephanie.