Breakfast of Nations celebrates cultural diversity, immigrant heritage

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published May 27, 2015


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Macomb County’s melting pot continues to be mixed with more ethnic and cultural diversity.

That growth is due to the perseverance of local leaders, as well as immigrants who search for brighter futures.

On May 13 at the Italian American Cultural Center in Clinton Township, Welcoming Michigan — which partners with cities and counties to create more immigrant-friendly environments — hosted a Breakfast of Nations event that brought to life the stories of local leaders and various immigrants who have found optimism in opportunity.

Welcoming Michigan’s Southeast Michigan Communities Coordinator Christine Sauve opened the breakfast by proclaiming that the purpose was to hear everyone’s stories and achieve equilibrium through everyone’s successes and failures.

Sauve mentioned how Macomb County is composed of around 10 percent foreign-born individuals, from countries including Iraq, India, Italy, the Philippines and more.

The event marked the launch of Clinton Township’s foray into national diversity progress, becoming the first township in the United States to become part of the initiative.

Cannon talked about the Italian American Cultural Center, where the event was held, going from a golf course to a banquet hall that is now home to events such as these. Those who bought the center came from their own unique background.

He also touched upon his own background and that of the township, including how his son is married to a woman originally from the Philippines and has children with her. He also mentioned the Moravian family that came from Germany in the 1700’s and built the state’s first inland route, which is now known as Moravian Drive.

Rhonda Powell, of the Macomb County Community Services Agency, discussed how Cannon helped spearhead the Clinton Township Cultural Diversity Committee two decades ago and how she comes from a background that has deep roots in the county and the township.

The five main immigrant speakers were: Vesna Cizmic, from Bosnia; Enkelan Ozuni, from Albania; Maria Victoria Montoya, from the Philippines; Eric Jackson, from Michigan; and Pastor Alvin Thomas, from India.

Cizmic is a program manager at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan and is from Bosnia, where she worked previously as an engineer. She lives in Sterling Heights.

Ozuni has a bachelor’s degree in political science, and a master’s degree in international relations and conflict resolution. He previously ran for a seat on Sterling Heights City Council, but had to take his name out of the running once he accepted a position as an insurance specialist with the U.S. Social Security Administration.

Montoya owned and ran several hotels in Philippines prior to moving to the U.S., where she now works as a caregiver and has studied nursing.

Jackson is the former Clinton Township Deputy Supervisor — the highest-ranking position held by an African-American during that time — and former president of Macomb County’s NAACP branch.

Thomas is originally from India, but has lived in numerous stateside locations, including New York City, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Michigan for 20 years. He began as a software analyst and later married his wife, which was part of an arranged marriage, whom he met in India. He is an ordained minister in Shelby Township.

Thomas discussed dealing with racism during some of his former stops across the country. When he moved to Michigan, he felt the door open a little wider and said it was the first time he was given an opportunity to actually blossom. He attended Macomb Community College and made plenty of friends. After getting married and eventually having three kids, Thomas said the key to a fruitful life is respect.

“It’s one of the things that makes America great. … Every single day it’s a journey for me to get out of my comfort zone and meet people who are not the same skin color, are not the same culture, but it makes no difference,” Thomas said. “I’ve got to go out of my way to feel welcome. Just give them the love and respect that I expect for myself. This is my journey, and I stick with it.”

Jackson echoed such statements, talking about growing up in integrated schools in the region and not being able to play on the sidewalks that were designated for the white population. A historian in his own right, he said the rich history of the region allows for people of all backgrounds to become neighbors again.

“We’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go,” Jackson said.

Cannon said American stories are built on migration, and the story continues in the present as many immigrants continue to arrive for the same reasons as those before them: the opportunity of a better life.