Many of New York’s recently arrived migrants are currently residing in The Roosevelt Hotel. Photo: Jean Brannum.


Local organizations are filling in the gaps to provide the support migrants need.

By Niti Majethia
Edited by John Schilling

Yineth gazes at a rushing lunch crowd, absorbing the hustle and bustle of Midtown East. It is very different from the environment she is used to in her hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, which is nestled in the valley of a coastal mountain range. As she stands on the pavement outside of The Roosevelt Hotel, a migrant shelter, she holds her young daughter in one arm. 

It’s another day in a city that feels alien — and yet like a respite. 

Yineth, who asked that her full name not be used out of concern for her safety, is one of over 130,000 migrants who have entered New York since the spring of 2022, according to the mayor’s office. Political unrest brought her to the city, where she has stayed for the past few months. She and her daughter left Venezuela through the Darién Gap, a route Yineth remembers as “excruciatingly dangerous.” 

“We saw a lot of people dying, especially children,” she said in Spanish through an interpreter. “That journey is only for very brave people.”

The uncertainty of it all — from the journey to housing and finances — has meant an uphill battle. But the city’s diverse landscape of community organizations have helped provide Yineth and many other migrants the support they need. 

Such arduous journeys often leave a lasting impact on migrants, said a social worker who works with an organization providing migrants food and shelter. “Some of the Venezuelan children I work with who traveled through the jungle are terrified of Central Park because it gives them flashbacks of their journey,” said the social worker, who requested anonymity, concerned about anti-immigrant sentiment.

The social worker has also noticed migrants’ challenges with cultural differences. For example, many hadn’t seen canned goods before. “They are surprised to find that beans come in cans when they see them at pantries. Most of them don’t know how a can-opener works,” she said. “And it’s not their fault.” 

“Some of the Venezuelan children I work with who traveled through the jungle are terrified of Central Park because it gives them flashbacks of their journey.”

NYC social worker

Yineth explained how difficult it is to navigate an unknown country with a young child — and said sometimes it’s hard not to miss home. “Today my daughter hasn’t eaten breakfast or lunch because she craves the kind of food we eat in Venezuela,” she said. “But at least we have our own room, and we have been taken care of.”

Yineth’s lack of English fluency has not yet been a barrier. She noted a lot of volunteers at the Roosevelt Hotel speak Spanish. “They have been guiding us through the immigration process,” she said. “We are following directions and are waiting for our work permits to be processed.” 

Kushal Patel, an immigration attorney with the New York’s American Immigration Lawyers Association, is one of the many people helping migrants obtain work authorization. Patel says that he and a group of volunteers did a 10-day sprint earlier this year where they prepared and submitted around 3,000 individual permit applications. Around 100 immigration attorneys and 200 interpreters signed up to help. “It was a fantastic response and it has been so nice to see our city come together,” he said. “There is hope, there is definitely hope.” 

Patel added that he wants New Yorkers to remember that migrants are human, too. “They bleed the same as you. They care the same as you,” he said. “You shouldn’t be prevented from having a life simply because of where you were born.”

Organizations like Immigrants Beyond Immigration, co-founded by Rubén Machaen, also aim to help Latino migrants get settled in America. Machaen, a migrant himself, moved to the U.S. from Mexico City in 2020 and has worked all types of jobs — a waiter, a sewer cleaner and a translator. Eventually, his passion for helping migrants like himself led him to co-found the organization. 

“We hold workshops in Spanish to help migrants understand things like taxes, healthcare, and American culture,” Machaen said. “It’s also important for us to not just share knowledge, but also increase access to opportunities for migrants.”

Yineth realizes she still has a long way to go to adjust to New York. Yet, she recognizes how far she has come.

“We are just so incredibly fortunate to have made it here,” she said.

A fashion store worker in front of a shelf of lehengas and saris. Photo: Liv Graffeo.


How Bangladeshi women are navigating a clash of cultural expectations and a desire for independence.

By Liv Graffeo
Edited by Saugat Bolakhe

Shahida Akhter moved to the Bronx neighborhood known as “Little Bangladesh” two years ago with her husband and two children. To help take care of her family, she got a job working for a Bengali-owned beauty salon in the area for only $5 an hour, far below the $15 minimum wage. 

She had to take low pay, she said, “because I have no job.”

Akhter, 37, is one of thousands of Bangladeshi people in Parkchester, home to a lively community filled with Bangladeshi shops, restaurants and halal markets. South Asian immigrants, particularly those from Bangladesh, are one of the fastest-growing communities in New York City. A 2019 study found that the Bangladeshi population had almost doubled in the city over the last decade. 

Self-contained communities like the one in Parkchester have been invaluable for those newly arrived to the United States. But challenges still exist — especially for Bangladeshi women navigating cultural expectations, language barriers and an interest in personal independence in a new country. 

Because of lack of English proficiency, Bangladeshi immigrant women often have a hard time getting jobs outside the bounds of their neighborhoods, said Yeakub Ali, a community organizer and translator for the nonprofit Sapna NYC, which offers free classes and activities for South Asian immigrant women. 

Other key limitations are culture shock and a “religious-culture barrier,” Ali said. “Husbands are very scared, [they think] ‘This is not our culture. Please stay home… I will work more for you, you do not need to go out,’” he said.

Unlike Akhter, who works outside of the home and says she is still happily married, many other Bangladeshi women are bound by cultural expectations to care for their family and not work, according to Ali. In a strange new place, venturing out seems like a dangerous and unfamiliar maneuver. This often causes a great deal of trauma for those newly arrived in New York City, Ali added.

A mural in the business district of Little Bangladesh. Photo: Liv Graffeo.

Then there are socio-economic factors: Rates of poverty, domestic violence and mental illness among Bangladeshi women are higher than average in New York, according to Sapna NYC. Twenty percent of the women polled by Sapna in 2021 reported physical violence by an intimate partner in the last five years, while 50% said they knew of at least one other woman who had experienced physical and/or emotional abuse.

Organizations like Sapna NYC work to advocate for South Asian women who would otherwise be at a severe disadvantage in a city where Bengali is not a widely spoken language. In the Sapna poll, 89% of the Bangladeshi immigrant women did not feel confident enough in their English to navigate life in the city. 

Ali said that In addition to classes in English, computer and financial literacy, Sapna also offers access to  doctors, counselors and group activities with other women aimed at building independence and confidence. 

These efforts have already changed lives, Akhter’s among them. She no longer works as an underpaid salon clerk. Now, she is part of the Sapna NYC staff, working as a community advocate.  

Akhter recently started a weekly walking club for older Bangladeshi women in the area. Every Monday, “community members join with me for walking and some problem sharing,” she said. Akhter often gets some 30 women who attend her program, where she can listen and advise them. For many senior women, the group is a safe space to discuss their experiences, mental health and traumas with peers.

Although she lived comfortably in Bangladesh with her husband and two children, Akhter was inspired to come to the U.S. for her sons, now 15 and 7, to have a better education. It hasn’t always been easy for her to get acclimated to a new culture, but her children are doing very well. “They have a lot of different friends — other communities, other religions — they have no problem,” she said. “My kids are so happy [with] no pressure [of] too much homework!” 

As Sapna pushes for the city for expanded and culturally sensitive mental health services for immigrant communities, Akhter is excited to keep advocating for her community. She is also happy that her family feels more settled. “I think my kids’ future is good,” she said.

Iranga Tcheko at Adja Khady, an African goods store she shops at on West 116th Street. Photo: Raymond DePaul.


For Congolese immigrants, food proves key in building community in NYC.

By Raymond DePaul
Edited by Deidre Foley

The warm autumnal hues decorating dishes like wali pilau, loso na madesu and ntaba comfort Iranga Tcheko, reminding the 28-year-old Manhattan woman of joyful Christmas dinners she enjoyed as a young child in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The meals almost make her forget how she vomited while escaping her home country at age 3, her body “violently rejecting” what she had to leave behind.

Food is a grounding force for Tcheko, a Congolese immigrant living in Morningside Heights. Dishes from her home country help her shorten the nearly 7,000-mile distance from Congo to New York City. Food allows her and other African immigrants to cope with cultural differences and create community.

“I think we sometimes don’t fully appreciate how much food routes us to home,” said Tcheko.

The hardships of Congolese migrants

Except for 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions kicked in, the number of Congolese refugees in the U.S. has dramatically risen over the past decade, with migration largely driven by political turmoil, violence and economic challenges. Since 2016, Congolese refugees have represented the largest number of refugees resettled in the U.S., according to Migration Policy Institute. Between October 2022 through May 2023, more than 10,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have arrived in the country, making up a third of all U.S. refugee arrivals.



Tcheko came to New York in 2020 for graduate school, but before that, she spent the majority of her life in the United Kingdom. She and her family left the DRC  amid a civil war, traveling through several East African countries before migrating to the United Kingdom “in search of safety.”

She said she remembers being handed a Ribena blackcurrant juice at immigration in the U.K. “I’m being both treated like I’m part of some sort of prison system and then given grace and kindness through this juice box,” she said. “I think that sums up a lot of people’s experience of being a refugee.”

Even in New York, access to Congolese food isn’t necessarily easy. 

“It was very hard to find Congolese food here,” said Adria Sebisaho, a Congolese immigrant who moved to Morningside Heights in 2008. She said other cuisines similar to her cultural foods were a way to “create a bridge” between the food she knew and its scarcity now. For example, she noted that Mexican and Korean dishes use beans and rice akin to the food she ate in the DRC. 

But she also made sure to journey to African markets sprinkled throughout the city, many in Harlem.

A sign on the back entrance to the Harlem Shabazz Market. Photo: Maja Clasen.

Finding community in Harlem

Over the past few years, Sebisaho and Tcheko have joined a vibrant African community in Harlem, where a quarter of residents were born outside of the U.S. Some 25% of those foreign-born Harlemites came from Africa. 

Harlem’s rich African community manifests itself through storefronts trickled among its bustling streets. Markets, hairdressers and restaurants, with African names like Adja Khady and Maliba African Market, decorate the corners of the neighborhood. 

One African community hub Tcheko frequents is the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market on West 116th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard. Walking through the colorful alleyways of the market, African garments like kanzus, kangas and gomesis radiate vibrant colors. 

Mounkaila Abdourahamane, an Ivorian-Nigerien immigrant who operates a jewelry and bag store in the Shabazz Market, described how he connects to his culture. “All the bags that you see, all of them come from my home country of Niger,” he said. “I’m here to support my family, that’s the most important thing.”

A shopper stands outside the Mounkaila Jewelry Store in the Shabazz. Photo: Maja Clasen.

Neighborhood nonprofits also create community spaces for African immigrants. “There’s a narrative of [that region] that is solely looking at the war and conflict,” said Nelson Walker, co-founder of Congo in Harlem. “We want to shape the narrative by celebrating the rich culture.”

Congo In Harlem hosts annual October events that showcase art and film from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Congolese population living in New York City. One highlight this year: the theatrical release of a film exploring French Congolese director Alain Kassanda’s family history and its intersection with politics. 

“It’s an accomplishment to get people together [to] create dialogue and broaden the narrative,” Walker said of Congo in Harlem’s programming. 

Congo in Harlem also serves as a “platform for activists,” said Walker, and the community effort to foster a collective creative environment may have helped some participants in other ways. Walker’s organization carries film archives from decades past, all essential to Tcheko’s thesis project in graduate school — an in-depth look into the “weaponization of Black consciousness, authenticité and negritude,” she said.

“I left when I was very little. There’s the assumption that I’m very disconnected from that culture,” Tcheko said. “But it’s my culture, and I’m connected in my own way.” 

Since moving to New York, Tcheko said she’s found a community of other Congolese immigrants through “chance” meetings. Now, she is a part of a WhatsApp group of around 60 Congolese living in the city. They recently hosted a Friendsgiving event  — a primary example of “uniting a community” through food, even if they are busy working and getting by in an expensive city. 

“Putting together Congolese dishes requires a lot of time, love and care,” she said. “I possess the love and the care. Patience and the time, not so much.”

Brigada de Esperanza volunteers organize the vegetable boxes on a Saturday morningPhoto: Leila Medina.


How a volunteer group of immigrants is providing food, clothing — and community — to new migrants in Queens.

By Leila Medina
Edited by Christian Nazario

Traducido en Espanol abajo 

At 9 a.m., volunteers in blue shirts arrive one by one outside of a brick storefront in East Elmhurst, Queens. Food boxes — filled with vegetables, bread, nuts, fruits and tea — are everywhere. 

The volunteers greet each other, share a brief breakfast and start sorting the food while chatting about their week. Outside the building, a line of people with bags and shopping carts begins to form. This is how every Saturday starts at the Brigada de Esperanza (Brigade of Hope) organization.

The project began as an effort to distribute food amid the COVID-19 pandemic — during a four-month period in 2020, the brigade helped 35,000 people. Three years later, the group has expanded its assistance to people who have arrived in the city amid a recent wave of migration and often lack access to fresh food. Many in the community, immigrants included, give a hand to the new arrivals.

“What we do is help with a grain of sand,” said Nancy Tituaña, the founder of the brigade. 


The food distribution starts at 2:00 p.m. and takes about two hours. Photo: Leila Medina.


Tituaña said many of the newly arrived migrants are experiencing food insecurity — meaning they lack regular access to sufficient nutritious food needed to lead a healthy life. According to Feeding America, the food insecurity rate in Queens was  10.9% in 2021.

The brigade consists of about 150 volunteers who collaborate primarily on food and clothing distribution, donated by local organizations and community members. Every Saturday, between 35 and 45 volunteers show up to help give out some of the 350 and 500 food baskets distributed per week, as well as hot lunches. Sometimes on Saturdays, the lines are so long, volunteers have to turn people away. But people can register for help ahead of time through a form on the brigade’s Facebook group page. 


The Brigade hands out food baskets as well as hot lunches. Photo: Leila Medina.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28.% of Queens population was Latino in 2022, which is reflected in the people coming to pick up food. But the brigade’s doors are open to everyone, Tituaña noted.

Among the volunteers is Amparo Gómez, 73, a Colombian woman who has been in New York for over 45 years. She shares that she “escaped” from her house today to help after undergoing surgery a week ago. “I come two or three times a week. What I love is helping the community,” added Gómez, who joined the organization three years ago.

Other volunteers are part of the recent migration wave. “We came here to receive food, so since I didn’t have a job, my family and I stayed on as volunteers,” said Stephanie, 46, who was cooking chicken and rice at the brigade’s headquarters on a recent Saturday.


Volunteers distribute the food on a first-come, first-served basis to people who pre-register. Photo: Leila Medina.

Stephanie, who didn’t want to give her last name out of fear for her safety, is a Colombian migrant who arrived in Queens a year ago. She crossed the border with her husband and four children. Like many migrants arriving in New York, she couldn’t find a job. Friends told her about the brigade, and she began registering to get food on weekends.

After receiving help from the brigade for a few months, Stephanie decided to join the group. “Since I like cooking, I got involved in this way,” says Stephanie, who also volunteered in Colombia.

As Stephanie cooked in the brigade’s kitchen, a line of people formed on the sidewalk.

Nancy, who also did not want to give her last name, was waiting with her 4-year-old daughter. The 33-year-old arrived from Ecuador a year ago, leaving after losing her job at an import company. Nancy explained that crime and extortion in Ecuador also motivated her to come to New York.

“It’s a huge help,” she said of the brigade. “There are five people in my family. I save about $50 a week, which is a lot.” This is the third time she’s come this year to pick up food. 

At the end of distribution, volunteers clean the streets and collect the boxes where the food was placed to store them inside the building. Gómez helps organize the space inside Brigada, Stephanie cleans the kitchen, and Tituaña, from her desk, organizes the tickets that were distributed to the people that registered to receive food, counts them and saves them for the following week. 

It’s a little after 4 p.m., and the volunteers are tired. But they keep chatting and laughing among themselves.

The organization’s unofficial motto has become: to be there every Saturday to welcome those in need of food and a bit of hope.

“We don’t care if it’s raining, snowing, or if it’s very sunny, “ Gómez said. “We do it anyway.”


Cómo un grupo de inmigrantes voluntarios proporciona comida, ropa y comunidad a los nuevos inmigrantes en Queens.

Por Leila Medina
Editado por Christian Nazario

A las 9 am, voluntarios con camisas azules llegan uno por uno afuera de una tienda de ladrillos en East Elmhurst, Queens. Hay cajas de comida llenas de verduras, pan, nueces, frutas y té por todas partes.

Los voluntarios se saludan, comparten un breve desayuno y comienzan a clasificar la comida mientras conversan sobre su semana. Afuera del edificio comienza a formarse una fila de personas con bolsas y carritos de compras. Así comienza cada sábado en la organización Brigada de Esperanza.

El proyecto comenzó como un esfuerzo para distribuir alimentos en medio de la pandemia de COVID-19; durante un período de cuatro meses en 2020, la brigada ayudó a 35,000 personas. Tres años después, el grupo ha ampliado su asistencia a las personas que llegaron a la ciudad en medio de una reciente ola de migración y que a menudo carecen de acceso a alimentos frescos. Muchos en la comunidad, incluidos los inmigrantes, echan una mano a los recién llegados.

“Lo que hacemos es ayudar con un granito de arena,” dijo Nancy Tituaña, fundadora de la brigada.

Tituaña dijo que muchos de los inmigrantes recién llegados experimentan inseguridad alimentaria, lo que significa que carecen de acceso regular a suficientes alimentos nutritivos necesarios para llevar una vida saludable. Según Feeding America , la tasa de inseguridad alimentaria en Queens fue del 10,9% en 2021.

La brigada está formada por unos 150 voluntarios que colaboran principalmente en la distribución de alimentos y ropa, donados por organizaciones locales y miembros de la comunidad. Cada sábado, entre 35 y 45 voluntarios se presentan para ayudar a repartir algunas de las 350 y 500 cestas de alimentos que se distribuyen por semana, así como almuerzos calientes. A veces, los sábados, las colas son tan largas que los voluntarios tienen que rechazar a la gente. Pero las personas pueden registrarse para recibir ayuda con anticipación a través de un formulario en la página del grupo de Facebook de la brigada.

Según la Oficina del Censo de EE. UU ., el 28,% de la población de Queens era latina en 2022, lo que se refleja en la gente que viene a recoger comida. Pero las puertas de la brigada están abiertas para todos, anotado Tituaña.

Entre los voluntarios se encuentra Amparo Gómez, de 73 años, una colombiana que lleva más de 45 años en Nueva York. Ella comparte que se “escapó” de su casa para ayudar después de haber sido operada hace una semana. “Vengo dos o tres veces por semana. Lo que me encanta es ayudar a la comunidad,” agregó Gómez, quien se unió a la organización hace tres años.

Otros voluntarios son parte de la reciente ola migratoria. “Vinimos aquí para recibir comida, así que como no tenía trabajo, mi familia y yo nos quedamos como voluntarios,” dijo Stephanie, de 46 años, que estaba cocinando pollo y arroz en el cuartel general de la brigada un sábado reciente.

Stephanie, que no quiso dar su apellido por temor a su seguridad, es una migrante colombiana que llegó a Queens hace un año. Cruzó la frontera con su marido y sus cuatro hijos. Como muchos inmigrantes que llegan a Nueva York, no pudo encontrar trabajo. Sus amigos le hablaron de la brigada y empezó a inscribirse para conseguir comida los fines de semana.

Después de recibir ayuda de la brigada durante unos meses, Stephanie decidió unirse al grupo. “Como me gusta cocinar, me involucré de esta manera,” dice Stephanie, quien también fue voluntaria en Colombia.

Mientras Stephanie cocinaba en la cocina de la brigada, se formó una fila de personas en la acera.

Nancy, que tampoco quiso dar su apellido, esperaba junto a su hija de 4 años. La mujer de 33 años llegó de Ecuador hace un año y se fue después de perder su trabajo en una empresa importadora. Nancy explicó que el crimen y la extorsión en Ecuador también la motivaron a venir a Nueva York.

“Es una gran ayuda”, dijo sobre la brigada. “Hay cinco personas en mi familia. Ahorro unos 50 dólares a la semana, que es mucho”. Esta es la tercera vez que viene este año a recoger comida.

Al finalizar la distribución, los voluntarios limpian las calles y recogen las cajas donde se colocó la comida para almacenarlas dentro del edificio. Gómez ayuda a organizar el espacio dentro de Brigada, Stephanie limpia la cocina y Tituaña, desde su escritorio, organiza los tickets que fueron distribuidos a las personas que se registraron para recibir comida, los cuenta y los guarda para la siguiente semana.

Son poco más de las cuatro de la tarde y los voluntarios están cansados. Pero siguen charlando y riendo entre ellos.

El lema no oficial de la organización se ha convertido en: estar allí todos los sábados para dar la bienvenida a quienes necesitan alimento y un poco de esperanza.

“No nos importa si está lloviendo, nevando o si hace mucho sol”, dijo Gómez. “Lo hacemos de todos modos.”