by Office of Rep. Mark Rozzi
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations Friday, hosting former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez.
Rozzi and the former president held a meeting at the state Capitol that highlighted the contributions of Dominicans to the state of Pennsylvania and the power of education as the best avenue to strengthen cultural ties.
“I celebrate the innumerable contributions of Dominicans to the state of Pennsylvania. I represent the City of Reading, which is home to one of the largest populations of Dominicans in the state. I have seen firsthand their dedication and hard work,” Rozzi said.
Rozzi also pointed out that he can relate to the immigrant experience because he comes from a family of immigrants himself. His parents left Italy in 1957 for Pennsylvania, searching for opportunities to give their kids something they didn’t have.
“The reason why my parents came to this country is still a valid reason to hundreds of immigrants. I want to let Hispanics living in the commonwealth know that they are welcome in this state and that we value their efforts,” he said.
When referring to the best way to strengthen ties with the island, Fernandez indicated that in his experience serving three non-consecutive terms as president of the Dominican Republic, education is the most resourceful way to collaborate.
“We can foster our relations by developing education exchange programs, I would say from K-12 by reviewing and learning from your curriculum contents for early education, different courses,” said Fernandez, also founder and President of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (Funglode), a private non-partisan organization.
“As for higher education, we can have fellowships funded by the Dominican government. We did that successfully during my administration.
“We can train our people, and they would go back home with new, fresh ideas and perspective that will be applied for the benefit of the country’s development. 2.4 million Dominicans are calling Pennsylvania home, and we are the fourth largest Latino community in the United States,” he added.
Rozzi, who presented Fernandez with a citation for his contributions to the Dominican Republic, also indicated that he looks forward to fomenting new avenues of opportunities between the state and the Dominican Republic.
“My parents gave us every opportunity through education to be successful. It’s a continuation,” Rozzi said. “I believe there’s a lot we can do that could benefit both sides, and I am willing to make this happen. Diversity makes Pennsylvania great.”