Voices in Focus: A Young Star’s Emotional Homecoming

To finish the week we have a fresh batch of stories from New York’s ethnic and community press, including the emotional homecoming of an 11-year old TV star; a group of Polish travelers rescued by Polish-American bikers; Korean-language versions of a guide to American real estate; and a mixed-race couple seeking to teach their children tolerance.

* Gretchen Rojas is only 11 years old, but the pint-sized reality TV star already has grown-up aspirations, El Diario reports. An excerpt is translated below.

Gretchen Rojas hugs her mother Blanca Rojas after not seeing her for 4 months. (Gloria Medina via El Diario)

“Like Jennifer Lopez, who dances, sings and acts,” she said. “I want to be like her, or if not, then I’ll be an oncologist.”

Rojas has already achieved some celebrity. She recently won Pequeños Gigantes 2, a talent show broadcast on the Spanish-language TV network Univision.

The most emotional moment happened at John F. Kennedy Kennedy International Airport when [Rojas] threw herself into the arms of her mother Blanca Rojas and wept with joy. It was four months since she had last seen her.

* Good Samaritans in Pennsylvania helped five Polish men continue their trip around the world, Nowy Dziennik reported. After the group’s bus broke down in Pennsylvania, a local mechanic fixed their ride free of charge. Then a group of Polish-American bikers helped pay for parts, as explained in the excerpt translated below.

“At some point one of the bikers, hearing we only have eight dollars per day and a broken bus which we can’t afford to fix, grabbed a mic and yelled to it: Guys! Travelers from Poland are in need – let’s help them! Let’s chip in!”

They managed to collect $500 — the entire amount needed to cover parts.

“Thanks to the bikers, we were able to pay for the repairs and head on to conquer the world,” the young travelers said.

* To help Koreans seeking to purchase or rent homes in America, the Minkwon Center for Community Action, a Korean-American advocacy group, has produced Korean translations of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s handbook, the Korea Times reported in the excerpt translated below.

“Many Korean people who visit the center are worried about buying a new house or negotiating rent. To train Koreans in advance and protect Koreans from any harm, [we] decided to publish the Korean-language guidebooks, ” said Seonghun Dong, an officer of the Minkwon Center…

These guidebooks were made with the cooperation of HUD and other local communities, which also printed 1,000 books in each of four other languages — Chinese, Bengali, Nepali, and Spanish — for a total 4,000 books distributed. They contain 20 pages each, and include information on senior housing, housing loans, things to watch out for when buying a new house and the top 10 pieces of advice for tenants.

*After moving to Harlem, Marlene Taylor-Ponterotto was surprised when her family received an unfriendly reception. Taylor-Ponterotto is African-American and her husband is of Italian descent, but neighbors commented on how she and her family talked “white,” the Amsterdam News reported.

Taylor-Ponterotto held onto the experience. After moving with her family to Riverdale, she enrolled her son in the Multicultural Summer Youth Program, a summer camp that teaches tolerance.

For one week, students ages 16 to 21 attend a series of conferences at the United Nations, where they learn about global issues. Students also learn about the U.N.’s organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The next week, students visit museums, including the Museum of Tolerance on 42nd Street, learning about the practice of other cultures. The program also has a holy day, where students go to different places of worship, including churches, mosques and synagogues.

Christopher Ponterotto, Taylor-Ponterotto’s son, credits the program for teaching him about the people he encounters in New York City.

“I feel it is vital to have a stronger understanding and tolerance for all people in our world, and this program has granted me that gift,” Ponterotto said.