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Welcoming Week

Welcoming Week

Celebrating Diversity

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Welcoming Wings

Saying “You Belong Here” means welcoming people from all over the world with open arms and encouraging them to spread their wings in our community. The brightly-colored Welcoming Wings highlight languages and imagery unique to some of the largest-represented countries of immigration in the Cedar Rapids area.

Wings of Lebanon for Welcoming Week

Wings of Lebanon

The Lebanese wings show the colors of the country’s flag combined with traditional patterns. The country’s national flower, the white and ruby colored Persian Cyclamen, is represented in the lower three wing feathers. A Cedar Tree, as seen in the middle of the wings and flag, symbolizes eternity, holiness, peace and longevity for the region.

Wings of Czech Republic for Welcoming Week

Wings of Czech Republic

The Czech wings you see here are composed of traditional Czech pattern designs and the colors of the Czech flag. White represents the people of the Czech Republic and their peaceful nature and honesty. Red represents courage, valor and patriotism, and blue symbolizes vigilance, truth, loyalty and perseverance.

Wings of India for Welcoming Week

Wings of India

The Indian wings represent the colors of India’s flag, orange representing courage and sacrifice, white representing peace, unity, and truth, and green representing faith and fertility. The Dharma Chakra from the center of the flag is shown in the gold circles, and represents continuing progress of the nation and the importance of justice in life. As national animal and bird of India, the Bengal tiger and Peacock’s feather design also appear in the wings accompanied by the national flower, the Lotus. The elephant is a traditional symbol of divinity and royalty in India.

Welcoming Wings of Spain & Mexico for Welcoming Week

Wings of Spain & Mexico

The Spanish wings feature traditional symbols from Latin culture including maracas, soccer, traditional string guitars, Spanish fans, red Carnation flowers, Dahlia flowers, Sombrero hats, and the national animal of Spain, the bull. Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Mexico is a traditional celebration celebrated between October 31 and November 2, to remember and honor deceased loved ones. Sugar skulls, or calaveras, peek through as part of this tradition.

Wings of Africa for Welcoming Week

Wings of Africa

The African wings represent a wide area that includes more than 45 countries that are fully or partially south of the Sahara. There are many languages spoken in the region, but Swahili makes up the majority. These colorful wings represent many of the colors on flags in the region, along with patterns from wildlife like the leopard, cheetah, tiger and zebra. The figure of a lion is shown in the center, and is the national animal of Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Sierra Leone, and Togo among others. Saharan plains make an appearance as well as does traditional fabric patterns from the region, and a the silhouette of a native giraffe.

Immigrant Stories

Bill Aossey

Bill Aossey’s grandfather immigrated to his new home in Iowa around 1888, and in 1912 his father came over from Syria. Both landed in Iowa and developed successful businesses. Bill was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, growing up in the Czech Village area.

As a young adult, Bill spent two years in Senegal with the Peace Corps as the first American Muslim acccepted, and visited more than 70 countries in the Middle East, West Africa, West and Central Asia and Southeast Asia. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam on special assignment and served in Saudi Arabia as an instructor with U.S. Defense. Upon returning to Cedar Rapids in the 1970s, Bill worked on a project growing hydroponic animal feed for livestock in Saudi Arabia. This experience led to the idea for the generation and success of his company, MIDAMAR. Over the past four decades, the company has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars of direct and indirect exports of Iowa products and USA made products.

Bill serves on several community boards and councils and gives back with goods donated to programs feeding youth like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Edgar Barrios

Edgar Barrios is practically a household name within the Latino and Hispanic communities in Cedar Rapids. It’s almost assured that many of the restaurants in the area got their start with a connection with Edgar, whether through his generous and sage advice, or whether through having worked for him at one point. Think Camelias, Taco Depot, Los Compadres among others! Edgar immigrated from Mexico City in 1995 and spent time in California and Atlanta before finally placing roots down in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Edgar feels strongly that the best asset we have in Cedar Rapids are the people with their welcoming attitude and “Iowa Nice” mindset. Cedar Rapidiens simply make you feel at home, or “en casa”.  While not owning and operating Hacienda Las Glorias among other businesses, Edgar enjoys giving back to the community that has given him a home. He has worked with offering free translation services to the Cedar Rapids Community Schools and given donations to YPN, Waypoint, Red Cross and numerous free meals to organizations in need throughout the years. Cedar Rapids Strong, Edgar has lived through floods, a fire, a lightning strike, a pandemic and now a derecho. He laughs about whether or not that makes him lucky or unlucky, but definitely feels lucky to live somewhere like Cedar Rapids where people care about one another.

Maria and Javier Gonzalez

Standing outside Lupitas Bakery, you’re greeted with the wonderful smell of baked goods even before you enter the store. The variety of churros and other traditional goodies makes it hard to decide what to walk away with. Maria and Javier Gonzalez immigrated to the United States in 2003 from Mexico. They spent some time in Indiana but were enticed by friends to move to Cedar Rapids, Iowa with the encouraging recommendation that it’s a welcoming community and family-friendly place to live and work. The couple worked for several years with a window company until they saved to start their own business. Maria really wanted to own and run a bakery like the kind they were used to getting their baked goods from in Mexico. There were challenges understanding how to build personal credit in order to get additional financing, which is very different here compared to many countries where a lot is done on a cash basis. The first stab at setting up the bakery didn’t fare well, and they went back to the drawing board, continuing to learn and save up to try again. In 2004, the Gonzalez’s attended a State of Iowa program helping diverse companies set up their businesses. Using the helpful information and resources, the couple was able to secure a loan of $23,000 and the rest is history. Maria and Javier have proudly been serving the Cedar Rapids community ever since 2004 and love living here.

Rohan Bhatnagar

Rohan Bhatnagar is originally from Jaipur, a city in India rich in cultural heritage. He spent his school years, however, in Lagos, on the coast of Nigeria (West Africa), where his father took a banking technology job. And, after graduation, Bhatnagar pursued his own professional passion on yet another continent, enrolling in 2008 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in Florida, where he earned an Aerospace Engineering degree and an MBA. “I’ve had an interesting journey,” he says.

Bhatnagar is now a Senior Engineering Manager at Collins Aerospace, where he leads a team of 13 engineers who bring their own stories. “My diverse background has contributed to my success,” Bhatnagar says. “Once you’ve seen so many things in your life, and assimilated into completely different cultures, you begin to understand people really well.”

“Nigeria is a beautiful country,” he says. However, in Nigeria, Bhatnagar saw disease outbreaks, dictatorship, coups, and war. “I’ve driven to school and seen bodies on the road,” he says. When he landed in America at age 18, he was put in a small dorm suite with five other freshmen, “every one of them white and from the United States.”

“Initially it was rough because I was the lone wolf,” he says. “They were not able to grasp the background I came from, the poverty and illiteracy I experienced. But they welcomed me with open arms. They learned a lot about me, my culture, and I learned a lot about them. That really eased the transition for me.”

The pattern repeated itself in Cedar Rapids, where his colleagues embraced him and he met a local woman whose American family did as well. They are now married with a new baby. He is working with local employee resource groups and would like to see Cedar Rapids organizations actively reach out to include other new immigrants.

“People underestimate the importance of a strong social group for a new immigrant in the process of assimilation,” Bhatnagar says. “That group that I had around me — my college friends, my work friends — it was instrumental in my success and in getting me to where I am in the community today.”

Sihem Abizi

Sihem Abizi came to DeltaV Code School in Cedar Rapids to, as she puts it, change her life.

Sihem moved to the United States with her husband six years ago from Algeria, where she had studied Computer Science. “I had to start from the bottom,” she says. “I started working at a retail store, and honestly, I don’t know how they hired me. I was barely able to say a word. But I learned a lot there.”

Sihem then became a mom. Later, she got a job as a bus driver for the Iowa City Community School District. She loved working with kids every day, but when a friend told her about DeltaV, she realized that she was eager to return to Computer Science. She saw DeltaV as her opportunity to make a change and gain the skills needed for a new career in software development.

“I want to show people that wherever you come from, and whatever your background is, if you want to do something, you can do it.”

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