BATTERY PARK CITY — In a celebration of migrants and their contributions to the fabric of American society, an immigration think tank honored a group of people who championed the cause.
One of the honorees was a nonprofit organization founded by a Brooklyn family whose ancestors came to the U.S. from Italy.
The Viola Foundation, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, received the Immigration Achievement Award at the annual gala of the Manhattan-based Center for Migration Studies at The View at the Battery in Battery Park City.
Accepting the award for the family was John Viola, who manages the foundation. He also serves on numerous philanthropic organizations and co-hosts “The Italian American Podcast.”
“I’m the grandson of immigrants,” he told the audience. “And so, as a professional Italian American, I spend a lot of time talking about immigration.”
Viola recounted the struggles of his Italian ancestors and their contemporaries who endured violent attacks, immigration law changes, and a quota system.
“Yet somewhere along the line, we became accepted,” Viola said. “We were given that dignity.”
Still, he expressed concerns about some people who believe “you can close the golden door” after they’ve achieved dignity.
“That dignity should be there from the moment you leave where you’re coming from, even before you get here,” Viola said. “Under any circumstances, you should have earned the dignity that is owed to every person who believes in and risks it all for the American dream.”
CMS, established in 1964 by the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles (the Scalabrinians), is a think tank that studies international migration and advocates for public policies that protect the rights and dignity of migrants.
Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio, a member of the CMS board of trustees, assisted with the awards presentations. He described the Viola Foundation as a creation of Vincent Viola, his wife, Teresa, and their three sons.
“The values that immigrants bring to our society are so important,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “We are happy to be able to give this award to the Viola family’s foundation for the work they’ve done.”
Bishop DiMarzio described how Vincent Viola achieved wealth and became chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. He was born in Williamsburg to Italian-American parents, and his father served in World War II.
Vincent Viola, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, also served in the U.S. Army. He went on to be a successful trader and business owner.
“This is a family with very strong immigrant Catholic roots,” said Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director. “They strongly supported Catholic education on many, many levels, including in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“They’ve endowed the Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ chair on Catholic theology at Fordham University. They supported the Catholic Leadership Institute.”
Also, the foundation created the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Bishop DiMarzio is a renowned scholar of migrant issues and an advocate for the well-being of migrants.
Earlier this year, he donated his personal archives to CMS, which plans to call the materials the “Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio Collection.”
Also recognized at the CMS gala were Jamie Winders, professor of geography and director of the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute at Syracuse University, and Marla Asis, director of the Scalabrini Migration Center, Philippines, who both received the Excellence in International Migration Scholarship Award.
Hiroko Kusuda, a professor and director of Immigration Law at Loyola University New Orleans, was honored with the CMS Humanitarian Service Award.