Crowley Celebrates Diversity, Immigrant Experience
Congressmember Joseph Crowley was the keynote speaker at a kickoff event for the school year at the Garden School in Jackson Heights last Thursday. Parents of the students, the students themselves, and a staff committee organized the event with a focus on respect for the world's diversity, which starts in a home community, as its aim. "We want to help students find their path," Headmaster Dr. Richard Marotta said. "We do this by having the children work together in the classroom and then be able to work together as a community." The Garden School boasts itself on having a small, intimate learning environment with 100 percent of its graduates going to college. It is a priority of this private school to provide an open minded yet close-knit atmosphere that encourages students to be strong and active members of their communities.
Crowley took the stage to reflect on what it means to be a good citizen through the scope of "The Four Corners", a model the school uses to remind students that civility, kindness, respect, and honesty are the fundamental principles of an exemplary citizen. Crowley hailed immigrants as "the best, brightest, and the greatest in this country" and finds the four precepts are characteristics that he finds not only in
those Americans who help immigrants, but also inimmigrants who want to be Americans. He believes these virtues are those of a strong community but need to be practiced at home because that is where love for community begins.
Continuing his emphasis on the immigrant experience, Crowley welcomed Leonor and Armando Garzon to his office and congratulated them on passing their citizenship exam the last hurdle in their path to becoming American citizens, a bittersweet occasion for the couple.
The two are the parents of Edgar Garzon, who was murdered on a Queens street in a hate crime incident in August 2001. In the early morning hours of Aug. 15, 2001, after leaving a bar on Roosevelt Avenue, the 35-year-old Edgar was walking to his Jackson Heights residence when John Love McGhee jumped out of a car and viciously attacked him, crushing his skull. To be by their son's bedside, the Garzons left everything they had in Bogota, Colombia, including their other two children and three grandchildren, to come to the United States and be with their son. Edgar died on Sept. 4, 2001, at Elmhurst Hospital Center. After their son's death, the Garzons decided to stay in the United States and fight to make sure that their son's murderer was put behind bars. On Oct. 17, 2008, John Love McGhee was sentenced to 22 years to life for the murder of Edgar Garzon.
"It was very difficult," Leonor Garzon said of the arduous and emotionally tortuous path to seek justice for themselves and their son. With the assistance of Crowley and his team, along with the close aid of Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm, the Garzons finally acquired the papers they needed to take the test and officially become citizens of the United States. "It is not that the pain has been removed, but it has been alleviated because there is justice," Garzon added.
Crowley congratulated the Garzons for passing a notoriously difficult naturalization process and attributed their accomplishment not only to the help they received from others, but to their positive attitude and unwavering desire to be citizens. "They truly encapsulate what it is to be a good citizen. They have been straightforward, kind, and have never lost their desire," Crowley said.
Through the efforts of Crowley, Dromm, and other supporters, the Garzons have been able to buy a home in Jackson Heights, a community that has always been behind them. To honor their son, the city renamed the southeast corner of 77th Street and 37th Avenue Edgar Garzon Corner to serve as a reminder that justice can come to anyone who fights for it and violence has no place in a community of this strength. "It was my son's dream to become a citizen, and I feel we have made this dream come true," the murdered man's mother said.