LIVINGSTON, NJ —Residents of Livingston congregated at town hall last week despite the rain to celebrate the township’s first Pan-American Flag Raising Ceremony.

“Following in the steps of Mayor Ted Green and The East Orange City Council’s Pan-American Celebration,” Billy Fine, co-chair of the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI), announced that Livingston was the second town in New Jersey to host a Pan-American Flag Raising Ceremony.

He also explained that the handmade Pan-American flag was sewn by the niece of Guest of Honor Miryam Torres, Founder of Hispanics for Progress in Essex County. Torres and her niece created a flag that features the flags of 22 Latino South American countries.

Sign Up for Livingston Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

As he thanked the LCDI for planning the celebration, Livingston Mayor Al Anthony remarked that Livingston is “a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community” and that the township’s flag-raising ceremonies “illustrate how the town celebrates residents’ different heritages.”

“Our differences make us stronger,” said Anthony, acknowledging his fellow council members for sharing a common vision of inclusion.

Essex County Freeholder Carlos Pomares, who was recently named Public Servant of the Year by the Essex County Latino-American Chamber of Commerce, served as keynote speaker for the event.

As he recounted his family’s story of immigrating to the United States from Cuba, Pomares explained that his parents met at the University of Cuba, where his father was studying to be a surgeon and his mother was a nursing major. Years later, his father was imprisoned because he expressed a negative opinion about the communist government.

Pomares noted that his father was only allowed to visit his home if he swore allegiance to the Cuban government, but on the occasions that he visited, his father was accompanied by a guard brandishing a machine gun.

Seven years after applying for asylum, while his mother was pregnant and his father was incarcerated, Pomares’ family was granted permission to immigrate to the United States. The family was given 48 hours to pack and leave Cuba.

Pomares recalled his mother cleaning houses and taking English classes at night. She was ultimately able to return to nursing, and his father resurrected his medical career at the age of 60 when he joined the family years later. Pomares was in graduate school when he finally met his father for the first time.

Despite growing up receiving welfare, his mother ingrained in him the significance of attending college. Pomares attended St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City and Caldwell College before later working at the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Museum in Caldwell, which led him to non-profit consulting.

Today, Pomares serves as executive director of the Cuban Artist Fund and helps others who emigrate from Cuba. During the ceremony, he commented that this work helps him “understand his parents’ sacrifices and their assimilation process in the United States.”

Pomares expressed his gratitude to the LCDI for celebrating Pan-Americans and their culture.

Councilman Michael Vieira also spoke during the ceremony about Livingston being a great example to other communities because of the way that the township honors the many cultures of its residents.

Vieira introduced his former co-worker and friend, Torres, who had offered to give Vieira a flag he owned that represents all 22 Latino South American countries. Afraid that something might happen to the flag, Vieira turned down the kind offer, and Torres’ niece sewed a similar flag for Livingston instead.

Torres, a native of Ecuador, explained that the flag brings everyone together that its background is white because “white is the color of peace.”

“We all want to live in peace,” said Torres, adding that she hopes Livingston will continue to celebrate Pan-American month. “Food and music unify the Pan- American countries. We all love and share food and music.”

Livingston Police Chaplain Orlando Soto, who delivered both the invocation and the benediction during the event, read the names of the 22 Latino South American countries as Torres read the names of their capital cities.

Following the event, Fine pointed out that Pomares “received a well-deserved standing ovation for telling his family’s story, and for his dedication to public service.”

Fine also expressed gratitude to “all who spoke and attended, [and] especially our the LCDI members for their hard work.”

“We would also like to thank the Livingston DPW and Lorri Patino from the Township Manger's Officer for all of her work behind the scenes,” said Fine, who also announced that the LCDI is “full of pride for the great representation our committee has brought to Livingston in 2019.”

Other local dignitaries in attendance included Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold; Livingston Board of Education member Ronnie Konner; township council members Rudy Fernandez, Ed Meinhardt and Michael Vieira; and Leslie Tejada from Sen. Cory Booker’s office.

Earlier in the celebration, Fine presented the mayor with an official citation from Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill’s office marking the occasion and also read a letter from Sen. Robert Menendez, who praised the Township of Livingston for celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with the Pan-American Flag Raising.

The LCDI’s last major event of the year, Religions of the World, will be held on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.

A video of the Pan-American Heritage celebration can be viewed on the LCDI Facebook Page