A proud day for our community

By Harry Bajraktari

Sunday, May 15th, 2022, was a great day for our community. A beautiful street in The Bronx, New York was co-named Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu Way, after our Albanian National Hero.

The unveiling ceremony turned into a beautiful celebration of the tradition, the history, the culture, and the successes of the Albanian American community in New York and beyond.

I would like to salute and commend former councilman Mark Gjonaj a true leader in our community, who worked very hard to make this happen. Not only was Mark the driving force behind the whole process of naming the street, but he also organized a wonderful event with great participation and entertainment. He has been the first Albanian to have served in New York State Assembly and New York City Council. Now he remains a great servant of our community and of New York.

We were honored to have among us Mayor Eric Adams, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, congressman and Co-Chair of the Albanian Issues Caucus Ritchie Torres, congressman Adriano Espaillat,Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez, and other good friends of our community. I would like to thank City Councilmember, Oswald Feliz for working closely with Mark Gjonaj for this event.

Guests like Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, Ambassador of Albania to the United Nations, Ferit Hoxha, and the General Consul of Kosova, in New York, Lulzim Krasniqi who read messages from the prime ministers of Albania and Kosova gave this event a pan-Albanian feel. The program of music, song, and dances was breathtaking. In particular, I was impressed by the folkloric traditional dance group Shqiponjat (The Eagles) made of Arbereshis of Italy, who have kept the Albanian language and tradition, for more than 500 years from the time of Scanderbeg. They had traveled to the United States especially for this event. Our community is grateful to them.

Gjergj Kastriot Skenderbeu (also George Kastrioti Skanderbeg), with his small Albanian army, resisted for a quarter of century, the Ottoman Empire, which was the most powerful country of the time. Only after his death in 1468 were the Ottomans able to invade Albania. His resistance saved Europe and inspired the Albanian national renaissance four centuries later. The great American poet, Longfellow dedicated a famous poem to him.

In the end, I am happy that they choose a street in the Belmont neighborhood for the name of the Albanian National Hero. We arrived in this area more than a century ago and they welcomed us with open arms. It is called Little Italy, but it always felt like Little Albania as well. There is nothing better than two communities working together to make this neighborhood more vibrant and prosperous.

I take this opportunity to thank the Belmont district of The Bronx for the way they have embraced us and made us feel part of them. I look forward to many years of working together as one.

It was a ceremony and celebration that made us feel proud for what the Albanian-American community has accomplished and of important part that it has now in New York City. God bless this community! God bless the Albanian nation and the American nation! The name of Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu lives on.