As we continue celebrating Hispanic heritage this week on NY1, we turn our attention to Queens and its Colombian population of some 50,000 residents. It’s there that one man's efforts are helping to build a community both here and his native country. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.
Orlando Tobon's been a fixture in the Jackson Heights community for more than 40 years. But a large part of his heart goes out to the people in Colombia, his homeland.
"I never forget my country and that's the reason I try to help my people," he said.
In 2010, NY1 told you about Tobon's drive to raise money and collect supplies as Colombia was ravaged by floods. Two years later, Tobon is as dedicated to his country as ever. Through his role in the Liga Antidefamacion de Colombia, he's working to change perceptions about that country.
"So many people think Colombia is only drugs but Colombia have a very good working people," he said.
Besides the image, Tobon said there are many poor people that need his help. He accepts clothing donations in his office and, in turn, sends the parcels to Colombia.
And in another charitable measure, he’s holding a fundraiser to buy a house for a Colombian family. He said the family lives on just $120 a month.
"He is a beautiful, beautiful person," Tobon said. "He has three sons. His wife and he is very, very poor."
Tobon also has a long history helping people as a community leader in Queens.
"They call him the mayor of Jackson Heights," said community activist Eduardo Giraldo. "He's been at the front of a lot of issues through the years."
"Someone who helps people from all kinds of walks, from all countries, for whatever it is," said immigration lawyer Mercedes Cano.
Tobon said he'll never stop working to make the lives of others better.
"We have to do something for our community," he said. "It's coming from my heart to do something good for Colombia."
While Tobon has called this neighborhood in Queens home for decades, he said he is planning on moving back to Colombia when he retires.