Amid all the talk of border walls and travel bans and deportations, Congressman Mike Thompson on Sunday made a big deal of 18 constituents who are quite different from one another but have this in common:

They are successful in their work, they give back to their communities and they came to America from other countries.

Stories to make skin tingle and tears flow filled the hall in Vallejo where Thompson gave American Dream Awards to immigrants living throughout the 5th Congressional District.


SONU CHANDI was 16 when he left his native India and came to the United States.

Two decades later he’s CEO of the Chandi Hospitality Group and co-owns 14 restaurants, four near Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square: Stout Brothers Irish Pub & Restaurant, Bibi’s Burger Bar, The County Bench and the not yet opened Beer Baron Bar & Kitchen.

Chandi scanned the roomful of immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

“This is what makes America,” he said.


AS A GIRL in rural Iran, Maryam Mohsenzadeh was told this is what she was meant to do in life: Marry, have children, cook and clean.

“Boy, I proved them wrong,” she told the reception in Vallejo.

Mohsenzadeh was 14 when she left her home.

Today she’s a dentist. And as director of mobile clinic operated by Napa’s Queen of the Valley Medical Center, she has treated thousands of underserved children who otherwise would be tormented still by dental problems.


ART IBLETO, for more 40 than years Sonoma County’s “Pasta King,” was born in Argentina and was a teen in northern Italy when he was inducted into fascist Benito Mussolini’s army.

Thompson told the crowd Sunday that rather than take the dictator’s fight to the Americans and British, Ibleto risked his life by fleeing the army. He joined the Resistance and menaced Adolf Hitler’s troops.

The congressman noted that Ibleto time and again offers to provide free pasta meals to fundraisers for local families that have suffered tragedies and for humanitarian causes around the world.


THE NEW AWARD to immigrants who’ve achieved and helped others to attain the American dream went also 15 others. Among them:

Suzanne Smith, who was born in Canada, came to the U.S. at 6 and now leads the Sonoma County Transportation Authority.

Mexico-born Luisa Acosta of Lake County, who has served as a Substance Abuse Counselor, a union representative and a farmworker activist.

Acclaimed Napa Valley vintner Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, who left his native Croatia to escape communism.

And Lake County residents Manuel Mendoza and Dr. Marlene Quilala.

Mendoza came to America from Mexico in 1976 and while picking pears, walnuts and grapes earned a Farm Labor Contractor License.

Quilala, a graduate of De La Salle University in the Philippines, is a pediatrician with Lake County Tribal Health.

Thompson concluded by asking if American Dream Awards should be presented again next year. The crowd spoke as one:

Oh, yeah.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and