Photo by Camilo Garcia
Last Friday, Conexión Américas announced the winners of its two sets of awards given in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month: the Orgullo Hispano awards, for "three Latino adults or young people who have been persistently but quietly working to better their immediate community --neighborhood, school, workplace, nonprofit or civic organization," and the "My Latino Roots, My American Dream" essay contest for young writers.
Mayor Karl Dean, U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper and others attended the reception which immediately preceded the organization's annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration.
Descriptions of the winners are below.
ORGULLO HISPANO Award WinnersWhen Ivan Cerda enrolled in a leadership program at the Oasis Center three years ago he had been involved in a local gang, had been kicked out of several schools and was, by his own admission, hanging with the wrong crowd. Trouble found him easily.
Initially, he rarely said anything during Oasis Center meetings, but eventually he spoke up and shared his experiences, he gained the admiration of his peers, he got involved in various community service projects such as research, fundraising and panel discussions, giving fresh feedback and insight to community leaders.
Today, Ivan is a student at Nashville State Tech, where he is the class president. He also is an intern on the Youth Engagement & Action team at the Oasis Center.
Brandon Hill, who nominated Ivan, said this: “Ivan’s story is a success that must be heard. Despite his past troubles he had a sincere desire to make a positive impact on the people around him, and he did just that, despite the odds against him. He has made one the greatest transformations I have witnessed in my 8 years of youth work.”
Edubina Arce was an attorney and judge in her native Colombia and while she does not work in the legal field in Nashville, she works tirelessly to help those who need it. She acts as translator for those who can’t afford one, and she prepares meals for those in need. She works hard help those who have been defrauded and shammed, and she does much of it on her personal time and from an altruistic heart. Edubina, a realtor by profession, has personally helped many families achieve their American Dream of homeownership with guidance and support beyond the regular duties of a realtor.
Miguel Gonzalez relocated from California to Shelbyville to work at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, and has become a community leader through his volunteerism at the Centro Latino, of which he is the director.
Originally from Mexico, he is a tireless advocate and has worked closely with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, organizing youth and being a champion for the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would open the doors of higher education to immigrant students in Tennessee. His work and his passion have made a real difference in the Shelbyville community, his nominator said.
German Franco was killed Sept. 2 by an unknown assailant. His nomination for Orgullo Hispano came from friends who are mourning the 58-year-old husband, father, businessman and volunteer.
German, originally from Colombia, came to Nashville and built a successful ice cream business, but he also gave his time to organizations such as the Hispanic Achievers of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee and Catholic Charities, mentoring young people and helping low-income families prepare their tax returns.
“Perhaps the largest lesson German left us was his modesty -- in capital letters -- because his generosity and humility was very large…’’ his nomination read.
“My Latino Roots, My American Dream” Essay Contest for Young WritersFIRST PLACE WINNER
Oscar grabbed the judges from the beginning with one simple paragraph.
"Cuándo vine a lo Estados Unidos traje conmigo un bolso lleno de recuerdos, sueños e ilusiones. La idea de tener una mejor vida y una mejor educación me llenaba de alegría y de ilusión. Ahora que estoy en la tierra de oportunidades, esos sueños e ilusiones han dejado de ser eso y se han convertido en algo diferente, metas."
For those who do not understand, he arrived with a bag full of memories, dreams and illusions. But now that he is in the land of opportunity, those illusions have converted themselves into goals.
Oscar, who believes he wants to be an accountant, wrote in his honest and heart-felt essay that hopes the voices of immigrants will be heard so that so many no longer have to live in the shadows.
SECOND PLACE WINNER
Lindsey Victoria Thompson
Lindsey Victoria Thompson’s essay, Mango Season, celebrates her Latina Mexican DNA and was a wonderful example to the judges of just how comfortable our bicultural children can be in their own skin, and of how they celebrate the idiosyncrasies of their cultures.
Her essay described the difference between how she and her Mexican mother eat a mango, versus how her father, an Anglo, eats it.
First, the Mexican style:
"We sink our incisors straight into its flesh and peel away the skin with our teeth. This sends juices running down our chins, and we reposition ourselves over the sink to prevent further messes. We have taken to eating our fruit in a tribal and savage manner. I don’t know if it is because we adore the ambrosia of tropical fruit or because it awakens some sort of savage inner self that lies dormant during the mango off-season, but the tradition of tearing apart fruit in this way can be dated back centuries in my mom’s Mexican heritage."
And a bit further down on the American father...
"We go on eating like this, my mom and I like untamed animals and my father like a daintily brought up debutante, when he says what I consider to be the most Anglo thing a person could say: 'How do I know if I’m eating the pit?'”
THIRD PLACE WINNER
Gabriela RodrÍguez started her essay, Volver a Empezar, with "No puedo, no puedo.'' In the essay she was referring to the words she cried out on the first day of school in the United States: I can't. I can't.
But, she clearly could.
Gabriela told us about coming to the United States from Ecuador, a country she vividly and poetically described. She told us of suffering through grades that were less-than-acceptable to her, and of the climb toward English proficiency and much higher grades. She is in AP Spanish, by the way. Gabriela's "no puedo" turned into "si, pude'' and "si, podre.'' I did and I can.
"Ahora se que nada es facil en la vida, per tampoco imposible de conseguirlo, solo hace falta dedicacion, determinacion y confianza en ti misma.''
Nothing is easy in life, but nothing is impossible either. You only need dedication, determination and confidence in yourself.
Congratulations to them all.