The 4th annual Latino Heritage Leadership Awards Ceremony, established by California State Legislature Senator Bob Wieckowski and supported this year by the City of Santa Clara’s Cultural Commission, was held October 7 in the City Council Chambers, 1500 Warburton Ave.
“As we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 through October 15, we celebrate the vibrant culture, rich traditions and extraordinary contributions that Latinos have made in our great country,” said Santa Clara Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neill in welcoming remarks, pointing out that Santa Clara, now home to more than 23,000 Latinos, is built on land once belonging to Mexico.
Three Latino leaders from Santa Clara County and an Alameda County non-profit organization were honored at the awards ceremony: Mario Vargas, Executive Director of All Stars Helping Kids; Amanda Montez, Senior Director for Housing and Community Development, Silicon Valley Leadership Group; Hilda Ramirez, Director of Public Relations, Communications and Education at Santa Clara County Association of Realtors; and the Hispanic Community Affairs Council of Alameda County, a community-based nonprofit serving the Latino/Hispanic communities.
“The work that is done by these honorees has a very positive effect on the Latino communities in Alameda and Santa Clara counties,” said Wieckowski, who represents the 10th Senate District and selects the honorees from his constituency. “Each of these awardees is working to improve the lives of local residents, especially the youth in our region.”
“Thank you, Senator Wieckowski, for this humbling honor. It’s important to recognize the contributions of Hispanics to the U.S.,” said honoree Hilda Ramirez. “I accept this award on behalf of all the Latinos of Santa Clara County. We’re lucky to live in a county where diversity is celebrated.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began as a week-long celebration established in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was expanded to a month-long celebration by the U.S. Congress in 1989. It begins on September 15 in recognition of the anniversary on that date of the independence of the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Also, Mexico celebrates its independence day September 16 and Chile, September 18.
According to a July 28, 2016, U.S. Census report, the Hispanic population was 56.6 million in 2015, making Hispanics the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority–17.6 percent of the total U.S. population. Approximately 63.9 percent of those are of Mexican origin. The Hispanic population of California is the largest of any state–15.2 million.
The Latino Heritage Leadership Awards Ceremony marks the beginning of a series of monthly cultural events supported by the City of Santa Clara’s all-volunteer Cultural Commission. The Commission recommends to the City Council programs and activities that promote art and raise awareness of cultural diversity.
The Commission’s slogan is that “humanity is the unity in diversity.” In November, the Commission will promote Sikh awareness.
“Our city is so beautiful because of its diversity and its history,” said Cultural Commissioner Harbir K. Bhatia at the awards ceremony, which drew about 50 attendees. For information about the Commission, visit www.santaclaraca.gov/government/board-commissions/cultural-commission.
“Celebrate your culture, whatever it is, and always remember that community and family is all one, and it’s all about giving back,” said award recipient Mario Vargas, a native Californian whose children speak Spanish even though he doesn’t. They learned it in school and practiced it with their grandparents.