By Paola Hornbuckle
In a room buzzing with anticipation, the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation honored the six high schools seniors selected from San Diego to receive its prestigious Youth Awards. Local luminaries from the entertainment, political, and business sectors attended the ceremony, which took place on April 25 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Bottom from L to R: Donald Diaz (Mathematics sponsored by Exxon), Karla Navarrete (Leadership/Comm. Service sponsored by Dr. Pepper), Ana Hernandez-Bravo (Literature/journalism sponsored by NBC), Michelle Ramirez (Academic Excellence sponsored. by Chase and MC Inc.), Esteban Molina-Estolano (Science and Tech sponsored by Microsoft), and Linda Moreno (Sports sponsored by HHAF)
The Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation is a national organization based out of Washington D.C. dedicated to promoting Hispanic excellence and to providing much-needed role models to inspire Hispanic youth. Each season, HHAF honors five notable Hispanics who have distinguished themselves in various fields at their national Gala presentation in Washington D.C.
The Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards were created in 1998 by the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation and the Fannie Mae Foundation in an effort to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Hispanic high school seniors across the nation and promote them as role models for their peers. A total of 72 regional winners are selected from 12 cities in six categories: Mathematics; Leadership/Community Service; Literature/Journalism; Academic Excellence; Sports; and Science and Technology.
In addition to their accomplishments in the categories, the candidates must demonstrate community involvement and write an essay about the important role their Hispanic heritage plays in their lives.
The six San Diego seniors to receive the awards are Donald Diaz (Mathematics), Esteban Molina-Estolano (Science & Technology), Linda Moreno (Sports), Karla Navarrete (Leadership/Community Service), Michelle Ramirez (Academic Excellence), and Ana Hernandez-Bravo (Literature/Journalism).
The Youth Awards recipients receive a $2,000 grant for their education and a $1,000 donation made, in their name, to the nonprofit organization of their choice. All the Regional Youth Award winners are eligible to be one of six Hispanic Heritage National Youth Awards winners one winner per category who receive an additional $5,000 grant for their education, a laptop computer and are flown in for the Hispanic Heritage Awards Gala in Washington D.C. at which they will appear on the television broadcasting airing October 12 on NBC.
Artie Ojeda, reporter for NBC, served as master of ceremonies at the ballroom full of excited students, proud parents and teary-eyed community and business leaders. Throughout the evening several themes kept coming up: pride in a common Hispanic heritage, and hope for a better future through the achievements of its youth.
Mary Salas, Councilmember and mayoral candidate for the city of Chula Vista, addressed the audience. “Students, you need to know that you have the love and support of not only your family but the love and support of the entire Hispanic community. We view your achievements as achievements for the whole community,” she said.
J. Antonio Tijerino, Executive Director for the Hispanic Heritage Awards, encouraged young people to “Ask question about your heritage. Find out what makes you, ‘you’, and what makes your family, ‘your family.” Tijerino cited alarming national statistics in the Hispanic community that makes the task of uplifting Hispanic youth a burning priority. “Only 62% of Hispanic youths graduate high school. Job related deaths within our community have risen 53%. There is a direct line between lack of education and standard of living,” he said. He stated that the six winners now had the responsibility to be role models for their peers and to bring someone else up there with them, in the future.
The Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards are sponsored by national companies. Representatives from Microsoft, Dr. Pepper, NBC Television Stations Division, Chase and MasterCard, and Exxon Mobil Corporation took turns handing out the awards to the six recipients. In addition, representatives from the various charities to receive donations from the students also attended the ceremony.
At the podium, the six student winners individually thanked devoted parents, helpful counselors, and family and friends that had made it all possible.
“Mom, Dad, you were always there for me,” said an emotion-filled Ana Hernandez-Bravo.
The students looked forward to bright futures in which they hoped to change the negative stereotypes cast upon young Hispanics, especially young, Hispanic women. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give,” said Karla Navarrete, citing Winston Churchill.
The six winners were selected by a group of dedicated community leaders.