More Reflections & Testimonials from Illustrious Awards Nominees Part II


Interviews’ Transcript

The Institute for Latino Studies and its Board of Directors have been humbled and made proud by the human and success stories of the Illustrious Awards nominees.

Along the past several weeks, The Institute has been filming interviews with nominees to The Illustrious Awards at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack, NJ, in preparation for the grandiose awards ceremony on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 6pm at Rutgers University’s Paul Robeson Campus Center in Newark, NJ.

What was intended to be a basic recording of professional success stories for the purpose of documenting and celebrating Latino contributions to The United States has evolved into the unprecedented and memorable telling of human stories that paint a picture of who we are. Each story inspires and motivates us to strive and succeed.

We give you this week’s installment, showcasing reflections from the following nominees:

Historian/Griot Hector Bonilla: “I applaud The Latino Institute for finally having the courage and the commitment to document Latino contributions to the State of New Jersey, this nation and the world. It is the right time to consider that the American media, American history books and textbooks do not include us; even though there would be no United States of America without the contribution of Latinos. We have fought in every war. As a matter of fact, Latinos, as a group have won more congressional medals of honor than any other ethnic group. There wouldn’t be a United States without the contribution of Latinos.”

Journalist and Lehman College Professor Miguel Perez: “I have been all over the country documenting the history of Hispanics in this country, a history that is ignored by American history books. That’s what I’ve been doing. This country gives you the impression that it all began with the Pilgrims; but there are 100 years of Hispanic history before them, that hasn’t been documented or well documented, certainly, not taught to our children. And that’s what I am all about right now…my history project.

When I got the e-mail that I have been nominated…and the word ‘Illustrious’ came up…you know the name of the award is Illustrious…and my mother used to tell me: ‘Quiero que seas un hombre ilustre’ and that was the word she used, meaning ‘I want you to be an illustrious man…me and my brother. Believe me, I thought of my mother when I got that e-mail, and I will be thinking of my mother at the ceremony.”

Seny Taveras, Esq., Executive Director, CUNY in the Heights: “I would like to dedicate the award to my mother, because I think I am just like my mom. Everything I am, who I am and what I have accomplished I owe my mother. And I only wish she was here to hear me or see it because now she is in heaven, probably watching over us. So I thank my mother and I love her very much.”

Communicator Malin Falú: “My biggest accomplishment has been to be on radio and television for over 40 years, educating, entertaining, reporting and doing all you do in communication. That has been my biggest accomplishment.”

Dr. Marcos Charles, Retired Clinical Professor, Albert Eistein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and co-founder of Hostos Community College: “My major accomplishments include being elected president of the prestigious and important Bronx County Medical Society, which included all the doctors of the Bronx County in New York; the second one was to be a co-founder of Hostos Community College; and the third one was to be the founding president of the Dominican American Medical Society of the United States.”

“When The Institute notified me of this nomination, I was in shock, because I know The Institute, and it is a very prestigious Institution that really fights for the rights and for recognition of Latino people like me. For me, the nomination was a great honor after being in the United States for 53 years and being approached by an institution like the Institute for Latino Studies regarding this very important award.”

Community Leader Sonia Rosado, first Latino elected to a Freeholder Board in New Jersey: “My most significant accomplishment was being the first Latina elected to a freeholder board. In 200 years there had never been a Latino in that position…and I was elected for the first time. I opened the door…now there is another Latino in that seat. So I think that’s my major accomplishment, because we broke through those walls at the county level. We had council people already, we had mayors, but not a freeholder. And I broke that barrier and I am very proud of that. It’s a lot of work. I did it because I had a lot of support from everyone, not only the Latino community, I had support from all communities. I think that was the most significant, because it was something that was done that can continue for many years to come.”

Businessman Hector Nunez: “I have succeeded providing accounting and tax services to the community, and I have earned the respect and trust of my clients. I serve the Dominican community doing accounting and offering financial advice to small businesses. I serve 3,500 clients per year. I have provided professional services to over 50,000 during my career. My major accomplishments have been to serve with honesty in public administration for 4 years, to be comptroller of the presidency, to be comptroller of the ministry of foreign affairs, and to be consul general in Haiti.
I am proud to be in the United States. I have three children; all serving the US military; two are veterans of Irak and Afganistan. I am proud to have been nominated for this award. I would like to thank the Institute and its board for this honor.”

Bergen County Community College Professor and Reverend Alejandro Benjamin: “I think my major accomplishment in life has been to be a professor, a teacher for 31 years; to affect young people to change, to learn, to explore and that is a feeling of doing something that transform individuals in the head, in their minds and their way of thinking. So that’s my major professional achievement in life.”

“The Latino Institute has been… I know it since its inception. It is one of my proud pieces. I am very proud of The Latino Institute. Among institutions of Latinos that last very short time and are short-lived, The Latino Institute has been constant and I praise the Institute and President Maria Teresa Montilla for this effort. I think it is a great thing to recognize your people and I think the Latino Institute has not only done things from the perspective of collecting data and doing proposals and doing position papers, but it is an arm of the struggle, on behalf of the Latino community in the State of New Jersey and beyond.”

Richard Rivera, Founder of the National Coalition of Latino Officers: “I am Richard Rivera and I am co-founder of the National Coalition of Latino Officers. I am very thankful and humbled by this recognition by The Institute and its board. Bringing community together with law enforcement. I have been doing this for decades and no time in our history in America is this more important that currently. So when a police department resists changes and we bring about the change and they don’t know about it, that’s a success; that’s an accomplishment and those are the ones that I take the most pride in because, often times, there is a lot of resistance to this work and often time you don’t get what you are trying to accomplish, but when it does come true, it’s very nice that it happens.”

Reverend Jose Rodriguez: ‘“It has been my privilege to go around the world in missions, working in communities and helping in disaster areas in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Mexico. I have done this kind of work all my live. My purpose has been to bring change at the local level, in people’s lives and communities. All of this make me feel that I am making a big difference.”

Community Activist Rosita Romero: “I would like to thank The Latino Studies Institute and its Board of Directors for this initiative to make sure that we are recognized for what we are. As Latinos, we are loving, hard working people who have made a contribution to the American society.”

Entrepreneur and Businessman Jaime Lucero: ‘”My name is Jaime Lucero. I am from Mexico. I am the 4th of seven children. I came to New York 40 years ago in 1975 and I have remained here since then. Thirty-two years ago I started a company called Gold and Silver incorporated in Harrison, NJ. It’s a clearinghouse and distribution center for women clothing.

“My beginnings in USA were similar to those of other people. I was a dishwasher for six years at a restaurant. I never quit that job. I then moved up holding different positions during my tenure. One day I asked myself if that was what I wanted to do after leaving everything in Mexico to come to this great country. That thought motivated me to buy the restaurant’s used truck and go out there to explore other opportunities in the region. Then I started my company, which today employs more than 250 individuals. We have created jobs in Mexico…4,000 jobs in 2001. I have had and created many opportunities while developing and growing my company. My goal has always been to succeed.

“I think my biggest accomplishment has been the sense of belonging to the immigrant community and to be united and supportive of immigrants. For some reason, the Lord has decided to make me part of our immigrant community so that we all help each other and share what we have, with each other. This is why in my company we are dedicated to helping the community and supporting projects and initiatives that help us move forward as a group.”

Dennis E. Gonzalez, Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Well, definitely, I do want to thank The Latino Studies Institute and its Leadership for this honor.”

Multiple Emmy Award Winner Television Producer Willie Sanchez: “The Institute for Latino Studies’ main job and most important job is uncovering the roots of our success, in people, in achievements that have gone unnoticed, not recently, but for centuries. And when you come to these gatherings and you start meeting people that you knew years ago, and they still doing great, it’s almost like a reunion of pioneers; I mean people who began the efforts, but they don’t exist because their life’s stories have not been properly documented. They will be forgotten with those whose, unfortunately for us, histories weren’t told and even though they made great accomplishments in our community, the generation today doesn’t know who they are. And so, what you are doing at The Institute is capturing our historical record of who we are as a people and why we need to share it among others so that what I went through as a kid, doesn’t happen to the next generation…

“Originally I needed to know who I was. Growing up I wasn’t very proud of who I was. And that mean from the first grade I did what …unintelligible… did. I put white powder on my face, thinking that the white powder would give me the answers the teacher was asking me for. So one day, they called my parents and said, ‘why is he wearing all this powder on his face’. And my parents were all upset and they asked me why was I doing that. I replied that ‘yo quería saber lo que estaba diciendo ella, contestar la pregunta correctamente’. And my father thought about it and said; Muy bien. He understood. I thought that because I wasn’t the same color as those in my class, I couldn’t answer the questions…because of the color of my skin.

“So one of my goals was to find people like myself, who were going through that. And luckily at Rutgers University, through Puerto Rican studies, I was able to find people and a wonderful group. And that set the foundation of my writing, of my theater plays and self-discoveries of who we are as a people.”

Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Board of Governors’ Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University: “I have many accomplishments, many awards, wrote 4 or 5 books; but the accomplishment that I am most proud of is the school for children. To be able to save lives, to be able to send poor kids from Camden, NJ to Princeton, to the University of Pennsylvania, to Rutgers, to Cornel, to be able to send them to college and have them graduate and do well; there is nothing more rewarding than to save children and see families get jobs and prosper, and even seeing communities get better, and being able to transform a whole neighborhood, along with those children, that to me is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

“I believe that an award like this is important. It is important to reward people and celebrate where we come from, but most importantly, we are humble people. We don’t like to put out words sometimes because of our culture. But I think it’s so critical that we are part of the agenda for global citizenship. The world is changing. We are providing solutions; we are part of this new century of challenges. It’s so critical for us to be part of that agenda, a national global agenda to transform the world. And for me, using children and liberating children and educating them and putting them as the number one priority in this planet, that is so critical because they are the future, and without them we cannot change the world. Right? We cannot transform this universe. So it is critical that we continue to support the work of The Institute and that you continue to provide awards to people like this great team of people that you are honoring. Thank you so much.”’

Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz, the first Puerto Rican/Latino woman elected Mayor in New Jersey and probably in mainland USA: “My name is Wilda Diaz. I am the mayor of the City of Perth Amboy. I am currently the only Latina Mayor of Puerto Rican descend in the State of New Jersey and of an urban community, and possibly in the country.

“I would like to thank The Institute for acknowledging my hard work and thank them because they are also acknowledging many others that are making an impact in our Latino communities; and that we can also work and contribute to the greatness of this nation.

The list of Latino accomplishments and contribution to the United States is significant. For the most part, it hasn’t been acknowledged, appropriately. The Illustrious Awards Ceremony on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 6pm, promises to begin filling the void.

The Institute will, in the honorable manner honorees deserve, celebrate The Illustrious of our times.