“Every single voice matters. You put it out there. You speak up. You share your stories. You tell them what you think,” Dr. Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, told the crowd at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center Oct. 13. “Because nobody knows our stories the way that we do and that’s very important.”
Menéndez Coller spoke while being honored with the “Community Leader of the Year” award at the 11th annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon Celebration. Every autumn, La Movida Radio and Mid-West Family Broadcasting celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month by hosting a luncheon that includes food, speeches, entertainment and awards in downtown Madison. The emcee this year, as it is every year, was attorney Mario Mendoza of Murphy Desmond S.C.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway was joined by other local political and community leaders to read the official Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation.
This year’s keynote speaker was Charlotte Deleste, news anchor at WISC-TV.
“The Hispanic experience – the customs, the culture the heritage – are incredibly diverse and it’s not just one voice or one perspective. It is a collective. But what it really boils down to is family,” Deleste told the crowd. “We are here because of our family. We better ourselves because of our family. We better our education because of our family and we better our community because of our family.
“Look around you … this is your family,” she continued. “You are all family. And we are here to celebrate you. I know not everybody here will be honored or is going to receive an award, but collectively we work together as a family to support our brothers and sisters here.”
The honorees being recognized at the event, she added, are making sure that “Hispanics are being seen and have a voice.”
“These are changemakers. These are visionaries. Thes are angels put on this earth to make sure that Hispanics and their community get stronger and become an integral of this place that many of us call home,” Deleste said.
Dr. Jack E. Daniels, III, the president of Madison College was honored with “The Amigo Award.” Tomas Ballesta, owner of La Concha Bakery, was honored with the “Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year” award and Clara Barbosa, a billingual resources specialist at MMSD, was honored with the “Making a Difference” award.
The Community Organization of the Year was presented to the Latino Consortium for Action.
David Aguayo, the public policy manager for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, was honored with the “Believe and Succeed” award.
“I look around this room and I see hope. I see leaders and I see the future. And that future is Latino,” said Aguayo, who was also the Latino Outreach Director for the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. “No matter how you slice the Tres Leches, the numbers and data show the same truth and that truth is that the Hispanic electorate is the fastest-growing demographic in Wisconsin.
“We have proved time and time again that when we come together, we are a force to be reckoned with,” he added. “The people, organizations, and institutions who have not taken our community seriously are in for an awakening. And this awakening is only the beginning. As we continue to grow in numbers, we will continue to grow in power. But we need people who look like me and look like you to run for office and to turn that power into policy. And that’s the reason why I do what I do.”
Dr. Armando Ibarra, a professor for school for workers for the UW-Madison was honored with the “Hispanic Achievement of the Year.”
“I stand here before you receiving such a great honor in the community and I can say that I know almost everybody in this room. I’ve interacted with a number of the people in this room and sometimes we haven’t liked each other … but we respect each other,” Ibarra said. “Education is how we treat each other; not what a piece of paper says. Respect is the basic building block for any type of relationship. We make the path walking.”
Menéndez Coller said she was honored to receive the “Community Leader of the Year” award.
“The way that I try to do my work at Centro, in my mind it’s not remarkable and it shouldn’t be out of the norm, but it should be the way we do things here. It’s the way that I’ve always wanted my neighborhood to be treated … and that is with heart, with understanding and with empathy,” Menéndez Coller said. “I carry those values very near and dear to my heart.
“When those that I love in my community are mistreated, I speak out and I react. And I think what that shows me is that I’m doing things a little bit right,” she added. “And that approach is what we all should be thinking. I hope that I can model this for everybody that I encounter because to make the kind of changes that we really need in this community, we need every single voice and interest group in Dane County to speak up.”
Menéndez Coller mentioned that Centro Hispano of Dane County was founded in 1983 by Ilda Thomas, someone she said she respects immensely.
“That’s where our roots lie. That’s where our community lives,” she said. “But that is not where the story ends. And as we continue to thrive and grow, our destiny is going to be here in Dane County and here in the state of Wisconsin.
“I want everybody to know that change needs to happen because it’s just and because our people deserve it. I carry a little piece of my heart that tells me that, eventually, things will be better for all of our people.”