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The 2018 honorees, (from left to right) Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, Alba Martinez, Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Dr. Jose Russo, and Peter Gonzales. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick
The 2018 honorees, (from left to right) Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, Alba Martinez, Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Dr. Jose Russo, and Peter Gonzales. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick

A celebration of Hispanic achievement in Philadelphia

At the Hispanic Heritage Awards Luncheon, AL DÍA recognized five local leaders of Hispanic descent for the vital contributions they make in our region.

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Speaking at the third annual Hispanic Heritage Awards Luncheon, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf spoke of the significant role the Hispanic community plays not only in the state, but nationwide.

“The Hispanic community has indelibly placed their stamp on our commonwealth,” Wolf told the hundreds gathered at the Union League for the Oct. 10 event. “Some fine examples of the contributions the community has made is represented by the honorees.”

These honorees, five archetypes of the Hispanic community in the Philadelphia region representing various professional fields, were recognized by AL DÍA for the exceptional work they contribute in our city and beyond. These archetypes are Judge L. Felipe Restrepo (Public Service), Alba Martinez (Business), Dr. Jose Russo (Health), Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago (Education), and Peter Gonzales (Non-Profit).

The ceremony was held in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

As the Democratic governor seeks reelection in November, Wolf pointed out that Pennsylvania, and the United States as a whole, welcomes people of every race, color and creed. He added that it’s a place where people make their mark on society through their actions and the positive impact they make.

“The Hispanic community has done just that, and I, for one, am proud to be here,” Wolf said, “to celebrate that culture and those contributions.”

The strength and impact of the Hispanic community was a common theme throughout the ceremony, and Gov. Wolf was just one in a lineup of speakers that included Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Judge Nelson Díaz, AL DÍA Founder and CEO Hernán Guaracao, and former U.S. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Henry Cisneros, who delivered the keynote address.

Monica Malpass, 6ABC Action News anchor, served as the event’s emcee. She praised the Hispanic and Latino communities for their wide range of work.

“Contributions from education to business to the medical field, the legal community, it’s depth and breadth of talent is represented by all of you,” she said of the Hispanic community, and specifically the honorees.

Mayor Kenney shared similar sentiments, noting that the city’s Hispanic residents bring great value in making Philadelphia a more vibrant, enjoyable and rich place to live.

“The Hispanic community here in Philadelphia has a significant impact on our city’s economy and our neighborhoods,” Kenney said. “There’s no better time to celebrate this than during Hispanic Heritage Month.”

He added that the way in which immigrants, including those of Hispanic origin, are perceived today is due, in large part, to people not understanding their history and where they come from.

“If we understood each other’s history, we would better be able to be prepared to respect each other’s contributions to this one America,” Kenney said.

Honorees Shine

Each honoree has shown a level of leadership and commitment that deserves to be recognized.

Accepting his award, Judge Restrepo credited his family for his success, which led to him first becoming a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to ultimately a Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“Whatever success I’ve enjoyed really has been because of my family,” Restrepo said, mentioning his parents, siblings, wife and four children.

“I’m very humbled by this award. Particularly, in light of the company I keep,” he continued, referring to his fellow honorees.

Dr. Bonilla-Santiago, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University - Camden, used her speech to encourage everyone, and especially Latinos, to vote.

“There’s 55 million Latinos [in the United States]. We have to get out, and we have to show that this is our country as well,” she said. “We want to work together to rebuild this nation to what it can be.”

“And that is a nation of hope, a nation of experiences that are so diverse.”

Martinez is a Principal at Vanguard. In its mission, Vanguard aims to democratize investing and make it more accessible, transparent and fair “for the little guy.” She finds this work inspiring, and credited her success to two things: love and opportunity.

“Sometimes, I took an opportunity and I failed, and sometimes, I was successful,” she said. “If we continue to fight for that in this community, then we will be able to build a society that … has a lot of numbers and also has a lot of power and influence.”

Since the 1960s, Dr. Russo has worked diligently in the field of cancer research, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

“I hope that the rest of my days, I can continue working in order to understand more,” Russo said. “To keep working until the end of my days to do whatever I can for treating and preventing breast cancer.”

Gonzales, President & CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, credited his parents for instilling in him his values, the importance of his heritage, and direction. Those three things are what has crafted his approach to his work.

“The work I do at the Welcoming Center is critical, to welcome immigrants into our region,” Gonzales said.

He also used his speech to highlight the importance of making sure that everyone is accounted for and represented in the 2020 U.S. Census.

“I encourage all of you in the world to think about what you could be doing to get the message out that it’s critically important for all people, regardless of what socioeconomic background they have, what neighborhood they live in, what language they speak, what country they were born in,” he said. “It’s critical for our city’s economic growth for the next 10 years.”

Looking Ahead

All of the honorees exemplify the critical role that the Hispanic community plays in our society, a role that will only continue to grow as the years go on.

The fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019.

“I promise to you, it’s going to be even better than this year,” Guaracao said at the event. “If you liked it today, you’re going to like it even better next year.”

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