AL DÍA’s 2020 Hispanic Heritage Awards took Latinos in Philly and beyond to new heights
The virtual ceremony that took place on Oct. 7 celebrated archetypes, but more so the shifting narrative surrounding Latinos in the U.S.
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AL DÍA’s 2020 Hispanic Heritage Awards were unlike any previous year of the event, and that’s not just because it was virtual.
Yes, the novel coronavirus did relegate the occasion to being viewed behind a computer screen, but it was historic nonetheless.
First and foremost, it featured the most diverse class of Latinos AL DÍA has ever honored.
Dr. Evelyn Nuñez, Dr. Jack Ludmir, Rep. Danilo Burgos, Lou Rodriguez and Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio all share the common label of Latino, but their acceptance speeches on the night showed the breadth of their experiences both personally and in their careers.
Nuñez, introduced by Rev. Peter Donohue, president of Villanova University, spoke of her journey to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico at the age of three and the impact of her parents’ emphasis on school growing up.
“While they were not offered the opportunity to get educated beyond elementary school, they instilled in me the value of education,” said Nuñez.
She’s ridden that emphasis throughout a 27-year career in the School District of Philadelphia, and makes sure to pass that message on to all of her students.
“I am privileged to represent the Latino community in this capacity, and honored to continue this work,” said Nuñez.
Ludmir, introduced by Dr. Stephen Klasko, president and CEO of Jefferson Health System, shared an insight into his long career of working to better the maternal health of Philadelphia’s migrant Latinx community.
“Our mission is to provide care and support regardless of ability to pay or country of origin,” he said.
That line of work has also granted Ludmir a new level of respect for the plethora of different stories and cultures within the Latinx community. While there are similarities across all Latinos, it’s the differences that make the community what it is.
“Even though our language and family values are common to all Hispanics, we need to understand and respect the unique differences that we have by region and country,” he said.
Burgos, introduced by Juan Lopez, senior vice president of finance shared services at PECO, kept it short, but recognized his family and those he serves from Pennsylvania’s 197th district in North Philadelphia as his main motivators.
“I will continue to be committed to the work my district deserves and the Latino community throughout the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Rodriguez, introduced by Dr. Julie Wollman, president of Widener University, called out three women as the biggest influences of his career.
Susan Lior, who was his manager in his time at the Philadelphia Water Department, was the first person to explain to him the challenges for women in the male-dominated world of engineering and would be a vital resource for Rodriguez to get advice when starting his own consulting firm.
“Sue was a pioneer in developing technology that helped civil engineers make better informed decisions,” he said. “She was truly ahead of her time.”
Deb Ayers was the owner of the final engineering firm Rodriguez worked for before starting his own firm. Rodriguez’s company was the reincarnation of Ayer’s business.
He said she taught him the value of finding a work-life balance and to always put family first in the equation. Ayers was also the one to emphasize giving back to the community, which Rodriguez carries on both at his own business and as a part of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GPHCC).
“Deb was a great engineer and business owner, but she is an even greater wife, mom and person of faith,” he said.
But the most important woman in Rodriguez’s life and career is his own wife, Nicole.
“The person that has had the most impact on my life, and the rock that provided the support and encouragement I needed to run a business,” he said.
Nicole’s job as a nurse is what allowed Rodriguez to take the risk and open his own business and he called her his “silent partner,” whom he consults to make the tough decisions in business and life.
Cabrera DiGiorgio, introduced by Mayra Bergman, vice president of communications at PECO, thanked her family and Congreso colleagues while also recognizing the importance of Hispanic Heritage month.
“This is a wonderful opportunity we have every year to celebrate, to acknowledge, to showcase all of the achievements, all of the contributions,” she said, “to share our culture with the entire nation, and showcase how proud we are of our Latino heritage.”
At Congreso, Cabrera DiGiorgio recognized the work of her board and colleagues that “work so hard every day” to have a positive impact in the North Philadelphia Latinx community, but also serve as role models for the young Latinos they serve.
Beyond the honoree speeches, the ceremony also included a series of congratulations from previous honorees, three musical performances, a speech from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, and a keynote from Richard Montañez — who shared the story of his rise from janitor to vice president at PepsiCo following his creation of a billion-dollar iteration of the Cheeto.
If anything should be taken from Montañez’s story, it’s that Latinos can and will be the future leaders of the U.S. and they don’t need anyone’s permission to do so.
“Somebody said if you want to know if you’re a leader, just turn around and see how many people are following you. That’s not true,” said Montañez, “because many times leaders go alone.”
All five of AL DÍA’s Hispanic Heritage awardees in 2020 have had to go alone at some point in their careers, whether it be to go for a doctorate, starting a business, a campaign for office, a new leadership position, or to help some of society’s most vulnerable.
They did it, and have come out the other end of the experience as models for the rest of us to follow.
These models were not only recognized in 2020 by the Latinx community of Philadelphia, but the 19 leaders that made up the event’s advisory board represent some of the biggest names in the city’s overall business community, which embraced AL DÍA’s Hispanic Heritage Awards with open arms.
The board was led by co-chairs, Michael Innocenzo, president and CEO of PECO, and Judge Nelson Diaz.
“Dr. Jack Ludmir, Carolina Cabrera DiGiorgio, Lou Rodriguez, Representative Danilo Burgos, and Dr. Evelyn Nuñez have made exceptional contributions in their fields. They are truly the archetypes of our history,” said Innocenzo.