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Romy Diaz, president of the Pan American Association of Philadelphia. Photo: Screenshot of the organization's 81 anniversary event. 
Romy Diaz, president of the Pan American Association of Philadelphia. Photo: Screenshot of the organization's 81 anniversary event. 

Pan American Association of Philadelphia's 81st anniversary event promotes unity, democracy in the Americas

During its 81st Meeting and Award event on Nov. 30, the Pan American Association of Philadelphia honored two Latino organizations that have made tremendous…

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Since its founding in 1940, the Pan American Association of Philadelphia has been dedicated to promoting cultural, educational and economic activities to increase understanding and cooperation among the peoples of the Americas and support the development of Latino talent.

While the U.S. was in a different moment in time 81 years ago, some similarities can be drawn.

That’s according to Abelardo Lechter, chairman of the Pan American Association of Philadelphia. 

“Today, we face different challenges, yet similar challenges in that democracy is being challenged throughout the world,” he said. 

That means the existence of the association is just as necessary today as it was in 1940.

“We believe that an association like ours, dedicated to the Western Hemisphere, is an important part of Philadelphia. And we're very dedicated to carry on with that mission,” said Lechter. 

81-Year Anniversary

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, the Pan American Association of Philadelphia hosted its 81st Annual Membership Meeting at the Union League of Philadelphia.

This was the first time the association hosted an in-person event since the start of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, the association remained hard at work.

“When the pandemic struck last year, we pivoted to online programming and continued to award $5,000 individual scholarships to returning university students, as well as financial recognitions to graduating seniors who demonstrated excellence in Latin American studies,” said Romy Diaz, president of the Pan American Association of Philadelphia.

Latino Organizations Honored

At the event, two prominent Latino community organizations were awarded the 2021 William J Clothier II Memorial Award.

The annual award is named after a founder of the association, and presented to organizations that exemplify excellence and commitment to the communities they serve. 

This year, ACLAMO and Esperanza were the two organizations awarded with the William J. Clothier II Memorial Award. Both organizations showed a strong commitment to serving their community, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayra Bergman, vice president of communications at PECO and presenter of the awards, praised the organizations for “excellence and commitment to the communities that they serve, especially during these most trying times,” she said.

As a result of the pandemic, ACLAMO transitioned to virtual services and implemented new initiatives towards prevention, intervention and recovery to advance health equity efforts. 

“ACLAMO served over 20,000 people this year,” said Nelly Jimenez-Arevalo, executive director & CEO of ACLAMO.

“We were able to distribute over $5.3 million in grants or credibility assistance [and] I have provided case management services to over 2,000 people,” she continued.

Jimenez-Arevalo credits three qualities for her and the ACLAMO staff to be able to provide their communities with the help they need: love, passion and compassion.

As people continue to endure the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the organization continues to welcome individuals and families, all with the mission of building stronger communities. 

Esperanza did the same, providing economic opportunities, consulting 80,000 Spanish speakers to better identify ways to address vaccination rate gaps, and assisted local businesses to garner over $400,000 in relief funds.

“We believe in making and working hard to try to make a difference,” said Rev. Danny Cortes, executive vice president & chief operating officer at Esperanza. “That’s what Esperanza is all about.”

Cortes noted that the pandemic made the effort to make a difference more essential than ever. As a result, the organization mobilized its staff and engaged the community.

Esperanza was the venue of one of the largest mass vaccination sites in the city

“And the net effect of that was we are one of the highest Hispanic vaccinated communities in the United States,” said Cortes. 

Overall, Cortes expressed that the Esperanza conducts itself by staying true to its three core values: faith, excellence and integrity. 

A Respected Council

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, served as the event’s keynote speaker.

During his speech, he stressed the importance of democracy across the Americas. Based in Washington, DC, he praised the city of Philadelphia as “a trail of our own democracy.”

However, he noted that democracy has lost ground in the Americas. 

“But we can work together in my view,” said Farnsworth. “We must work together to help restore democratic movements.”

The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped matters either, as Latin America has seen nearly one-third of COVID-related deaths worldwide, despite having only 8% of the world’s population.

It has also impacted jobs and access to quality education, which Farnsworth describes “has long been the region’s Achilles heel.”

To address these issues and regain ground, Farnsworth said that policymakers must seize the moment to lay out an ambitious and realistic vision for the Americas.  

Farnsworth noted prioritizing vaccinations, engaging in meaningful dialogue and maintaining a democracy at the forefront of the discussions. 

To close, Farnsworth gave a very succinct quote that details the way these things can get done. 

“You can’t fix a problem if you don’t diagnose the problem,” he said, noting that he is optimistic about the future of democracy being restored in the Americas.

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