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Peter Gonzales, Welcoming Center President and CEO, giving the opening speech at the 19th annual Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Peter Gonzales, Welcoming Center President and CEO, giving the opening speech at the 19th annual Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

The 19th annual Solas Awards honors three immigrant-led organizations

Each organization provides help and resources to immigrant populations throughout Philadelphia.

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Like many annual events, the Solas Awards had not taken place in person since 2019. This year, it was held at a new location, the Cherry Street Pier, on April 27, 2022. 

The Solas Awards are the Welcoming Center’s way to shine “a light on the contributions immigrants have been making in our city and region.” The Welcoming Center was created by Anne O’Callaghan in 2003, who came to the United States from Ireland in 1970. 

The festivities started with the Global Craft Market made up of vendors from all over the world, including VenBisustore from Venezuela, Yemisi Ajayi from Nigeria, and Strong Woman Designs from Dubai.

Colorful bags being sold by VenBisustore. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Colorful bags being sold by VenBisustore. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

In addition to the Market, guests could also get food from one of the food trucks, the Garden, or Anima’s Traditional Syrian Foods. 

That award show started with speeches from the Welcoming Center’s President and CEO Peter Gonzales and Board Chair Hao-Li Loh. She and her husband set up a $50,000 donation match challenge for the event. Those at the event could donate by texting the number set up on tabletop signs.

The organizations being honored were the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia (Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos en Philadelphia), I Belong Philly, and Let’s Talk Philly. 

Juan Carlos Romero giving his thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Juan Carlos Romero giving his thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

Speaker Erick Martinez described the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia’s mission as supporting Mexican and Central American business owners “to acquire tools, skills, representation, and promote their advancement in order to foster economic development [in] our community and the city of Philadelphia.” 

They raised money through a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help local Mexican and Central American businesses handle the pandemic. They did this because they were not able to access the small business relief funds. 

“We have many challenges in the future, but we have to work together as businesses, as people, as a community. We have to respect each other. It doesn’t matter what color [you are], if you are Latino, it doesn’t matter if you speak English. We are all here, so we have to work together. Support immigrant businesses. We are an essential part of this country’s economy. We are not the problem, we are the solution,” said Juan Carlos Romero, President of the Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia.  

Silvia Roldan giving her thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Silvia Roldan giving her thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

The mission of I Belong Philly “is to foster a space that creates opportunities, builds dialogue and relationships, offers networking opportunities, and appreciates culture.” 

The organization operates through collective leadership. Two of the organization’s members Silvia Roldan and Maria Eugenia Gonzalez gave acceptance speeches.  

"Our organization and team require[s] a certain amount of dedication and time for every project. It’s very difficult sometimes, but we do our best because this is what we love. We love to make projects for our immigrant communities. This award is for the love [that] we have for our community – we make all of this for you," said Roldan.

The IBP members ended their speech by saying individual thank you’s in their native languages, including Spanish, French and Portuguese. 

Karen Cervera giving her thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News
Karen Cervera giving her thank you speech at the Solas Awards. Photo credit: Jensen Toussaint/AL DÍA News

Let’s Talk Philly helps immigrants develop language and leadership skills so they are able to integrate into different facets of life in the U.S., including professionally and socially. The group was co-founded by Karen Cervera and Yushan Chou. Both gave thank you speeches. 

“To everyone out there with a dream, but aren’t sure if you can make it, don’t let that flame inside of you stop burning. Be brave and don’t give up, even if the path looks scary and challenging. You are not alone, and always be proud of who you are and where you come from. Let’s keep bringing our communities together, and whatever happens, let’s keep doing this with love,” said Cervera. 

As an area with a large and growing immigrant population, it’s important for organizations like the Welcoming Center and the Solas Award honorees, to exist to help them transition to life in the U.S. and set them up for success.

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