In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Conexión Américas hosted the 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards Ceremony at Casa Azafrán October 2nd. The ceremony honored young Latino writers who shared their stories for the annual essay contest; the winners of the Orgullo Hispano (Hispanic Pride) award, which goes to unsung heroes in our community; and the ‘Amiga We Love’ award, which recognizes a non-Hispanic individual who has helped empower Latinos through their work, their service or actions.

Essay contest finalists, grand prize winner and Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre

The ceremony showcased the new generation of Latino voices in our community – Nashville high school students who submitted essays for the “My Hispanic Roots, My American Dream” essay contest. Presented by Nashville MLS CEO Ian Ayre, the grand prize of a laptop computer went to Lesley Franco Sanchez, a senior at KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School, who wrote eloquently of her inspiring family and her experience as a young Latina growing up in Nashville.

Conexión Américas honored three more finalist essays, all which touch on similar themes: hard work and sacrifice, and a hope to succeed with their own version of the American dream. The three first place essays were authored by Yenni Guadalupe Salinas, 10th grader at University School Nashville; Giselle Villar, 11th grader at Maplewood High School; and Sandy Garcia Ramirez, 10th grader at LEAD Academy.

Orgullo Hispano Award winners with Ana Schwager of Southwest

Presented by Southwest, this year, three Nashvillians received the Orgullo Hispano (Hispanic Pride) award: Maritza Erazo, Tomás Yan and Veronica Salcedo. The Orgullo Hispano award is presented to Latino adults or young people who have been persistently working to better their immediate community – neighborhood, school, work place, nonprofit or civic organization.

Maritza Erazo, a mental health therapist at Family and Children’s Services, has worked tirelessly over the years as a support system to Spanish speaking immigrants in Nashville, who over the last two years have experienced much anxiety and uncertainty.

Tomás Yan, a science teacher at Antioch Middle School, works to inspire the next generation of scientists and has been integral in planning, leading and conducting summer camps for migrant students across Tennessee.

Veronica Salcedo, a native of México, works nonstop as a journalist in Nashville to produce around-the-clock Spanish language news broadcasts to keep the Latino community informed.

Amiga We Love award winner Tricia Herzfeld

Finally, Conexión Américas honored Tricia Herzfeld with the Amiga We Love award. An attorney in Nashville, Tricia has generously volunteered her time to serve as a trusted adviser on immigration related legal issues and policies. Her rebellious spirit and relentless drive in the pursuit of justice for immigrant communities and Tennesseans continues to inspire us.