Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Heroes

October 15, 2015, marked the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. Throughout the month, SIREN celebrated the heritage, culture, accomplishments and progress of Latinos in our community by honoring local Hispanic Heritage Heroes. Our honorees showcased the successful progress we have made on a variety of issues and industries including Latinos in elected office, organizers and advocates creating positive change, and leaders improving educational achievement among Latino students. 

Meet our #HHM Heroes: 

Mayra Cruz is the SIREN Board President and currently serves as faculty and Department Chair of the De Anza College Child Development and Education Department in Cupertino, California. She has been instrumental in organizing efforts to create access to community college for Spanish-speaking early childhood educators and serves as the coordinator and advisor for programs serving immigrants and Latina/o students. 

Sergio Jimenez is a San Jose resident who has dedicated many years to improving the quality of life of our communities. Sergio emigrated from Mexico at a young age and he and his six siblings were raised in east San Jose by a single mother. He now lives in South San Jose but stays connected by sitting on the non-profit Board of Somos Mayfair, an organization that seeks to empower the Latino community. Sergio is the current Chair of the City of San José Parks and Recreation Commission as well as the President and Founder of Oak Grove Neighborhood Association. 

Chava Bustamante is the Executive Director of LUNA - Latinos United for a New America, and a former organizer with SEIU local 1877 and head of the Justice for Janitors campaign. He has over 40 years of community organizing experience and has been a steadfast partner in our work to improve the quality of life for workers and immigrants in Silicon Valley. 

Idania Peralta serves as the Pastoral Organizer at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose, where she is responsible for organizing and leadership development in one of the largest immigrant neighborhoods in Santa Clara County. Through organizing and faith, she empowers immigrant community members every day to advocate for social justice issues, and recruits leaders to become involved in the church's ministries.

Deacon Ruben Solorio is the Director of Social Ministries at the Diocese of San Jose. Here he shares what he is proud of his Hispanic heritage:

"I am proud of my Hispanic Heritage because I was able to grow up RICH. RICH in tradition that dates back to the countries of our ancestors. RICH in culture that is made up of delicious food, amazing music, spirited dance and inspirational art. RICH in love that has been shared with me all of my life and the opportunity to give that love to others. RICH in the Spanish language that is a language of love. RICH in faith that includes all people and inspires us to become one community of love. RICH in hope that despite our struggles and pain, that we will continue to march together for justice and peace. It is in this richness that I proudly grew up in and continue to be a part of my Hispanic Heritage. QUE VIVA!" - Deacon Ruben Solorio

Katie Aragón is the Silicon Valley Director for FWD.us. Katie works to mobilize voices in the tech community in support of comprehensive immigration reform. She works to empower documented and undocumented immigrants to share their stories with elected officials and influence the political debate to be more open and welcoming towards immigrants of all backgrounds, securing rights for those who currently lack them.

San Jose City Councilmember Donald Rocha is a 2nd generation Mexican American of mixed heritage - his father is of Mexican descent and his mother is of Irish and Portuguese descent. Don's passion and priority is his role as a parent. He is a devoted father who volunteers in his children’s classrooms and for the many athletic leagues in which his children participate. Donald served as a School Board Member in the Cambrian School District from 2008 and is currently serving his second term representing the people of District 9 on the San Jose City Council.

Cecilia Chavez, a daughter, mother, wife, organizer, and community advocate shared her story and passion with us:

"I was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico -- This statement has forever created an ambivalent feeling in my heart. Although I say it with great pride and honor, there is always a piece of me that hurts every time I remember. I did not have the opportunity to create memories in my beloved country or to experience it through my own eyes. I only have the stories my parents tell me of a Mexico that has transformed into something so foreign even they don't recognize. They made a decision more than two decades ago to search for a future with greater promises than the ones given to them in a rural town. More out of necessity than curiosity, they decided to bring me and my five siblings along for the journey. At the time it was the only solution for the disease that was taking my brother’s life, because no other one was affordable.

"Now 20 years later, as a mother and wife myself, it is clear that this decision motivates me to continue on with their journey. I understand the sacrifices they made and the difficulties they have endured. I'm also aware that my family's journey is just one of millions. My unique lens now, as a Master's student in Mexican American Studies and as an immigrant, allows me to recognize the pain of my people and know where it comes from. I'm aware that I cannot erase any of it but I can encourage and teach others how to heal.

"My voice as an activist has given me the tools to help my community stand up to what is morally and legally wrong. As an organizer for Silicon Valley Debug, I am able to help families understand the power they have when it comes to protecting their loved ones. The community knowledge that we hold is shared among those who are willing to fight against the judicial forces that continue to criminalize our people. I believe that recognizing our struggle and the road that got us here helps us understand how we can create meaningful change for the future." 

San Jose City Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco has a longstanding commitment to advocating for our most underrepresented communities - immigrants, families, children, and seniors.

Assemblymember Luis Alejo has been a long-time ‪#‎HispanicHeritageHero‬, from his time in local politics in the Salinas Valley to his now third term in the California State Assembly. In the Assembly, Alejo authored two landmark pieces of legislation, AB 60 and AB 10, giving undocumented immigrants the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license and raising the minimum wage in California to $10 an hour in 2016.

"There are numerous reasons why I am proud of my Latino heritage. One reason is our families who continue to give back to their communities and work hard to provide better opportunities to their children. Growing up in a family that worked in agriculture, I was fortunate to witness the power of political activism at an early age. I watched as labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta led the fight to gain workers’ rights for thousands of farm workers and why my grandparents joined them. It also inspired me to have a voice and developed a sense of personal commitment to helping my community. To this day, I am inspired by what I saw and am proud to have had a major impact on California by authoring Assembly Bill 10, which will once again raise the minimum wage on January 1st to $10 an hour, and Assembly Bill 60 which restored the ability of undocumented California residents to apply for a driver’s license. Over 500,000 immigrants now have a license and a better life!" - Assemblymember Luis Alejo

Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca is the founder and CEO of Sarahi.tv, a blog to help undocumented and low income students find scholarship and networking opportunities. Earlier this year, she was also a winner of the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge with her Dreamers Roadmap mobile app which also helps undocumented students find scholarships, and in 2014 Sarahi was a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) White House Champions of Change recipient, honored for her exemplary leadership in her community.