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Celebrating ‘Superheroes’

Hispano Chamber presents banquet

By Isabel A. Rodriguez
For the Las Cruces Bulletin

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces celebrated its 20th anniversary with the “Superheroes of the Southwest” banquet Friday, April 20, at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Rosario Marin, the first Mexican-born U.S. Treasurer, served as guest speaker at the event. Before giving her speech, she spoke to guests and signed autographs of her book “Leading Between Two Worlds.” She also autographed currency. From 2001-03, when she served under President George W. Bush, American paper money carried her signature.

“I think it is fabulous that (Las Cruces) has so many entrepreneurs who come together to help each other and expand the opportunities for other Latinos to become entrepreneurs,” Marin said, before delivering her motivational speech. “The growth of the Hispano Chamber is really remarkable. Organizations like this are really fostering the notion that in helping one another, you help an entire community. I love entrepreneurs because they always find a way.

“This is where people help people. There is a camaraderie here that is palpable; you see it, you feel it. It’s really amazing. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to tell you what a jewel you have. I’ve been here before and I love Las Cruces.”

The night kicked off with the introduction of the Board of Directors, many of whom were dressed as comic book superheroes, including Super Girl and Batman. President Jeffrey Silva dressed as Batman, and rode into the room on a motorcycle. Former chamber president John Muñoz appeared as Scooby Doo.

In her speech, Marin described many of the challenges she faced throughout her life, from language barriers when she moved to the United States from Mexico, to learning to parent a son with Down syndrome.

“I went to work full time, and went to school at night,” Marin said of her time following high school. “It took me four years to get a two-year degree. I want to give a shout-out to the community college system. And I want to give a shout-out to the state college system. Those degrees are mine.

“But it wasn’t enough,” she said. “I wanted an MBA.”

She said her family could not understand her quest for more education. Her first job, at City National Bank in Southern California, carried the title “assistant to the receptionist.”

“My mom said, ‘You are a secretary at a bank. In Beverly Hills. Why do you need more school?’” The additional schooling, however, enabled Marin to climb the corporate ladder. It was the 1980s, and she and her husband became selfprofessed “yuppies,” the term of the day for young, upwardly mobile professionals.

At the height of their rise, they learned their baby would have Down syndrome.

“I had to take care of Eric, so I quit my job. I asked ‘Why? Why is god punishing me this way?’” Despite moments she described as “absolute hopelessness, absolute fear,” she moved on with her life. She credits the love and caring of her son Eric with her success.

“Had Eric not been born with Down syndrome, I probably would not have done what I did,” she said. “It taught me I was bigger than those challenges. There’s always a rainbow. There’s always hope.”

She went on to work for the governor of California, working for people with disabilities. She earned a city council seat in Huntington Park, Calif. When Eric was 15, she became treasurer. Three years later, she became the first Latina to run for U.S. Senate.

Award winners in five categories were announced at the event. They included the Women’s Intercultural Center as Nonprofit of the Year, Sasha Ogas as Volunteer of the Year, the Las Cruces Bulletin as Business of the Year, Rosalinda Carreon-Altamirano as Educator of the Year and Nathan Small as Citizen of the Year.

“I really, truly believe the Hispano Chamber represents what is best about Las Cruces,” said Small, a Las Cruces city councillor in his acceptance speech. “I am so very honored and humbled to be a part of this.”

For Altamirano, bilingual specialist for the Las Cruces Public Schools, the most challenging part of being a teacher is providing educational opportunities for all students on the same level.

“There should be no barriers against language, ethnicity or color,” she said. “Everybody should be given an equal chance to learn.”

David and Jaki McCollum, who became owners of the Las Cruces Bulletin in 2003, accepted the Business of the Year award from board member Santiago Soto. David Mc-Collum recognized Soto’s persistence in seeking a Hispano Chamber membership from the Bulletin shortly after the McCollums purchased the newspaper. The Bulletin has been a member ever since.

David McColllum said the Bulletin became successful, in large part, because a few key individuals in the Las Cruces community believed in his concept for a community weekly newspaper.

“We believe in newspapers because we believe in this community,” said Bulletin publisher David McCollum.

Ogas, the Volunteer of the Year, said volunteering is something anyone can do.

“Just find something you’re passionate about and do it,” Ogas said.

By day, Ogas is an agent for Farm Bureau Services. Her many volunteer efforts include Keep Las Cruces Beautiful, Junior Achievement, El Caldito Soup Kitchen and the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce Conquistadores.

She helped found the Hispano Chamber’s Junior Amigos program, which enables high school students to participate in the chamber’s activities.

Several Junior Amigos volunteered their time at the banquet.

“An event like this inspires me in several ways,” said Zane Camunez, a junior from Gadsden High School. “First, it shows the Hispanic community coming together to benefit not only ourselves, but the entire city of Las Cruces. It also shows that people can go anywhere, regardless of their background.”