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Hispano Chamber celebrates anniversary

Superheroes make special appearance



 The Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with the Superheroes of the Southwest-themed annual banquet held Friday, April 20, at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Rosario Marin, the first Mexican-born Treasurer of the United States, served as guest speaker for the event. Before giving her speech, she spoke to guests and signed autographs of her book “Leading Between Two Worlds.”

Marin also autographed currency bills with her signature, from the time she served under the George W.

Bush administration.

“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.

“This is where people help people. There is a camaraderie here that is palpable; you see it, you feel it. It’s really amazing.”

The night kicked off with the introduction of the Board of Directors, many of whom were dressed as comic book superheroes. President Jeffrey Silva dressed as Batman, who rode into the room on a motorcycle. Former president John Muñoz appeared as Scooby Doo. In her speech, Marin described many of the challenges she has faced throughout her life, from facing language barriers when she moved to the United States from Mexico, to learning to parent a son with Down syndrome. “I really liked that (Marin) was very approachable, very warm,” said Linda Vargas, a volunteer for the Hispano Chamber’s event planning committee. “I think her speech was very touching and inspiring. Sitting down to talk with her is like sitting down with a friend. Bringing her was a great choice.”

Award winners in five categories were also 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.

Several Junior Amigos volunteered their time at the event, as well.

“An event like this inspires me in several ways,” said Zane Camuñez, 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.”

A silent auction was also held with an array of items. Some of the prizes included tickets to the Las Cruces Symphony, a crystal jewelry set and a New Mexico State University football signed by coach DeWayne Walker.

2012 Award Winners

Business of the Year: The Las Cruces Bulletin

Founded in 1969, The Bulletin was bought by Dave and Jaki McCollum in 2003. At that time, there were about five employees. Since then, the publication’s staff has significantly increased to almost 30 employees.

Richard Coltharp, general manager, attributes The Bulletin’s success to establishing relationships in the community.

“By fostering those relationships we learn more about the community and what’s happening,” he said. “We strive to have all-local content. There’s so much going on in Las Cruces.”

Volunteer of the Year: Sasha Ogas Ogas works as a Farm Bureau Financial Services agent, but also spends numerous hours volunteering in the community.

Her commitment to volunteering began as a child, and Ogas now devotes her efforts to multiple organizations, including Keep Las Cruces Beautiful, El Caldito Soup Kitchen and the Bataan Memorial Death March.

“Just find something you’re passionate about and do it,” Ogas said, adding that everyone can contribute something through volunteering.

Ogas also helped found the Junior Amigos program, through which local high school students participate in community and Hispano Chamber events.

Educator of the Year: Rosalinda Carreon-Altamirano For Altamirano, a bilingual specialist for 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.”

Altamirano, who has worked in Las Cruces since 1981, added that the most rewarding part of her job comes from seeing former students who visit her after going on to higher levels of education.

“I see students who came to me knowing no English … they’ve graduated and gotten their degrees,” she said. “They come back and say, ‘Remember, you believed in me? I’ve never forgotten that.’ ”


Nonprofit of the Year: Women’s Intercultural Center Founded in 1991 by Sisters of Mercy Camilla Verret and Kathleen Erickson, the Women’s Intercultural Center has received numerous awards for its commitment to the community.

“We have been contributing to making women self-reliant,” said Mary Carter, executive director. “We teach them how to utilize their skills and abilities.”

The Women’s Intercultural Center hosts several events for the community throughout the year, including free counseling services, nutrition classes and theater productions.

“The center is a gift to the community and our future,” she said, “it is a tangible reminder to our daughters and immigrant women that they are worth it.”

Citizen of the Year: Nathan Small After working on a commercial fishing vessel in Alaska and graduating from the College of Wooster in Ohio, Small returned home to Las Cruces where he began working on conservation issues with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Small, a Las Cruces city councillor representing District 4, serves on the EPA’s Good Neighbor Environmental Board, is the board chair for the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and serves on the West Mesa strategic planning committee.

Continuing to fight for existing neighborhoods, advancing economic re­development and emerging renewable energy/high technology industry opportunities and maintaining public safety are his top priorities, he said.

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