MANER CONFERENCE CENTER -- Make no mistake about it, Kansas' Latino population is booming.. and it's making a difference.
Hundreds of Topekans packed the Conference Center for Mana de Topeka's 2009 Latina Awards Thursday night, hearing keynoter Octavio Hinojosa Mier of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute herald the advancements in the community with greater commitments to education, entrepreneurship and community service.
His organization works to heighten awareness of the interests and views of millions of Hispanic and Portuguese Americans. (Mier is a KU graduate in Political Science and Latin American Studies; with a Masters in Public Administration from Syracuse University.)
He listed major advances in Kansas' Hispanic population growth (increasing nearly 25% faster than the national rate..) its political clout, small business advancement, spending power, contributions to Kansas agriculture and its trade with countries like Mexico (topping more than $1.3 billion last year.)
But the audience may have been touched by his reminders that "when you educate a Latina woman, you educate an entire family," and "shine your light of hope, to inspire others."
In Thursday night's ceremonies, Latina Awards were given to:
Stephanie Munoz O'Neil, for Arts and Entertainment
Ed Serrano, for Community Service
Dawn Romero-Hunter and Salvador Cruz, sharing the award for Education (both are teachers at Topeka High School.)
Mary Ramos, for Personal Development
Mickey Shaver and Athan Thompson, as Small Business Owners
WIBW-TV, Corporate Employer
and Linda DeLaRosa, as Outstanding Student
This year's 2009 Scholarship Winners are:
Jessica Lynn Barranco, Seaman High
Caprice Angelina Cortez, Shawnee Heights High
Alyssa Marie Granado, Highland Park High
Ashley Rachelle Tetuan, Baker University
and Carolina Stefany Hill, Hutchinson Community College graduate