Ducheny praises spirit of early residents in speech to Calexico Chamber of Commerce members

June 29, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — On a table in the center of a Calexico Elks Lodge dining room three lava lamps bubbled.

The lamps, the most prestigious awards given by the Calexico Chamber of Commerce, awaited the winners: City Councilman Javier Alatorre, Javier Gonzalez, chairman of the city beautification committee, and Luis Estrada, chairman of the New River project.

At the finale of the chamber's annual membership dinner Thursday, each of the men snagged his award.

Lava lamps, awarded by the chamber since 1995, are the most prestigious awards given by the chamber, according to Executive Director Hildy Carrillo-Rivera.

Why a lava lamp?

"Because we're all born in the 60s and we're cool," she told the audience of elected leaders and chamber guests.

Alatorre snagged a lamp for his work with last year's "August Moon" chamber dinner-dance.

"He came up to me and said he wanted to put on an event in August and I said, ‘What?'" Carrillo-Rivera said.


She added: "I told him that it would be tough to do and he started getting redder and I thought that he was getting pissed but no."

He told her he wanted to organize a fund raiser for Niños de la Calle, a program for Mexicali's homeless children supported by Mexicali's first lady, Maria Cristina Ramos de Hermosillo, who has since died.

Despite the challenges of organizing an August event, Carrillo-Rivera called the end result magical.

"All the pieces came together," she said.

Gonzalez took home his lamp for his volunteer work cleaning the town with the city's beautification committee.

Estrada, director of the Calexico International Airport, hoisted the lamp's box (the lamps were too hot to touch) awarded for his work as one of the founding members of the New River project, which is trying to clean the waterway classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a "hazardous area."

Former Assemblywoman Denise Moreno Ducheny gave the keynote speech before the award ceremony.

She said the entrepreneurial spirit of migrants who turned the Imperial Valley from a desert into a "vegetable basket" is the same spirit that will bring economic success to the region.

"We need to encourage that spirit. The people who risk things, take chances, stay up until late at night to figure out how to make a business work are the foundation of California's economy," Ducheny said.

But "spirit" alone isn't enough.

She stressed the importance of education and how all manner of education, including four-year and community colleges, trade schools and blue-collar jobs prepare a workforce for changing economies.

Ducheny is now working as a presidential fellow at San Diego State University.

"The key is getting someone interested in education. Some kids are finishing college but some people learn math by fixing cars," she said.

She used the 1990s as an example of how education brought the state out of an economic slump.

"In the early '90s some people were dislocated. We lost defense contracts," she said.

She continued: "Then five to six years later people went back to school, got new skills — pretty soon we have dot coms all over the place."

Of particular importance in future economies will be cultural education, Ducheny said.

"You need a third language in addition to Spanish and English. We're on the Pacific Rim and need to take advantage of that opportunity," she said.

She said as border areas and global regions become even more tied economically, the need to coordinate binationally is imperative.

She saluted chambers of commerce for their contribution.

"Chambers are an important part of every community. They do things for students, draw new business into the Valley and provide an economic stimulus in the community," she said.

Mayor Victor Carrillo said he was impressed with the leadership exhibited by the women of Calexico's chamber and women throughout the state, including Ducheny, a San Diego resident.

"It's a pleasure to see all of the familiar faces here tonight, especially the feminine faces that have been a big part of such successes we enjoy today," he said.

He added: "The cohesiveness and unity shown by all of the agencies represented tonight bodes well for the Mexicali and Imperial valleys."

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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