In high school, she conducted gerontology research, a scientific study on aging, at the Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital. She spoke about her work on osteoporosis, a bone disease, and about issues facing the elderly. She also created a program at the Miami Museum of Science called Students and Teachers Advocating Research Science.
"She thinks that cynicism is the worst thing that happens to high school students," said her mother, who accompanied her to Washington. "They think, ‘I can't change anything so I'm just going to watch MTV.' We don't have TV; she spends her time doing community projects, learning things, reading."
Thousands of Hispanic high school seniors in 12 U.S. cities participated in the fourth Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards. Local community leaders in each city selected seven regional winners in each of the seven disciplines rewarded: literature and journalism, leadership and community service, science and technology, academic excellence, sports, mathematics, and arts.
The winners were selected for their accomplishments in their chosen discipline, their potential for leadership, and for their commitment to community service.
"The U.S. Census has shown increasing numbers of Hispanics participating in every facet of the American experience," said Raul Tapia, chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation. "Our youth awards celebrate the great contributions Latino youth are making in every community."
The Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation was created in 1987 to recognize and reward Hispanic leaders who display excellence in their professions and serve as positive role models in their communities. In 1998, the objective was extended to young Hispanics through the Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards.
"My mom is my biggest role model," said Rodolfo Valadez, who won the award for arts.
During his high school years, he made a documentary called "Los Angeles" about his mother's trip from Mexico to the United States when he was a baby. His work was recognized at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Valadez is working on his next movie called "Homesick," which gave him the opportunity to show and comment on street violence in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. He will attend UCLA in the fall.
"It means so much, it has so many dimensions," he said about the award. "I'm just very grateful to receive this honor, and not only did I receive it but everyone from where I'm from, from Mexico, and everyone from Los Angeles."
On Saturday, artist Judith Baca, newspaper columnist Liz Balmaseda, tennis player Mary Jo Fernandez, film director Gregory Nava, and journalist Cristina Saralegui receiveD the 2001 Hispanic Heritage Awards for adults at the Kennedy Center.