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Hispanic youths recognized for accomplishments

August 25, 2001|By MARINE COLE, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Elisa Tatiana Juarez, 17, received the Hispanic Heritage Youth Award for science and technology on Friday, and as a Mexican-American living in South Miami, she said her family still has quesadillas for dinner.

Juarez was one of seven high school seniors selected for the awards and one of four of Mexican heritage. They stood next to their heroes, actress Roselyn Sanchez from the movie "Rush Hour 2" and Jay Hernandez from the film "Crazy Beautiful," who co-hosted the ceremony, but they were the real heroes of the day.

"The Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards recognize Latinos and Latinas who have tried to make a difference in their community and who have succeeded," Juarez said. "Never let anyone tell you that you can't do what you want to do. You have dreams for a reason, and your job is to follow them."

With a Mexican father and an American mother, Juarez sees Mexico City as her second home, as she spends almost every summer in the Mexican capital with her family. But she thinks it is important to be involved in her community.

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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.

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