Latino Spirit Awards

The Latino Spirit Awards were established in 2002 at the State Capitol in Sacramento to coincide with our state’s acknowledgement of Cinco de Mayo and to highlight positive role models in our community. 

Every year, the Caucus honors Latinos/as in a variety of categories that range from athletics/sports, to public service and human rights.  Many of our honorees are pioneers in their respective fields and have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders.  They serve as a reminder of the talent we have within our diverse Latino community and are a source of inspiration to all Californians. 

The Latino Caucus is happy to announce the 2018 Latino Spirit Award honorees.  The 17th Annual Latino Spirit Award ceremony took place Monday, May 7, 2018 at the California State Capitol during Assembly Floor Session. 


Achievement in
Military Service & Advocacy

Hector Barajas-Varela is an Army veteran who was recently granted U.S. citizenship, 14 years after he was deported to Mexico.  He was born in Mexico, immigrated with his family to the U.S. as a child, and became a legal permanent resident in 1992.  In 1995, Barajas-Varela enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school and served with distinction until his Honorable Discharge in 2001. Soon thereafter, Barajas-Varela lost his legal residency due to a criminal conviction and was deported to Mexico.  In 2013, he opened a shelter in Tijuana for other deported veterans like himself. The Deported Veterans Support House, also known as “The Bunker,” provides services and legal resources to deportees adjusting to a life outside the United States. The support house has identified and made contact with more than 300 deported men and women from more than three dozen countries.  On April 15, 2017 Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Barajas for the crime that led to his deportation. In light of this pardon and his exemplary military service, Barajas-Varela’s citizenship application was approved and he was naturalized on April 13, 2018.



Achievement in
Community Empowerment

Melinda M. Cuellar is a domestic violence survivor and a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate.  She was involved in a seven year abusive relationship that ultimately concluded in her jumping out of a car to flee from her former spouse, who kidnapped and held her hostage for several hours at gun point.  While balancing a full-time job, two sons, three grandchildren and event planning, Melinda found the time to become a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. With her certification and the skills and knowledge she gained in the training course, Melinda launched her own nonprofit organization, Divine Connections, H.O.P.E. (Hold On, Pain Ends). She has become extremely active in the community and hosts support groups for victims and survivors of domestic violence.  It has become a passion for Melinda to share her victorious story and she is motivated to support and empower those who continue to be bound by abuse. 



Dynamic Youth Award

Faith Estella Florez comes from a lineage of farmworkers in the central valley. She remains dedicated to her mission of protecting the rights and safety of immigrant workers in service industries through innovative solutions that merge technology with social justice. Faith serves as the founder of the Latina Legacy Foundation, and through it, she has created Calor. This smartphone application aims to decrease the incidents of heat stroke amongst farmworkers by fetching local weather data, triggering notification functions, and hosting educational content. Her work for the Latinx community has inspired features from national networks such as Univision and NPR Latino and support from celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda and Eva Longoria. Faith’s passion for community service and social justice lead her to participate in the HERlead Foundation as a Fellow and Ambassador and attend leadership conferences in New York City and Washington D.C.


Achievement in
Business & Philanthropy

F. Gaviña & Son’s is California’s own coffee roaster, and has been roasting some of the world’s best coffee, including flagship gourmet brand Don Francisco’s Coffee for more than 50 years.  The family’s unmatched coffee experience, as coffee growers and roasters, dates back 150 years to the rich coffee-bearing soil of Cuba, where patriarch Don Francisco Gaviña honed his skills as a coffee producer. The family carried on the coffee tradition, and in 1967 established F. Gaviña & Sons, Inc. in Vernon, California. Today, the company is one of the largest family-owned coffee companies in America and the nation's largest privately-held minority roaster. Their state-of-the art plant stands at over 240,000 sq. ft. and is one of the top coffee roasting facilities in the country. Their brands have strong presence in wholesale and retail accounts across the country, and this year they opened Don Francisco’s Coffee Casa Cubana, their first standalone flagship cafe in Downtown L.A. In addition, F. Gaviña & Sons is very committed to the communities where they work and live. Through the Gaviña Direct Impact Initiative, they support several international nonprofit organizations, and  contribute to more than 300 charitable projects throughout California.



Achievement in
Media & Entertainment

Liz Hernandez is a Mexican-American television personality and journalist.  In 2014, she joined NBC’s Access Hollywood as one of the entertainment news program’s first Latina correspondents.  Born and raised in Southern California, Hernandez served as the longtime co-host of the #1 rated and nationally syndicated morning show, Big Boy’s Neighborhood on Los Angeles’ influential Power 106 FM.  She first made the jump from radio to television in 2007, when she began working as a correspondent for MTV News.  She also served as on-air talent for MTV Tres before joining E! News in 2011 as a correspondent and host of E! News Now.  Hernandez is also a strong supporter and advocate for those caring for and living with Alzheimer’s disease.  She has moderated panels on women and Alzheimer’s, has met legislative and congressional leaders to advocate on behalf of the cause, and uses her social media platform to raise community awareness. 



Achievement in
Journalism & Media

Lupita Lomeli has worked as a host of “Arriba Valle Central” on Univision 21 Fresno for more than 25 years.  It is through this show that most Latinos in the valley get their local news.  Since its inception, the show has highlighted local, state, and national news; which ensures the Latino community in the valley receives information about things that matter most to them – a goal Lupita has never lost sight of, even outside of the studio.  At Univision and UniMás, Lupita also serves as Director of Community Empowerment.  Outside of the office, Lupita is an active member of the community who participates in many nonprofits and ensures the Latino voice is heard.  She is a founding member of the Latino Rotary Club, Board Member of Centro La Familia and is a former President of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  Lupita also created Project Hope/Proyecto Esperanza that raises funds to provide assistance to the underserved community, and every year helps organize and publicize educational outreach events such as FAFSA workshops, the Feria de Salud, and the Feria de Educación at Fresno State.      



Achievement in
Arts & Entertainment

Cheech Marin is an actor, director, writer, musician, art collector, and humanitarian.  He is best known as half of the satirical duo Cheech and Chong, who together released various albums, of which six went gold, four were nominated for Grammys, and one, “Los Cochinos” won the 1973 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording.  He has starred in numerous feature films, has done voiceovers for various Disney movies, and has made multiple guest appearances on television sitcoms.  Aside from Cheech’s impressive entertainment career, he is also recognized today as a preeminent Chicano art advocate. In the mid-1980s, he began developing a private collection of Chicano art. Much of it formed the core of his inaugural exhibition, Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge, which broke attendance records during its groundbreaking 15‐city tour during 2001‐2007 to major art museums across the United States. Furthering his goal to introduce Chicano art to a wider audience, Cheech partnered with the City of Riverside and Riverside Art Museum to create The Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry. Slated to open in 2020, “The Cheech” will become the permanent home for his more than 700 works of Chicano art, including paintings, sculptures, and photography; collectively, the most renowned Chicano art collection in the United States.



Friend of the Latino Community

Chauncey Veatch is an Army veteran, school teacher, and Latino community champion. Inspired by Cesar Chavez, in 1968 Veatch worked as a United Farm Workers volunteer registering voters.  After duty in the U.S. Army, Veatch sought to continue his service by entering the teaching profession.  He chose the Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) because of the large migrant farmworker community.  At CVUSD, he asked for classes filled with non-English speakers, students with special needs, pregnant teens, and students involved with gangs or drugs. Veatch took the tough kids, the disillusioned, and filled them with hope.  His impact on his students was recognized in 2002, as Veatch was named National Teacher of the Year and was honored at a White House ceremony.  Veatch’s students are his heroes.  He is proud that their newfound academic success serves as a powerful model for the younger members of the community and that they represent a transformative vanguard, which bodes well for the future.   



Achievement in
Business & Entertainment

Kat Von D’s story begins in the small rural city of Montemorelos, Mexico where she was born—a heritage she celebrates in her artwork. She is a talented tattoo artist, author, musician, activist and a successful business woman.  Kat Von D began tattooing at the age of 14 in Los Angeles and in 2007 opened up her own shop, High Voltage Tattoo in West Hollywood.  She eventually starred in her own television show, LA Ink, which was based on her tattoo shop.  In 2008, Kat Von D defied expectations, taking the world by storm with her extreme-performance makeup collection: Kat Von D Beauty, which is sold exclusively/internationally at Sephora.  Kat has also released three books: High Voltage Tattoo, The Tattoo Chronicles, and Go Big Or Go Home, which all made the New York Times Best Sellers list.  Kat’s passion for animals, humanity, and the environment has inspired her activism; She has effectively utilized her business to raise funds for a variety of organizations including Project Chimps Annual Sanctuary, the Farm Sanctuary and the California Wildlife Center.  Later this year, Kat will be releasing her debut album and her vegan shoe line, Von D Shoes.



Keynote Speaker
(2004 LSA Honoree)

Lalo Alcaraz is an American cartoonist who is renowned as the author of the comic La Cucaracha, the first nationally syndicated, politically themed Latino daily comic strip that launched in 2002.  A leading figure in the Chicano movement, Alcaraz contributes political cartoons for LA Weekly, he co-founded the political comedy troupe Chicano Secret Service, and hosts a radio show on KPFK called the Pocho Hour of Power. He served as a faculty member at Otis College of Art & Design and is currently teaching illustration at Rio Hondo College.  Alcaraz was Consulting Producer and Writer on the animated show Bordertown, which ran one 13-episode season on Fox. It featured the first animated Mexican-American family on primetime American television. Alcaraz has also consulted on various films, most recently, on Academy Award winning Pixar's Coco (2017). He is currently a TV animation producer at Nickelodeon, where he is developing an animated Latino family show. In 2004, Alcaraz was awarded a Latino Spirit Award for his numerous contributions to the Latino community.


Links to photo galleries of previous Latino Spirit Award celebrations:
Photo Gallery: 2018 Latino Spirit Awards (May 7, 2018)
Photo Gallery: 2017 Latino Spirit Awards (May 1, 2017)
Photo Gallery: 2016 Latino Spirit Awards (May 1-2, 2016)
Photo Gallery: 2015 Latino Spirit Awards (May 3-4, 2015)
Photo Gallery: 2014 Latino Spirit Awards (May 4-5, 2014)
Photo Gallery: 2013 Latino Spirit Awards (May 5-6, 2013)
Photo Gallery: 2001-2012 Latino Spirit Award Honorees