California Latino Caucus Honors Nine Trailblazers from Across the State at 2022 Latino Spirit Awards

May 02, 2022

SACRAMENTO -  The California Latino Legislative Caucus has announced its nine honorees and one special guest for the 20th Annual Latino Spirit Awards: a diverse group of Latino leaders from throughout California and across various professions.


“As Latino Caucus Chair, I am so honored to recognize these ordinary men and women who do extraordinary things for the Latino Community,” said Latino Caucus Chair Senator María Elena Durazo. “They represent innovation and a spirit of struggle in labor, business, philanthropy and the arts. We are proud and grateful.”


“Today, we honor just a few of the California Latinos who make a positive difference in the lives of Californians and all Americans,” said Vice Chair Assemblymember Robert Rivas. “I am proud of the contributions of this year’s Latino Spirit Awards honorees who are not only champions for equity and representation but are paving the way for future generations.”


The 2022 Latino Spirit Award Honorees are:


Jenna C. Contreras (Achievement in Journalism & Media)

Jenna Contreras is an award-winning filmmaker who believes storytelling is more than just capturing an audience. Ms. Contreras strives to create engaging, meaningful content that adds value to our society.  Using the platform of ESPN and its multiple outlets, she has illuminated important issues that traditional media often overlooks.  With millions of views, her powerful storytelling is a beacon for critical issues such as social justice, equality and suicide prevention. Since starting at ESPN in 2012, numerous other projects have decorated Ms. Contreras’ career. As a director and producer, she is a one-time Emmy award-winner, five-time Emmy nominee, and a two-time New York Festivals Silver Medal recipient. She credits her success to the subjects who are willing to share their stories and a passion to make content that matters.


Alfred Diaz-Infante (In Memoriam)

Alfred Diaz-Infante was President and CEO of the Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA), Monterey County’s largest non-profit housing organization.  Under Mr. Diaz-Infante’s 23 years of leadership, CHISPA built and renovated 2,447 single-family homes and apartments for low- and moderate-income people in Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz Counties. He also guided efforts to bolster access to education to residents by establishing three college scholarships that have awarded over $79,000 to seventy-two students. Furthermore, he strongly supported onsite education and recreational programs through partnerships with local community organizations. Mr. Diaz-Infante became one of the region’s most recognized leaders, and advocates for farmworker and low-income families, serving on numerous boards across the region. His dedication to affordable housing access was rooted in his own family’s story as the son of immigrant farmworkers. He is survived by Elvira, his wife of 31 years; their three children, Karina, Alexis, and Marcos; and grandson, Leo.


Ron Herrera (Achievement in Public Service)

Ron Herrera has been a Union member for over 41 years and currently serves as President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The LA Fed is the second largest labor council in the United States composed of over 300 affiliates, representing over 800,000 workers in Los Angeles County from every industry and trade. He started his Union career in 1975 as a package car driver with the United Parcel Service, where he represented his fellow members as a UPS Shop Steward. In 2000, Mr. Herrera was hired as a Teamsters Local 396 Business Representative, and in 2001 he became the President of Local 396. In 2003, he was elected to the Principal Officer position as SecretaryTreasurer of Local 396, a position he currently holds today.


Sonia Manzano (Achievement in Arts & Entertainment)

Sonia Manzano is a first-generation mainland Puerto Rican, raised in the South Bronx. In the early 1970’s a scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon University where she participated in the creation of Broadway show hit Godspell.  From there she went on to affect the lives of millions of parents and children when she was offered the opportunity to create the role of “Maria” on Sesame Street.  In 2016 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award, for her work on Sesame Street, at the 43rd Annual Daytime Emmys.  Manzano has also received 15 Emmys for staff writing Sesame Street, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Award, and the Hispanic Heritage Award for Education. Also an award-winning children's book author, she’s published No Dogs Allowed, A Box Full of Kittens and Miracle on 133rd Street with Simon and Schuster and The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano and Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx with Scholastic. A World Together, Manzano's first book for National Geographic was released September 2020. Her current novel, Coming Up Cuban will publish in summer 2022. She created an animated series called Alma's Way, developed by Fred Rogers Productions. It premiered on PBS, Oct 2021.


Alfonso R. Padrón PhD (Achievement in Community Empowerment)

Dr. Alfonso Padrón has over 20 years of experience working in the counseling field and ten years as a parent and advocate for special need students. Raised in Parlier, Dr. Padrón grew up with a keen awareness of Latinos being overlooked in the education system, as he witnessed it in his own community. He has dedicated his life to serving others as a substance abuse counselor, restorative justice director, and now a Special Education Advocate.  Dr. Padrón began Parent Advocacy for Special Education (PASE) in 2013 with the intention of helping Latino parents of children with disabilities navigate the school system. His years of counseling and specialized training in advocacy positioned him at the forefront of representing special need students and their parents in California as they struggled through the maze of educational hearings and legal proceedings. In the last ten years, Dr. Padrón has helped hundreds of families in the Central Valley and across the state, by empowering them, informing them of their rights through the special education system, and supporting these parents in exercising those rights.  Dr. Padrón has managed to acquire thousands of services for these students including tutoring, physical therapy, nonpublic schools, specialized programs, mental health supports, and so much more.


George Pla (Achievement in Business & Philanthropy)

George L. Pla is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and author whose work spans business and civic activities focused on enhancing and empowering communities throughout California.  Mr. Pla is the Founder and CEO of Cordoba Corporation, a full-service engineering firm that specializes in the delivery of infrastructure projects in the transportation, education, water, and energy sectors.  His business background also encompasses the fields of finance and banking including the founding, development, and sale of two banks. Mr. Pla’s civic engagements encompass leadership in academic, athletic and cultural institutions, and business organizations that have far-reaching impacts in the community.  He is a Governor’s appointee currently serving as the President of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission. Mr. Pla’s support for academic institutions includes serving as a member of the Program Advisory Committee for Stanford University’s Construction Institute and as a Presidential Associate at the University of Southern California. Mr. Pla is the co-author of the formative book on Latino politics, “Power Shift – How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America” which chronicles the development of Latino political empowerment through the inspiring journeys of ten trailblazing Latino leaders.  


Maria S. Salinas (Achievement in Business)

Maria S. Salinas is the President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the largest business association in Los Angeles County representing member companies and serving the interests of more than 235,000 businesses across the region. Ms. Salinas took the helm of the organization in August of 2018 and became the first woman and Latina to lead the Chamber in its 132-year history. Ms. Salinas is also an appointee to Governor Gavin Newsom’s Commission on the Future of Work and was named to his Business and Jobs Recovery Task Force. She serves on the US Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of 100, represents the Los Angeles business community in statewide policy initiatives with the Coalition of Regional Economic Association Leaders (R.E.A.L.), is a member of the Board of Directors of Mobility 21, a regional transportation effort, and serves as an appointee of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to the MEXLA Commission, a foreign policy initiative between Mexico and Los Angeles. Ms. Salinas also serves on the Board of Directors of The Music Center, Pacific Council, UnidosUS and Southern California Leadership Network among others.


Irene Tovar (Achievement in Public Service)

Irene Tovar is a Chicana activist who has served the Latino community since the 1960’s. She was part of the Chicano Movement and had the opportunity to work with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Ms. Tovar was also active in the Chicano Moratorium Committee to protest against the injustices that Chicanos were facing during the Vietnam War. Ms. Tovar held a position in the administration of former Governor Jerry Brown serving as a special assistant to expedite government services, and served eight years as the first Mexican American appointed to the State Personnel Board. As President of the Board from 1975 to 1981, she was instrumental in implementing policies and procedures, including differential pay and Affirmative Action, which removed artificial barriers in the State Civil Service system. She subsequently served a four-year term on the Public Employment Relations Board, overseeing union negotiations at the state’s colleges, universities and public school systems. While at the Governor’s office, Ms. Tovar organized a statewide Chicanas Issues Conference with over 2,000 attendees.  Since 1991, Ms. Tovar has served as the CEO of the Latin American Civic Association.  She will receive an Honorary Doctoral Degree in the Humanities from CSU Northridge in May 2022.  


Dr. Guillermo Valenzuela (Achievement in Health & Science)

For more than 40 years, Dr. Guillermo Valenzuela has worked to improve the care, education, and opportunities for the Latino community in the Inland Empire. A native of Chile, where he was raised in challenging economic circumstances, Dr. Valenzuela became an OB-GYN physician and built a Women’s Health Department that serves San Bernardino county’s poorest residents. A lifelong learner, Dr. Valenzuela completed two fellowships and earned an MBA later in life, while practicing medicine full-time. Later, Dr. Valenzuela led the turnaround of a company, which ultimately managed care for 140,000 patients before he sold it to a Fortune 100 company. Dr. Valenzuela currently owns seven clinics where 20,000 families receive care for physical and behavioral needs. He founded the Valenzuela Family Foundation and the Hispanic Health Institute to support programs and research that improve the health of diverse populations. Dr. Valenzuela regularly sponsors programs that award computers to middle school students in an essay contest. Because his mother is an artist, he also ‘practices’ poetry as well as medicine. 


Cheech Marin (Special Guest / 2018 Latino Spirit Award Honoree)

Cheech Marin is a paradox in the world of entertainment. He is an actor, director, writer, musician, art collector, and humanitarian. Cheech 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 Los Cochinos won the 1973 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, as well as starred in eight feature films. Aside from Cheech’s impressive film career, he is also recognized today as a preeminent Chicano art advocate. In the mid-1980s, he began developing the finest 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, Marin has entered a partnership with the City of Riverside and the Riverside Art Museum to create The Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry. Slated to open next month, “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.


The Latino Spirit Awards were created by the Latino Caucus in 2002 at the State Capitol in Sacramento to highlight positive role models within our diverse Latino community. 


Every year, the Latino Caucus honors Latinos in a variety of categories that range from journalism to public service and community empowerment. Many of the honorees are pioneers in their respective fields and have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders.


The honorees were acknowledged on each floor of the legislature Monday during presentations by Latino Caucus Chair Durazo in the Senate and Vice-Chair Rivas in the Assembly.




Michael Tonetti 

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