Mayor kicks off Latino Heritage Month honoring prominent LA Latinos

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a special presentation to three Los Angeles Latino leaders during a packed City Council meeting this morning. The awards were handed out as part of the city’s activities kicking off Latino Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Celebrating a Culture of Hope and Progress.”

Sal Castro, Cesar Millán and Fernando Valenzuela received awards from Mayor Villaraigosa.

Educator and activist Sal Castro received the Spirit of Los Angeles Award, world-renowned dog trainer Cesar Millán was honored with the Dream of Los Angeles Award, and former Dodger’s pitcher Fernando Valenzuela was presented with the Hope of Los Angeles Award.

Mariachi performers

A performance of mariachi music, Peruvian dance, and an appearance by Miss Latina contestants began the ceremony inside the City Council’s chambers.

Peruvian dancers

Outside on the South Lawn, the celebration continued with traditional food, arts and crafts, more dance and music and an opportunity for each man to speak about his own experience as a prominent Latino in Los Angeles.

In his introductions, the mayor commented that the celebrations of the day were a reflection of a place that “truly is a city where the world comes together.”

imageFernando Valenzuela, who grew up in Sonora, Mexico, joked that giving speeches was not his strong point, but offered his gratitude for the award and remembers thinking that L.A. was a great place to play baseball.

A left-handed pitcher who started a craze called “Fernandomania” in 1981, he became the only player in Major League History to win Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season.


Villaraigosa described Cesar Millán as someone who “embodies the success of the immigrant dream.”

“The Dog Whisperer,” which is both Millán’s nickname and the name of his television show, has several connections to South L.A.

Millán said that when he first arrived in L.A. from Mexico, he began walking dogs in Inglewood, but didn’t know that there was a law against walking dogs without a leash here. He came to the realization that he needed to start “training dogs and rehabilitating people” and opened his Dog Psychology Center, which was housed in South L.A. from 2002-2008.

For the final award, Sal Castro, known for his role in the 1968 East Los Angeles high school walkouts, said he would “accept this honor on behalf of the young people who have touched my life.” Several students from Sal Castro Middle School, who were on a field trip to City Hall, joined Castro in front of the stage.

In the mayor’s closing remarks, he referenced the California Dream Act, which would give qualified undocumented immigrants access to state scholarships and grants, saying that the three men honored today should be held up as examples of what can happen “if we let people follow their dream.” The California bill is currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

But Villaraigosa wasn’t thinking just about Los Angeles or California. He mentioned the failure of Congress to address comprehensive immigration reform amidst a time of partisan grandstanding.

“The entire country would benefit from a Dream Act,” he said to thunderous applause. “It’s time to bring people out of the dark and into the light.”

imageToday’s Latino Heritage Month event also coincides with the celebration of Mexican Independence Day.

About Latino Heritage Month

This tradition started in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the week of September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week to commemorate the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua on September 15 and Mexico’s independence on September 16.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the period of observance to a month-long celebration, from September 15 to October 15, to honor the cultures and traditions of Americans with heritage tied to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

On a national level, this year’s theme for the National Hispanic Heritage Month is “Renewing the American Dream.”