By Cristina Rojas
Portland State faculty, staff and alum were among those honored by the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber this month for their significant contributions to the economic and social advancement of Latinos throughout Oregon and southwest Washington.
The chamber hosted its 28th annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration Dinner as Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) got underway.
Héctor Hernández, a mural artist and faculty in PSU’s Chicano/Latino Studies program, received the ¡Bravo! Latino Art Award. His murals adorn public and private buildings across Oregon, including our campus. Each spring, he teaches a class, “ChLa 345 Public Art: Mexican-American/Chicano Muralism,” where students get in on the fun of developing a local mural project.
Cynthia Gómez, a longtime PSU faculty member and administrator, received the ¡Bravo! Latino Education Award. In her current role as director of community and civic impact, she works to bring ideas and knowledge into practice to community-centered initiatives.
Gale Castillo MA ’74, former PSU board chair, received the prestigious Ohtli Award from the Mexican government — the highest honor granted by the Mexican government to individuals who have aided, empowered or positively affected the lives of Mexican nationals abroad. Castillo co-founded the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber in 1994 and is co-owner of Cascade Centers, which provides employee-assistance program services and staff development throughout the U.S.
“Like most of you, I come from very humble beginnings,” she said. “I have been blessed with opportunities for higher education, which is near and dear to me. It does change lives, we know that. Career advancement, business opportunities, we know that changes our lives and the lives of our families. I’ve been blessed to serve the community in a variety of ways with many of you, and I’ve worked with many of you to help others access these opportunities.”
The celebration’s keynote speaker was Gustavo Balderas MA ’01, the new superintendent of Beaverton School District. The son of migrant farm workers, Balderas was the first person in his family to go to college and now takes the helm as the first Latino and person of color to lead Oregon’s third-largest school district.
“Education was very important to my mother, who used to say ‘Mijo, necesitas estudiar bastante para que no necesitas trabajar como nosotros’ (Son, you need to study hard so you don’t need to work as hard as we do.’). … Education has been a true equalizer for me. I can honestly say I’m living the American Dream. I’m a proud product of American public schools, of Oregon public schools and I am a proud son of immigrants,” he said.