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Inaugural ‘Valley Luchadores Award’ is launched by Tony Cardenas and actor Danny Trejo

By Makena Pratt

Six Northeast San Fernando Valley community leaders got some upbeat news this month, honored during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Award Ceremony in Panorama City for their contributions and commitment to bettering their Los Angeles communities.

U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas presented the honorees with the award and Certificates of Congressional recognition at the formal ceremony Thursday, Oct. 13, timed to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month and the Northeast San Fernando Valley community by lauding hard work by successful Latinos who contribute to the area.

“I am proud to honor six community leaders who truly encompass the spirit of Valley Luchadores,” Cárdenas said to the crowd. “From beloved artists and performers to grassroots leaders and engineers, these honorees are fighting day in and day out to empower and uplift our Northeast San Fernando Valley community,” he said.

Evelyn Cortez-Davis, director of Water Engineering at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — the largest municipal utility in the U.S. — was first to be awarded for her work leading more than 400 engineers and professionals who provide reliable water throughout Los Angeles.

A first-generation immigrant, she has also helped launch DWP’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, contributing to her mission of bringing women and Latinos into the engineering field.

She hopes her accomplishments encourage others. “I would be excited to have any part in inspiring any young person to pursue a career in science and engineering,” said Cortez-Davis. “Especially for young women who are still very much underrepresented in the area of STEM, to see another woman really able to pursue [a career in STEM proves that] there is no limit to what we can do.”

 

Congressman Tony Cardenas speaks during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony Thursday October 13, 2022 in Panorama City. Six honorees received awards during the event.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Evelyn Cortez is all smiles while being honored during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony Thursday October 13, 2022 in Panorama City. Six honorees received awards during the event that was presented by Congressman Tony Cardenas in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Honorees gather for a photo during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony presented by Congressman Tony Cardenas in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Veronica Padilla is all smiles as she is honored during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony Thursday October 13, 2022 in Panorama City. Six honorees received awards during the event that was presented by Congressman Tony Cardenas in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Honoree and muralist Kristy Sandoval looks on during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony presented by Congressman Tony Cardenas October 13, 2022.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Actor Danny Trejo was honored during the inaugural Valley Luchadores Awards Ceremony Thursday in Panorama City. Six honorees received awards during the event that was hosted by Congressman Tony Cardenas in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

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Margaret Diego, co-owner and operator of Dough Girl, a Sylmar pizzeria that employs formerly homeless and incarcerated people, connects to her cause because she is an ex-convict herself. Her time in prison, she told the crowd, gave her a greater appreciation for cooking and baking, leading her to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School upon her release.

Veronica Padilla-Campos was recognized for her work as executive director of Pacoima Beautiful, a grassroots environmental justice organization that promotes sustainability in the San Fernando Valley. She also serves on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and is a member of the Measure W Watershed Council for the Upper Los Angeles River.

The Northeast San Fernando Valley native explained, “I’m a member of the community that has the privilege of being at different tables, but this can be any of us that really can work towards the improvement of our community. This is a service that we do for everybody. I hope that other folks are encouraged to continue working towards the improvement of their community too.”

Corinne Sanchez, president and CEO of the nonprofit El Proyecto del Barrio, has a long history of serving her community and has worked for the U.S Commission of Civil Rights in Washington D.C and the Chicana Service Action Center. Proyecto del Barrio’s budget has grown to nearly $40 million and serves more than 100,000 people in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Sanchez is also president of the Latina Lawyers Bar Association, and co-chair of Southern California Workforce Partnership.

Los Angeles-based muralist Kristy Sandoval, a first-generation Latina activist whose murals touch on social justice and women’s empowerment, has helped develop art education programs for local organizations and was a collaborative member during the creation of Pacoima’s Mural Mile — a trail of murals on Van Nuys Boulevard using art as a catalyst for change.

Sandoval said, when receiving her Valley Luchadora Award, “To be recognized alongside so many other great Luchadores makes me feel proud. Proud of the work I’ve done, proud of my family for the support and proud of the community I work with — for what we’ve accomplished together. The healing power of art is a powerful force that I plan to continue sharing.”

Last to be awarded was famed actor and philanthropist Danny Trejo. The Machete series star appeared in dozens of films after a youth marked by incarceration and drug addiction. Then Trejo made a name for himself through his restaurant business, Trejo’s Tacos, with eight locations in Greater Los Angeles.

Cárdenas emphasized the importance of togetherness in the face of hate and discrimination.

“Tonight is about celebrating our community, a community that is an integral part of this great country,” said  Cárdenas. “Even though some people are lost … I think it’s important for us to never ever forget. Nobody is right, or has the right, to say to anybody, especially all of us beautiful people here tonight, that we don’t belong here. No way.”

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 15.8 million Hispanics in California, and since 2014 they have been California’s largest ethnic group, making up about 40% of California’s population.

A 2021 survey by the Pew revealed that 23 percent of Latino Spanish speakers said they had been criticized for speaking Spanish in public, and 20 percent of all Latinos in the U.S. had been called offensive names within the last 12 months. The survey also showed that 48 percent of Hispanics say they hear racially discriminatory or insensitive jokes often.

Cárdenas went on to discuss how a majority of Latinos in Los Angeles have experienced discrimination but urged the crowd to be “impeccable with their word.”

“The most hurtful thing that you control is your mouth,” Cardenas said. “Even though somebody might hurt us, even though somebody might speak ill of us, even though somebody might deserve what we think is our anger, please remember, as my friend Cesar Millan says: ‘Never act when you’re angry.’ That is not the right place to come from. Always try to be your better self regardless of what other people try to get you to do.”

His communications director, Clarissa Rojas, said Cárdenas hopes to hold similar events to honor community leaders during other appreciation months such as Black History Month, Pride Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Related links

‘L.A. Weather’ author María Amparo Escandón wants to upend Latino stereotypes
Let’s do more than just celebrate the Latino community. Let’s invest in it
Boyle Heights street named for Mexican musical legend Vicente Fernández

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