The rapidly increasing growth of the Latino population across the state was one of the most important themes that invited speakers and guests shared during the 41st annual Business Awards Gala hosted by the Sacramento Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Feb. 1 at California State University, Sacramento.
Nearly 600 people from throughout Northern California attended the black tie affair entitled 'Educate, Innovate and Participate' -- themes Chamber President Alice Pérez said are three of the most important areas of focus for the chamber.
"We have always measured our success by the success of our members and I can honestly say that this year was the year we focused on bringing back the things that once played an important and fundamental role in our chamber," Pérez said.
The Jalapeño golf tournament, the series of workshops to help small business owners start and grow their business and most importantly, the Joe Serna, Jr. Memorial Scholarship, which was created in memory of Sacramento's late mayor, Joe Serna, Jr. and former Sacramento State professor -- were reinstituted in an effort to provide more opportunities for chamber members and their families.
The scholarship provides college students with $2,500 per year for two consecutive years if they are majoring in construction management, electrical or mechanical engineering or government.
"Hispanics are the largest growing ethnic group in this country. For the first time in history, they will have both the economic and political influence in this country to create positive changes within their own communities. It is time to seize the moment," said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson in his opening remarks.
The Sacramento Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce -- which boasts 550 members and represents 13,000 small businesses in the region out of the 147,000 total in the state -- believes there is a lot at stake for Latinos this coming year.
"California is the vanguard of change with the Latino growth and it is my hope that our focus remain on the importance of education," said Sacramento State University President Alex González.
"With proposition 30's passage and the determination to place a cap on further tuition hikes, I believe we can really provide more opportunities for the young and growing Latino demographic in the state," González said.
Pérez, who was credited for "bringing the Hispanic chamber back to life"after several years of sluggish growth, believes Latinos will play a critical role in the coming years.
"We are the work force of tomorrow and the buying power of tomorrow.We exist as a community and we are part of the community as a whole," she said.
Mayor Johnson didn't conclude without touching on the current hot button issue of immigration to members of the Latino business community.
"There will be comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 -- and I can assure you of that," Johnson said.
He also spoke of the DREAM Act.
"Steve Jobs' late wife Laurene Powell has recently decided to push our leaders to passing the federal DREAM Act. We need to go online, sign the petition and let our elected officials now how important this topic is to each of us and how important it is for the growth of our community," Johnson said.
The chamber also held their first annual 'Latin Dancing with the Stars' where 'celebrity' members of the Sacramento community were paired with local professional dancers resembling ABC's hit dance show, 'Dancing with the Stars' in a friendly dance competition.
Newly-elected City Council member Allen Warren representing District 2; Sharon Gerber from Six Degreez Inc.; Sean O'Brien from Merrill Lynch; and, Cristina Mendonsa from News10 all participated.
The lucky winner who stole the show on the dance floor was Taro Arai from Mikuni's Japanese restaurant who was paired with professional dancer Nicole Lazo.
"He had all the right moves," said Steven Valencia, a professional dancer and choreographer who was one of three judges on the panel.
Several awards were also given out to Tony Paz as the Ambassador of the Year and Sandy Sakata as the Volunteer of the Year. The California Clothing Recyclers earned the Small Business of the Year Award while the University of Phoenix was honored as the Corporate Business Advocate of the Year.
"We take great pride in providing access to education to underserved communities," said University officials.
The President's Award went to Antonio Sarabia from Sacramento High School who helped revamp and update the Chamber's Internet website.
"He went above and beyond creating a user friendly site that would help our members navigate their way through it in the most efficient way possible," Pérez said.
The young professional of the year was Adolfo Mercado from Breakthrough Sacramento.
"I am proud to be recognized in my native community and especially for doing my part in helping advance the Latino community. The best way I can talk about our community is 'presencia' -- one that the chamber takes great pride in elevating," Mercado said.
"All I can say is that they are doing one of the best jobs," he added.