Newark Public Library’s María DeCastro Blake Dinner Recognizes New Jersey’s Outstanding Latino Community Leaders
Their names are synonymous with success in New Jersey’s Latino communities, yet it’s not their brilliance in their fields of teaching, television, and communications but their volunteer service within those communities that has prompted the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center (NJHRIC) at the Newark Public Library to select three people to receive the María DeCastro Blake Community Service Awards. This year a fourth person, an extraordinary Latina, is being singled out for her lifelong achievements and commitment to fostering opportunities and improving the quality of life for New Jersey’s Hispanics.
Retired university professor and public administrator Hilda Hidalgo will receive the Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award during the Library’s annual María DeCastro Blake Awards Dinner, May 4, 6:30 p.m. at the Robert Treat Hotel, 50 Park Place, Newark. Also being honored that night are the late actor and community activist Raúl Dávila, immigrant rights advocate Maria "Charo" Juega, and community leader Eliu Rivera.
"We are so pleased to honor these dedicated and talented people who have given so selflessly to the Latino community and to the state of New Jersey," said Library Director Wilma J. Grey. "This year we will recognize Hilda Hildalgo, an extraordinary Latino community advocate, with the Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award."
Hidalgo, a former assistant commissioner in the New Jersey Department of Education, is a native of Puerto Rico. She earned a PhD in public administration from Rutgers University, and taught for more than two decades at its School of Social Work and in the Department of Public Administration, where she created a master’s program for Hispanic professionals in public administration.
With all these professional accomplishments, many see her greatest contribution to the advancement of Latino culture as the founding of three of the state’s most important Hispanic community organizations: Aspira of New Jersey; La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark; and the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey.
"The institutions she helped create have touched and shaped the lives of thousands of people in New Jersey, helping give direction and guidance to the state’s Latino youth and its Puerto Rican population," said Olga Jiménez Wagenheim, founding chair of the NJHRIC Support Network.
Even in retirement, Hidalgo is still committed to sharing with the less fortunate and eradicating oppression wherever it is found, Jiménez-Wagenheim noted.
Hidalgo’s career in many ways parallels that of the late María DeCastro Blake in whose honor the dinner is held each year. Born in Vieques, Puerto Rico in 1911, Blake came to New York City in the early 1930’s. She was a high school graduate with limited English, who was hired for a low-level job in the garment industry. Through sheer will and perseverance, she worked her way through college to become Assistant Dean of Admissions at Rutgers University-Newark. In this position, she was instrumental in recruiting hundreds of Hispanic students to attend Rutgers. Many of them credit her help and encouragement for their professional success.
Throughout her long career, and in the 17 years from her retirement in 1984 until her death in 2001, Blake was an active volunteer. She taught English to newly arriving Puerto Rican families. She donated and raised money to send underprivileged children to summer camp, and served as a guide at the New York Public Library and the Museum of Natural History. In 1998, the 208th New Jersey Legislature recognized her as "Woman of the Year" and placed her name along with that of Clara Barton, Millicent Fenwick, and other notable New Jersey women.
"All the recipients of this year’s María DeCastro Blake service awards are long-time members of the community and have contributed to the health and advancement of the Latino culture, not only through their success as professionals, but in their civic lives as founders of and volunteers with community organizations," said Ingrid Betancourt, project director for the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center. "They have all found a way to give back to the Latino community."
Dávila, a native of Puerto Rico, is being honored posthumously following his death of a heart attack last year. He was a successful actor and producer in the Latino television and theater markets, and was a founding member of Channel 47, New Jersey’s Spanish-language television station. He also co-founded and presided over the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), an organization that celebrates Latino achievement and helps promote and reward their efforts.
Dávila also enjoyed success on mainstream television shows, movies and commercials, acting on All My Children, and the movie The Believers, among others.
Maria "Charo" Juega is a native of Bilbao, Spain, and the daughter of a former Spanish diplomat. Attracted by the freedom and egalitarianism of the United States, she began working at a New York area tour agency. Eventually she enrolled at a U.S. college, graduating with a degree in economics.
As a vice president of a major financial corporation, Juega volunteered in various business and community organizations, finding her passion in championing immigrant rights. She contrasted her immigrant experience with that of the more recent arrivals of people from Mexico and South and Central America, and launched the Princeton-based Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Rivera, a Puerto Rican native, has dedicated his life to community activism, organizing many community groups, including those supporting Latino merchants, tenant organizations, athletic leagues, scouting troops and voter registration drives.
The executive director of the PACO (Puertorriqueños Asociados for Community Organization) Agency in Jersey City, Rivera has served as a deputy mayor of Jersey City and currently is a member of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
"We’re looking forward to this year’s María DeCastro Blake Awards Dinner. It is a great opportunity to get together with friends, commemorate the accomplishments of the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center, and celebrate the lives of community leaders who, like María DeCastro Blake, have dedicated their lives to the advancement of the Latino community in New Jersey," said José Acevedo, chair of the NJHRIC Support Network and coordinator of the event.
Anyone interested in purchasing tickets for the event, placing an ad in the program (deadline is April 22) or helping to sponsor the dinner is urged to call Ingrid Betancourt at 973-733-3637 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or José Acevedo at 973-557-1957 or via email at email@example.com.
©2007 The Newark Public Library