By Annie McCarthy Dance
The Tribuna Third Annual American Dream Awards Gala was held on Saturday, May 14, at the Amber Room Colonnade, with nearly 400 guests and award winners in attendance.
Mayor Mark Boughton and Tribuna Editor-in-Chief Emanuela Palmares were the co-masters of ceremonies for the evening, with an invocation by Danbury City Councilman, Elmer Palma, and greetings from Tribuna Newspaper Co-Founder Elizabeth Bacelar-Nunes and Celia Bacelar Palmares, president of The New American Dream Foundation, a newly formed nonprofit organization announced at the Gala.
“The American Dream Awards are important to remind ourselves of all that we have in common, whether you came from Italy like Mr. Rizzo, or from Brazil like Glover,” Emanuela Palmares said. “We all share the same love and respect for a country that has embraced us and provided opportunities to us that would not have been possible elsewhere in the world.”
Anthony Rizzo, Sr., founder of Rizzo Electric, one of the largest electrical contracting firms in Connecticut, earned Tribuna’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to Rizzo by Nora Duncan, state director of AARP Connecticut, and proclamations from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and CT State Senator Michael McLachlan.
“There is something very special about this evening brought together by the Tribuna family, whom I so admire and respect. We’re very bi-partisan tonight.” Senator Blumenthal said.
Connecticut State Senator Michael McLachlan presented a proclamation to all American Dream Award finalists, including natives of Ecuador, Brazil, China, Mexico, Liberia and Puerto Rico.
“All honorees embody, celebrate or support key elements of the lives of immigrants in our communities: hard work, perseverance, pride, civic engagement and a deep connection to those in peril in other nations,” Tribuna publisher, Celia Bacelar Palmares, said.
Four American Dream Leadership Awards were presented to the City of Danbury, The Hispanic Federation, Dr. Majid Sadigh and UFC fighter Glover Teixeira.
City Council members Andrew Wetmore and Fred Visconti accepted the award on behalf of the City of Danbury, recognized for creating Heritage Plaza, which celebrates Danbury’s history and cultural diversity, including the celebration of an annual Hat City Day, held the first Tuesday in December. “What people don’t realize is the number of other industries that hatting supported. Durkin Awning, for example, came around because sunlight would come in and fade the hats. The Danbury Box Company made the boxes for the hats. These are things that are still here; it’s unbelievable what came out of the hat industry. We appreciate our culture and our history in Danbury,” Wetmore said.
The Hispanic Federation was recognized for its work in facilitating non-partisan discussion on crucial issues affecting the Latino community in Connecticut.
Dr. Majid Sadigh, director of the Global health program at Western Connecticut Health Network, won the award for his work in Liberia during the Ebola virus crisis.
Glover Teixeira, 37, a Brazilian native, Danbury resident and UFC fighter, won the award for his work in and out of the octagon and his inspirational personal story, which took him from landscaper to professional athlete. He is the owner of his own MMA training facility in Danbury. “I didn’t put Danbury on the map. Danbury put me on the map. Danbury gave me the opportunity to train and became the fighter I am today,” he said as he accepted his award.
Veteran of the Year Award Recipient
Staff Sergeant Veasna Rouen, originally from Cambodia, received the Veteran of the Year Award. His family survived the killing fields and was among the initial waves of refugees coming to America in the early 1980s. He immigrated to the United States in 1983 and joined the Army after high school.
Rouen led combat missions in Afghanistan, and after a fierce firefight in which his task force incurred 15 casualties within a 24-hour period, he was finally sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
His unit was extracted out of the battlefield, where only a few days later, along with half a dozen other soldiers from his platoon, Rouen was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on November 11, 2006, Veterans Day, in Bagram, Afghanistan.
“My American Dream is to help preserve and promote the Khmer culture while bringing awareness to the atrocities and injustices in Cambodia… to see our many cultures and heritage recognized, shared and celebrated by everyone,” said Rouen, who received a $2,000 award furnished by Union Savings Bank, represented by Dina Pereira, assistant vice-president community relations specialist.
Student of the Year Award Recipients
Gustavo Porto, 18, from Brazil, lived 99 percent of his life in the United States, and due to his legal status, he says he has still faced the same challenges as immigrants who have just arrived. Gustavo credits Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for the new perspective he has embraced for his future. But whether he is a citizen of the United States or not, he says he will always strive to be an excellent student so that when the time comes, he can earn his degree and become a doctor. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to live my dream of spending the rest of my life in the US and working as a doctor/surgeon to help improve the lives of other Americans,” said Porto, who received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Western CT Health Network, represented by Anthea Disney, Danbury Hospital Board chair.
Angelica Crespo, from Ecuador, was born and raised in Danbury, Connecticut to immigrant parents. When her father was deported, she became the 12-year-old child taking on the responsibilities of an adult. “I went from playing with my siblings, to taking care of them. All the while, my mother was working extremely hard to make a fraction of my father’s salary in order to support the family,” Crespo said. She credits her father’s absence for the strong person she is today. “My only goal in life is to make my parents proud, especially my mother. I want to show her that her back pain and swollen feet were not in vain. All the fighting and crying for my father, in hope to see him again, forced me to endure such pain and mature faster than expected. My American Dream is to be successful so that after, I can help others with their American Dream.” Crespo received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Ventura Ribeiro and Smith, Attorneys at Law, represented by Attorney and Partner Patricia Cruz Fragoso and founding partner, Attorney Americo Ventura.
Anna Fernandes, from Brazil, arrived in the United States when she was only five years old, and even though she learned to read and write in the United States, she applied herself in retaining her first language, reading and writing fluently in Portuguese. She is attending her last semester at Henry Abbott Tech High School, and will be graduating from the Hairdressing & Barbering program this year, with the intention of becoming a hairdresser in order to pay her way through college. Her dream is to become a speech language pathologist. Anna was nominated by her mother, who wrote, “She has applied for seven universities, and she was already accepted to six of them. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to pay for her college education.” Fernandes received a $2,000 scholarship furnished by Optimum, represented by Dr. Jacques Etienne.
Person of the Year Award Recipient
Rosa Gutierrez was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She migrated to Connecticut in 1995, where she continued her studies. Upon arrival, she struggled to master the English language, but was able to find work at a preschool. She was made fun of and ridiculed due to her accent, yet she overcame that struggle and became the lead teacher.
But in her daughter’s eyes, her biggest challenge and triumph was being a single mother. She made time to read to her and help her with her homework, while struggling to find a job, pay the bills on time and make sure her daughter had something to eat even when she didn’t have anything herself. “My mother creates miracles for others and she enjoys seeing others smile. I believe it’s time to see her smile,” wrote Sahara Gutierrez in her essay nominating her mother.
“Since I was a little girl in Puerto Rico, I never felt home, as if my heart knew I had to be somewhere else. Danbury is my home. I love this community and my family at the Hispanic Center,” Gutierrez said.
She received a $2,000 award furnished by Adam Broderick Salon and Spa, represented by Adam Broderick.
“The American Dream is about being able to come here and chase whatever you want to chase in terms of the kind of life you want to lead. It encompasses the achievement of freedom, success and prosperity,” Mayor Mark Boughton said, adding, “It’s a little bit different for everybody, but America allows you to be who you want to be. There’s no straight path to that; people take all different kinds of routes to it but at the end, the possibility for any opportunity is limitless. There are American Dream stories all around us, and it is inspiring to see our community coming together to honor and celebrate those stories. I thank the Tribuna family, an American Dream story itself, for putting this event together.”
During the evening, Tribuna provided over $10,000 in scholarships and awards and raised an additional $12,000 from ticket sales to benefit the Western Connecticut Health Network Foundation, which mobilizes philanthropic support to benefit and advance the programs and services of Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital.
For more information about the event and additional photo coverage, visit www.tribunact.com/americandream.