Last Saturday, Oct. 9, Stockton University UNIDOS, The Hispanic Association of Atlantic County, or HAAC, and the Nuestro Pueblo Awards Planning Committee illuminated Stockton’s Atlantic City campus with the vibrance of viejo San Juan, or Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Nuestro Pueblo Awards (Our Community Awards) were held to celebrate culture and achievement within the Hispanic and Latino communities. Net proceeds of the NPA were donated to the UNIDOS and HAAC scholarship funds.
The gala honored 10 recipients for their outstanding accomplishments in these communities. Michael Phillip Lopez (Arts & Entertainment), Dr. Luis Rodríguez (Community Service), Yasnaya Lorick (Education), Elvis Cadavid (Entrepreneurship), Jenny Hernandez (Healthcare), Lt. Wilber Santiago (Public Service), Jetzaly Medina (Future Leader), David Vinokurov (Nuestro Amigo/Amiga), Kirby Ortiz (STEM), and Atlantic Cape Community College (Nuestro Organizational Amigo/a) were represented.
The Atlantic County Hispanic and Latino communities and Stockton community members adorned brilliantly colored and floral attire as they celebrated this opportunity for community bonding. Music set the scene for a lively night in Old San Juan, and attendees did not miss a moment to dance among their beloved community.
“The only way we can celebrate our greatness and our culture is through food, drinks, music, and love,” said Jessica Grullón, associate director of Stockton Admissions Services, vice president of UNIDOS, and NPA Planning Committee member.
The event’s concept was born in the 1990s, but was reestablished in 2019 after Stockton University employees and the Latino community sought to create an event centered around the Hispanic and Latino culture. Whether focused on raising funds for scholarships, creating food distribution resources, or celebrating heritage, both parties felt it was time to bring these communities together.
The event is now a chance to award leaders in various fields for their contributions to the community. After last year’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nuestro Pueblo Awards have returned and continue to promote multiculturalism and multilingualism.
Dr. Arnaldo Cordero-Román, president of UNIDOS and associate professor of Spanish at Stockton, emphasized the importance of unity in Latin America, and what this means universally for the larger community.
“UNIDOS is all about unity,” he said.
This year’s theme, “A Night in Old San Juan”, was reminiscent of this cultural unity. The theme was inspired by composer Noel Estrada’s piece, “En mi viejo San Juan”. The song reflects the nostalgic power of the Latino community yearning to return to their homeland, no matter where they are today.
“Nuestro pueblo, somos,” Cordero-Román said. “We are who we are, no matter where we come from.”
Lt. Will Santiago, the highest ranking lieutenant in the history of Atlantic City and public service award recipient, expressed passion for the community he serves everyday. As lieutenant of Community Relations and the Neighborhood Coordination Committee, his leadership shines through all of his roles. He also serves as executive director to the Atlantic City Police Athletic League, which serves as a community center to elders and children.
From combating food insecurity and homelessness to keeping in contact with community members to address their concerns, Lt. Santiago knows the value of fostering personal connections.
His solid career insights stem from his role as a college youth mentor. “Look for the future,” said Lt. Santiago. As students are faced with obstacles, he believes asking for help is key to pursuing their path to success. Mentorship can make all the difference in a young student’s life.
Stockton students can expect this annual celebration each year, and can stay updated on Stockton UNIDOS sponsored events at https://www.stockton.edu/unidos/events.html