Before accepting AL DÍA’s “Pillar of Leadership” award, Rómulo Díaz, Vice President and General Counsel for PECO, recalled growing up as a first generation American, the son of immigrant parents from Venezuela and Mexico, in a small town in mid-century Texas, which he said “was often an ugly place to be.”
Addressing the more than 150 people gathered at AL DÍA’s second annual Hispanic Heritage Luncheon on Wednesday at the Union League of Philadelphia, Díaz spoke of the hard work and sacrifice of his those who came before him, which provided him the means to become the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
“It’s because of the examples of my parents and those who have nurtured me that I know the importance of loving deeply, doing good and earning respect,” Díaz said.
For Díaz, he sees these qualities reflected across Hispanic communities throughout the U.S.
“I don’t think that it is an overstatement to say that those same words apply to our community and those who work tirelessly each and every day to earn a living,” he continued. “To take care of their families and to make this community and our nation stronger.”
It’s a sentiment shared by all four of the award recipients at the Hispanic Heritage Luncheon, a ceremony held to recognize the outstanding achievements of select Hispanic professionals in Pennsylvania in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
In addition to Díaz, who was honored as a leader in civic works, the award recipients were:
Daniel V. Schidlow, Dean of the School of Medicine at Drexel University, a leader in health;
Juan López, Vice President of Treasury Services at Independence Blue Cross, a leader in business;
The ceremony was hosted by Jeanette Reyes, anchor and reporter for 6abc Action News, and included a keynote speech from Peter S. Longstreth, President of the Philadelphia Consular Corps Association and Honorary Consul of the Republic of Uruguay. Mayor Jim Kenney also delivered an address, praising the Hispanic community’s contributions of the city while denouncing the divisive rhetoric against immigrants that has become commonplace in U.S. political discourse.
Like Díaz, Villarruel said she owes “a huge debt” to her parents for their guidance and sacrifice, giving her and her brothers “opportunities they never had,” like earning a college education. Through the example of her parents, Villarruel said she came to understand the importance of caring for others, leading her to build a successful career that “allows her to do that every day” at the University of Pennsylvania, which she refers to as “the best school in the world.”
Accepting his award, Schidlow referred to the recognition as a “tremendous honor” not only for him, but for the entire Drexel University community.
“We hope the people here assembled who are of Hispanic origin, and their friends, may continue to maintain the impact that they're making in the Delaware Valley,” Schidlow said.
During his speech, López referred to Philadelphia as “a beautiful city,” but called attention to the struggle of many Latinos living in the area, especially in its northern section.
As one committed to public service, López is involved in a number of organizations that aim to improve the quality of life for Hispanic people living in underprivileged neighborhoods. He serves as treasurer for the Providence Center, an organization devoted to educational programming for children and adults in the largely Hispanic Fairhill section of the city.
To exemplify the dire circumstances facing these communities, López recalled to his audience a disturbing moment. When he and other members of Latinos con Proposito, an associate resource group of Independence Blue Cross, helped to build a Spanish-English library at Isaac A. Sheppard Elementary, López remembers walking past drug dealers “right outside” of the school.
“This was an elementary school,” he said before taking an emotional pause.
Like his fellow “Pillars of Leadership” award recipients, López possesses an unwaveringly charitable, diligent spirit. Through the words of renowned Puerto Rican baseball player Roberto Clemente, López conveyed a personal philosophy that easily extends to all four of those recognized at the Hispanic Heritage Luncheon.
“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you’re wasting your time on Earth,” López said.