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Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating our Latino leaders

Get to know the leaders making a difference in your community! These are the people honored at the 2020 Latino Awards.

September is National Hispanic Heritage Month! 

On Thursday, Centro Hispano will pay tribute to the women and men making a difference in our community at the 2020 Latino Awards. Each year, the Latino Awards event brings people together to celebrate Latinos, Latinas and community allies doing outstanding work in the community.  

The winners this year range from pastors and restaurant owners to public health officials.  However, all the names listed have provided irreplaceable support to East Tennesseans throughout the course of their lives.

The 2020 Latino Awards is presented by Centro Hispano and will be held virtually from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

The Latino Community Leader Award – Melvin Colón 

Credit: WBIR
Melvin Colón, pictured far right, accepts a leadership award. He is the 2020 recipient of the Latino Leader Award.

This award is presented to a Latino or Latina who has been a catalyst for meaningful change in the community. 

As a Pastor of Care at Parkwest Church and pastor at Nuevos Comienzos Internacional in Knoxville, Melvin Colón helps care for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of people in our community. 

 "I’m grateful. Just very grateful to be involved and making a difference in someone's life. Whether is trying to restore a home, trying to help someone do an impactive of abuse. Someone who is broken and hopeless - that’s one of the things that keeps my engine running," Colón said.

Throughout the years, he has served the people of East Tennessee as an interpreter, pastor, and counselor.  

Credit: Melvin Colón

They are roles he says he will stay committed to in the coming years, especially amid our nation's ongoing reckoning with racial and social justice. 

"Just trying to, you know, unify the community and to see people come together from different specters of society. They're finding common ground. Coming together. I think that’s great…and it plays a role in what we do and what I do at the church. To stand against things that aren’t right and pushing for change," Colón said. 

Distinguished Honoree - Liliana Burbano 

Fierce. Fearless. Strong. Advocate. 

That's how Liliana Burbano's colleagues describe the Knox County Health Department Planner, whose guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic has proved invaluable to the local Latino community

"She has just gone above and beyond, making sure our community is being safe. Making sure that they're being informed in the language they're being informed in," said Claudia Caballero, President and CEO of Centro Hispano. 

Burbano even created her own educational video series to inform the community about a variety of topics related to COVID-19. 

Health Disparities and COVID-19

Data tell us a story - learn about the many factors that influence our health (also known as social determinants of health or drivers of health) and how these factors play a role in COVID-19 in this video, featuring Liliana Burbano from the Knox County Health Department.

Posted by Knox County Health Department on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

While Centro Hispano traditionally only gives out three awards, Burbano's efforts have been so instrumental during the pandemic that she is being specially recognized for them in 2020. 

"We really wanted to honor everything she has done. She never stops, and we are so very very grateful to her," Caballero said. 

Burbano currently serves as the Non-English Communications lead person during the COVID-19 emergency response team for Knox County. 

Best Latino Restaurant - Juana Soto, Owner of El Girasol

Credit: Centro Hispano

The award for Best Latino Restaurant is presented annually to the restaurant people think is the best place to eat.

For nearly 20 years, El Girasol in Bearden has been offering up heaps of comforting food and grocery staples to hungry East Tennesseans. 

The Mexican restaurant and grocery store has long been a staple in the community. Restauranteur Juana Soto owns and operates the much loved restaurant with her husband, José. 

"They're a really essential spot for people in our community to purchase things that make us feel like having a taste of home," Caballero said.

El Girasol is open Sunday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and is located at 4823 Newcom Ave, Knoxville, TN. 

Latino Ally Award - Alessandra Ceccarelli, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Office of Immigrant Services Program Manager

Credit: OIS Knoxville
From left to right: Luis Mata, Alessandra Ceccarelli, Laura Sanchez Ramiez, Edith Coral Johnson.

Since 2005, the staff at the Catholic Center of East Tennessee has provided low bono immigration services to the immigrant and refuge community in East Tennessee. 

“We are really honored to have been chosen by the community as the Latino Ally Award. That really means a lot to us, and it’s a way for the community to recognize all the work into assisting our clients and community at large. We’re really really happy," program manager Alessandra Ceccarelli said. 

The Office of Immigrant Services is a Catholic charity, and is the only one in the area whose staff is accredited with the Department of Justice.  

Since 2005, the center has been offering low bono immigration services to the immigrant and refuge community in East Tennessee. 

The center also organizes clinics for naturalization, hosts DACA renewal information sessions, and free legal screenings across Tennessee. 

Ceccarelli said the strength of this organization lies in constant teamwork with other agencies around the area, and in the team's personal background. 

"This is an office staffed by immigrants or children of people who are immigrants. And so this is very important, because we can relate. We understand, at least in part it is never possible to fully understand, but we can relate to where our clients come from. My staff is made up of individuals who are either from Mexico or whose parents are from Honduras, El Salvador, Peru. As part of the immigrant community, it’s easier for us to relate to our client. And I think it helps us establish trust with the community," Ceccarelli said. 

Last year, OIS Knox helped over 700 clients with immigration services. 

RELATED: Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates Latino communities in East Tennessee and beyond