It was a triumphant return for what was once an annual event postponed for three years due to the pandemic. Close to 300 people—a sold-out crowd—enjoyed Latin music, a great meal and the company of longtime friends and new acquaintances at El Kiosko Hall in Southwest Detroit for the 52nd Anniversary Fundraising Dinner and Celebración of the Wayne State University Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS).
The mood in the hall was certainly celebratory with a program packed with awards, announcements of charitable gifts, CLLAS updates and many uplifting speeches.
Newly named Wayne State University President Dr. Kimberly Andrews Espy greeted the guests, among them many CLLAS alumni, community leaders, and corporate partners, by recognizing the significance of the event being held during the National Hispanic Heritage Month. She lauded the major contributions that Latino/as have made at Wayne State and congratulated CLLAS Director Dr. Jorge L. Chinea who was recently appointed to the rank of Distinguished Service Professor of History.
President Espy also noted the sharp increase in Latino/a student enrollment at the university, including a nearly 40 percent rise in the number of incoming students enrolled relative to last year, and reaffirmed Wayne State’s commitment to continue to work closely with the Latino/a community.
Adriana Valenzuela, Director of Customer and Account Services for the US Market at Ford Motor Credit, the financial arm for Ford Motor Company, and one of the highest-ranking Latinas in the organization, delivered the keynote address. After highlighting the significant financial donations that Ford and its charitable arm, the Ford Motor Company Fund, have made to Latino/a and other communities locally and nationally, Valenzuela closed by announcing a gift of $10,000 to CLLAS from the Ford Hispanic and Latino Network.
CLLAS Assistant Director Melissa Miranda Morse presented a substantive summary of the program’s successful efforts to recruit, retain and graduate students. Filled with key facts and figures, her data demonstrated the impact that the center’s programs have on student success, including big gains in the four-year graduation rates of Latino/a students. She spotlighted student and alumni achievements over the past year, recognizing several CLLAS alumni in attendance who earned advanced degrees in 2023 along with recent graduate Diana Garcia Rivera, who just completed a colorful 10’ x 8’ mural titled “El Viaje a la Sabiduría” (A Journey towards Knowledge) that now graces the center’s main office.
The evening concluded with an awards ceremony honoring individuals whose achievements reflect the longtime mission of CLLAS to provide access to a quality university education to underrepresented students.
Receiving the Martin “Marty” Quiroz Enseñanza Award (posthumously) was Dr. Guerin Montilus, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Wayne State. His daughter Afiavi Montilus, who accepted the award on her father’s behalf, noted his deep passion for his work devoted to studying Afro-Caribbean spirituality and religious material culture, as well as his dedication to the university’s educational mission, especially its local and global outreach.
Businessman and owner of the popular Taqueria Mi Pueblo restaurant, José “Chuy” De Jesus López, received the Enterprising Spirit Award. López worked his way from a ranch in Jalisco, Mexico to a major provider of jobs, high-quality meals, and space for families and the community to gather in Southwest Detroit. His community development activities, Dr. Chinea remarked, exemplify the growing economic impact that the Latino/population continues to have in this part of Detroit and the state.
Mary Carmen Muñoz, Executive Director of LA SED, the oldest Hispanic non-profit advocacy agency in Southeastern Michigan, was honored with the Israel “Lalo” Leyton Community and Public Service Award, named for the community organizer who co-founded both LA SED and CLLAS. Muñoz thanked her late mother Carmen, husband Kenneth Jones, and mentor Jane Garcia for their unwavering support throughout her life, which has been dedicated to service.
Major sponsors included the Wayne State Office of Academic Student Affairs and Global Engagement, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Ideal Group, Comerica, CHASS, DTE Foundation, Ford, Kirk in the Hills, LA SED, MCA Detroit, MANA de Metro Detroit, Michigan First Credit Union, MGM Grand Detroit, and SER Metro- Detroit. All proceeds from the event support scholarships for CLLAS students.