Merced County Times Newspaper
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Gwen Hagaman

Accomplished Women Honored at Hispanic Chamber’s Annual Latina Luncheon

The Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCC) held their Annual Latina Luncheon Friday, March 1 at the Italo-American Lodge in downtown Merced. The event is held to recognize the contributions of accomplished Hispanic women in Merced County.
HCC Secretary Annissa Fragoso of Farmers Insurance served as the Mistress of Ceremonies. She opened the event with a welcome to all guests. The American Legion Post 83 Color Guard brought in and posted flags for our nation and state. The National Anthem was performed by Martha Armas.
Fragoso and Hernandez recognized Congressman Jim Costa’s representative, State Senator Anna Caballero and Assemblyman Adam Gray who were in the audience.  HCC leaders were introduced and thanked for their service.
HCC President Rene Gutierrez of Amtrak thanked event sponsors UC Merce, Assemblyman Adam Gray, Tlahualil Mexican Restaurant, Golden Valley Health Centers, Merced College, Merced Old 99 Realty, Travis Credit Union, Merced County Office of Education, Castaneda Lope, PC and Unique Entertainment.
Keynote speaker, State Senator Anna Caballero took a moment to thank her husband Juan for his help and support. She also thanked Adam Gray. “Together we bring a voice of logic and reason to the Legislature,” she said.
Caballero had two messages to share: the importance of small business and the importance of women participating in politics.
“Small business owners are the ones in the community organizations like Rotary and Chambers. They are the ones sponsoring youth activities. They are the ones out there volunteering. They are the ones supporting the social aspects of the community,” Caballero said. “Make a point to go to small businesses to spend your money. Have lunch at an independently owned restaurant. It’s good for local economies.”
While living in Salinas, Caballero had a local law firm to help farm workers. She told the audience how she had started trying to organize people to ask the City to put in new crosswalks.
“I was encouraged to join the Planning Commission,” Caballero said. She explained that most women she has talked to say they have never run for office because no one ever asked them to.
“I was the first female on the Salinas City Council. And I was the first female Mayor of Salinas in 130 years,” she said. “When I left five of the seven Salinas Councilmen were women. Their outlooks changed the dynamics of the Council.”
Caballero urged women to run for office. “Don’t wait to be asked,” she said. “Please get involved in politics.”
The first award presentation was made by HCC Vice President Juan Roman of Milan Institute to Karla Seijas. As a Graduate Specialist at UC Merced, she works with Doctoral Students and Faculty in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts. She has served our nation as a Political Advisor to the Nation of Israel, Public Affairs Specialist for the Commander of US Army Installation Management Command, and as Professor of Political Science at Georgia Military College.
“My mother Flora Martinez, a founder of Golden Valley Health Centers, received this same award 14 years ago,” Seijas said with great emotion. “On the same day I got a call from the Hispanic Chamber about this award I also got an acceptance letter from UC Merced for my PhD program.”
Siejas will devote her graduate research project to a discussion of gender roles in the military, specifically women serving in combat roles.
The next award was presented by Fragoso to Conchita Swiggart, saying how she has been inspired by Conchita to continue giving back to the community.
Swiggart serves through her work in real estate and her volunteer efforts for the HCC, Our Lady of Mercy School Foundation, Merced County Association of Realtors, the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County, the Downtown Christmas Parade, Merced Chapter of Helping One Woman (HOW), and the Mercy Hospital Foundation. She is normally not just a volunteer, but serves on the boards of these organizations.
“It is a privilege to give back. I am the one who has benefitted from volunteering,” Swiggart said. “Thank you for this honor.”
The third HCC award was presented by HCC Board Member Berenice Madrigal to Dulcemaria Anaya.
A graduate of UC Merced, Anaya now works there as the Coordinator of New Student Orientation. She helps new students and their families transition into life at the university with ease
In 2010, Anaya was a student at the Harvard Latino Leadership Initiative. She continued in week-long programs for three years, becoming a mentor to emerging Latino leaders across the nation.
“I am proud to be a native of Merced and a UC Merced alumnis,” Anaya told the audience. “I want to support UC Merced Students and serve them in a way that makes a difference in their lives.”
Assemblyman Adam Gray stepped up and explained that the California Assembly elects a “Woman of the Year,” with each District nominating a winner from their region. He announced Mireya Rivera Aguilar of Winton as the 21st Assembly District Woman of the Year.
“It’s hard for a person who learned English at 24 years old to accept an award from Assemblyman Adam Gray,” Aguilar told the audience, close to tears of joy. She is a member of the Nuevo Latino Rotary Club of Winton.
Aguilar has worked as an Instructional Support Specialist at the Merced County Office of Education for 17 years, working primarily with preschoolers. She has been a member of Nuevo Latino Rotary Club of Winton since 2013, serving in variety of roles, including President. Mrs. Aguilar has been a strong advocate for High School scholarships, and assuring that her Rotary club has a presence at educational events, including the annual family night on Cinco de Mayo.
In additon, Aguilar volunteers for “Love Winton,” an organization focused on community cleanups. She holds citizenship classes in both English and Spanish with the aim of better preparing applicants for citizenship tests. She is an active participant in the Ballet Folklorico Club Tlaquillote, performing in events throughout the year – including at the Livingston Sweet Potato Festival and retirement homes in Merced, Livingston, Atwater and Winton.
HCC officially recognized their former Treasurer and Board Member Elisa Treviño of K. Hovnanian Homes for “the countless hours she has given to the organization.”
“Elisa gave 150 percent of herself to the Chamber when she was involved and although she is not on the board at this time she is still a huge supporter of HCC,” said HCC Executive Director Elena Gomez. “We truly appreciate all your contributions.”
And last but just as important, HCC Secretary Annissa Fragoso of Farmers Insurance was recognized for “Exemplary leadership and vision.”
“Our organization has prospered under Annissa’s guidance,” Gomez explained. “She has been the Committee Chair for our 5K Vaquero Run, now in its third year, and continually brings new ideas to grow our Chamber to the next level.”

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