As a recovering alcoholic gay male, Richard Zaldivar made a personal commitment to give back to his community to show his appreciation to life for his newfound persona. In 1993, he realized a lifelong dream and founded The Wall Las Memorias Project with the mission to provide culturally sensitive HIV/AIDS education and prevention to the Latino community and to offer a memorial to people who have died from the disease. Today, The Wall Las Memorias Project is the first publicly funded AIDS monument in the nation and Zaldivar is a leading activist in HIV/AIDS prevention in the Latino community.
For his work as an HIV/AIDS activist, Zaldivar and 14 other Latino men and women from Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno were recently named this year's Local Heroes of the Year by Union Bank of California, N.A., in partnership with three Public Broadcasting Station affiliates in the same cities. The awards will be presented at a series of awards receptions in the respective cities in early to mid September in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
"This year's honorees reflect those elements that strengthen our culture, community and nation. They set a good example individually and collectively for everyone to follow. Their work and dedication is truly inspirational and admirable," said George Ramirez, market president for Union Bank.
As an advocate, Zaldivar has worked to raise awareness about how cultural denial and silence contribute to the rising rates of HIV/AIDS.
Joining Zaldivar as local heroes from Los Angeles are:
-- Dino T. Barajas, a partner in the corporate practice group of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP. Barajas will be recognized for his achievements as an attorney and experience representing lenders, investors and developers in domestic and international projects.
-- Doreen Garcia, executive director at Casa de las Amigas, a non-profit organization that provides alcohol and drug-recovery services to women. For more than 20 years, she has raised millions of dollars to help women find a productive, responsible and sober life.
-- J. Michael Ortiz, Ph.D., president of the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Dr. Ortiz is committed to increasing awareness about the importance of higher education among Latinos and other minorities. He is also an advocate for the education of handicapped children.
-- Isela Sotelo, executive director for the Los Angeles Music and Art School. Prior to becoming executive director, Sotelo participated in the school as a teacher, artist, parent and board member. Through her efforts, the school helps thousands of children explore their creative talents in the arts.
The Local Hero of the Year Awards program was launched to recognize the contributions of many ethnic unsung heroes in California during the respective heritage months.