Another edition of the “10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians” award ceremony took place this past Wednesday and this year, their 7th year, the 10 winners come from five provinces representing eight countries of origin, said Mauricio Ospina, principal organizer of the event. Guest Speakers for the night were Ian Troop, CEO of the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games and the Honourable Chris Alexander, Minister of Immigration and Citizenship. This time around the event was hosted by well-known community leader Lita Gonzalez-Dickey.

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“Canada’s 740,061 Hispanics are five years younger and more likely to be university-educated than other Canadians,” said Mauricio Ospina, head of the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance, in his introduction to the over 300 executives, media, diplomats, past winners and community members that attended the event. “Most Hispanics live in the Greater Toronto Area and over 70 per cent have arrived in the last 25 years, according to a Statistics Canada study based on the 2006 census. A recent FOCAL study puts Spanish as the third most commonly spoken language in Canada.”

Mr. Ian Troop, CEO of Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games told the audience that these games are poised to be bigger than the summer Olympics in Montreal in ’76 and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and encouraged them all to “wave your flag proudly. Our games will celebrate Canadian culture by celebrating all cultures.”

He was accompanied on stage by talented singer/songwriter Amanda Martínez, who was recently appointed honorary co-chair of PanAm 2015’s Ignite program. In preparation for the games she will be the spokesperson and will also be performing in a series of countdown concerts in order to connect athletes and sports fans with musicians all over Canada. “This is a great opportunity to promote our roots and I really hope everyone participates,” said Amanda.

Troop also introduced Vanessa Restrepo, a 15-year-old athlete whose story is that of many immigrant athletes who try to become part of established teams. After many struggles and obstacles, she is now finally a member of the Canada’s National Karate team and has won many accolades, making both her Colombian (and all Hispanics) and Canadian communities extremely proud of all that she’s achieved. “I know it can be done, and with the drive and passion that all of us Latinos have, I know that we can make it to the PanAm Games,” said Vanessa.

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The second speaker, the Honourable Chris Alexander, Canada’s Minister of Immigration and Citizenship, was introduced by Marina Jiménez, former Globe & Mail journalist and now President of the Canada Council for the Americas, who mentioned that she and Minister Alexander had been school classmates, and that even back then everyone at their school knew “Chris would do very well.”

“We are proud of what is being achieved in Toronto and in Canada,” said Minister Alexander.  “To all Latin America we’re saying Canada is a start-up nation. As a country, we have a rare opportunity here.  That’s why we think that as you honour the 10 Most Influential Hispanics, we see that this is Canada’s moment.” He mentioned how there will be an increased (and unprecedented) number of immigrants coming into Canada in the next few years, and they are needed “to unlock Canada’s potential to do the things at home and abroad that Canada can do.”

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And then the moment everyone had been waiting for: the 10 Most Influential Hispanics for the year 2013 were announced and they are:

– Alfredo Caxaj (Guatemala-Ontario): Founder and Executive Director of London’s Sunfest, second largest music festival in Canada, who dedicated the award to all Latin Americans who contribute to make Canada a better country to live in. “Latin Americans have an incredible future and an important role to play in this country. We are given the opportunity to embrace many cultural values and make this place a better place to live,” said Caxaj.

– Fernando Triana (Colombia-Alberta): Founder, Soy Hispano TV and Edmonton’s Latin Heritage Carnival, who said to be very happy and proud to represent the Latin community of Edmonton.

– Guillermo Schible (Nicaragua-Ontario): Lawyer and co-founder, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Ontario.  He was nominated by fellow lawyer and friend Ricardo Alcolado. “The truth is that I come to all these events not because I was nominated, but I’ve always attended. And I plan to continue. As a lawyer, I think it’s important for us to be involved with our community, as professionals who have a lot to say when it comes to the rights of the members of our community, and it’s important to get involved.  It’s part of the job,” said Schible. As a Nicaraguan, I was very happy and proud, on behalf of our homeland, to see him win this prestigious award.

– Hector Vergara (Chile-Manitoba): Executive Director, Manitoba Soccer Association, holds the FIFA record on World Cup games. He profusely thanked his family for the support, because he said over the last 19 years he’s been away a lot and there are many things he has missed in their lives.

– Dr. Hugo De Burgos (El Salvador-British Columbia): Anthropologist, filmmaker, activist and professor at the University of British Columbia.  He said to have arrived in Canada alone, but that he never felt lonely. “I came without a mother but found 25 mothers here,” he said.

– Dr. Juana Muñoz-Liceras (Spain-Ontario): Linguist, Spanish professor and supervisor for PhD thesis, University of Ottawa.

– Laura Cuner (Argentina-British Columbia): Founder, Avafina, an organic foods firm with annual sales of $14 million in 6 years of operation. “We didn’t come here to collect unemployment, we came here to work hard.  I have no words to thank Canada for everything it’s done for me. I also want to share this award with the organic farmers, who are my true heroes,” said Cuner.

– Mario Pochat (Mexico-British Columbia): Founder, Vancouver Animation School and CIRA awardee for innovation. He’d been in the field for 15 years before arriving to Canada. “Canada is a lot more advanced (in this field),” said Pochat. “There’s a lot of support and there’s a lot of financial backing. We started out by making an incursion in the arts, technology and education and we’re at the point right now where we have a very good online school in Vancouver, with teachers from Disney and Pixar and we’re now expanding into the e-Learning technology. I’ve now been in Vancouver for 15 years and the Hispanic population there is growing, so I’ve reconnected with the Hispanic community there.” There’s a lot of challenges in this field because it’s so new, says Pochat, and he thanked the venture capitalists who fund his projects because developing them requires a lot of money. “I am grateful to them because they believe in you, they believe in your creativity, but more than anything they put their faith (and money) in you.  And if you need more money, they don’t question it and they inject even more cash (into the project),” he said.

– Saul Polo (Colombia- Quebec City): President, Liberal Party of Quebec.

– Ximena Muñoz (Chile-Manitoba): Manitoba’s first Fairness Commissioner appointed by Lieutenant Governor.

The launch of nominations for the 2014 “10 Most Influential Hispanic Canadians” is scheduled for June, with awards ceremonies taking place in November 2014 in two major Canadian cities.

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