Legendary Latin vocalist Vikki Carr, Astronaut Jose Hernandez, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to be Recognized at 34th Annual Awards Gala

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) today announced its 2011 highest honors to be awarded at its 34th Annual Awards Gala on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 in Washington, D.C.  The event is hosted by ExxonMobil.

Four-time Grammy winner and legendary entertainer Vikki Carr and astronaut Jose Hernandez will each receive a 2011 Medallion of Excellence for Leadership and Community Service.  U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will receive the Chair’s Award from CHCI Chair Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez. This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month’s theme is “Keeping the Promise: Unity, Strength, Leadership.”

2011 Medallion of Excellence for Leadership and Community Service Honorees

Four-time GRAMMY winner and legendary star of the stage and screen Vikki Carr has captivated audiences nationally and abroad for over 50 years with her melodic voice.  The El Paso, Texas, native has performed for the Queen of England, five U.S. Presidents, and U.S. troops in Vietnam.

Respected as an artist and humanitarian, Carr’s commitment to education and leadership development for Latino youth extends throughout her career.  She established the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation in 1971, which offers scholarships to Latino students in Texas to pursue their dreams of a college education.  To date, the foundation has awarded more than 300 scholarships totaling over $250,000.  For nearly a quarter-century, Carr has performed benefit concerts to support Holy Cross High School in San Antonio.  Her philanthropic support extends beyond the Latino community to many health-related charities, several which benefit children and their families.  St Jude’s Hospital, The United Way, The American Lung Association, The Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Cancer Therapy and Research Center are just a few organizations that Carr has supported.

Engineer and astronaut Jose Hernandez has been a lifelong advocate of Latino youth pursuing their dreams and offers his own success story as evidence that hard work and education offer lasting rewards.

Hernandez, who was a field laborer as a child, was the first person to use Spanish language in space through his tweets during the 2009 Space Shuttle mission STS-128.  He founded the Reaching for the Stars Foundation to provide scholarships to students pursuing careers in science and engineering.  His foundation mirrors the assistance he received as a student through the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, which helps students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds attain degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields.

Through his science and engineering background, Hernandez had another significant contribution; this time in the healthcare field.  He and a colleague developed the first full-field, digital mammography imaging system, which has long-term positive effects in aiding the early detection of breast cancer.

2011 CHCI Chair’s Award Honorees

With passions that extend from affordable healthcare and stronger, working families to protecting the environment and promoting clean energy jobs, Secretary Hilda L. Solis has been serving the public since 1985.  Her most recent position as U.S. Secretary of Labor—a position she’s held since 2009—marks the culmination of a career that has been dedicated to improving the lives of others, especially Latinos.

Solis was the first Latina elected to the California State Senate, and while in that position, she served as chairwoman of the California Senate Industrial Relations Committee where she led the 1996 battle to increase the state’s minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.75 an hour.  She also authored a record 17 state laws aimed at combating domestic violence.

While serving the 32nd Congressional District in California, Solis was appointed to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) in 2007 and was elected Vice Chair of the Commission’s General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Questions. She was the only U.S. elected official to serve on this committee.

Secretary Ken Salazar has spent much of his career protecting America’s natural resources and beautiful spaces.  A fifth-generation Coloradan, Salazar’s family settled in the American West before the United States was even a country.  Raised on a remote ranch that Salazar’s family farmed and ranched for nearly 125 years, Salazar grew up without electricity or a telephone and learned the values of hard work, family, and faith, while gaining a deep appreciation for the land.

Salazar has also spent his life serving the public through various elected positions.  Prior to being confirmed as the 50th secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior on January 20, 2009, Salazar served as Colorado’s 35th U.S. Senator.  He served on the Finance Committee, which oversees the nation’s tax, trade, social-security, and health-care systems.  He continued his service by volunteering on the Agriculture, Energy and Natural Resources, Ethics, Veterans Affairs, and Aging Committees.  Through his work on these committees, he further supported responsible use of the nation’s national resources and rights for all Americans.

From 1999 to 2004, Salazar served as Colorado’s 36th Attorney General, winning statewide elections in 1998 and again in 2002.  In this position, Salazar made many improvements in the area of law enforcement, consumer protection and anti-fraud laws to further protect Colorado’s citizens.  He chaired the Conference of Western Attorneys General and received the Profiles in Courage award for his dedication to preserving and promoting the rule of law.

CHCI’s Annual Awards Gala is the signature event in CHCI’s Hispanic Heritage Month Events that include the Public Policy Conference and Reyes of Comedy. It is the largest and most prestigious gathering of Hispanic bipartisan, public and private sector leaders in the nation.  The evening’s festivities include musical entertainment, remarks by figures of national prominence, and recognition of CHCI’s highest honors, while supporting CHCI’s critical educational attainment and leadership development programs.

Once again, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have been invited to attend.  Over the past three years, the President has addressed a total of more than 8,000 guests as the keynote speaker.

Emmy award winning journalist and veteran Univision anchor Teresa Rodriguez will serve as the Gala’s celebrity host with “The Prince of Salsa” Luis Enrique and Latin music sensation Prince Royce providing an amazing evening of entertainment.

The Medallion of Excellence is CHCI’s highest honor and is presented each year to an individual (one male and one female) who conducts himself or herself in an exemplary manner and who can serve as a role model and standard-bearer for the Latino community, particularly Latino youth.   The qualifying factor is community involvement through the initiation or support of programs that benefit the Hispanic community as a whole.

The CHCI Chair’s Award(s) is presented each year to an individual who has dedicated his or her public or private career to improving the lives of Hispanic Americans. The honoree is chosen wholly at the Chair’s discretion.

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