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Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations gathered together for it’s 8th year to recognize individuals and organizations with the Beacon of Light awards this past Friday February 28th at the Santa Clara Charcot Center Care. The Beacon of Light Awards recognize contributions that advance human rights and effective immigration of immigrants in Santa Clara County. The Office of Human Relations sent off nominations packets to various immigrants groups. Once all the nominations were received, honorees were then selected. “Just recognizing that despite the diversity we are one community,” said Teresa Castellanos, Immigrant Services Coordinator. “There is  beauty in being able to do is, this is the beauty that realization that people come from different countries,they come in different manners,they come with different languages and cultures, but it’s one immigrant community here.”

The Beacon of Light Awards are given as a symbol to emulate the same torch held by the Statue of Liberty. The light is meant to be a reflection of the hopes and dreams of new immigrants. This year’s honorees included Salvador “Chava” Bustamante, the FIRE Coalition, Judy Rickard, and Marija Kevesevic. Each honoree is recognized for their service to different fields of immigrant rights.

Although this is the 8th annual awards ceremony, Bustamante was honored tonight as the first recipient of a new award, the Cindy Avitia Award for life long commitment. Cindy Avitia was a leader in the immigrants rights movement. She was an immigration lawyer involved in many organizations, even working for Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Avitia passed away six months ago. The Office of Human Relations decided to commemorate Avitia by created an award in her name. Audience members took a moment to commemorate Avitia, by calling her name in roll call format and shouting “presente” to symbolize how her spirit remains present.

Bustamente was honored with the Cinity Avitia award for his commitment to social justice. He got his first taste of activism with the United Farm Workers (UFW). Since then Bustamante has worked as a labor organizer, campaigning for immigrant driver’s licenses, as well as more than 40 years of work promoting civil rights. “We have the power to change our lives, if we decided to do it, if we work together with our people collectively, our power gets even bigger,” said Bustamante. Bustamante’s latest project is Latinos United for a New America (LUNA) which encourages civic engagement and grassroots leadership to help improve the quality of life for Latino community.

“When I came out in 1973, Santa Clara County was having serious issues about gay rights. So I didn’t have any organization that I was working with but I knew it was wrong to be discriminated against,” said Judy Rickard, a Beacon of Light honoree.Rickard was recognized for her advocacy work with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Community (LGBT). Rickard said in 2005, she met her spouse, a non-US citizen. She would then become an advocate for a group of immigrants, the foreign-born same sex spouses of US citizens. Rickard has published a book to serve as a resource for the group, titled, “Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.” 

“I’ve worked with educators, I’ve worked with legislators, I’ve worked with different groups in the community to just try to remind everybody that when you talk about immigration you can’t leave out the LGBT community,” said Rickard.Also recognized for their contributions are the Santa County Forum for Immigrants Rights and Empowerment (FIRE) Coalition. The FIRE Coalition promoted a policy to separate federal immigration and local law enforcement activities known as the SCC civil detainer policy.

Marija Kevesevic was recognized for her 15 years of service and advocacy for refugees. Kevesevic oversaw operations that have assisted more than 7,000 refugees seeking asylum. “It’s one immigrant community here,there is more in common than there is actual difference,” said Castellanos. “Silicon valley would not be Silicon valley without immigrant leadership.”

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