Latino Awards Gala furthers Centro Hispano’s mission to connect communities

Hispanic Heritage Month

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The 2019 Latino Awards Gala Thursday night honored the Latino community and furthered the vision of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee.

The annual celebration of the Latinx culture during Hispanic Heritage Month happened Thursday in Old City, with Knoxville community members coming together to honor people and organizations “who go above and beyond to support the emerging Latino community of Greater Knoxville.”

“I am very, very proud of our community. Centro Hispano does three things: We educate the Latino community, we connect the Latino community, and then we educate the greater community on how to best interact with the Latino community. It’s new – not everyone knows it, and that’s okay,” said executive director of Centro Hispano, Claudia Caballero.

Connecting the Latino community with the greater East Tennessee community is only one facet of the nonprofit’s mission; it also offers resources like English as a second language (ESL) classes, Spanish classes, financial literacy, family resources, after-school programs, legal clinics, wellness groups and health workshops.

Proceeds from the Gala go toward Centro Hispano’s programs and initiatives.

Family and youth liaison with Centro Hispano, Luci Diego, said Thursday the nonprofit’s role in the community is also to help educate Latino children with after-school programs, something she wishes she had while growing up.

“This Gala is to help raise for the cause to help the Latino community – we provide different types of services …for me, it’s important to give back to the community because growing up in the Knoxville area, it was not as diverse as it is now. Now that our community is expanding, I feel like this is a great cause.”


This year’s event was sold out.

Those awarded for their contributions to the Latino and greater community this year were voted on via polls.

Community resource director, René Yanes said the purpose of the Gala was to bring together the Latino community in touch with all the Knoxville community.

“It’s to unite us as one big community and let everyone know we are here for all the Latinos to be part of all of the community in Knoxville,” Yanes said.

Communities and their resources – that are always there.

“I always tell people, ‘you can ask us those awkward questions, that’s what we’re here for.’ I ask awkward questions all the time – and that’s how we learn,” Caballero said during Thursday night’s event.

One of the main facets Caballero spoke of Thursday was that of representation.

Centro Hispano is part of several boards and programs in the area.

“When we talk about who is representing the Latino community, where are their voices being heard – Centro Hispano is representing on the East Tennessee Foundation Board, on the Census committee for the city and the county, on the advisory board of Johnson University, on the Tennessee Valley Fair – that’s a fun one. We have folks on Leadership Knoxville and Intro Knox programs, and then we have the Tennessee Education Equity Coalition, which is a state-wide initiative,” Caballero said.

Other organizations whose leaders want to work with Centro Hispano also have the opportunity to do so, again, for the purpose of furthering representation and sharing experiences.

“All of you are on boards – and you think, ‘we’re growing diversity, we need some different voices,'” Caballero said. “The Latino population in Knox County Schools is over 10% this year – where are we getting that representation? Come find us. I have so many cool, young Latinos in this room today – that are ready to share their voices and their experiences to help your organizations.”

Volunteers are always needed at Centro Hispano. If you would like to volunteer, click here for more information.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed each year between Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, when the United States officially recognizes the contributions Hispanic and Latin Americans have made to society. Originally, the commemoration started in 1968 as a week-long observation but in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a 30-day celebration.


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