2015 Outstanding American by Choice Recipients

Father Daniel Finn

June 16, 2015
Boston, MA

Father Daniel Finn
Former Pastor of Saint Mark Roman Catholic Parish and Saint Ambrose Parish and Immigrant Advocate
Dorchester, Massachusetts
 

Father Daniel Finn is a native of Kanturk, Ireland and became a citizen of the United States in 1973. Father Finn served as Pastor at Saint Mark Roman Catholic Parish in Dorchester, MA from 1993-2015 as well as concurrently serving as Pastor at Saint Ambrose Parish also in Dorchester from 2010-2015. He co-founded the Irish Pastoral Center in Dorchester in 1987 when thousands of young Irish were emigrating from Ireland due to a faltering economy. He recognized the need to help new immigrants become acclimated to life in the United States. Father Finn provided assistance and consultation in many areas including employment matters, health care, housing, and immigration and citizenship issues.

In 2005, Father Finn helped lead the effort to establish a program to provide English language and citizenship classes to working adult immigrants in Dorchester and surrounding areas. Saint Mark Roman Catholic Parish, a fiscal year 2009 USCIS grant recipient, continues to provide services to promote the civic integration of immigrants through its Community Education Program. With this funding, the program expanded and enhanced services for the immigrant community through additional English language and citizenship preparation courses, evening and weekend classes, year-round programming, and a new computer lab for its students.

 

Alberto Vasallo, Jr.

June 16, 2015
Boston, MA

Alberto Vasallo, Jr.
Founder, El Mundo Newspaper
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 

Alberto Vasallo, Jr., a native of Havana, fled Cuba in 1965 at the age of 24 years old. After traveling for 12 hours, he arrived in Key West, FL, a day he has described as of one of the most beautiful days in his life. Mr. Vasallo spent two months in Miami, FL before moving to Boston, MA in January 1966. He settled in Cambridge, MA where he began to promote local Latin bands and sell jewelry. He grew to appreciate the growing Hispanic population in the Boston area. A map maker in Cuba, in 1972, Mr. Vasallo founded El Mundo, a Spanish language newspaper in the Boston area. In the beginning, Mr. Vasallo delivered the paper himself in a station wagon. Over time, the paper grew in size. El Mundo is Massachusetts’ oldest Spanish language weekly newspaper serving the Latino community of eastern Massachusetts. El Mundo also serves as the official Latino media partner of the Boston Red Sox.

Mr. Vasallo’s business career spans more than four decades in Boston and he has forged a legacy in the Latino small business community as an entrepreneur. His accomplishments have been recognized locally and nationally. Mr. Vasallo was awarded an Honorary Degree from Cambridge College in 2014, and in 2012, he was selected to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch at Fenway Park before a Boston Red Sox game in commemoration of El Mundo's 40th anniversary.

 

Maria Contreras-Sweet

October 3, 2015
Glen Echo, MD

Maria Contreras-Sweet
Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration
Washington, District of Columbia

Maria Contreras-Sweet became the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and a member of President Obama’s cabinet on April 7, 2014. SBA is charged with supporting America’s small businesses, which create nearly two out of three net, new private-sector jobs in the economy, and employ half of the nation’s private-sector workforce.

Ms. Contreras-Sweet entered the private sector as the only female executive for Westinghouse’s 7-Up/RC Bottling Company. She was one of the leading corporate negotiators for the creation of California’s Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, which led to the largest-ever expansion of the state’s recycling system. In recognition of this work, she was appointed by the U.S. Senate to serve on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission to advocate for the advancement of women in corporate America.

Ms. Contreras-Sweet was a cabinet official in California, becoming the longest-serving cabinet Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing in state history. For five years, she oversaw 44,000 employees, a $14 billion budget, and 14 state departments. Upon re-entering the private sector, Ms. Contreras-Sweet set her sights on improving access to capital for small businesses. She founded a successful community bank in Los Angeles, CA focused on financing small- and mid-size businesses, especially the region’s underserved entrepreneurs.

 

Larry La

October 3, 2015
Glen Echo, MD

Larry La
Principal, Meiwah Restaurant Group
Washington, District of Columbia and
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Larry La is the Principal of Meiwah Restaurant Group with locations in Washington, DC and Chevy Chase, MD. He is an Asian-American community leader and is active in the Washington, DC metropolitan community.

Born in Vietnam to Chinese parents, Mr. La and his family fled the country by boat after the Vietnam War, risking their lives during the journey. Mr. La lived with his family in a refugee camp in Malaysia for more than a year before arriving in the United States in 1979.

Today, Mr. La calls himself a “proud American” and has been actively involved in his community. In addition to his restaurant business, Mr. La serves as Vice President of US-Asia Links, LLC, an organization that promotes trade between the United States, Vietnam, and China. He also served as a board member of Washington, DC’s Newcomer Community Service Center and is a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce in Rockville, MD.

Mr. La earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from East Tennessee State University and is a graduate of the National Business School in Saigon, Vietnam. Mr. La speaks Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

 

Thalia

October 18, 2015
New York, NY

Thalia
Singer, Author, Actor, Entrepreneur
New York, New York

Thalia is a singer, published author, actor and entrepreneur. She is considered the “Queen of Latin Pop” and is one of the best-selling Latin musicians of all time. She has sold more than 40 million records worldwide and has had 28 Top 10 singles, 16 of which went to No. 1. Thalia has received numerous accolades, including two Latin Billboard awards and several Premios Juventud awards. She has performed in various languages including Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Tagalog.

In addition to her success as a recording artist, Thalia is considered Mexico's most famous telenovela actress. Her telenovelas have aired in more than 180 countries with a viewership of more than two billion people. She has been named one of People magazine's Most Beautiful (Los Más Bellos) a record nine-times and top 25 most powerful Latinas by People en Español.

Thalia has helped to raise awareness and funds for the March of Dimes. She is currently the March of Dimes celebrity spokeswoman for premature births, and is featured in the March of Dimes’ Education and Health Promotion materials in English and Spanish. In 2009, she was recognized by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Miami, and she was awarded the "Your Voice Inspires Many" award by the Lyme Disease Research Alliance in 2013.

 

Mariano Rivera

October 18, 2015
New York, NY

Mariano Rivera
Former Professional Baseball Pitcher for the New York Yankees; Founder, Mariano Rivera Foundation
New York, New York

Mariano Rivera is a former professional baseball pitcher who played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the New York Yankees from 1995 to 2013. Mr. Rivera spent most of his career as a relief pitcher and served as the Yankees' closer for 17 seasons. A thirteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, he is MLB's career leader in saves and games finished.

Mr. Rivera was born in Panama City, Panama. As a child he played baseball by using cardboard milk cartons for gloves, tree branches for bats, and worn-out balls and wads of shredded fishing nets to play the game. He was 12 years old when his father was able to purchase him his first baseball glove.

Mr. Rivera was signed by the Yankees organization in Panama in 1990, and he debuted in the major leagues in 1995. Initially a starting pitcher, he was converted to a relief pitcher late in his rookie year, and became the Yankees' closer in 1997. In the following seasons, he established himself as one of baseball's top relievers, leading the major leagues in saves in 1999, 2001, and 2004. Mr. Rivera was named the 1999 World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP) and the 2003 AL Championship Series MVP and is regarded within baseball as one of the most dominant relievers in major league history.

Mr. Rivera is currently involved in philanthropic causes and the Christian community through the Mariano Rivera Foundation, an organization with emphasis in youth oriented programs.

 

Mercy Diez

November 11, 2015
Baltimore, MD

Sergeant Major Mercy A. Diez
Vocalist, The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own”
Falls Church, VA

Originally from Cebu City, Philippines, Sergeant Major (SGM) Mercy A. Diez began singing at the age of five and joined the U.S. Army in 1989, not as a musician but in the military intelligence field. Fluent in Visayan, Tagalog, and English, SGM Diez attended the Defense Language Institute and was then stationed in South Korea as a military intelligence interrogator. While there, she won a talent competition that earned her a place on the roster of the 1991 Soldier’s Show that tours the United States and overseas locations each year entertaining and supporting American soldiers. During one of her tours, she was spotted by members of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” (TUSAB) and was invited to join the band within months.

With TUSAB, SGM Diez has performed for special events at the White House and has been a featured vocalist performing in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Australia. On her own time, SGM Diez works with local musicians lending her talents to songwriters and recording projects. She has provided back-up vocals for famous recording artists in venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York, NY, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN. She also coaches young, up-and-coming artists in performance practices and contemporary vocal techniques.

 

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