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Model Hispanic Family Chosen


Samuel Perez looked at his wife, Maria Elena, and his 13 children and concluded that his family was just large enough.

Besides, he smiled affectionately at his wife and quipped, "I don't think the machine works any more." One of the kids translated the speculation and Maria Elena shook her head, replying: "Ya, trabaja. " ("It still works.")

Perez, his wife and their 13 children all work at being a successful, model Hispanic family. As such, the family--active members of Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, busy musicians in school and college programs and vigorous participants in other school programs--was nominated for the Hispanic Family of the Year. One of seven families so honored, they, nonetheless, did not win the award at a ceremony Friday night at the Los Angeles Hilton.

But considering the individual and group accomplishments of the nominated families, awarding just one prize was insufficient, if not almost inappropriate. They all could receive scholarships, maybe go to the White House to meet First Lady Barbara Bush, the honorary national chairman of the Hispanic American Family of the Year Foundation. In short, these families--whose members all maintain a whirl of activities at work, as well as in their schools, churches and communities--were all too much.

Bernie Kemp, foundation chairman and founder, had a difficult choice Friday night. Would it be the Carlos family of Montebello? The Castros of Rowland Heights? The Colemamenares of Sacramento? The Mijares clan of Whittier? The Morenos of La Mirada? The Olveras of Pacoima? Or the Perez troop of Arleta?

"They are all pretty remarkable," Kemp declared.

Kemp himself has accomplished much, too, in his relatively short time in the community. The 30-year-old editor-in-chief and publisher of the quarterly Hispanic American Family Magazine founded the family foundation while in his late 20s, after arriving from Caracas, Venezuela, a few years earlier with his mother and a new American stepfather.

"I was lost when I got here," he recalled. "I wanted to play basketball but I didn't know how. There were few role models, ways to integrate and develop the Hispanic family then."

Asserted KNBC-TV news anchor Carla Aragon, who emceed the evening's program with KABC-TV news reporter Fred Anderson: "This award ceremony helps strengthen the Hispanic family (and) remind us of what is good. The fracture in society is due to the breakup of the family, all family, not just Hispanic. Being Latina, I understand that morals are high in the community--it's our religious upbringing. Even in the gangs, there is a code, which developed because of the family, the religion . . . What has to happen in our community is to reestablish the family."

At first glance, the family foundation's paradigm may seem restrictive, an echo of supra-traditional values--family, religion, community service, respect for parents and elders, achievement and education, above all else.

But each of the nominated families has developed its own peculiar way of responding to the crises of modern society. Individuality was emphasized throughout the ceremony and in speeches by members of each of the families.

"When there are problems--and there are problems," Armando Moreno stressed, "the drugs, the gangs make it difficult--what we do is sit down with the kids. I talk with them, not at them. I try very, very hard to relate, to come down to their level and understand just what is bothering them."

Moreno, a vice president of Glendale Federal Savings, and his wife Cathi, a secretary for the Norwalk-La Mirada School District, and their children, Alexander, Debbi and Jennifer, are a successful family unit.

Moreno--who earned a graduate degree in business at nights while keeping up at his job--is active in the Red-Cross, the East Los Angeles YMCA and serves on the Los Angeles County alcoholism commission, while his wife directs their church's music program, including a children's choir.

The family was awarded the Hispanic Family of the Year Award and will be off shortly to meet the First Lady.

Sixth-grader Jennifer Moreno, who her mother admits has a mind of her own, was not ebullient when her family won. When asked how the award will make her life different, she responded: "I don't know, school's over."

Individual priorities take precedence with this group.

Raul Mijares, who felt "quite honored" just to have been nominated, admitted that he ran his family in parliamentary fashion, by "Robert's Rules of Order."

Father doesn't always know best, however. On a recent car trip, Sarita Mijares, 8, made a motion to stop for a soda. She was seconded by Raul Carlos Mijares, 5. The motion passed over Dad's objection.

"I am a lucky man," Mijares said, chuckling, "a very lucky man."

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