MANA Honors Las Primeras at Annual Gala

Las Primeras from left to right Monalisa G. Vitela, Norma Villicana, and Mercy Valenzuela.
MANA’s Las Primeras honorees are from left to right, Monalisa G. Vitela, Norma Villicana, and Mercy Diana Valenzuela.

EL CENTRO — To be a role model for the younger generation is considered one of the highest honors in a community, which is why the Valley came out to honor those who are seen as role models at the 21st Annual MANA de Imperial Valley Las Primeras Gala held Friday evening at the Old Eucalyptus School House in El Centro.

MANA de Imperial Valley was established in 1974 and is a local chapter of a national non-profit Latina advocacy organization.The Las Primeras nominees are chosen and honored for their contributions to the community, their professional accomplishments, and for serving as exemplary, positive role models for Valley youth, young Latinas in particular. They are also honored for being the first in their field, hence the name “Las Primeras.”

This year, the MANA nominees were Mercy Diana Valenzuela, Monalisa G. Vitela, and Norma Villicana.

Valenzuela is a women’s health nurse practitioner/nurse midwife for Pioneers Memorial Hospital and one of the first three certified midwives in Imperial County.

Vitela is the first female Latina Senior Director for Alternative Eduction at the Imperial County Office of Education.

Villicana is the Community Development Director for the City of El Centro and first female Director of the Zoning and Planning Department.

There were tears and warm embraces as the women received their awards and the recognition of the community at the gala.

“It’s a prestigious honor, that the Valley feels you are a making an impact on the community,” said Valenzuela. “To be included with women that do so much, to now be a part of that gives me even more determination.”

“I never thought of myself as a role model, I just thought I was doing my job,” said Villicana. “It’s an empowering feeling to know that one day, these young women will become leaders in our community. This is what it is all about.”

“It’s always been a part of my life to be a role model,” said Vitela. “To be there for young Latinas and to show them to not give up on their dreams and to be the support that they need.”

Since 2007, MANA has raised $127,000 in funds for local scholarships according to MANA President Maria Pienado. The gala is MANA’s only fundraiser for the scholarships that will be given out in the spring to young Latinas in high school and Imperial Valley College nursing students. All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards this fund.

“MANA is for the encouraging of all students to reach for the stars,” said Peinado. “We are here to support you.”