American Dream Awards (07-09-2017)

From left to right: Teresa Sandoval, Myrna DeVera, Carmela Sandoval, Amelia Ceja, Dr. Maryam Mohsenzadeh, Rep. Mike Thompson, Nataly Deherrera, William Kim, Suzanne Smith, Sonu Chandi, Gustavo Brambila, Luisa Acosta, and Art Ibleto.

Luisa Acosta was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States. She is a successful community activist and is committed to social justice, particularly for employee rights.   

Luisa Acosta, the daughter of immigrant farmworkers, spent her childhood in the fields harvesting pears and walnuts and working in a fruit packing facility. Though this work was difficult, her time as a farmworker instilled in her a fierce determination, resilience and desire to better her community through social justice work. She has worked as a Lake County Substance Abuse Counselor, a paralegal and a grant writer for United Farmworkers of America, a representative for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local and an internal organizer for National Union of Health Workers. 

Ms. Acosta is an active participant in local politics and serves on the Lake County Democratic Central Committee. She finds time to direct and instruct various Latino cultural programs, including the Kelseyville Ballet Folklorico and the Lake County Fair Latino Fiesta. Ms. Acosta cites the farmworker activist and leader, Cesar Chavez, as one of her inspirations, and she strives to impact her community as he did -- through humility, kindness and fearless leadership.

Gustavo Brambila was born in Jalsico, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in 1957. He is a successful vintner and his hard work and ingenuity makes him one of our community’s finest entrepreneurs. 

Mr. Brambila developed an interest in wine making as he watched his father work in winery maintenance. He later joined Mike Grgich and Jim Barret in 1976 at Chateau Montelena to begin his career in the wine community. Shortly after, he joined Mike Grgich in the opening of Grgich Hill Cellars in 1977, where, in his first harvest, he produced the winning chardonnay in the Great Chardonnay Showdown of 1980. Inspired by old-world wine making techniques, Mr. Brambila produced his first wine under the Gustavo Wine label in 1996.

Mr. Brambila has been a trail blazer for both vintners and Mexican-Americans. He was one of the first Latinos to earn a degree in Fermentation Science from University of California, Davis’s oenolgy program. He has also traveled to Washington D.C., with a group of Mexican-American Vintners to support the mission of the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Brambila has been active in our community, appearing on our local news channel and hosting events like an out-door movie night for local families. He has gained international recognition with his involvement in the landmark wine competition known as the Judgment of Paris

Amelia Ceja was born in Las Flores, Jalisco, an agricultural village in Mexico, and immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. She is a successful businessperson and an important member of our community

Ms. Ceja moved with her family to the Napa Valley American Viticulture Area in California as a child. Her parents worked for a local vineyard management company, her father as a mechanic and her mother as a farm worker. She met her husband, Pedro Ceja, while picking grapes with their families. In 1983, the Ceja family came together to purchase 15 acres and to plant their own grapes. The family later founded Ceja Vineyards, Inc. in 1999. Today they own 113 producing acres. Ms. Ceja is the first Mexican American woman to be the president of a California winery. Her vineyard and winery are famous for their quality grape harvests and production of premium Carneros wines.

Ms. Ceja cares deeply about the family business and employees. She is dedicated to producing the highest quality of wine. The California Legislature recognized her contributions to the community on March 15, 2005 by naming her "Woman of the Year." Ms. Ceja’s story is one of sacrifice and determination. Stories like hers make America great.

Sonu Chandi was born in India and immigrated to the United States in 2000, at the age of sixteen. He is the successful founder and CEO of Chandi Hospitality Group, which manages fourteen restaurants and the North Bay branch of Mountain Mike’s Pizza. 

Though Sonu Chandi arrived in the United States with little money and knowledge of English, his powerful work ethic helped him achieve his dream of owning a restaurant. After seeing his father work tirelessly in restaurant kitchens, Sonu and his brothers helped their father open his own restaurant, forming the Chandi Hospitality Group.  In 2007, the Chandi Hospitality Group invested in the Mountain Mike’s Pizza franchise and became integral to the franchise’s development in the North Bay area of California. 

Mr. Chandi’s business strategy is community centered, and he has used his profits to support local organizations, such as Food for Thought, The Cancer Society, The Living Room, and The Heart Association. The Chandi Hospitality Group has also funded programs for Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and several local public schools. Sonu Chandi is an active member of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. He is a fine example of a socially-conscious businessman, using his impressive success to nourish his local community.

Nataly Deherrera was born in Angeles City, Philippines and immigrated to the United States. She is a successful business owner and a compassionate volunteer.

Ms. Deherrera is driven by integrity. Her personal success and contributions to our community are examples of the American Dream at work. As owner of TaxAce Group Inc., a five star Accounting firm, she voluntarily assists hospice groups, firefighters, and teachers with their annual tax returns. She also provides free tax classes for small business owners and free educational workshops for families. She volunteers for the national organization, City Impact, which supports urban youth, families and neighborhoods. 

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Accounting and Computing, Ms. Deherrera has set an exceptional example for her two daughters, Natasha and Andrea. Natasha is a graduate of University of California at Davis and Andrea is currently attending San Francisco State University.

Mayor Myrna De Vera was born in Cebu City, Philippines and immigrated to the United States. She has lived in Hercules, CA since 1991. She is a successful insurance agency owner and public servant.  

Mayor De Vera learned the value of community service from her parents who were both active in their Cebu City community. She began volunteering with the Cebu Jaycees and Rotary Club of Cebu-West when she was six years old. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the University of the Philippines before immigrating to the United States. Mayor De Vera honors her parent’s Filipino heritage and legacy of community service by working with organizations such as the Filipina Women’s Network and Hercules Democratic Club. 

Mayor De Vera was elected to be the Mayor of Hercules in 2011, 2014 and 2017. She is the only women and Filipina on the city council, something she does not take lightly saying, “I took on the challenge of changing the stereotyping of Filipinas.” Ms. De Vera dedicates herself to public service not just in Hercules, but throughout the region, serving on various commissions and committees to help improve the lives of those around her. Her great work led the Hercules Chamber of Commerce to name her  Citizen of the Year in 2014.

Art Ibleto was born in Argentina and raised in Sesta Godono, Italy. He immigrated to the United States in 1949. He is a successful businessman and a well-known Italian chef.  

During World War II, Mr. Ibleto was imprisoned for refusing to fight for Mussolini’s army against the Americans because he was opposed to fascism. He escaped and joined an underground network known as the “Partisans” to oppose Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers. Following the war, Art immigrated to the United States and settled in Sonoma County, California, where he worked as a vegetable picker, a mechanic, truck driver, and factory worker. He and his wife Vicki joined the Sons of Italy in 1958 to help other Italian Americans in the United States, and he served as both the Vice President and President of the California State Chapter. He continues his public service as a member of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. 

His business career began in 1961, when he bought a small farm to raise hogs and cows and grow potatoes, before moving on to sell Christmas trees and building duplexes. In 1974 he began Spaghetti Palace at the Sonoma County Fair and it became an instant success, leading him to begin a career supplying pasta and Italian cuisine to Californians. His reputation and the success of Spaghetti Palace has led him to become affectionately referred to as “The Pasta King.” He now owns a restaurant and catering business by the same name in addition to 75 acres of grapes used by local wineries. He cooks pasta for many charity organizations in our community. His successes and volunteer work have led him to be recipient both the City of Santa Rosa and City of Rohnert Park Honorary Citizen of the Year.

William Kim was born in Daegu, South Korea and immigrated to the United States. He and his wife Yolanda came to Vallejo in 1980. He is a successful business owner and a hard-working member of our community

Over the past 36 years, Mr. Kim taught over 10,000 students to be leaders in society through Taekwondo in Vallejo. The philosophy of Taekwondo and Mr. Kim’s teaching have helped students from all walks of life. Many struggling young people have found support and personal growth through their lessons from Mr. Kim. He currently operates William Kim's Tae Kwon Do Center, one of the nation’s largest martial arts facilities. He holds the highest rank in Taekwondo, the 9th Degree Black Belt, and was inducted into the “Taekwondo Hall of Fame” in 2009.

In addition to running his business and mentoring our youth, Mr. Kim is an active member of the Vallejo community. Most notably, he initiated the Sister City Relations with Jincheon, South Korea and the City of Vallejo in 1999. He has helped us improve our community’s relationship with the people of South Korea. Mr. Kim currently serves as the International Liaison Officer for the two cities. Mr. Kim and his wife have a son and two daughters. They strive to live positive lives and help others do the same

Dr. Maryam Mohsenzadeh was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. She moved to St. Helena, California in 2006 with her husband, Dr. Hossein Razavi. She is the Director of Queen of the Valley Hospital’s Mobile Dental Clinic Community where she delivers oral care to the most vulnerable children of our community.

Dr. Mohsenzadeh grew up in a small town in Iran, where she did not have the right to an education. Her ambition to go to school and her brave choice to leave her home without her parents’ knowledge shows the grit and determination she needed to immigrate to the United States. With a Doctoral degree in Dental Surgery and additional training in Hospital Dentistry, Dr. Mohsenzadeh is an example of how hard work and sacrifice enriches our communities.

Dr. Mohenzadeh transformed her suffering into the empathy she needs in order to be a focused, compassionate and fearless dentist for the most vulnerable members of our community. Through her work with Queen’s Mobile Dental Clinic, Dr. Mohenzadeh delivers free dental care to children and young adults who are uninusred or unable to pay for the high cost of dental care. She has made more than 45,000 clinic visits to children from the under-served population of Napa County since 2008

Carmela Sandoval and Maria Sanchez are daughters of Mexican immigrants to the United States. Together they own and manage Bere’s Bridal and Christening Wear in Vallejo, California. They are both successful and inspiring community leaders. 

Prior to moving to Vallejo, Ms. Sandoval and Ms. Sanchez grew up attended school in Los Angeles. Though she loved school, Maria had to withdraw to begin working to support her family. Their diligence, perseverance and sacrifice for their family at such a young age embodies the ideals of the American dream and foreshadows their future roles as dedicated community leaders in Vallejo, California.   

Carmela and Maria volunteer regularly for Vallejo Together, a nonprofit in our community that provides resources to homeless individuals. They also volunteer for Centro Latino, an organization that advocates for Latino youth in Vallejo. Every year, the sisters organize a holiday “posada” for underserved children, which includes a gift drive and a hot meal for all the youth in attendance. While Carmela and Maria are ambitious leaders, they remain humble and willing to lend a helping hand. Both sisters take pride in being loving parents, and, for Maria, being a grandparent as well.

Suzanne Smith was born in Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada and immigrated to the United States at the age of six. She is the successful Executive Director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority.  

As Executive Director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Ms. Smith has orchestrated numerous projects, including the widening of Highway 101 and the development of the SMART rail line. She lobbied at the state and federal levels to secure funding for these projects while also securing a voter approved sales tax measure to support future transportation developments in Sonoma County. She is the founder of the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA), where she helped establish a climate action plan in Sonoma County to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The RCPA was recognized by President Barack Obama as one of sixteen Climate Action Champions in the United States. 

Suzanne Smith serves on the boards of the Red Cross, Leadership Santa Rosa, Tomorrow’s Leaders Today and as a member of Sonoma County’s Democratic Central Committee. Ms. Smith holds a BA in Political Science from University of California, San Diego and an MPA from the University of San Francisco.

The following award winners could not be present for Sunday's ceremony, but will be recognized at a later date:

Miljenko Grgich was born in Croatia. One of 11 children, Mike studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of Zagreb and then had to leave to escape communism. He eventually arrived in Napa Valley in August 1958, just in time for crush to begin. He has worked for some of the legends of Napa Valley: Lee Stewart, of the original Souverain Cellars; Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers; then for almost nine years for André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards; as winemaker for Robert Mondavi and then Chateau Montelena, where the Chardonnay he crafted won the famed 1976 Paris Tasting, before starting his own winery.Today, Mike is still an innovator—Grgich Hills now farms all of its 366 acres organically and the winery has converted to solar power and all of the wines are estate grown. In honor of his contributions to the wine industry, Mike was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame on March 7th, 2008, the same year the California State Fair presented Mike with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Eveyln Centeno was born in the Philippines and graduated from University of Santo Tomas before coming to the United States. Here she studied at Golden Gate and Chapman Business Administration and Telecommunication and Education. Evelyn was a former Math and Science teacher and Engineering consultant from Pacific Bell. In 2012 Evelyn founded the Inspire Learning Institute which has been providing innovative academic approaches to helping young minds be inquisitive and building their skills in Math and Science. Their mission is to reduce the gap in science, technology, engineering and math in the disadvantaged underrepresented and underserved youth population in Contra Costa. Evelyn has participated in Pittsburg Community Advisory Commission, the Antioch Police Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Council of Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Mental Health Commission and currently sits on the Citizens Oversight Committee of Martinez Unified School District.

Manuel Mendoza came to the United States in 1968. Prior to retiring, he worked in agriculture picking pears, walnuts, grapes. In 1976, he obtained his Farm Labor Contractor License, was very successful before his retirement in 2013. He likes to fish and plays golf.

Dr. Marlene Quilala is a board-certified physician, of 28 years, specializing in Pediatrics. She is the staff pediatrician at the Lake County Tribal Health Pediatrics & Obstetrics Clinic and is affiliated with Sutter Lakeside Hospital. Her previous practice was at Mendocino Health Clinic. She is a recognized Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She received her medical training at DeLaSalle University in the Philippines in 1989 and completed her internship and residency at the Children’s Medical Center, SUNY, in Brooklyn.

Newton Luu and Jackie Truong were both born in Vietnam and met while attending San Francisco State University. Newton is now the president and founder of LeChat Nail Care Products. Jackie is the head of international product education and is the driving force in product development. Together, they have built a company that does business with hundreds of distributors and salons in over 40 countries.  Newton and Jackie received the U.S. Department of Commerce President’s “E” Award for their business. Though Newton and Jackie have achieved international business success, Mr. Luu and Ms. Truong have kept the company headquartered in the Bay Area, with facilities in Hercules and Richmond providing employment opportunities for underserved communities. Newton and Jackie volunteer for local Vietnamese American groups and fundraise for local elections. Their greatest happiness is being parents to two daughters: Logan, age 13, and Megan, age 12.