Join Boston Pride on Thursday, October 16th, 6pm at the Northeastern University Faculty Lounge, to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and honor the recipients of our 2014 Latin@ Pride Awards: Hector and Nivia Piña, Alejandra St Guillen, and Manny Sorto! (click on each awardee’s name to learn more about them)
Hector and Nivia Piña
Hector Piña is a restaurant owner, activist, and entrepreneur. Hector moved to Boston from the Dominican Republic in 1986. Eight years later, in August 1994, he opened his restaurant, Merengue with five tables and a small menu of authentic Dominican cuisine. Fast-forward seventeen years and a new location, Merengue has thirty tables, an event space, and caters home games at Fenway Park.
As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, Piña loved to compare the various flavors he tasted and imagine his own delicious dishes. These childhood imaginings and memories inspired Piña’s recipes at Merengue. When he first began planning Merengue, Piña knew he wanted it to have all the traditional flavors of his grandmother’s kitchen, but with all natural ingredients. Once patrons taste a dish in a restaurant like this, Piña believes, they’ll go straight back in time and feel like they’re eating from their mother’s own table.
Merengue has now become the jewel of Dominican cuisine in Boston, serving a clientele of movie stars, singers, and famous baseball players. And as a Roxbury institution, Merengue hosts many politicians who want to reach out to this key community. Piña considers this civic engagement as part of the responsibility of running a community restaurant.
Hector and his wife Nivia Piña, contemplated the idea of opening a second restaurant. This time they wanted to provide the community with an upscale authentic Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant. Opening its door July 2012, Vejigantes Restaurant has soon been feature in many magazines, local newspaper, and TV shows.
Hector community involvement has made him served on the advisory board of Nuestra Comunidad CDC, Project RIGHT, and Blue Hill Task Force. He has also served on the advisory board of events like Jolgorio Navideño, a Latin American gala in Boston that raises funds for Latino-based educational programs, VOTO Latino, a civic organization that promotes community participation in local politics, and We Are Boston a city of Boston initiative for the new Bostonians. Hector has also been recipient of 2012 Poder Latino from Oistes?, 2012 Premio Betances from Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), 100 Most Powerful People in Boston award from El Planeta newspaper since 2010, the Community Leadership Award by Nuestra Comunidad CDC in 2011 and 2008 Most Influential Leader Award by Boston Latino TV. In 1999 Hector received the Business of the Year Award by Nuestra Comunidad and 1999 Latino Professional Network, Entrepreneur of the Year. The Dominican Festival as Grand Marshall also recognized him in 1999 and 2009 for his great contribution to the community.
Nivia J. Piña is co-owner of the beloved Merengue Restaurant & Catering, and recently opened Vejigantes Restaurant in Boston. Nivia was born in 1975 and raised in Puerto Rico where she graduated from University of Puerto Rico with a degree in Industrial Biotechnology in 1998. Driven by her passion for science, Nivia relocated to Boston to attend Brandeis University where she received a Master’s of Science in Biochemistry in 2001.
Nivia soon discovered a new passion and innate talent for business. In 2001 together with her husband Hector Piña, they relocated their renowned Merengue Restaurant steps from their original location on Blue Hill Avenue to a larger space, and conceived a brand new image for the re-opening of the restaurant. Their vision for Merengue Restaurant became a reality and has helped invigorate their neighborhood of Roxbury, where the restaurant is a well-known meeting hub for community leaders, MLB baseball players, and politicians. Merengue offers an elegant dining-in option for Boston’s Dominican food lovers and the only Latino restaurant to have full catering and event planning services. Merengue’s catering business is the preferred Latino caterer in Boston, having among its customers’ entities like the Boston Red Sox, Harvard University, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital, among others. Merengue’s successes have served as a springboard to open Boston first high end Puerto Rican restaurant in the South End, Vejigantes Restaurant, which opened its door in July 2012 and have already received many positive reviews and recognitions from many major food critics.
In 2007, while volunteering as a mentor for the Talented and Gifted Latinos/Para Ayudar a Nuestros Alumnos a Sobresalir program better known as TAG/PANAS at the University of MassachusettsTAG/PANAS at the University of Massachusetts, Nivia discovered she had a passion for education and sought to pursue it. She received a second Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in Special Education from UMASS in 2009. She has merged her passion for science and education by serving as a Chemistry teacher since 2010 at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston breaking all the molds when she took her students on a field trip to Puerto Rico as a value exchange opportunity where they interacted one-on-one with public school students on the island. After that experience Nivia decided to make a yearly community trip with her students to serve under privilege families in different countries like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Costa Rica.
Nivia has been a recipient of the 2012 Women of Courage Award from La Alianza Hispana, 2012 Successful Business Woman from the office of Counselor Felix Arroyo Jr., 100 Most Powerful People in Boston award from El Planeta newspaper since 2012 to present, 2012 Premio Betances from Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), “Oiste” Poder Latino Award 2012, the Community Leadership Award by Nuestra Comunidad CDC in 2011, and has been named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in 2010 by El Festival Puertorriqueño in Boston. Nivia was recognized by the Dominican Festival as Grand Marshall, with her husband Hector Pina, in 2009 and by the Puerto Rican Festival in 2014.
Alejandra St Guillen
Alejandra St. Guillen was appointed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2014 as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians with the mandate to strengthen the ability of residents from diverse cultural and linguistic communities to fully participate in the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the city.
In her three years as Executive Director of ¿Oiste?, Latino Civic and Political Organization, Alejandra collaborated with state legislators and other governmental officials in the development and promotion of Public Policy initiatives that have directly impacted the Latino community in Massachusetts, that include Education Reform, Economic Justice Policy and Electoral Reform.
Alejandra has demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice, and has worked tirelessly as an educator, community organizer, and non-profit leader. She led a statewide coalition in demanding a fair and broad state Redistricting process in 2011 that resulted in the creation of twice as many minority-majority seats in the House and the Senate.
Born and raised in Mission Hill, Alejandra is a graduate of the Boston Latin School and a City Year alumnus. Alejandra began her career in education, first as a teacher for 4 years in New York City and Boston and then in the non-profit sector working to promote educational access opportunities for city youth. She holds a B.A. in Economics and African-American Studies from Wesleyan University and a Master in Education from the City College of New York.
Manny Sorto is from El Salvador and arrived to the United States at the age of 16. Now 29 years old he has accomplished so much in his personal/professional life and within the Latino LGBT Community. In 2005 he was recognized by former Mayor Thomas Menino for his work within Somos Latinos GLBT Coalition, and through this work is what motivated him to develop the Miss and Mister Nuestra Belleza Latina Pageant, which he is the founder, President and Executive Producer of. He also founded of the Miss & Mister Nuestra Bellaza Gay Latina Pageant.
Manny has always said his reasoning for developing these events is to prepare individuals who are interested in this industry and to empower young men and women to be positive examples for the next generation. Manny Sorto is also a fashion designer and has presented his fashions at Boston Fashion Awards, Cancer Society Fashion Show, Miss Central Massachusetts Show among others. He also founded and produced Boston Latino Fashion Week in Boston.
Manny has been recognized by El Planeta Newspaper as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the Latino Community among his many other titles and awards.
Latin@ Pride 2014
Boston Pride is delighted to announce the following Latin@ Pride events to be held during Boston Pride Week 2014!
Wednesday, June 11th – Latin Night at Rumor (100 Warrenton St, Boston)
Friday, June 13th – Latin Invitation at Machine (1254 Boylston St, Boston)
Saturday, June 14th – Boston Pride After Party at La Makina (367 Revere Beach Blvd, Revere)