Latinos(a) Destacados del 2019 2019 Distinguished Latinx
When UofL students say. “Louisville first, Cardinals forever,” they really mean it. Marcos Morales, a 2015 UofL graduate, currently works at UofL as the Coordinator of the Hispanic Cultural Center program, and he also leads the Latinx Initiative.
Morales says, “We want to assure ourselves that the students graduate and we want to accompany them in their experiences.” Part of his job involves being a life-coach to students and training them on how to be leaders.
Part of his motivation in helping students comes from his own childhood. As a first generation Latinx growing up in Louisville, he admits, “One thing you should know about me is that, growing up, in reality I didn’t have dreams. Some kids grow up and say that they want to be this or that. I really didn’t aspire to be anything.”
Now Morales’ focus is centered on giving back. Besides working directly with Latinx students on UofL’s campus, he also volunteers at the local organizations La Casita and Adelante.
“That’s where my home is,” Morales says, indicating his will to serve others. “I don’t feel that I have an obligation, it’s something that I do naturally. The community often asks me to do something and I leave transformed by these opportunities and experiences. This is usually my participation.”
This desire to give back and serve, in some ways, shocks Morales. When he was a kid, he would often begrudgingly assist his mom in cleaning houses, and he would help his dad with maintenance work. “When I was younger, I hated working. Now, I love it and I’ve realized that those were beautiful moments that we passed together.”
For all the Latinx students at UofL, Morales says, “Continue growing. Don’t worry, I’m here for you.”
Catalina Ibarra is most known for her voice that has transcended through many car speakers during her career in public radio, but now she’s working in a different field that still has a direct impact in the community.
Ibarra was born in Michoacán, Mexico and moved to the United States with her family when she was 12. She lived in Chicago, Illinois until 2010 when she moved to Louisville where she was later offered a job with Louisville radio on a station formerly called “La Caliente.”
But now Ibarra works with the Census where she’s still able to do what she loves. “The power to help our community and the vulnerable people,” is what she says inspires her work. “I’ve been able to do this in both of my jobs. My work continues belonging to the mission of bringing information to the people.”
What gives her the most satisfaction in her work is being able to make a difference with one person at a time. She recounts a story of receiving a moving call from a listener.
“It was one of those days when you’re at the point of throwing in the towel,” Ibarra says. “A listener called us to say that, thanks to our program, he continued living. He was thinking of committing suicide, but upon hearing our show that day, he changad his mind. That’s what makes the difference, to be able to touch the life of one persona at a time.”
Now as a coordinator of the Complete Count Committee with the 2020 Census, Ibarra’s focus continues being on every individual. “I think that the best we can do now is to participate,” Ibarra believes. “You have to be a citizen of the community.”
You may not recognize his name, but you definitely know his restaurants. Gustavo Reyes, the owner of Gustavo’s Mexican Grill, has four restaurants throughout Louisville. Despite his current success, there were many struggles along the way.
Originally from Mexico, Reyes worked several odd jobs upon arriving in Nicholasville, Kentucky in 1999. He worked as a bricklayer, painter, dishwasher, cook, and, upon turning 18, a restaurant manager.
In 2010 he opened his first restaurant in Crestwood, Kentucky. He spent years saving up to open his second restaurant. As an immigrant, he says saving up was challenging. “It’s difficult because no one trusts you.”
But the laborious process didn’t hinder Reyes. “I have always liked challenges, and I think it’s necessary that one trusts in himself and in God.”
Despite having numerous restaurants, Reyes doesn’t focus on numbers. “My strategy in business is also about quality and not quantity, as well as always maintaining the service. It assures me that every client leaves happy.”
For Reyes, his business is about more than making profits, it’s about making a difference. Frequently there are benefits and fundraisers held in the many restaurants for various causes. Perhaps it’s someone with cancer needing help with bills, or a deserving student requiring financial asístance, or even a high school sports team wanting to raise money.
Kathy Jacobs from the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce said, “The sole mention of the name ‘Gustavo’s’ carries a smiling and positive response. Gustavo Reyes and his family and staff exemplify the significance of the success of a community and truly have one of the best business models that I’ve seen in the two decades that I’ve worked at the Chamber of Commerce.”
To top it all off, it’s a family business. The majority of Reyes’ family works in the company, and he says it’s, “a strong, solid company of family values.”
Al Día en América newspaper recognizes three Latinos(as) Destacados(as) every year, with a profile interview. We believe it is important for the community to know the faces of the people that works hard without taking much credit, for the advancement of our community.
A long Spanish language version was published at the end of 2019.
Contributed in this story: Jennifer McNelly, Jose Neil Donis, Yolanda Williams y Jordan Geisler.