“It is a dream come true to be back here after these last few years”, said Jackie Weld Drake, Casita Maria Board Chair and benefit Co-Chair with HRH Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia as they welcomed over 300 guests to Casita Maria Fiesta 2022 which celebrated its 88th birthday. On October 11, the celebration returned to New York City at The Plaza Hotel for the first time since 2019, before the covid pandemic, to honor Latino pioneers Tony Bechara, Cesar Conde, and Gaby Pacheco with the Gold Medal of Honor. Jackie continued, “We dedicate tonight to the memory of Anne Eisenhower who was on our board for 25 years, many of which she chaired Fiesta with me. We always wanted this to be the best party in New York!” Cocktails were held in the beautiful Palm Room before heading to the ballroom for a seated dinner with live entertainment which kept guests dancing and in a celebratory mood for the evening.
Daniel Brodsky presented the Casita Maria Gold Medal of Honor to his great friend, Tony Bechara, and shared, “Born in San Juan, Tony is a successful, prolific, abstract artist who has been living and working in New York City for more than 40 years. Tony has had exhibitions in New York, Washington, Miami, San Juan, Lima, Mexico, and Munich. He has always devoted his time making available and encouraging art for all, especially Latin Americans and Latino artists.” Tony thanked the crowded ballroom, saying, “To be introduced by Dan Brodsky is already an honor. I want to thank Casita Maria because many, many years ago, more than 70 years ago, waves of compatriots of mine from Puerto Rico were arriving here in New York looking for the better life. New York being the beacon of hope. There was no one to help them. Casita Maria filled that void. They were the first to do it.”
George Corton bestowed Cesar Conde with his Medal of Honor, “Cesar serves as Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, overseeing NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC. He is the first Hispanic to lead a major English-language broadcast news organization! As a leading voice towards representation and diversity in the newsroom, Cesar launched the 50% challenge initiative, which inspires newsrooms to be 50% women and 50% people of color!” Cesar accepted the honor and shared “As we all know, we are living during a very unique time in our history. During these challenging times, I’m a believer that character is defined and revealed. My parents always taught my brothers and I that the only thing in life that no one can ever take away from you is your education. The work that Casita Maria is doing in educating and empowering our youth is the work that is in crisis. To do it during such challenging times speaks to the character of this organization and to the character of everyone that collaborates with it.”
Jorge Plasencia introduced honoree Gaby Pacheco who’s “especially known for her work with Dreamers, children who were brought to the United States and grew up here without legal documentation.” In an emotional speech, Gaby said, “I shouldn’t be here. The laws tell me that even though this is the country that I love and this is my home, I shouldn’t be here. When I was a little girl and I came to the United States, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t have friends, and I was scared. Today I stand before you knowing that I have power, that my story matters, and that every single Latino child deserves the right to fulfill their dreams and their lives.”
Casita Maria is located in the South Bronx – the country’s poorest Congressional District – and is the oldest charity to offer after school enrichment activities for Latino children. For decades, the annual Fiesta benefit has combined a fabulous party with social good, raising over 5 million dollars in the last ten years. These unrestricted funds have enabled Casita Maria to continue its programming year after year, including during the pandemic. Casita Maria offers high-quality, innovative arts after-school programming to over 1,000 students a year; as well as reaching an additional 40,000 community members through our Creative Arts programs of professional exhibitions and performances.
Guests included Dinner Chairs Adriana Echavarria, and Sissi Isabel Fleitas-Refaie, Committee Members Geoffrey Bradfield, Michele Gerber Klein, Ann Nitze, and Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, Pachanga Chairs Victor Roquette and Sabrina Wirth, Pachanga Committee Members Cathy Aragon, Carlos Barraza, and Omar Hernandez, as well as Afsaneh Akhtari, Steven M.L. Aronson, Tina Beriro, Martha Bograd, Geoffrey Bradfield, Estrellita and Daniel Brodsky, Sharon Bush Murray, Carlos Campos, Mark and Maxine Dalio, Jennifer Fischer, Kathryn Gallagher, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Karol Gradsuel, William Haseltine and Maria Eugenia Maury, Will Hochman, BB Jean, Ben Lebowitz, William Ivey Long, Tony Marion, Elizabeth Meigher, Carlos Picon, Martin and Jean Shafiroff, Stephanie Stokes, Desiree von la Valette, Lynne Wheat, Charlie Ward, Chris Wolf, and many more.
Photos by BFA
About Casita Maria
Casita Maria, headquartered in the South Bronx, was established in 1934 by Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan as the first charitable organization to serve Latinos in New York City. The Sullivan sisters had a primary mission to offer after school enrichment and recreational activities for the children of newly arrived families from Puerto Rico. Today, Casita Maria remains dedicated to its original mission, delivering services to the mostly Latino youth, and families of the Hunts Point community it serves in the Bronx. Casita Maria now works out of a state-of-the-art facility encompassing performance spaces, exhibition gallery, dance and music studios, and more on its Simpson Street campus. To learn more about Casita Maria, please visit: https://www.casitamaria.org/