By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
Elsie Encarnacion, a longtime downtown business owner, received the city’s Hispanic American of the Year award at the fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration on Friday.
Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and the West Haven Hispanic Heritage Committee recognized Encarnacion, whose grandparents hailed from Puerto Rico, during a midday ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
The committee bestows the award annually on a Hispanic resident who epitomizes service in the city’s thriving Hispanic American community.
At the 20-minute event, Encarnacion, a State Farm agent who owns Encarnacion Insurance & Financial Services Inc. at 487A Campbell Ave., honored her Puerto Rican roots with dozens of friends and loved ones.
Along with descendants of folks from Puerto Rico and Latin America, she was also joined by an array of city and business officials, including 5th District Councilwoman Robbin Watt Hamilton, City Clerk Patricia C. Horvath, Republican Registrar of Voters Jo Ann Callegari, Finance Director Scott Jackson and Simon McDonald, the director of membership and marketing for the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Encarnacion, 50, humbly accepted the Hispanic American of the Year award by thanking the crowd multiple times.
“I want to give thanks to God, and I want to thank the committee,” said Encarnacion, born Elsie Velasquez and raised in Christiansted, the largest town on St. Croix of the Virgin Islands, where she graduated from St. Croix Central High School in 1990.
Encarnacion was accompanied by her husband, Emilio, who sat in the front row with their Chihuahuas, Chilly and Princess, while looking on with pride as his wife was feted. The couple met while pursuing undergraduate degrees at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and wed in 1996 when they moved to West Haven.
“I appreciate this (award),” said Encarnacion, who earned a master’s degree in business management from Albertus Magnus College. “This only motivates me to do more.”
A Latin-flavored lunch after the event was catered by Jerri’s Luncheonette of West Haven in the First Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall, at 464 Campbell Ave. opposite City Hall on the Green. Two cakes were provided by Costco of Milford.
In observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through Oct. 15, West Haven recognizes the important legacy of Hispanic Americans and the inspiring contributions they have made to the culture and history of the United States.
Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on the civic and cultural life of America, enhancing and shaping the national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multiethnic and multicultural customs of their community.
Hispanic Heritage Month, which traces its roots to 1968, begins each year on Sept. 15, the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence days during that period.
Rossi said Encarnacion personifies the noble qualities of serving her vibrant community and carrying on the proud traditions of Puerto Rico.
Rossi praised the civic-minded Encarnacion, whom she called a woman of faith and service, for her devotion to the city and its robust Hispanic American community.
Encarnacion, a member of Vertical Church, is known for her volunteerism at the Meloy Road church, where she helped deliver meals to needy residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Rossi presented her with an embroidered “Hispanic American of the Year” jacket and a Puerto Rican flag.
The mayor then read a citation lauding Encarnacion’s public-spirted good works.
“As a Puerto Rican business owner … and a woman of character, compassion, principle and wisdom, you represent what is best about West Haven,” Rossi said. “You are proof the American dream is alive and well!”
The cultural event also included remarks by Rossi’s executive assistant, Louis P. Esposito Jr., the master of ceremonies.
Before a Spanish prayer by Vertical Church Pastor David Biewald, Ana Garcia sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Puerto Rican national anthem, “La Borinqueña.”
Encarnacion and her husband live on Sanford Street in Allingtown.