Founder and director, Canadian Latin Heritage Association
Country of Origin: Colombia
Isabel Cuellar, the founder and director of the Canadian Latin Heritage Association (CLHA), was born in Colombia and is a lawyer in Columbia. She is a well-known community leader who has spent the largest part of her life as an immigrant building bridges of opportunity and inclusion for the people in the Latin American community. She helps those, like her, encountered the need to integrate and participate fully as citizens in a new and foreign environment where language, education, political knowledge and lack of Canadian skills were barriers in their road to success.
She has tirelessly promoted participation by inviting her community to showcase its cultural, business, professional and dynamic values for all to see and enjoy. The CLHA, a non-profit organization, funded and created by Cuellar in 2014, holds the largest festival of Latin American culture ever held in Mississauga. It’s a three-day extravaganza featuring Latin America’s best cultural contributions to the Canada’s heritage. The Mississauga Latin Festival entertains upwards of 45,000 visitors every year.
During the pandemic, Cuellar participated in the Vaccine Community Innovation Challenge issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), being one of those chosen with the creation of the “VACCUNATE V-TOGUETER” campaign to raise awareness among the community of the importance of the vaccine, where she designed, developed and implemented a community communication campaign to promote confidence in vaccination against COVID-19 and continued compliance with public health measures in underserved communities, and/or communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CLHA was officially incorporated in 2014, however, the founder Cuellar had been actively working for over 15 years in the promotion and development of festivals, community Christmas celebrations, fundraisers to support various needs within the community, collaborating with a number of community based organizations in the development of their own programs, working closely with consular offices and facilitating community engagements at various levels. With limited resources and a mountain of determination, Cuellar has patiently gained the respect and support of government officials, of organizations and institutions, of commercial concerns either established or starting, of the many stakeholders that participate in the arts and of her own community and by carefully planning and executing significant activities and events she has made it possible for newcomers to feel a part of the greater family.
This year is a special year for Cuellar and her team, because it is the 15th anniversary of Mississauga Latin Festival, where many artists and a very large number of volunteers, entrepreneurs and officials have participated actively in the promotion and delivery of the Latin American Festival in the city of Mississauga. It is considered to be the largest of its kind in Ontario and attracts people from many other ethnic cultures from within Peel and from the GTA and other cities.
A brief list of events that Cuellar has promoted and celebrated Latin heritage in Mississauga:
- Mississauga Latin Festival – a truly Latin American Celebration (2015 to present)
- Colombian Floods – Fundraiser Event (2017)
- Jordan deserves a home – Fundraiser Event (2016)
- PanAm/Para-PanAm Games – Member of the Latin Pavilion Committee (2015)
- Help Us Help Patty Fundraiser – Fundraiser Event (2015)
- Latin America Pavilion – Carassauga Festival of Cultures (2014–2016)
- Colombian Floods Fundraising Drive (2014)
- Colombia en Mississauga Festival, designed to celebrate the Colombian Independence (2009–2014)
- Compartir Navideño countries, a celebration of Christmas in the traditions of various Latin American countries (2008–2011, 2013, 2022)
For her love to her Latin roots, she has won several awards as:
- Heritage Mississauga Award
- Transformation Award in the Heritage Category
- Canada 150 Community Awards