As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, Senator Brian W. Jones (R-Santee) recently presented California State Senate Certificates to Lance Corporal Casandra M. Howland, USMC; restaurant owner Claudia Sanchez; and local business and community leader Pedro Villegas.
“Lance Corporal Casandra Howland, Claudia Sanchez, and Pedro Villegas are outstanding, hardworking, and successful leaders in our community," stated Senator Brian W. Jones. "Enlisting in the Marine Corps at 17, Lance Corporal Casandra Howland proudly serves our country and helps protect our nation every day, 24-7. In addition to running a popular second-generation Alpine restaurant, Claudia Sanchez is actively involved in several community associations and our local schools. Pedro Villegas is a well-known and respected business executive who served the last 17 years in the San Diego regional energy industry and previously worked as the Deputy Director in the California Assembly Speaker's Office. On behalf of the California State Senate, it is my pleasure to honor Lance Corporal Casandra Howland, Claudia Sanchez, and Pedro Villegas for being inspirations, leaders, and role models for all of us.”
Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Observation of Hispanic Heritage Week began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15th and ending on October 15th. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.
The day of September 15th is significant because it is the anniversary of the independence of Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16th and September 18th, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, October 12th, falls within this 30 day period.
Lance Corporal Casandra M. Howland, USMC
Lance Corporal (LCpl) Casandra M. Howland was born on December 13, 2001, in Queens, New York. When she turned one-years-old, she moved to Puerto Rico for 10 years before returning to Jamestown, New York at the age of 11. From a young age, LCpl Howland showed great promise by winning the teen of the year award in 2014 at only 12 years old. This award motivated her to start working at the age of 15. As soon as she could legally work, LCpl Howland immediately started working at the YMCA as a sanitary worker.
LCpl Howland was instantly intrigued into joining the Marine Corps and aspired to join the ranks of the Corps by the age of 17. She enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 6, 2020, and attended Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. In March of 2021, LCpl Howland reported to Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. Upon completion, she attended the Personnel Administration Course aboard Camp Johnson, North Carolina, receiving her primary MOS of 0111 (Administrative Specialist).
In August of 2021, LCpl Howland reported to Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, California, where she served as an audit clerk in the customer service section of the IPAC. With hard work and dedication, she became second in command in the customer service section, where she led and mentored seven Marines under her charge. Because of her determination and eager personality, in July of 2022, she was hand selected to overlook the rest of the personnel and sections under the quality control section of the IPAC. In the short time LCpl Howland has been in the quality control section, she has shined and excelled in all expectations her leadership had for her.
LCpl Howland continues to surprise us by seeking self-improvement in every aspect of herself. She continues to look for volunteer opportunities and Marine Corps courses to advance in her career, as well as pursuing a college education to further her knowledge.
Claudia Sanchez is a second-generation restaurant owner. Her mother founded Alpine Taco Shop in 1992, and Sanchez celebrated its 30th anniversary this year on September 3, 2022. While Alpine Taco Shop has been around for many years, locals say that when Sanchez took over, she brought the quality of the shop to a whole new level. Sanchez is very active in her community. Currently, she is Vice President of the Kiwanis Club of Alpine and sits on their foundation board. She is also on the Boards of the Mountain Empire/Alpine Chamber of Commerce, Alpine Community Center, and Alpine Education Foundation.
Sanchez’s commitment to children motivated her to develop a community partnership with the Alpine Union School District (AUSD). Her children attend Shadow Hills Elementary School, where she is the head of the Art Docent Program and the current President of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Additionally, through her business, Sanchez supports the Alpine Region American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Alpine Girls Softball, and Alpine American Little League. For years, Alpine Taco shop has supported organizations that are actively funding research to find the cure for diseases like childhood cancer, mitochondrial disease, and Alzheimer's, including Team Parker for Life, Mito 5k, and Quest for the Cure. Through her partnerships with local businesses and churches, she also participates in creating meal boxes for needy families with the Gift Bag Drive during Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
“As an Alpine community member and business owner, [I strive] to be an active participant in nurturing and helping our community thrive. I like to be involved in things that help the children, my neighbors (especially during hard times), and just doing the right thing,” states Sanchez as she describes her mission.
Sanchez hopes to lead by example and continue to honor her family’s legacy by supporting the community she has lived in for over 30 years.
Pedro Villegas is an accomplished external affairs professional with 25 years of experience in government, regulatory, international, and community relations in the energy industry and the California State Legislature.
As a 17-year veteran of the Sempra Energy companies, Villegas has led community relations for the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and championed philanthropic partnerships with over 600 diverse nonprofit and community-based organizations. For example, he helped to create the COVID-19 Community Response Fund and the Black Community Investment Fund at the San Diego Foundation. Villegas also led partnerships to advance workforce opportunity for refugee and underrepresented communities, support K-12 environmental education, promote K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math education in communities of concern, and prepare the San Diego region for emergencies and natural disasters. Throughout his career, he has led SDG&E’s local government advocacy team, served as SDG&E’s and the Southern California Gas Company's state regulatory advocate, and represented Sempra Energy in support of $3.5 billion infrastructure projects across several western states.
Villegas held staff leadership positions in the California State Assembly, including Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of International Relations and Protocol; Principal Consultant to the Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy, and Economic Development; and Senior Consultant to the Assembly Select Committee on California-Mexico Affairs. He is a former research coordinator for the Pacific Council on International Policy, Visiting Research Fellow of the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego), and Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow of the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies at UC San Diego.
Villegas serves on several volunteer nonprofit boards and committees. He is a founding board member and Chair of the Board of Directors of RISE San Diego. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Foundation, the National Conflict Resolution Center, and the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Villegas serves on the Advisory Councils of the ComicCon Museum and the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. He is a past Board Member of the San Diego Tourism Authority and Grid Alternatives San Diego.
Fully bilingual in English and Spanish, he earned a Master of Pacific International Affairs degree from the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and International Relations from the University of Notre Dame.