Nayeli Manzano said the tears started welling up even before the announcer got to the second syllable of her name.
Manzano, a senior at Bartlett High School, was named Thursday as the student winner of the Reflejos Reflecting Excellence Award. She was one of dozens of people and organizations from the suburbs who received the awards at a special ceremony and dinner held at Harper College in Palatine.
"I didn't believe it at first," Manzano said. "I'm so happy to receive this, but I really owe it all to my parents and to (God)."
The winners were nominated for the awards by the readers of Reflejos, the Daily Herald's publication for the suburban Latino community. This is the second year in which Reflejos has given out Reflecting Excellence awards.
"It's a way for the Latino community to show that it appreciates the work that certain people, organizations and institutions are doing every day," said Linda Siete, manager of sales and operations for Reflejos.
The student award was added to the program this year. Ten students from around the suburbs were nominated.
"We thought it was important to add it because the youth really are the future of the Latino community here," Siete said.
Manzano, a native of Mexico who moved to the U.S. when she was 4 years old, was honored in part for her efforts to reform immigration laws. She has worked with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and in 2012 helped rally young people to attend Dream Relief Day at Navy Pier in Chicago, an event in which young undocumented immigrants applied for new (and temporary) federal residency protections.
"It was hard, when I realized how many rights I didn't have because I wasn't born here," she said. "I've tried to do what I can to make things easier for young people like me."
Two other students were named as finalists on Thursday -- Jaime Romero of North Chicago High School and Ernesto Gomez of Elgin High School. All 10 nominees will have essays published in future issues of Reflejos.
In addition to the students, a number of businesses and social-service organizations received awards Thursday. Elgin resident Helen Strom won for her volunteer work with the Elgin chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national organization that works to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans.
"It felt good to be honored, but so many people are a part of what we do," Strom said. "That's why I held up my plaque toward the other people from the organization who were in the audience. They all played a role in this."
Among the other winners announced Thursday were local governments, financial institutions, and businesses that specialize in family entertainment.