Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun
Monday, March 2, 2015 | 2 a.m.
A presidential shout-out last year turned local immigration activist Astrid Silva into an instant celebrity. The UNLV student was thrust into the national spotlight as the face of President Barack Obama’s plan to spare millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
But Silva isn’t the only local advocating for the advancement of minorities and disadvantaged groups in Southern Nevada. Here are six other young Las Vegans known for their community involvement and ability to inspire:
CHUCK TICER, 25
Birth town: Los Angeles
Amid the social unrest brought on by the police killing of two unarmed black men last year in Missouri and New York, a small but active collective formed in Las Vegas to address tensions between law enforcement and minority communities.
One of the group’s leaders is Chuck Ticer, a UNLV graduate who works as a repair technician for downtown’s Slotzilla. Ticer serves as treasurer of the grassroots Black Democratic Empowerment Project, which aims to enhance civic engagement among black Democrats.
He is a regular at local protests and helped organize a rally in August to commemorate the death of black teenager Michael Brown, who was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The rally led to regular group discussions among black Southern Nevadans who try to brainstorm ways to improve police relations.
“All of this stuff has sparked the need for us to speak out,” Ticer said. “We need to learn how to use our voice and understand how government works so we’re not just complaining and protesting.”
ERICA MOSCA, 28
Birth town: San Diego, Calif.
For Erica Mosca, the road to Harvard University began with a harsh realization: To keep up with her more privileged peers, she’d have to work twice as long and twice as hard. Mosca was the first in her family to attend college, and her parents struggled financially to raise her.
As a child, Mosca attended seven schools in the San Diego area as her parents sought odd jobs to make ends meet. When she was 16, the family moved to a wealthier neighborhood in northern California, but her grades tumbled in tougher classes.
“I was experiencing the achievement gap,” said Mosca, who graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree and Harvard University with a master’s degree in education policy. “It was very, very difficult. I always took college very seriously, because I knew what a privilege I had that some of my relatives didn’t have.”
After a stint with Teach for America, the national nonprofit group that sends recent college graduates to troubled school districts, Mosca decided to settle in Las Vegas and launch a nonprofit organization to help low-income high school students. Leaders in Training offers college access programs and mentorship to students on Las Vegas’ predominantly Latino, low-income east side.
“I really want to empower students like me to go to college,” Mosca said. “I’ve told all my students that if they work hard, they can succeed and end up at Harvard, too.”
ARLENE RIVERA, 30
Birth town: Los Angeles, Calif.
Arlene Rivera had big dreams of starting her own immigration law firm in downtown Las Vegas, where she’d offer legal counsel at little to no cost. So last summer, she gave up her comfortable attorney’s salary, sold most of her belongings and scraped together enough money to open the one-person Rivera Law Firm.
But reality sunk in hard and fast. Rivera quickly realized she couldn’t sustain a business solely on payments from immigrant clients, who seldom could afford her fees.
Now, instead of trying to grow the firm, Rivera is creating the Immigrant Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that will offer free and low-cost legal immigration services.
“The people I’m helping don’t have money to pay me, so most of the time I tell them not to worry about it so they can have enough money to pay the rent,” said Rivera, who was raised by Mexican immigrant parents in Las Vegas. “This way, we’ll help place the burden on private donors and grants.”
With the help of Eric Franklin at UNLV’s nonprofit legal clinic, Rivera filed a petition for the new program with the Internal Revenue Service in December. They expect to hear back soon.
Rivera’s project also has backing from immigration law experts, including UNLV law professor Fatma Marouf, who co-directs the school’s immigration law clinic.
ROBERT PERAZA, 29
Birth town: Las Vegas
After watching friends fall victim to the ravages of sexually transmitted diseases, Robert Peraza felt compelled to try to spread awareness about safe sex.
He became a regular volunteer at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, where for eight years, he has handed out safe-sex kits and taught the LGBT community about STD prevention through outreach at nightclubs and bathhouses.
The work became a full-time career in 2012, when Peraza left his sales job for a full-time position at the center, overseeing the program for which he volunteered. Today he serves as outreach coordinator for the center’s Vegas Mpowerment Project, which provides resources for gay, bisexual and transgender men ages 18 to 35. Peraza is one of the youngest people on staff.
“While it’s wonderful that we have sex ed in school, it’s not always tailored to address risk activities that (LGBT) people have,” Peraza said. “This was just a way I could play a larger role, not only fighting this problem but also serving as a cheerleader and an advocate for people living with diseases like HIV.”
AMY ROSE, 30
Birth town: Walnut, Calif.
After graduating law school in Virginia and moving to Las Vegas with her husband five years ago, attorney Amy Rose found her calling representing workers facing discrimination and harassment.
She developed a passion for helping the vulnerable, working at private law firms before landing a job in January as legal director of the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I really wanted to give back to the city,” Rose said. “This is my home now, and I really want to continue to make a difference by helping people who are discriminated against.”
These days, she doesn’t just help people fighting individual discrimination cases. She works with other staffers to help enact legislative changes to protect vulnerable groups.
“When we see a problem,” Rose said, “we try to approach it from a legislation standpoint, an advocacy standpoint and a legal standpoint.”
HERA ARMENIAN, 30
Birth town: Tarzana, Calif.
Hera Armenian is far removed from the atrocities her ancestors endured during the World War I-era genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire.
But Armenian feels compelled to raise awareness about her culture and heritage.
The Las Vegas attorney is one of the region’s most outspoken advocates for the valley’s community of 10,000 Armenian Americans.
“My ancestors and my heritage were almost eliminated,” Armenian said.
With her older sister, Armenian founded a local chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation in 2008. The group taught young Armenian Americans about their roots.
The chapter has since gone defunct, but Armenian still works to spread awareness about Armenian culture. While studying real estate finance at UNLV, she was an active member of the Armenian Student Association. Most recently, she joined a communitywide effort to build a monument to commemorate those killed in the Armenian genocide.
“I think it’s important to advocate for recognition and reparation, not only for me as a minority but for the greater good,” Armenian said. “It’s a way to prevent any more mass killings from happening, because they are still happening in modern society. It’s so barbaric.”