Valley residents participating in New York-based Down syndrome awareness campaign

Mary Jane Lopez says that her daughter, Viva, loves being a diva.

“It’s why we call her ‘Viva Diva,’ and now people will see her being a diva,” Lopez said with a laugh.

Clockwise from top left, Aaron Jesus Zamora, Jackie A. Mata, Viva Selena Lopez, John David Hernandez and Nahitza Anahí Hurtado. Courtesy Photo

Viva, 25, was one of five individuals with Down syndrome throughout the Valley who have been selected to take part in the National Down Syndrome Society’s annual Times Square Video Presentation next month.

As part of this campaign to raise awareness on those living with Down syndrome, photographs highlighting children, teens and adults with Down syndrome are displayed on New York City’s Time Square to kick off Down Syndrome Awareness Month. 5,000 people submit their photographs but only 3,000 are selected

Viva found out she was selected to be part of the campaign earlier this month.

“She started jumping up and down when she found out,” Lopez said about her daughter. “She kept saying ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be in a big TV’ and then she went snap, snap, snap like she’s being photographed. She’s never been to New York and is saying she’ll be a diva on TV.”

Others from the Valley participating include Aaron Jesus Zamora, 6, from Edinburg; John David Hernandez, 15 months, from Raymondville; Nahitza Anahí Hurtado, 19, from McAllen; and Jacquelina Alexis Mata, 19, from Mission.

“We’re so excited for her, when she found out she was so happy and started to cry,” Nina Mata, Jacqueline’s mother, said of her daughter being selected. “She’s our little princess and wanted to go to New York to advocate for this cause. This is something important for us, we are educating and promoting this awareness that doesn’t define her.”

With Down syndrome awareness month occurring in October, Nina Mata said it was important for people to understand that despite living with Down syndrome, people like her daughter and Viva have fulfilling lives.

Jackie, for example, graduated from Mission High School last May and is taking a job skills course with the Mission school district to learn basic work skills.

“Her dream is to have an office job and she’s a very loving and caring person who participates in sports and is a cheerleader for several support and advocacy groups,” Nina Mata said of Jacquelina. “People always stop me when I’m with my daughter in public and say ‘Oh no your daughter is sick’ and offer condolences.  I always have to correct them and tell them ‘A disability is not a sickness. She talks, walks and gets educated, how is she sick?’ We need to let people know those with disabilities have the ability to do and learn things just like us.”

Mary Jane also sees her daughter as an example of a person who has a rich and active life even with a disability. Viva was the first cheerleader for the local Capable Kids Foundation and for the Venom Hype Squad, the official cheerleaders of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“There is inclusion and acceptance in the RGV on display, I love that my daughter will be seen up there,” Mary Jane Lopez said. “Everyone has an overwhelming feeling of excitement and pride. It’s something different and exciting and rewarding for the parents.”

The Time Square Video Presentation is set for Saturday, Sept. 12 and will be streamed worldwide on every NDSS social media channel.

As part of the presentation, all the participants will take part in the New York City Buddy Walk where they and their supporters walk for one mile to raise donations for the NDSS and other organizations.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Buddy Walk will go virtual.

“We’re planning on getting all the parents together via Zoom to watch the video presentation and do the walk together,” Deborah Tomai, co-founder of the Rio Grande Valley Down Syndrome Association said. “We want people to celebrate, but we want to do it in a healthy and safe way to ensure we’re all together even if we’re apart.”

Tomai said that usually only two participants from the Valley are selected to take part of the Times Square Video Presentation. She praised all the five local individuals who were selected.

“It’s a good group of individuals and the most important characteristic of everyone is they are all individuals with different gifts and talents,” Tomai said. “It’s exciting seeing them be celebrated in New York, it’s good for the Valley to have positive representation like this where people from the Valley are being seen in an affirming way.”

For more information on the New York Times Square Presentation and how to register for the Buddy Walk, go to https://www.ndss.org/. 

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