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Hispanic Heritage Month: Highlighting Latino leaders in the Austin area

This article will be updated every morning until Oct. 15 as we introduce you to more Latino leaders in the Austin area.

AUSTIN, Texas — National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Throughout the months, KVUE will highlight local leaders who are truly making an impact in their Austin-area community.

This article will be updated every morning until Oct. 15 as we introduce you to more Latino leaders in the Austin area. 

Celia Israel 

Originally from El Paso, Celia Israel represents House District 50 in the Texas legislature, covering northeast Travis County. She serves on the House Committees on Homeland Security and Public Safety and Elections. 

In the legislature, she focuses on increasing Texas voters' access to the polls, transportation safety and congestion relief. Rep. Israel is one of the first openly gay members to serve in the Texas legislature and is a founding member of the House LGBTQ Caucus.

Yolanda Sanchez

Yolanda Sanchez founded Round Rock Ballet Folklórico in 1988. As an educator for more than 20 years, she has been an instrumental influence in developing cultural programs throughout the city. 

In fact, Sanchez partnered with Copperfield Elementary to form their own ballet Folklorico dance group. Each student who participates walks away with a different perspective about the Mexican heritage and the different cultures that have influenced Mexico for generations.

Sandy Segura Alcalá 

Sandy Segura Alcalá is the founding executive director of Con Mi MADRE, a two-generation organization that empowers young Latinas and their mothers through education and support services. 

Alcalá was also the first Latina to serve as the president of the Junior League of Austin, a  women’s leadership organization committed to promoting volunteerism. She is currently the interim chair on the State Board of Directors for the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas and is the chair for the Hispanic Impact Fund's signature fundraising campaign called Somos Austin.  

Joe Cruz

Joe Cruz is an AmeriCorps national and community service leader with Breakthrough Central Texas. This is a program that helps high school seniors become the first in their family to earn a college degree, just like Cruz himself.

The son of Mexican immigrants, he joined Breakthrough CTX after seeing first-hand the positive impact it had on low-income families. He also helps families in the Manor Independent School District file their FAFSA, submit college and scholarship applications and contact their admissions representatives. 

Maggie Rivas Rodriguez

Maggie Rivas Rodriguez is a professor of journalism and new media at the University of Texas at Austin. Rivas-Rodriguez founded the Voces Oral History Project (formerly the U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project) in 1999, which has videotaped interviews with more than 1,300 men and women throughout the country. 

Currently, she is working on Voces of a Pandemic, a partnership with 12 institutional partners that are interviewing Latinos in the U.S. about their experience with COVID-19.

Alejandro Góngora

Alejandro Góngora is the newly appointed chief academic officer for the Manor Independent School District. In his 20 years of public education, he has served as a bilingual educator, administrator and advocate for all students. 

He also serves on the Texas Association for Bilingual Educators (TABE) Executive Board as the Bilingual/ESL Director Representative. Góngora organizes the Directors' Institute so that Texas bilingual/ESL leaders have current information to support their respective schools and communities.  

Maria Guadalupe Parmenter 

Credit: Maria Guadalupe Parmenter
Maria Guadalupe Parmenter works in Provider Relations for Managed Care of North America, a leading dental plan provider.

Maria Guadalupe Parmenter works in provider relations for Managed Care of North America, a leading dental plan provider. Born to migrant farmworker parents, she grew up in Nebraska, Idaho, Oregon and Texas and later joined the United States Army, serving five years of active duty. 

Parmenter is the chair of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Health and Wellness Committee, she received a nomination for the Capital of Texas Rising Star Award and was selected as a finalist for the Capital of Texas Latina Industry Leaders Award.  

Zack Flores 

Credit: Zack Flores
Zack Flores is the national philanthropic programs manager for Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Zack Flores is the national philanthropic programs manager for Tito’s Handmade Vodka. In this role, Flores plans charitable initiatives, fosters relationships with the nonprofit organizations that Tito’s supports and works to empower Tito’s employees and fans to do good in their communities. 

Flores also serves on the board of I Live Here I Give Here, an Austin nonprofit that emphasizes diversity and inclusion. Some of Flores' most recent work includes facilitating Tito’s Hispanic Heritage program focused on supporting local Latinx nonprofits such as Prospera and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture.

Maria Luisa (Lulu) Flores

Maria Luisa Flores is an attorney and partner at Hendler Flores Law. She is a civic leader, activist, philanthropist and public policy lawyer, having served as President of the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas and President of Mexic-Arte Museum. 

Flores currently serves as City Council Member Kathi Tovo’s appointee to the Austin Arts Commission. She’s also the former two-term president of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a 50-year organization advancing women’s rights and the election and appointment of qualified women to political office.

Sergio Rodriguez

After 20 years as a technology executive working around the country, Sergio Rodriguez now manages a family-owned ranching business in South Texas. Rodriguez is vice-chair on the board of Breakthrough Central Texas, a nonprofit committed to providing the opportunity for first-generation students from the Austin area to attend college. 

He’s also a board member of the Austin Community Foundation and is the development chair on the board of Austin PBS.

Bianca Garcia

Bianca Garcia is an assistant district attorney at the Travis County District Attorney's Office assigned to the child abuse unit. 

Garcia is a member of the Junior League of Austin, serves as secretary of the Travis County Democratic Party, a board member of the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas and board member of Planned Parenthood of Central Texas. She is also a Truman National Security Project Political Partner. 

Garcia is a longtime volunteer for the Dove Springs Recreation Center, where she hosts yearly fundraisers benefiting the Back to School Bash.

Gonzalo Barrientos

Gonzalo Barrientos has been a champion of Mexican-American civil rights and civil rights of all underrepresented people. He served in the state legislature for 10 years, from 1975 to 1985 and in the state Senate from 1985 to 2007. 

Among the bills he is proudest of was HB 588, which gave the top 10% of Texas high school graduates automatic admission to any public state university. His late wife, Emma, was also a force of nature who made substantial contributions to Austin. The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center is named in her honor.  

Ashley Alaniz Moyez

Ashley Alaniz Moyez is the executive director of the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium. This organization awards scholarships and emergency grants to hundreds of first-generation college students every year. 

Moyez is a strong believer in the power of collaboration and is giving of her time to several boards and committees. These include Austin Mayor Adler's taskforce on institutional racism, Central Texas Signing Day, Austin Young Chamber's Lead Summit and Measure Austin. 

Her favorite collaboration is co-hosting the "I Do, We Do" podcast with her husband, Billy. 

Ron Oliveira 

Ron Oliveira operates Oliveira Public Communication, a public relations firm in Austin. 

Oliveira was a longtime TV news anchor at KVUE for more than 20 years. He also co-owned two TV stations, including KNVA TV in Austin. 

He has been very active in the community, especially in the nonprofit world. Oliveira serves as a member of the Lola Wright Foundation and is on the boards of organizations including Manos De Cristo, Cary The Council on at Risk Youth and KMFA radio. 

Jackie Quintero Sekiguchi

Jackie Quintero Sekiguchi is the community affairs manager at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. 

Her job is dedicated to creating stronger, safer communities for everyone in the State of Texas. Sekiguchi believes that access to education and purposeful work leads to great economic opportunities. She currently sits on the board of I Live Here I Give Here. 

Joe Henry Morin

Joe Henry Morin has kept busy with a number of volunteer efforts since his retirement in 2017. 

He is currently a board member on The Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation, which helps to rain funds for college bound students in the Austin area. 

Morin also supports Voces Oral History Project and the Hispanic Alumni Association at The University of Texas in their fundraising efforts. 

Melissa A. Martinez

Melissa A. Martinez is an associate professor in educational leadership at Texas State University, 

She helps Central Texas school teachers and district leaders get their master's degrees and Ph.D. degrees in education. 

Martinez is a former bilingual school teacher and Austin ISD counselor. She also does research that focuses on better understanding Latino school administrators in an effort to increase the number of educators and leaders of color within our schools.

George Morales III

George Morales III is the Travis County constable in Precinct 4. 

Constable Morales is a community activist who has worked tirelessly in East Austin. He was instrumental in upgrading the Dove Springs Recreation Center and surrounding parkland.

He is also President of the Dove Springs Advisory Board, which annually distributes close to 3,500 backpacks and school supplies for students and hosts a yearly thanksgiving dinner for area residents.

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble 

Judge Maya Guerra Gamble is a proud Mexican-American serving as the 459th District Judge for Travis County. The judge serves as the chair of the newly formed equity committee of the Austin Bar Association. 

Gamble is a member of the Austin High Continuing Education Fund Board, the BSA Scouting Capital Area Council Executive Board and The Austin Bar Association Board of Directors. 

From marching for farmworkers' rights as a child to marching for justice today, Judge Guerra Gamble works hard to improve conditions and opportunities wherever she can. 

Jorge L. Morales

Jorge L. Morales was recently appointed Director of The Watershed Protection Department. The department's mission is to protect lives, properties and the environment from the impacts of flooding, erosion and water pollution. 

He looks forward to working with the community to identify solutions to keep Austinites safe. 

Mr. Morales was the first and only one in his family to serve in the U.S. Army which enabled him to also be the first in his family to graduate from a university. 

Marisela Cortes-Quintero

Marisela Cortes-Quintero is the manager of customer engagement at Texas Mutual Insurance Company. She has volunteered for more than 10 years at Meals on Wheels and the Austin Parks Foundation. 

Cortes-Quintero is a graduate of Leadership Austin's Emerge Class and is a member of the Austin Young Chamber. She is a strong advocate for mentoring others and for ensuring all people are given equal opportunities for a more inclusive future. 

Paul Saldaña 

Paul Saldaña is the president of Saldaña Public Relations. 

He has spent nearly 30 years in local public relations, governmental affairs and multicultural communications. Saldaña is the former chief of staff to Mayor Gus Garcia, the first and only Latino elected mayor of Austin. 

Saldaña is a firm believer in giving back to the community through volunteer work, community service and advocacy to honor the life and legacies of Latino leaders such as César Chávez. 

Diana Estrada Limon

Diana Estrada Limon is the owner of Diana's Flower Shop on East Seventh Street in East Austin. 

During her 36 years as a florist, Limon has sponsored numerous youth sports teams and has worked with local schools and churches. She has also worked with the local Austin Police Department Community Liaison Office to ensure that the Parque Zaragoza neighborhood remains a safe and hospitable area for its residents. 

Limon recently announced she is closing up shop and retiring to enjoy time with her family. We want to wish good luck to Diana! 

Chris Aguero

Chris Aguero is the principal of Austin Jewish Academy, a community day school on the Jewish Community Center Campus. 

They recently opened outdoor academy, an outdoor program that enables students to safely attend school in-person during the pandemic.

Aguero also volunteers for the Honoree Selection Panel for The Association of Fundraising Professionals' Philanthropy Day. 

Justin Rosas

Justin Rosas is an attorney at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. He serves on the Board of Directors for Con Mi Madre, which helps provide mothers and young daughters with educational support. This prompted him to create Con Mi Hermano, which also helps mentor the brothers of the family. 

Rosas strongly believes in giving back to his community through mentoring to help others realize their potential and achieve their goals – especially when those goals positively impact negative stereotypes and statistics.

Veronica Garza 

Veronica Garza is the founder of Siete Family Foods, offering grain-free versions of Mexican-American staples like tortillas, chips, queso and hot sauces. Siete products are now sold in more than 13,000 stores nationwide including Whole Foods & Target. 

Garza’s company continues to grow. In 2019, Siete received a $90 million investment to expand. It’s fast become a favorite among stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Ryan Seacrest and fellow Texan Brene Brown.  

Julie Ballesteros

Julie Ballesteros is the executive director of Manos de Cristo. This nonprofit serves over 30,000 men, women and children in the Austin area with dental care, education and basic needs. 

As a former educator, Ballesteros also works on the Manos Back to School program that serves more than 2,000 children each year. Julie believes that if you treat people with dignity and respect and lend a hand up, you set them up for a lifetime of success.

Aaron Dominguez

Aaron Dominguez is a community bank president at Bancorp South Bank. He’s also a board member of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. With a focus in commercial lending, Dominguez and his team have assisted financing many local businesses resulting in growth. 

Aaron believes staying connected and involved in the community is the best way to achieve success together, especially through the times we are facing.

Casilda Clarich

Casilda Clarich is the interim director of financial shared services for the University of Texas System. Clarich is a first-generation college graduate. A proud Longhorn herself, she was a past president of the Texas Exes Hispanic Alumni Network.

Clarich worked for both Lockheed and Motorola and initiated the first Hispanic diversity team at a Fortune 500 company. She also worked with Con Mi Madre, an organization that empowers young Latinas to stay in school. 

Tony Pacheco

Dr. Tony Pacheco has been a local dentist for 21 years and is a leader with the Texas Dental Association. He also serves as president-elect at the Capital Area Dental Society. 

Pacheco is also a board president and volunteer in the dental clinic at "Manos De Cristo," which is a local charity that helps low-income individuals build their self-esteem by providing them with dental assistance. 

Laura Cortez

Laura Cortez is the founder and CEO of Cortez Consulting, a public engagement firm serving the Austin community. 

She started her company with the goal of involving families who are traditionally not involved in the city's public planning process. Cortez believes the greatest gift we can give to others is empowering them to believe that they too have a voice.

Christopher Rios

Christopher Rios is the vice president of Community Development at Texas Capital Bank. In this role, he oversees nonprofit partnerships and bank initiatives that focus on fostering a more prosperous community. 

Rios also held the positions of treasurer and past chair of Community Care Health Centers, Travis County's largest public health care system. He is also past chair of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

Rosie Perez

Rosie Perez is an officer with the Austin Police Department. She works with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to provide positive opportunities for youth to engage with officers. One of the events is the 4 on 44 youth basketball event. 

Her 78744 neighborhood is a part of town where a high number of essential workers live. Perez helped secure these workers' masks and PPE so everyone can remain healthy during COVID-19. 

Andrew Saldana 

Andrew Saldana is a talented local artist. He has worked as a graphic designer, illustrator and art professor. Saldana has been featured in numerous galleries throughout the U.S. and has been highlighted in Southwest Art Magazine. 

Saldana enjoys spending his time creating and teaching art. He said art has given him "the ability to think outside the box, outside the norm and to envision all kinds of possibilities in life." 

Maria Cantú Hexsel

Maria Cantú Hexsel has served as a PTA president for a Title I school. She is a board member for Advance Austin which empowers immigrant moms. Hexsel is also a long-time mentor encouraging Hispanic middle and high school students to envision themselves as college gradates and to explore careers in law. 

Cantú Hexsel is devoted to making our community more equitable and inclusive. She has been named one of our community's "best lawyers" by Austin Monthly Magazine and is currently unopposed on the ballot as the next district judge for the 53rd Judicial District Court in Travis County. 

Saul Gonzalez

Saul Gonzalez is the co-founder of "ALLGO-Informe SIDA," a bilingual, multicultural agency which provided AIDS education and services to people of color in Austin. 

Gonzalez serves on the Board of Directors for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the City of Austin's LGBTQ Quality of Life Commission. He also worked for The American Cancer Society for the last 21 years.  

Roxanne Saldaña Jones

Roxanne Saldaña Jones is the senior vice president for United Ways of Texas. She works to support public sector organizations with business development and growth. In addition, Saldaña Jones is also the co-owner of fashion jewelry line Via Ray Designs. 

Saldaña Jones currently serves as the chair of outreach for the UT Hispanic Alumni Network. She truly believes that engaging and supporting your community is the best way to advance together and make valuable change. 

Officer Bino Cadenas

As a district representative, Officer Bino Cadenas is a spokesperson for the Austin Police Department. He works to build a good, trusting relationship between the community and the police department. He does this by meeting with community leaders on a regular basis and shares crime trends as well as makes recommendations to help prevent crime.

Officer Cadenas is the chairman of the Austin Cops for Charities and a board member in the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, which aims to provide affordable housing to people living in East Austin.

Veronica Hinojosa Segura

Veronica Hinojosa Segura is the associate vice chancellor and controller for the University of Texas System – one of the largest public university systems in the world. She is responsible for the system-wide oversight of accounting and financial reporting for fourteen health and academic institutions with a budget of $22 billion. 

Segura mentors numerous aspiring women leaders, she is a member of the Executive Latina Leaders (ELLAS) and is the 2021 chair-elect for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Matt Garcia

Matt Garcia is a founding member of the law firm Barnett & Garcia. As a lawyer, Garcia believes that everyone should have access to good legal advice. That's why he started a free legal clinic in conjunction with volunteer legal services. The free clinic is aimed at the Spanish speaking community in southwest Travis County. 

He also volunteered for "MAS," or Mentoring A Student, which is an organization that allows lawyers to teach a law class at Travis High School. 

It is his personal belief that "juntos," or together, we can lift each other up. 

Rosemary Banda

Rosemary Banda is the giving coordinator at Tito's Handmade Vodka. Her role includes vetting charities and helping them support the community through their philanthropy department. 

Her goal is to set an example and inspire others to let their heart lead when it comes to serving the community. 

Joseph Cajas

Joseph Cajas is the founder and CEO of The Cajas Digital Agency, Turnkey Social and Cajas Cleaners. He currently serves as the chairman of the board for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

His mission is to help local businesses survive during this pandemic and find a way for those businesses to thrive and evolve.

Emmy Alcocer-Hil

Emmy Alcocer-Hill is the vice-chair of the Bingham Group Foundation, a nonprofit organization improving the quality of life for underserved communities in the Austin metro area.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and sits on the executive leadership team. Emmy believes strongly in the importance of ensuring that all voices are heard at the decision-making table. 

Geronimo Rodriguez

Geronimo Rodriguez is the Texas chief advocacy officer at Ascension Seton's Dell Children's Medical Center. He also serves as president of the Austin ISD Board of Trustees with a mission to prepare every student with the knowledge to thrive in college, their career and their life.

Geronimo grew up as a migrant farmworker and every year he travels to Oregon to help his parents harvest potatoes. He is the first in his family to graduate high school, college and law school.

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