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Hispanic Heritage Month: Highlighting Latino leaders in the Austin community

This article will be updated every morning through 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. During this time, KVUE will highlight local leaders who are making an impact in their communities.

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

Dr. Judith Loredo

Dr. Judith Loredo’s career in education spans 47 years. Her past positions include speech pathologist, first woman superintendent in Texas, assistant commissioner at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and dean at Huston-Tillotson University

She has served on numerous community boards including Laguna Gloria, Brackenridge Hospital and Con Mi MADRE to name a few. She is also a recipient of the Dean Carl Brendt Award as a distinguished graduate of the College of Education at UT Austin.

Loredo's motto is, “I shall walk this way and I must make a difference or my passing will have been in vain."

Michael Lopez

Michael Lopez is the chief nursing officer (HNO) at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. He has more than 20 years of health care experience and has been part of St. David’s HealthCare since 2013. 

Lopez assumed the CNO role at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center during one of the most challenging times in the hospital’s history: the COVID-19 pandemic. He provided unwavering support to the nursing team, which helped the hospital navigate through the crisis and make a profound difference in the lives of its patients and their families. 

Elena Diaz

Judge Elena Diaz is a retired Justice of the Peace. She is the first Hispanic female elected as JP in Travis County and served 12 years from 1995 through 2006.

Jose "Chito" Vela III

Jose "Chito" Vela III is a local attorney who focuses on criminal defense and immigration and the relationship between the two. Following law school at UT, he worked in the open records division of the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Armenio Rivero

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Armenio Rivero is a bus operator for Capital Metro who has been with the company since 1993. Rivero lives in Elgin and wakes up every day at 3 a.m. for his 5 a.m. shift. He says in his 28 years, he’s only been late one time and that was because he left his wallet at home.

Rivero's favorite part about being an operator is the people and he enjoys driving. He says his family is pushing him to retire, but he just loves his job too much to do that. 

Vanessa Fuentes

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Vanessa Fuentes is the second Latina elected to the Austin City Council. As a representative for District 2, Fuentes has helped pass policies regarding flood resilience and expanded pre-K education in Del Valle. She has also offered support for state representatives in the fight for voting rights. 

A first-generation college graduate from UT Austin, Fuentes has dedicated her career to public service and has been nationally recognized for her work in advocacy and grassroots organizing. She has worked for the American Heart Association, is the former president of the Young Women’s Alliance and has served on the statewide board of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, where she fought to advance Latinas in civic and professional life.

Chris Almendarez

Chris Almendarez has served as the president of the Round Rock Express since October 2015. He oversees all business-related aspects of the team, including serving as the liaison for Triple-A West League matters. 

He also works closely with the team's ownership to expand the Express' footprint in the Central Texas community and maintain the team's highly respected standing in the baseball industry. Under his leadership, the franchise was awarded Minor League Baseball's John Henry Moss Community Service Award for outstanding efforts in giving back to the community.

Locally, Almendarez is also heavily involved in the St. John Vianney parish and RBI Austin.

Dr. Eva Garza-Nyer

Dr. Eva Garza-Nyer is the founder and CEO of Texas College Advisor, a local educational consulting firm. She spent four years working in the president's office at the University of Texas at Austin, taught at Austin Community College and spent 13 years with Austin ISD working as a college counselor at Bowie High School and Austin High School.

Garza-Nyer has helped to increase the number of students who apply, enroll and complete their college education. She is currently on the board for the Independent Educational Consultants Association and she chairs the board for Breakthrough Central Texas.

Andrea Marquez

Andrea Marquez is a bilingual master's level clinical social worker and supervisor. She has been in the mental health field for 15 years. Her passion is working with and making mental health support and treatment accessible to all who need it. In Marquez's current position at Heading Health, she and her team work together to achieve this goal.

Ron Garcia

Ron Garcia is the owner of Ace Sandblasting, a restoration and surface preparation company that was founded in Austin in the early '70s. Garcia is always finding ways to give his time and service to the community, from volunteering to doing pro bono work for local departments, churches, schools and nonprofit organizations such as Judson High School's racing team and the Austin Police Department.

Garcia says his goal is to restore and help better Austin one project at a time. 

Ramon Gómez

Ramon Gómez has more than 15 years of experience working in higher education for the University of Texas at Austin's Steve Hicks School of Social Work.

He's gained a proven track record of building strong relationships and partnerships with Hispanic-Serving Institutions and organizations serving the Latinx community. Ramon is passionate about helping first-generation college students get into and be successful in higher education.

Dr. Stephanie Ramirez 

Dr. Stephanie Ramirez is a professor of counselor education at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. She provides counseling and advocacy services for undocumented women experiencing domestic violence, works with senior adults and caregivers and works with at-risk youth.

Away from the classroom, Ramirez has traveled to Mexico and Argentina to help extend counseling opportunities for students outside of the U.S.

Xochitl Chafino

Fire Specialist Xochitl Chafino has been with the Austin Fire Department for 20 years. Married to Fire Specialist Kim Chafino, Xochitl Chafino works in the prevention division. Her job is to ensure firefighters have access to City buildings around town in the event of a fire.

Xochitl Chafino also holds the distinction of being the department’s first-ever LGBTQ+ liaison. In this role, she actively recruits members of the LGBTQ+ community. She and her wife are proud parents to their 3-year-old son, Alex.

Diego Fagundez

Born in Uruguay, Diego Fagundez moved to Massachusetts at a young age and began his professional soccer career in 2011 with the New England Revolution. In January 2021, this attacking midfielder joined Austin FC and he has quickly become a fan favorite. He leads the team with six goals so far this season.

Off the pitch, Fagundez frequently engages with Verde and Black supporters. The supporters' group Los Verdes named Fagundez as its Player of the Month in June and, as a result, he matched the group’s donation to Friends of Austin Animal Center.

Dr. Stephanie Elizalde

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Dr. Stephanie Elizalde is the proud superintendent of Austin ISD, where she gets to wake up each day and help more than 74,000 students thrive in their education. As a Latina leader in Austin, she is especially honored to work with smart, talented students who deserve educators with high expectations for success and pave the way for high educational outcomes. 

Elizalde says it’s her job to do right by her community and she feels a great responsibility to make tough decisions and work with her team to keep students at the center of all decision-making.

Luz Lopez Guerrero

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Born in Cuba but raised in East Austin, Luz Lopez Guerrero was exposed to the needs of the community and has been involved in several volunteer opportunities to help the less fortunate, especially the Hispanic community. 

Luz works for WellMed Medical Management as a growth and business development associate. She aims to educate the community about their health care delivery company and the benefits senior citizens can receive. 

She is a board member for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the City of Austin Commission on Seniors, Austin Geriatric Center and is a member of the annual Conley-Guerrero Senior Luncheon committee.

John Zamora

John Zamora has worked in the adult beverage business for 34 years, so it's clear he loves the industry! For the past 10 years, he's served as the Texas multicultural market manager at Tito's Handmade Vodka.

Zamora says the best part of his job is the company's philanthropic efforts. Tito's works with many great nonprofit organizations.

When he's not volunteering, you can find Zamora grilling! 

Rose Ann Maciel and Regina Estrada

Rose Ann Maciel and Regina Estrada are two of the owners of Joe's Bakery & Coffee Shop in East Austin. Celebrating 60 years, the bakery represents the family's Mexican American heritage and shares their love of Tex-Mex and Tejano music with Austin.

As a small business, Joe's Bakery prioritizes supporting local schools and organizations while hosting voter registration events and mobilizing the community to vote.

Gabriela Bucio

Gabriela Bucio is the founder and creative director for Gabriela's Group, one of the largest Latin-owned restaurant groups in Central Texas. Her organization currently oversees a number of restaurants, bars and music venues, including Gabriela's, Taquero Mucho, Revival Coffee, Mala Vida, Mala Santa and Seareinas.

RELATED: KVUE Profiles: Gabriela's Austin

As a first-generation immigrant, Bucio strives to hire local residents from surrounding neighborhoods, especially in East Austin as it is an underserved and predominantly Latin community.

Steven Tamayo

Steven Tamayo is the outreach and testing manager at The Kind Clinic, Austin's full-service sexual health and wellness clinic. He oversees operations for their walk-in testing and treatment clinic.

Tamayo is a native Austinite who is passionate about social justice, HIV prevention and expanding access to sexual health care, especially for marginalized and underserved populations. He also enjoys connecting with the community in a fun way as "Grandma Steven," Austin's very own bearded drag queen! 

Gregorio "Greg" Casar

Gregorio "Greg" Casar is the proud son of Mexican immigrants, a movement organizer and an Austin City Council member serving his third term. Casar championed the paid sick day laws that passed in Austin, San Antonio and Dallas.

He also pushed for "freedom city" policies that reduced discretionary misdemeanor arrests by 75% in Austin, ended all arrests and fines for personal marijuana possession and helped push back against racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Through his work, Casar has added investments in District 4's parks, transportation and infrastructure. 

Maria Arrabo

As the executive director of the Amala Foundation, Maria Arrabo is deeply committed to providing critical social wellness and equitable programming that supports the overall health of the community. The Amala Foundation provides mindfulness and social-emotional learning programs to students and educators across the city – work that impacts the lives of many facing isolation, trauma and stress.

An Argentine immigrant who resettled in rural Minnesota in 1990, Arrabo made Texas her home in 2013. She holds a master's degree in intercultural relations and has worked in the educational field for 10 years, often serving immigrants and refugees.

Vanessa Jimenez

Vanessa Jimenez has been with the Austin Police Department since 2013. She works patrol in the downtown area, responding to 911 calls. Jimenez says it's important for her to engage with the community as much as possible so that they can get to know their neighborhood officer on a more personal level.

That includes participating in events like Shop With a Cop for Amigos En Azul, where students from two underprivileged elementary schools partner with officers to buy Christmas presents. She also enjoys participating in APD's Thanksgiving family meal giveaways for low-income communities.

Raul Alvarez

Raul Alvarez is a former member of the Austin City Council who currently serves as the executive director of the Community Advancement Network, an organization that focuses on measuring and advancing equity, opportunity and community well-being.

Alvarez is also a founder of the East Austin Conservancy and a member of the Early Childhood Council for the City of Austin.

Christann Vasquez

Christann Vasquez is the chief operating officer for Ascension Texas. Previously, she served as the regional hospital president for Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin and Ascension Seton Shoal Creek.

During her tenure as the regional hospital president, she developed a burn center for our 11-county region, worked to launch the new abdominal transplant program, assisted with the development of an adult cystic fibrosis clinic and participated with other executives to launch a new administrative residency program.

Andre de la Reza

Andre de la Reza has been with the Austin Fire Department for 20 years. He currently oversees the wildfire and technology branch, which involved working with the community as well as helping firefighters be better prepared for wildfires through training and equipment.

He was born and raised throughout South and Central America and is the former president of Espada, emergency services pipes and drums band. He's a bagpiper.

Lupe Morin

Lupe Morin's career has centered around being a public servant. She retired after 25 years with the City of Austin as deputy director of neighborhood housing programs and health and human services. 

She has served as interim president of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce twice and as the executive director of the Hispanic Women's Network of Texas for more than 10 years. She also serves on the board of Austin Soundwaves and as an advisory member of the Voces Resource Council at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a big advocate for women in leadership roles and works to promote civic engagement among our young leaders.

Amanda Bonilla

Amanda Bonilla is the communications director for Bonilla Law Firm, a personal injury law firm based in Austin with a history of serving the Hispanic community. In this role, she regularly communicates important safety information to Central Texans in both English and Spanish. 

Bonilla also serves as a board member for Manos De Cristo and is co-chair of the Share the Love Gala, the nonprofit's largest annual fundraising event.

Estella Galan Colmenero

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Estella Galan Colmenero works for Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions. She prides herself on helping home buyers become homeowners. 

She and her husband, Rudy, are supporters of helping the younger generation through education and support services. For the last several years, she has helped fundraise for Con Mi MADRE. She has also sat on the board for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and currently sits on the board for Hope Alliance.

Dr. Fausto Meza

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Dr. Fausto Meza is the chief medical officer (CMO) at Ascension Texas. He has served as a CMO for three different hospital systems in Texas over the last 13 years.

Since joining Ascension Seton Hays, Dr. Meza has worked hard to reduce hospital-acquired infections, improve hospital patient flow and has worked collaboratively to advance the facility from a Level 4 trauma center to a Level 2. He has also been involved in several hospital expansions including the addition of the McCoy Wellness and Rehabilitation Center.  

Theresa Alvarez

Theresa Alvarez has served as senior vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo’s Central Texas region for nearly 20 years. She has helped fund millions of dollars into the Austin community and Texas, primarily focused on housing affordability, small business growth and financial health. One of her proudest career achievements is helping Wells Fargo become the first bank to accept the Mexican Consulate card to help undocumented individuals open bank accounts. 

Alvarez has served on 20 boards throughout Austin and has volunteered at the Ann Richards School Foundation for 15 years, chairing the board, teaching financial literacy and speaking at career days.

Carlos Galarza

Carlos Galarza is the proud owner of the Ecuadorian Chocolate Factory. The shop has been in Cedar Park since 2018. Galarza and his wife, Isabel, own a plantation in Ecuador, where they cultivate cacao trees on 200 acres of land. Workers there harvest cocoa beans that are then shipped to Cedar Park so Galarza can use them in a number of treats, such as chocolate bars and fruit-filled bonbons. He says it's the purest chocolate you can find – free of additives or preservatives. 

Frank Fuentes

Frank Fuentes is the chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association (USHCA), based in Austin. The USHCA is comprised of thousands of Hispanic construction industry company owners who help maintain, repair and build America. 

The USHCA has also been an instrumental leader in the fight against COVID-19 through its numerous testing and vaccination clinics for countless Texans. The USHCA's distribution of much-needed PPE equipment has protected workers as they serve our communities. The association has also helped provide COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and PPE equipment to local schools.

Alejandra de la Torre

Alejandra de la Torre has been with State Farm Insurance for 20 years and currently owns her own agency in Round Rock. The El Paso native understands the importance of education and business in breaking the cycle of poverty, and she’s very passionate about education initiatives and women in business. 

De la Torre is on the board of directors for the Economic Growth Business Incubator and is also a member of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC). 

Cristina Garza  

Cristina Garza leads AVANCE-Austin, a pioneering organization in the field of culturally competent early childhood and parenting education. AVANCE-Austin works with over 900 Spanish-speaking individuals each year to ensure that Hispanic/Latinx children enter school ready and parents grow their social and economic capital. A total of 97% of children who attend AVANCE achieve school readiness and 94% of them graduate high school.

Salmeron Barnes

Salmeron Barnes is the co-founder of Aureus Earth, the world’s first company dedicated to reducing the carbon emissions of the construction industry. Barnes is a fifth-generation Texan who served as an officer in the Texas Army National Guard. He sits on the advisory board of the Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University and is on the advisory council for the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Rainforest Partnership.

Barbra Boeta

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Barbra Boeta is the executive director at the Economic Growth Business Incubator, a nonprofit organization that helps grow local small businesses. For the last 18 years, Boeta has worked with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs throughout Central Texas to realize their dream of opening and growing a business in a variety of industries such as beauty shops, lawn care services, food production and restaurants. 

Boeta also currently serves as the mayor's appointee to the City of Austin's MBE/WBE Small Business Advisory Board to help grow contract opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.

Ryan Melendez

For the last 10 years, Ryan Melendez has been an assistant vice president and branch leader for Truist Bank, formally BB&T in the retail and small business community banking group for Austin. Melendez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently serves as private second class in the Texas State Guard, with a military occupational specialty as an emergency mass care specialist and search and rescue technician. 

He has served on many boards including with the Economic Growth Business Incubator, as an ambassador of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and as bank community liaison with the General Consulate of Mexico in Austin

Dr. Victor Saenz 

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Dr. Victor Saenz is a professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. His current work helps improve educational outcomes for underserved students in education, with a special emphasis on boys and young men of color. 

In 2010, Saenz co-founded an award-winning initiative at UT called Project MALES – an acronym for Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success. Under Project MALES, he launched a nationally recognized student mentoring program that partners with local schools to connect undergraduate peer mentors with middle and high school male students.

Dr. Rosamaria Murillo

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Dr. Rosamaria Murillo is the chief executive officer of El Buen Samaritano, an outreach ministry that serves the Latino community of Central Texas by providing access to health care, education, food and basic needs. Murillo is a recognized public health advocate. Over the span of her career, she has secured over $80 million to focus on health and human services at the national, state and local levels. 

During this pandemic, Murillo has led El Buen Samirtano’s emergency response efforts, supporting thousands of families with access to food and basic needs, including over $7 million in cash assistance, virtual adult and youth education classes and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations and health care resources across Central Texas.

Raquel Garcia

Raquel Garcia has carved her path in the Austin area's marketing and advertising field for more than a decade. This proud Latina has held several senior executive roles, including chief marketing officer at The Long Center for the Performing Arts and, currently, vice president of marketing for Austin FC

Her skills and talent as a bilingual professional is something this University of Texas alum takes pride in, and she champions more diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  

Andrés Alvarez

Andrés Alvarez is the son of Mexican immigrants and is the first in his family to graduate from college. Upon receiving his diploma from the University of Texas in 2006, he began his career as a production assistant at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut.

He was hand-selected to help launch the Longhorn Network in 2011 and has been an integral part of the production team ever since. He is a studio producer whose current assignment is producing the Film Room show "Rewind with Coach Sarkisian."

Maria Hernandez

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Maria Hernandez is the founder and executive director of VELA, an Austin-based nonprofit. VELA empowers families of children with disabilities, starting with the parent first. Hernandez's goal is to ensure that Spanish and English-speaking families can access the resources to create the strongest and brightest outcomes for their children. Before creating VELA in 2011, Hernandez – who is originally from Bogota, Colombia – worked as a bilingual speech and language pathologist.

She serves on multiple advisory bodies including Austin ISD’s Special Education Advisory Committee and PODER's Community Advisory Board. 

Al Lopez

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Al Lopez is the acting superintendent and chief executive officer for IDEA Public Schools. He volunteers there while still serving as board chair. A first generation high school and college graduate, Lopez had a long career in high tech at IBM and Dell and spent many years volunteering for CASA. He was also the executive director of the Economic Growth Business Incubator (EGBI), an organization that helps underserved members of the community start up and more successfully operate a small business. 

Lopez says his faith motivates him to "love his neighbor" and give back to the community. He and his wife, Judy, are very active in their church. 

Christina Collazo

Credit: KVUE

Christina Collazo's passion to support and empower women and their children led her to start Todos Juntos in 2009. Todos Juntos Learning Center supports the academic and social well-being of immigrant and refugee parents and their children through dual-generation education. 

The center helps working families lift themselves from generational poverty by offering adult English as a Second Language classes, family education, health-focused services and peer networks of support. 

Chris Saldaña

Credit: KVUE

Chris Saldaña is passionate about diversity and is no stranger to making his voice heard. Proud of his Hispanic roots, this bilingual communications and media relations professional has used the skills he was raised with to push for more Latino representation in the workforce.  

Saldaña loves to give back to his "gente" (that's "people" in Spanish) and volunteers as needed. His ability to speak English and Spanish also landed him the first-ever public address announcer role for Austin FC.  


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