Diana Dorame. Star

Photo by Adriana Arriaga

Diana Dorame has been Executive Director/Supervising Attorney of Legal Aid of Napa Valley since March 1, 2006. She joined Legal Aid as Supervising Attorney in July 2005. Diana was formerly senior attorney with the Napa County Department of Child Support for 12 years.  She is currently a Queen of the Valley Medical Center Trustee.  She is currently a Latino/a Advisory Council member. She was elected to the board of the Legal Aid Association of California in 2012.

Diana obtained her Certificate in Non Profit Management in 2011 through the One Justice Executive Fellowship program.  Diana has also served on the Napa Valley Non Profit Coalition Board from 2006 through 2012.  She is also the past Chair of the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of California. Prior to moving to Napa, Diana practiced law in Los Angeles and Orange counties.  A graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, Diana was an officer and trustee of the Los Angeles Mexican Bar Association and an extern with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Diana has been married to Martin Martinez for 20 years and they have two teenagers, Emilio and Elise.

What this nomination means to me.

I am deeply honored and humbled to be nominated as a “Star” by the Latino Heritage Month Planning Committee.  However, I do not think of myself as a Star; if so, then there are many Stars who light up the way in our community and I am just proud to be a part of this amazing galaxy of Latinas in the Napa Valley.

What motivates me to be involved in our community.

Injustice.  Cultural Pride.  Friends.  Conscience. These are a few of the things that motivate me to be involved in our community.  Most importantly, I am motivated to make a difference by using me legal training to help others who may not be able to navigate the legal system or access various resources that will improve their position in our community.  Whether it is changing a person’s immigration status or just sharing knowledge so that a person can become empowered is what keeps me working to assist our community – even when it may not be the easy or acceptable thing to do.  I only hope that I am able to encourage the next generation to continue to fight the unpopular battles and to also emulate the Legendary Latina Stars in this valley.

Honorable Elia M. Ortíz. Legendary Star

Photo by Israel Valencia

Ms. Ortiz has worked in Napa for the past 11 eleven years and has devoted her life to helping others. Her story is the quintessential American dream. Her parents were born and raised in Nicaragua and she was born in East Los Angeles. She was the first in her family to attend college and ultimately pursue a graduate degree. Since her graduation from Golden Gate University School of Law, she has worked tirelessly to perfect her skills as a public defender.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Marissa Castañeda. Rising Star

Photo by Ignacio Colmenares

Marissa Castaneda spent her early childhood in Milpillas De Allende, Zacatecas, México. Her recollections of her childhood all are reflections on what she considers her hometown in Zacatecas. Her upbringing and close ties to her Mexican heritage have guided her throughout her educational and personal journey.

During her time at Napa Valley College she was involved on campus; Co-founder of the Napa Valley Dream Team, Founder and President of Sembrando Semillas en la Educacion, college planning with High School youth, and Vice President of Membership for Phi Theta Kappa. She was also a part of two summer programs for pre-law students at UC Davis Law School, King Hall Outreach Program.

She transferred in the fall of 2012 to UC Berkeley where she is majoring in Sociology and minoring in Ethnic Studies. During her time at UC Berkeley she has worked with a non-profit in San Francisco and served as an Outreach Ambassador for E4FC, an organization that assists Undocumented students in their pursuits of higher education. Marissa has also worked as a legal intern at  Centro Legal de la Raza working as legal intern, assisting with housing workshops in Oakland. Marissa ‘s professional career goal is to become an attorney at law and to give back to her community.


“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.” –

Ernesto Guevara



Laura López. Rising Star

Photo by Richard Ybarra

Laura is a Napa resident since she was a year old. With her family’s support, she studied at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she co-founded the undocumented student support group, Students Informing Now (S.I.N., pronounced sēn) to protest the impending Senate vote for the 2006 anti-immigrant legislation; that was the beginning of her civic engagement.

After graduating with a degree in Latin American and Latino Studies (cum laude), she continued to work to pass the D.R.E.A.M. Act. In the summer of 2010, she engaged in civil disobedience with migrant youth to move the proposal onto the floor for a vote. Within that year, she co-founded the Napa Valley DREAM Team. Although the act has yet to pass, the Team still works to achieve access to higher education for all migrants and for a just immigration legislation encompassed with human rights.

As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, she currently works with the Citizenship Legal Services as Outreach Coordinator to help Lawful Permanent Residents become U.S. Citizens through the help of attorneys. Laura is applying to law school in the fall to strengthen the work she does in Napa.

What this nomination means to you?
I am grateful to be amongst strong mujeres who have worked for so long for the betterment of Latino Napa residents and the community at large and I hope to contribute for many years to come as they still to do today.

What motivates you to be involved in our community?
As a senior at Vintage, three articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights resonated with me and I continue to struggle so that all Napa residents, regardless of [im]migration status, have the recognized right to exercise them: “The right to freedom of movement (Art 13), Everyone has the right to work (Art 23), Everyone has the right to education (Art 26).”

Dr. Esmeralda Mondragón. Star

Photo by Juan Díaz

Dr. Esmeralda Mondragon is the superintendent of Calistoga Joint Unified School District. She came to Calistoga in 2009 and has been in public education for 30 years. She is married to Bob Grove, high school teacher at Maria Carrillo High School. They have a son and two daughters, Alejandro, Maya, and Jade.

She was born and raised in a small village in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. She is the daughter Eulogio Mondragon and Irene Santamaria. Neither of her parents had a formal education. She is the second to the youngest of eight siblings and the only sibling to have had access to higher education. Esmeralda attended first and second grade at the one-room schoolhouse in her hometown. Like all children in the village, she was sent to attend third grade in Ciudad Altamirano, Guererro, a town five miles away. School children in Mexico are not provided transportation so their only choice is to walk or take primitive forms of transportation.

Esmeralda says, “Very early on in my life, I sensed that there had to be more to life than what the environment that I grew up in had to offer me. I am proud of my heritage, my culture and my language but I did challenge the cultural conditioning I was exposed to as a girl, the idea that my destiny in life was to be a dutiful wife and a doting mother. I wanted it all, an education, a career, and a family and it was those ideals, those dreams that I set out to achieve when I left Mexico and headed to our Golden State at the age of 18.”

Esmeralda joined her sister, Julia, who lived with her husband in the Salinas Valley. Julia and her husband worked in the lettuce fields and found Esmeralda a job sorting carrots in a packing-shed and picking strawberries. Speaking about her experience in the fields, she states, “It was the hardest, most physically demanding job and humbling experience in my life. My parents struggled to provide for us but I was never sent to work in the fields in Mexico. I vividly recall coming home at the end of the day physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. This was a life changing moment and an experience that I don’t ever want to forget because it was what kept my original dream alive and me the motivation and the courage to pursue a different path. I have a great appreciation and respect for the people who toil our land from dawn to dust, tending the vegetables, the fruits, and the vines that produce the food and drinks we so much enjoy.”

She continues, “For me, education has been the greatest gift I could have ever have received and a gift that nobody can ever take away from me. I still believe that America is the land of opportunity and the place where dreams come true and the possibilities are endless. I have encountered hardships in my journey but nothing that through hard work and perseverance could not be overcome.”

Over her 30-year career in K-12 education, Dr. Mondragon has held different leadership positions in school districts with diverse student populations in counties such as Monterey, Los Angeles, and San Diego and presently Napa County. Prior to Calistoga, Dr. Mondragon served as area superintendent, business operations administrator, elementary and Junior High school principal, high school vice principal and teacher. Dr. Mondragon is a strong leader in curriculum, instruction, and operations. She is a passionate educational leader with a solid background in creating and building the systems and structures that promote effective practices. She said, “In my role as a superintendent, I have a moral responsibility to advocate for all children and to ensure that all our students have access to a quality education. I believe that each one of our students has the potential to learn and grow and their parents trust that we know how to best meet the needs of their children.”

She earned her doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of La Verne in 1997, a Master’s Degree from San Jose State University in 1991 and a Bachelor’s Degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983.

What the nomination means to me?

“For me, education has been the greatest gift I have received and a gift that nobody can take away from me. So I want all children to believe in themselves and believe in the American dream, because the United States of America is a great country. It is the land of opportunity and the place where dreams come true and the possibilities are endless.”

María Cisneros. Legendary Star

Photo by Juan Díaz

I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an educator, a leader, a mentor and a connector/bridge builder. I am, Maria Lopez-Cisneros. Leading the way by breaking tradition and creating new traditions. Balancing a professional life as an empowered woman with all the expected cultural traditions in a Latino based community. I take my roles very seriously. If I can make a difference for one person everyday, I know that they will have a brighter future. I love observing students as they rediscover their passion for learning. Every day that I walk through classrooms I am reminded that students depend on us to provide them with the tools for success; young people that one day will be leaders in our communities and supporting us in our old age.

My role as principal at Valley Oak High School is even more critical because the students there have not had great success in school. The job of an educator and leader is to empower youth and to prepare them for the 21st Century and beyond. Reflecting on my own educational experience, I had a wonderful support system in my community. I wholeheartedly believe in paying it forward. That is why I have served on nonprofit boards and organizations. I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Napa Valley Community Foundation. On this board I am able to stay in tune with the needs of the community. I get to be part of the umbrella of nonprofits that continues provide funding support to organizations that focus on the greater good of the community at large.
Maria L. Cisneros, MA, has supported, teachers, counselors, students in staff in the Napa Valley Unified School District. She is the principal of Valley Oak High School and NVUSD AVID Coordinator. As a former counselor, her focus has been on ensuring that students are learning and preparing for their next educational experience. She was instrumental in implementing the AVID program district-wide. A powerful program that prepares students for college. As the principal at Valley Oak High School, she focuses on empowering students by connecting them back to their education. Many of her students have not had previous success in school therefore, the role her staff is critical. In addition to her work in school, Maria has been involved in various non-profit organizations.

She is currently on the Napa Valley Community Foundation Board of Directors, where she serves as Secretary of the Board, and is the co-chair of the 30th Annual Napa County Hispanic Scholarship Gala. She has received various honors, including the 2012 Continuation School Principal of the Year. She is married to Gary Cisneros and has a beautiful daughter Maya.

María is the first of her family to attend a four-year university. She attended Sonoma State University. She posses a BA in Spanish Literature and Culture, MA in Counseling Administrative Credential.

Catalina Chavez-Tapia. Star

Photo by Israel Valencia

Born in Michoacán Mexico, raised in Napa California, Catalina migrated to the United States in1976. She was educated in the public schools of Napa California. Her interests in advocating for English Learner Children and Latina Women emerged from the challenges the process of migration posed to her family.

Catalina obtained B.A degree in International Inter-Cultural Communication California State University, Sacramento in 1993. She pursued a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Administration at University of San Francisco a Jesuit School in 2010.

For the past two decades, Catalina s has worked and research nonprofit organizations. She has done work in the areas of migration in health for the Health Initiative of the Americas a program of UC Berkeley Public Health.

Her current research examines the impact of migration in Latina Women. She is also part of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Parent School Partnership Program (MALDEF), Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), Founder of the Association for the Advancement of Latin American Students (AALAS) and Founder of the Bi-national Health Alliance of Napa County.

Catalina is the mother of three beautiful children and a passionate writer.


“LIFE isn’t about finding yourself, LIFE is about creating yourself”

Indira López. Star

Photo by Richard Ybarra

Indira López was born in Oaxaca, Mexico on March 30th, 1967. The first years of her life she lived in different areas of the Mixtec region where her father is from. She finished elementary and secondary education in Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca.

Soon after graduation as a kindergarten teacher in Oaxaca, Indira immigrated to the US where she has lived ever since. Indira alike many immigrants, faced many difficulties and work really hard in order to survive in a different country. She struggled to learn English, but primarily learned to live with the pain of leaving her loved ones behind. She performed different jobs including farm, factory and hotel worker. She worked for more than eight years at San Francisco International Airport as a security supervisor and airline agent. During this time Indira pursued her education at San Francisco City College and obtained employment with San Francisco Unified School District’s Early Childhood Education Department. Indira have studies at Napa Valley College and Pacific Union College.

Indira resides in Calistoga, in the viniculture region of Napa County, north of San Francisco. She works as a Program Director at Calistoga Family Center where she has helped develop programs that benefit the immigrant community in the valley. One of these programs is Plaza Comunitaria, an adult literacy, elementary and secondary education completion program for Spanish speaking adults –collaboration between the Mexican Adult Education Department (INEA), the Mexican Consulate and the Calistoga Joint Unified School District.

Indira has actively participated in different civic committees that promote programs that benefit the Latino community, such as “Casa de la Cultura” an art enrichment program focused on serving students after school. She also served as vice chair of the former Calistoga Community Resources Committee. The CRC committee was in charge of making recommendations to the City Council about recreation, housing, environment issues, etc. that affected the Calistoga community. She also served in the Hand’s and Hearts Preschool (formerly known as St. Luke’s)

Indira is the first “elected Latino female Board member” at the Calistoga Joint Unified School District. She is also currently serving on Napa Valley Community Foundation’s External Affairs Committee.


“I am deeply honored and humbled to have been selected for this exhibit, and I like to express my sincere gratitude to the Napa Valley Latino Heritage Month Planning Committee. I firmly believe of what Indian Poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, ‘I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy’. I would like to dedicate his words and this honor to all the people who devote their life to serve others, Thank you”

Hope Lugo. Legendary Star

Photo by Richard Ybarra

Maria Esperanza Reyes Lugo, the eldest of twelve children, was born in San Bernardino, California, to a farm worker family. From the third grade on, her teachers called her Hope. Esperanza was too tough for them to pronounce.
Hope married Ernest Lugo and with two children they moved to Napa in 1958, from a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. Five more children were born into the family by 1965. Farm worker wages weren’t enough to care for the growing family. Hope took on housekeeping and did whatever else she could to help support the family.
In 1964, Hope began participation in the O.E.O. Head Start program. She enrolled her children as they became eligible, joined the parent policy council, and was elected to the N.C.C.E.O. Board of Directors, representing low income Napa residents. She connected with others from the Napa Hispanic community who shared the goal of making life better for farm workers and other poor people.
Others saw in Hope a leader and recruited her to apply for the job of executive director of the Napa County Council for Economic Opportunity, a position she held for thirty years. As her parents, along with other farm worker families, joined Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union and organized for better pay and working conditions, Hope and N.C.C.E.O pursued improving the lives of poor people in health care, education, and housing. They sought those changes with vision, persuasion, partnership and persistence.


I feel proud and humbled to be selected as an honoree for the first Latino Heritage Month photo exhibition. My story is only one of many stories from proud Hispanic families who have lived in this valley for many, many years and who have contributed so much to the making of this world renowned place we call home. It is important for all of us, especially the young people, not to forget our place in the history of the Napa Valley. I continue to be motivated and involved, because I believe I still have something to offer. It keeps me connected to my community.

Connie Moreno-Peraza. Star

Photo by Ignacio Colmenares

Connie Moreno-Peraza is the Deputy Director/Administrator of Napa County Alcohol and Drug Programs. She has an Associate’s Degree in Behavioral Science, a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, bilingual, with 26 years of combined experience in alcohol and drug, mental health, co-occurring disorders, integrated services, prevention services, working with children, youth and families, adults and older adults, disaster preparedness, response and planning, policy development, community development, and cultural competence.

She has extensive experience in county government; she has worked in multiple counties throughout California and has held multiple roles as supervisor, manager, administrator, and deputy director. In her leadership roles, Mrs. Moreno-Peraza has been developing programs and services that are linguistically and culturally competent to meet the needs of diverse populations, in particular for Spanish speaking clients and their families. She has also been instrumental in developing and improving policies to ensure services are easily accessible, timely, and appropriate for those in need of alcohol and drug, mental health, and co-occurring disorder services. In her former positions, and in her current position with Napa County, she has also been instrumental in ensuring educational campaigns, related to the risks and dangers of using or abusing alcohol and drugs, and other simultaneous disorders, are designed to reach the Hispanic community and the monolingual Spanish speaking community.

Mrs. Moreno-Peraza continues to remain focused in making services easily accessible for individuals and families in need of services. She is also a strong believer in recovery of alcohol and drug addictions and in health and wellness. Throughout her career, Mrs. Moreno-Peraza has helped develop and implement best practices and evidence based programs that are coordinated and integrated such as “One Stop Shops”, “Multi-service Centers”, “Community Corrections Service Center”, “Comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Continuum of Care Model”; and “Integrated Substance Use Disorders, Mental Health, and Primary Care Model”; so that, clients and their families can go to one place and get all the services they need. Mrs. Moreno-Peraza has also been a professor at California State University, Fresno, where she taught Social Work courses to undergraduate and graduate students. She also trained bilingual MSW Interns and helped develop leaders for the field of mental health and other disorders. She was also a small business owner of her clinical private practice and consultation services, where she focused on the provision of bilingual, bicultural counseling and parenting, plus provided trainings on cultural competence throughout California and in some parts of the United States.

She has also traveled to Mexico and did some work with DIF, “Desarollo Integral Familiar”, where there was an international exchange of clinical practices and programming for the Hispanic population in California. Throughout her career, Mrs. Moreno-Peraza has also planned and lead multiple Cultural Competence statewide conferences, has participated in several expert panels on alcohol and drug, co-occurring disorders, mental health, prevention, and service model, has participated on radio and television shows to educate the community on addictions and services, and has published information on mental health for consumers and families for the Mental Health Association, “Reaching for the Light”. Mrs. Moreno-Peraza has served as President, Vice President, and chaired multiple committees in her statewide association, CADPAAC (County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California). Mrs. Moreno-Peraza is married to Mr. Jose Peraza. She has two children, Melissa, age 25, and Jose, age 17. She was born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. She has a big family and is very proud of each of her siblings for their accomplishments and for remaining true to our roots. She is proud of her Mexican heritage, family, language, and culture. She is fluent in Spanish and strongly believes in retaining her cultural values as part of maintaining a solid foundation and strong ethnic identity. Knowing who she is and where she comes from has been critical to her success and her healthy development, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. Never forget who you are!

I have been blessed with awards and recognitions during in my career; however, this one is very special because I am being recognized during Hispanic Heritage Month. Our culture, our history, our heroes are being celebrated during this important month. This is a great honor. To be part of a group of fifteen women in Napa County representing the Hispanic community as leaders making a difference in our communities is an amazing, yet humbling experience. I cannot believe I am one of the fifteen women nominated and selected for a once in lifetime event! This recognition means that the community values my contributions which I think are small in comparison to all the work ahead of us. We need to continue helping our community with all the challenges being faced by them.

This nomination means that I need to continue doing the work that I have been doing and continue serving as a role model for our Hispanic/Latina women. It means that I need to continue reaching out to them and help develop the leaders of today and tomorrow! It means that I need to continue transferring my Hispanic cultural values and traditions so they can pass them on to future generations. It means that I need to continue showing pride for who I am so it can help break the barriers and help Hispanic/Latina women get their education and select careers where women are not traditionally not represented such as careers in politics, management, technology, engineering, and so forth. It means that I am responsible for continuing “las tradiciones, los valores, la famiila, y la fe en que si vamos a sobresalir y a superar como Hispanos”.

Why motivates you be involved in the community?

The thing that motivate me to be involved in the community is that I want to help change the history. A professor I had at Fresno State, Dr. Lea Ybarra, told me “History will repeat itself if you don’t change it”. I have never forgotten her advice. This is a big motivator for me. When I continue to see that in 2013 our Hispanic people are still suffering from serious health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, lung cancer, tobacco and alcohol and drug addictions, mental health conditions, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and being arrested and put in jail or sent to prison, gang involvement and crime, poor academic achievement, etc., it tells me that we still have a lot of work to do and need to work together, with a united front, and a united voice to change history so it does not repeat itself.

We cannot afford for our people to die at younger ages due to lack of medical coverage or lack of access to appropriate health care. We need to work together and develop policies and ordinances that will help improve the environment we live in. We need to work with our educational system to hire teachers that know the culture, the language, and know the teaching methods to engage our young students and our college students as well. We need to help create jobs that match the skills sets of our people so they can afford afford to buy nutritious and healthy food. We need to build more parks so children can play in safe and clean places, have access to health clubs to exercise, use alternative modes of transportation to reduce the smog, develop more bike routes. Our environment is very important.

We also need to develop programs for our youth so they can be active and productive. They are the leaders of tomorrow. I get motivated when I talk to my colleagues, partners, and community leaders so we can help reduce the challenges that our Hispanic poeple are experiencing and help come up with solutions together . This is what motivates me to get involved in the community: I want to help change history, so it does not repeat itself. I want to continue to help make difference!

Lilia Navarro. Legendary Star

Photo by Ignacio Colmenares

I growing up with a lawyer father and artistic mother. I was exposed to two very different worlds that together influenced and shaped my into person I am today.
I gained my passion for education and civil rights from my father. While my love for the Mexican folkloric arts came from my mother.
I spent my early years in La Piedad,Michoacan de Ocampo,Mexico before emigrating to the U.S. with my family in the late 70’s.
Upon arriving, I immediately integrated myself into my new community and began to seek ways to contribute. With a passion for the Mexican Folkloric arts and dance and a growing Latino community in the Napa Valley. I took it upon myself to begin a movement to increase the practice of Mexican Ballet Folkloric. I have been one of the art’s greatest promoters and I have been managing my own folkloric group for over 28 years.
As well, I having grown up watching my father fight for people’s rights and with his stern voice ringing in my head about the importance of education, I have spent the last 34 years working with numerous community organizations, including the Unified School District, to improve education as well as, further advance civil rights such as immigration reform.
I spent my free time traveling through Mexico with my husband of 47 years as well as spending time with my four daughters and grandchildren.


“Mi Raza y mi Cultura siempre hablarán por mi.”

Melissa Rodezno. Rising Star

Photo by Israel Valencia

Melissa Rodezno was born in El Salvador, and migrated to the U.S. at the age of eight, along with her mother. They left El Salvador due to the civil war which was at its most violent. They migrated to Suisun City in Solano County, and shortly thereafter moved to Napa for a job her mother had found.
While in school, Melissa participated in nourishing programs such as Talent Search, Upward Bound, and Summer Search. It was these programs that provided opened the gates for Melissa, and through advice and assistance from Summer Search, she was able to attend Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis University she double majored in Politics and Anthropology. Politics had always resonated with Melissa, and a year after graduating an opportunity to work for Congressman Thompson appeared. She has been working for him since, initially as a Constituent Representative, specializing in immigration policy, and currently as a Field Representative.
She has also volunteered her time and efforts on two local city council races; Belia Ramos-Bennett American Canyon City Councilmember and Alfredo Pedroza Napa City Councilmember. Councilmember Pedroza was the first Latino to be elected in the city of Napa. In 2009 she participated in the Hispanas Organized for Political Equality Leadership Institute, a program which trains Latina professionals who are committed to making their communities a better to live for a future in politics. Also in 2009 she was approached to participate on the board of directors for the Napa Valley Community Foundation which grants $1.3 million dollars annually to local non-profits.
In the spring of 2012 she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Political Management with George Washington University, in Washington D.C.
What this nomination means to you?
Being nominated for the First Latino Heritage Month Photo Exhibit for the exhibit of “Ellas. Latinas making a difference in the Napa Valley,” is a tremendous honor. There are many that paved the way for us to be here, and there is still a lot of work to be done. I would like to thank my mom and the countless number of women I have seen through my job, who never give up and work from sunrise to sunset in order to provide a better future for their families. My mom left the world she knew behind, this honor means her sacrifice was not in vain.
Why motivates you to be involved in our community?
Growing up in Napa as a Latina was difficult due to the lack of expectations that are placed on us. This compelled me to return to Napa after college and really get involved, specifically in politics. I wanted to be involved in the decision making process instead of feeling powerless over decisions that were being made for my community. Also, seeing an individual being empowered by the information our office provides continues to inspire me. Education, whether in a classroom or just being informed about an immigration issue, is a way to steer your own ship. I hope to continue working towards empowering our community.

Laura Valencia. Rising Star

Photo by Adriana Arriaga


I left behind the city where I was born, Guadalajara, México at the age of 7. With nothing but a small backpack, I was brought across the Tijuana border at the age of 7 by mother after my father had been assassinated by Mexican authorities. The first of many borders and barriers since my arrival. As a first generation, Mexican immigrant I did not learn about the immigrant struggle in a Chicano/Latino Studies class, I’ve lived it.

My passion to serve was awakened as a freshmen in high school when I was introduced to human rights. The idea that a human rights activist had been abducted, tortured and incarcerated in a prison for defending human rights in some remote part of the world and that I had the power to put pressure on their government to free this individual by writing a letter was very powerful to me. A challenge facing the family forced me to find the power and compassion within to assist my brother who had been diagnosed with leukemia. Peeling the layers, growing into myself, desperately seeking support and resources, becoming familiar with the systems, accessing health and social services to support my brother and later in life my mother, a stroke survivor while struggling to obtain higher education as an undocumented student, has given me a better scope, compassion and understanding of the various challenges and struggles our Latino community faces.

As a result, I feel a deep commitment to serving and supporting the community with the same determination and principles as I did and continue to do for my own family. I seek depth and passion in both my personal and professional life and the reality is that I get more back from those I come across with than I will be able to give. I refuse to live on the surface… and I am truly enjoying this journey.

Karla Gómez-Pelayo. Rising Star

Photo by Adriana Arriaga

Karla’s roots are in Jalisco, México but she was raised in the Napa Valley since the age of three. She is the oldest child of four, and the first person in her family to graduate high school. After graduating high school, Karla enrolled at Napa Valley College (NVC) where her passion for education, community and social justice was cultivated.

In 2010, she co-founded the Napa Valley Dream Team (NVDT), where she led the development and coordination of the first and second “Dreamers Conferences” at NVC to support undocumented students and families. Additionally, Karla co-founded the Napa Valley Ethnic Studies Advocates to ensure the perseverance of culture and implementation ethnic studies courses to reflect the student demographics in the Napa Valley. Consecutively, she was named the Napa Valley College Outstanding Student of the Year in 2011 for her community involvement and academic accomplishments. Last year, Karla transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where she is now a fourth year student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies. Karla aspires to become a public interest civil rights attorney and one day, be an ethnic studies law professor.


First off, I want to thank the Napa Valley Latino Heritage Month Planning Committee for selecting me for such recognition. I am humbled and honored to be an ella amongst my fellow my maestras and inspiring mujeres. I extend this honor to my familia and community for all the love, nurture, trust, opportunities of growth and mentorship they have collectively given me.

My feelings are conceptualized by the phenomenal Chicana scholar Gloria E. Anzaldúa, whose research and literature has helped me make sense of my experiences as a first generation Mexicana living in living in the borderland(s). In her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Anzaldúa says, “I am a turtle, where I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.” Like a turtle in between worlds, I carry my mama’s journey through El Rio Grande for the “American Dream,” my curiosity about the world, knowledge fostered in and out of the classroom, consciousness of social issues, and the courage of my ancestors who sacrificed their lives for me. I carry my community on my back and my deep-rooted commitment to creating a better world. Simultaneously, like Ernesto “Che” Guevarra once said, “at the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.’ My work is guided by love for my community and social justice.

Frances Ortíz-Chavez. Legendary Star

Photo by Juan Díaz

Frances Ortiz-Chávez is a native of Sonora, Mexico. At the age of 10 she immigrated with her family to Tucson, Arizona. In 1973, Frances moved to the Napa Valley where she currently lives with her family.

She has more than 35 years of experience working in education. For the last 10 years she has been an elected member of the Board of Education for Napa Valley Unified School District. Currently she is serving as President of the Board.

Frances is one of the founders of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center, and is now working as the Center Director for the organization. Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center is an agency dedicated to working with the Latino community to achieve healthy living, self-sufficiency and creating opportunities for leadership and community engagement.

At the resource center, Frances manages programs such as Plaza Comunitaria (a Spanish literacy program), Middle School Connections, legal immigration services and English as a second language classes. Puertas Abiertas was recently awarded Non-Profit of the Year for 2013 in Napa County, by the Napa Chamber of Commerce.
As an artist Frances received her training at Adult Education, Napa Valley College and UC Davis Institute of Fine Arts. Her artwork has been exhibited throughout California including the Capitol in Sacramento.

Frances developed her community leadership skills by following the footsteps of her mentors such as Tala DeWynter and Hope Lugo. She also participated in programs such as HOPE Leadership Institute (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality), Future Leaders Program, and Leadership Napa Valley.

Frances has been the recipient of numerous awards including two from the California legislature for her work and community involvement. She has been recognized as an advocate, for social justice, education for children and adults, as well as for an artist that promotes the farmworkers’ contribution to the Napa Valley.


My motto is:

“I’m not just a woman, a Latina, or an artist

I’m all of the above and more”