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”