Over the last two years, we have published lists of the most influential African Americans and Latinos in Wisconsin. I intended these lists to highlight the beauty of the diversity in our community. I wanted kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here, and to highlight people of color doing great work in a variety of fields and pursuits.
That’s exactly what our previous lists accomplished, and what we hope to continue with this week’s list — the second annual list of the state’s most powerful Latinos.
This list couldn’t possibly include every Latino doing good work in the community. It does, however, introduce you to some people you’ve never heard of who are doing great things in other parts of the state or simply working behind the scenes, doing the work without the accolades.
It was important for us to expand the way we think about influence, and to highlight more of the people doing what it takes to improve their community. That’s one reason this list is entirely new — we considered anyone named on last year’s list to be ineligible for this one, even though most of them continue to wield considerable influence.
I pray you learn something you didn’t know about some of the real leaders in communities throughout Wisconsin. Now more than ever, it’s critical to recognize and highlight our neighbors whose stories begin elsewhere, or who trace their roots to other parts of the world. Only then will we truly appreciate the contributions we all make to the prosperity of our communities, our state and our nation.
Brenda González has worked for many years to help healthcare organizations move toward health equity. She is currently diversity manager at Agrace, Wisconsin’s largest nonprofit palliative care and hospice agency. She works to implement strategies for Agrace to improve access to diverse and underserved patients and assist the agency in ensuring that its staff and volunteer workforce reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. Gonzalez also oversees Agrace’s minority Certified Nursing Assistant and Emergency Medical Technician scholarship programs for graduating high school seniors and non-traditional students. Gonzalez previously served on the Agrace Foundation’s board of directors and the staff of Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHC-SCW), where she served as community marketing and health equity manager. She has more than 20 years’ experience collaborating in the Madison community helping people navigate the complexities of our healthcare system, especially among linguistically and financially isolated communities. She’s also a passionate and energetic dancer and shameless evangelist for local music and dancing, serving several years on the Board of Directors of Dane Dances.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the founding Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera, a low-wage and immigrant workers center with chapters in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Waukesha, Walworth County and the Fox Cities. She is recognized as a national leader in immigration reform, serving on the board of a national coalition of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) and featured in national interviews on National Public Radio and CNN. She previously served on the board of the Wisconsin Legalization Coalition (representing 44 allied organizations in the State), Wisconsin Citizen Action board and Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice board. She has recently drawn the ire of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke by calling out his cooperation with the Trump Administration’s efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
Mario Mendoza is an attorney at Murphy Desmond. He practices civil litigation, business, real estate, family law, professional licensing and government relations. He has successfully handled a variety of civil litigation matters and transactions and has argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Prior to joining Murphy Desmond, Mendoza served as Economic Development and Legislative Liaison for former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. As a mayoral aide he helped manage agencies totaling over 800 employees. Mendoza is also a musician and co-founder founder of the beloved dance band MadiSalsa. He has recorded various CDs and has toured the US, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain. He is also a professional voice-over talent and has recorded hundreds of voice-overs for film, commercials and corporate videos.
Cecilia Ramírez singlehandedly runs Latino Service Providers Coalition, the hub for Rock County’s Latino community, as well as the Hispanic On-line Referral Center, funded by Stateline United Way. The Coalition has supported the publication of a Spanish newspaper, La Voz de Beloit, which is disseminated free throughout the greater Rock County area. It also supports literacy programs, counseling and intervention for victims of domestic violence, financial literacy training, and really whatever members of the Latino community need to gain access to the services and education they need to lead more enjoyable and more productive lives as they become more active members of the community. Cecilia’s work, along with the work of many volunteers and partners, makes a real difference in hundreds of lives every day.
Rolando Rodriguez is CEO, president and chairman of Marcus Theatres. In the age of Netflix, the cinema business has needed a complete reinvention — and Rodriguez is leading the way. Under his leadership, Marcus has invested more than $200 million in transforming its cinemas to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. He and his team have also deepened customer relationships through new operating strategies such as the Marcus Movie Rewards loyalty program and innovative pricing strategies including $5 Tuesday promotions. He also led the recent purchase of 197 Wehrenberg Theatres screens at 14 locations in four states, increasing the company’s footprint by 29 percent. In addition to leading Marcus Theatres, Rodriguez is also a member of The Marcus Corporation’s investment committee and in 2015 assumed responsibility for The Marcus Corporation’s real estate portfolio, including all corporate real estate, retail leasing and real estate activity.
Carlos Subero can be seen many evenings on the first base side of the Miller Park infield, where he is the Milwaukee Brewers’ infield and first base coach. The Venezuelan-born middle infielder played six years in the minor leagues before beginning a managerial and coaching career, including two seasons as skipper of the Brewers’ AA affiliates in Biloxi and Huntsville. He joined the Crew in a coaching staff overhaul in January 2016.
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis is a former UFC Lightweight Champion. His record includes 19 wins — 16 by knockout or submission — against just six losses since he got his start with World Extreme Cagefighting in 2007. He still hails from his native Milwaukee, and has reinvested in the community as owner of Roufusport MMA Academy, Showtime Sports Bar and APS Barbershop, all in Milwaukee.
Tania Ibarra is the senior manager for internal controls and financial reporting at Spectrum Brands, but has made her real impact as the president of the Latino Professionals Association of Greater Madison, an organization she helped found in 2013. Through her career Tania has participated and played different roles in many diversity and inclusion initiatives at the various companies and organizations she has served. She was recently recognized as a 40 under 40 Outstanding Professional by InBusiness Magazine and as one of the 35 M-Listers for social innovation from Madison Magazine for her collaboration with Step UP: Equity Matters.
Alderman José Pérez represents the near south side on the Milwaukee Common Council. The lifelong Milwaukeean has worked as a national field representative for the AFL-CIO and later as an economic development specialist for the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development. Pérez also served as the executive director for Milwaukee Inner-city of Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), an organization committed to addressing social justice and change within the community. He was elected to his second four-year term in 2016.
Fabiola Hamdan is a Dane County social worker in the Joining Forces for Families program. A strong and active advocate for the Latino community, she is the founder of the annual El Dia de Los Niños, a celebration of Latino children. She received the 2012 UW McDowell Alumni Achievement award, the 2012 Muriel Pipkins Award, the 2011 YWCA Madison Women of Distinction Awards, and the 2003 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Social Workers in Madison.
Norys Piña is one of the most active Latina advocates in the Fox Valley. She founded Unidos por un Futoro Mejor (United for a Better Future) to work for systemic change in the community, state, and nation. Norys advocated for driver’s cards for undocumented immigrants and quickly drew together funding and people to fill three buses to participate in a statewide “A Day Without Latinos” demonstration at the state capitol last year. She has been active in the faith community ESTHER, especially in ESTHER’s Latino Simulations and Voices of Hope theatre productions. Most recently, Norys has organized a community-wide Latino Voter Engagement campaign. For her efforts, ESTHER honored her with their 2016 Community Award.
Dr. Víctor Macías González is a professor of history at UW-La Crosse focused on Latin American, Mexican, Latina/o, and Gender and Sexuality History and cultural history, especially 19th century Mexico. In addition to teaching, advising, research, and service duties in the Department of History, he is affiliated with the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. From Fall 2009 to Summer 2016, he directed the Eagle Mentoring Program, a retention initiative for historically underrepresented, underprivileged second-year students majoring in the College of Liberal Studies. He was named Wisconsin Professor of the Year in 2013.
Jessica Cavazos took the helm at the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County last fall. She was formerly the president of the Milwaukee-based Eleva Group, an organization whose mission was to create social programs, help nonprofits with governance issues and assist for-profit and nonprofit entities in implementing initiatives aimed at promoting actions that are both economically and socially beneficial. In addition to her work with the Eleva Group, Cavazos has extensive experience in government relations, policy, community engagement and business development. She also worked as a Congressional Liaison for eight years in the office of Congresswoman Gwen Moore.
David Muhammad is a violence prevention manager in the City of Milwaukee health department, working to help young people interact with each other — and with law enforcement — in a productive and nonviolent manner. He helps organize events and programs to build what he calls a “holistic response to community trauma.” He came to the City after a stint at the Greater Milwaukee Boys and Girls Club. Muhammad, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, is also one of the very rare Latino Muslims in Wisconsin.
Olivia Villarreal is a business partner in — and a driving force behind — Milwaukee-based El Rey Foods. She’s been working alongside her husband Ernesto, his brother Beto, and Beto’s wife Criselda since the company started as a small grocery in 1978. With revenue now over $74 million and more than 400 employees, it’s one of the largest Hispanic-owned corporations in Wisconsin. Olivia and her partners have grown El Rey from a small family-owned grocery store to a Hispanic food wholesaler and popular destination for groups of students and adults to learn about Hispanic culture.
Fred Gutierrez is a senior program officer at Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which provides more than $40 million in grants to community organizations and programs all around Milwaukee and the surrounding communities. Gutierrez’s influence in the area goes all the way back to 1979, when he was instrumental in the founding of La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha. He was La Casa executive director when it secured its first major grant in 1982 to build housing for the elderly — and faced serious opposition from neighbors. Gutierrez helped La Casa navigate those challenges, and the center continues to make an impact in lives each day through a charter school and many other programs for Latino children and families in the area.
Andres Gonzalez is vice president and chief diversity officer for Froedtert Health, responsible for overseeing the integration of diversity initiatives throughout the organization, including expanding workforce diversity and strengthening community relationships. Prior to joining Froedtert Health, Gonzalez was chief diversity and inclusion officer at Baystate Health System in Springfield, Massachusetts. He also spent five years at Cleveland Clinic as director of diversity, community outreach and supplier diversity. In both positions, Gonzalez created and championed programs and processes to foster and sustain cultural competence. Gonzalez has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor of science degree in biology, both from Cleveland State University. He also has served as a diversity consultant for a number of national companies and organizations.
Michael Hernandez is Principal of Madison East High School, one of the most diverse schools in the state and a focal point of Madison’s east side community. In 2015, the former Sherman Middle School principal was given the Roberto G. Sánchez Award which honors an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos. He has three master’s degrees that he earned at California State University in San Bernardino, California. He is currently working on his doctorate at Edgewood College. Previously, he earned his bachelor of science degree in education at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Jose Delgado is a giant in the electrical utility industry in the midwest. After 27 years at Wisconsin Electric Power Co. (now We Energies) starting as an electrical engineer and ending as Vice President of Electric System Operations, Delgado was named to head up the formation of American Transmission Company, the first multi-state transmission-only utility in the United States. The Marquette alum has served on a wide variety of national and regional committees and councils overseeing and supporting the electrical industry. He was a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and of the Marquette University School of Engineering National Advisory Council. He has served on the Board of Forward Wisconsin, the United Community Center and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. He is currently a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
Teresa Mercado is executive director of Mexican Fiesta, the largest Latino festival in the Midwest, and the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation that it funds. Her festival will celebrate its 44th year August 25 – 27, 2017, as more than 85,000 people will descend on the Summerfest grounds to celebrate Mexican culture through food, music, dance, and family activities. To date, the Foundation has provided more than $1.3 million in scholarships for Latino students in Wisconsin. In recognition of her efforts, United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) named Teresa Hispanic Woman of the Year in 2015.
Ana Báez is a bilingual counselor at the state’s largest bilingual high school, South Division in Milwaukee. She works to help students achieve their full potential through a variety of career panels, college preparation, National Academy Foundation programs in health sciences and one-on-one guidance. The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants grew up in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin as a PEOPLE scholar. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a Certificate in Chicano/Latino Studies and went on to earn her master’s degree in 2008, always with an eye toward returning to Milwaukee to serve the community. While a student at UW, she was one of nine co-founders of the Kappa Gamma Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma, the fastest-growing Latina-based multicultural sorority.
Gary Ballesteros currently fulfills two roles for Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation: First, as Vice President, Law, he leads a team of 16 lawyers and paralegals around the globe supporting the company’s go-to-market strategies, navigating all the challenges that come with $6 billion in annual sales. Second, as ombudsman, he also serves a critical role in the Company’s culture of ethics and integrity. The Ombudsman has a direct reporting authority to the Board of Directors and is empowered to investigate any claims or allegations of misconduct within the Company. The Ombudsman maintains a variety of hotline reporting mechanisms that can be accessed anonymously by any employee worldwide; and he also manages a staff of investigative personnel and counsel who investigate any reported violations of the Rockwell Code of Conduct.
Mayor Jason Gonzalez is the first Latino — and first millennial — mayor of Fitchburg, the growing — and increasingly diverse — suburb of Madison. He was also the first Latino on the Fitchburg Common Council when he was elected in 2013, and unexpectedly unseated the incumbent mayor earlier this year. A Madison-area native and UW alum, Gonzalez is a criminal defense attorney.
Wilma Bonaparte serves as Vice President for Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Mequon campus. Her college leadership career spans nearly 30 years, starting in 1988 as the MATC district-wide director of bilingual and basic skills programs. After six years in Boston, Bonaparte returned to MATC in 1999, where she served in multiple leadership roles in liberal arts and sciences, college transition, consumer and hospitality, business and health occupations until 2012, when she was promoted to dean of MATC’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She holds a doctorate of education from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, a certificate in leadership from Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management, a master’s of education from Penn State University and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Puerto Rico.
Mateo Barrientos is one of the first Latino business owners to make a mark in downtown Arcadia, about 40 miles north of La Crosse, when he took the huge risk to open the MM San Juan grocery store in 2004. That risk turned out to be a brilliant investment for the entire community — census data shows the Latino population of the village of 3,000 has doubled in the last five years, and now makes up fully one-third of the population. The Latino business community has thrived as well, and Arcadia is now home to a half-dozen Hispanic grocery stores, restaurants, a clothing boutique and even tax and legal service offices. Mateo continues to be a leader in the business community as a member of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Fernando Delgado is a worldwide powerhouse in the talent recruitment and retention game. He’s developed and led best-in-class talent acquisition organizations in the Americas, Europe, and Asia for companies such as Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Microsoft, and Oracle. He currently serves as vice president for Global Talent Acquisition at Johnson Controls. He has more than 20 years experience specializing in recruitment services and leadership, and continues to leverage his experience with different cultures and countries to find new ways to identify top talent in the global workplace. He also serves on the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee Board of Directors.
Israel Lopez is a business attorney specializing in mergers and acquisitions for Madison-based law firm Neider & Boucher. He’s also the founder of Chins Up Foundation, an organization that pairs college athletes with at-risk kids in a penpal relationship. Such a penpal relationship helped the Milwaukee native came through a stint of homelessness to attend Concordia University – Saint Paul on a football scholarship, graduate with honors, and attend the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Leslie Orrantia is the director of community relations at the University of Wisconsin, a post she’s held since August 2016. She has been on campus for four years, serving since 2012 in the School of Education’s External Relations office and as assistant director for the Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network within the School of Education. Prior to her work with UW-Madison, she served as a caseworker in Madison for nearly five years, collaborating with area nonprofits, government institutions, community organizations and local media to best address client needs. It was her work as a caseworker that really taught her the value of listening to others.
Dora Zúñiga is Director of Development at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she oversees all aspects of the network’s fundraising program including membership, business sponsorships, major gifts, planned giving, grant proposals and audience services and support as she connects with various communities across the state. The winner of the 2014 UMOS Hispanic Woman of the Year, Zúñiga has been an important Latina community leader in Madison for decades. She previously served as CEO of two large and important Madison-area nonprofits — Centro Hispano and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County. Zúñiga also worked as director of leadership giving at the United Way of Dane County. Zúñiga earned the Madison Rotary Vocational Service Award in 2014 and the Roberto G. Sanchez Leadership Award from Centro Hispano in 2013. She was noted as one of the “all-time top 125 most influential Madisonians” by Madison Magazine in 2003.