PIE Network connects and supports diverse and dynamic leaders. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re recognizing just some of the many Hispanic and Latinx leaders across the Network who are leading efforts to ensure that every student gets the education needed to achieve a future with limits. Below Network leaders share how their heritage influences their work.
Amanda Aragon, Executive Director, NewMexicoKidsCAN
“When I think of my heritage, I think of my family and when I think of my family, I think of gatherings with lots of cousins where English and Spanish are used interchangeably.”
“I’m grounded in the shared experiences I have with our students and that allows me to serve my community with authenticity and humility.”
Daisy Padilla, Policy and Community Advocacy Manager, GO Public Schools Oakland
“I stood out from the rest. I didn’t have all the unearned privileges I saw others have. I knew that I had to be a role model for other Latinx. I had to be resilient. I had to be an achiever. I had to be a leader. But most importantly, I have to continue to inspire, inform, support and hope that other Latinx recognize the power coat we carry every day.”
Erika Ruiz Rodriguez, Operations Manager, GO Public Schools West Contra Costa
Evy Valencia, Chief of Staff, 50CAN
“Being Mexican has made me understand that this world is not black and white and that trying to make it that way will break you. It will leave you frustrated, it will keep you from learning from others whose stories may not be like yours, and most importantly it may not invite you to the table when decisions are being made. From my experience in leadership, I have found that the opportunities for the most progress can be found on the borderland, in the grey area, embracing a little bit of both worlds.
I don’t know that I ever really had a choice in serving my community, not because I wouldn’t have chosen to, but because when you’re an immigrant kid, you’re asked to do your part to help the community however you can. For me, that was providing translation. I hope I’m still a leader that is taking current policy, politics, and academic jargon and translating and connecting it to the lives of real people who need us to also do our part now.”
Felix Flores Jr., Chief External Relations Officer, EdVoice
“For generations, my Mexican family has been committed to the American ideal of opportunity. From generation to generation, Latinx parents have passed down to their children the advice that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. However, my education and career have taught me that American institutions like our government, education, healthcare, and banks are systemically designed to privilege whiteness and side-step a true meritocracy. I understand that my leadership has to be both symbolic and functional.”
Jeimee Estrada, Executive Director, Educators for Excellence- Los Angeles
Jessica Morffi, Senior Director Policy & Planning, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Jessica Ramos, Director of Community Engagement, Advance Illinois
“I was taught to be proud of my roots. My approach to this work is strongly rooted in my experiences as a daughter of Mexican immigrants. I recognized very early on that I have a responsibility to use my voice to advocate for what my family deserves, for what my community deserves.”
Lizette Gonzalez Reynolds, VP of Policy, Foundation for Excellence in Education
“As the Vice President of Policy for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, my job is to serve the education policy needs of every student in our country. As a proud Latina, it is also my duty to ensure that kids who look like me and who grew up like me have every opportunity possible to access a K-12 education system that will guarantee readiness for and completion of postsecondary education.
As a Hispanic-American, I am a passionate advocate for students of color and students in poverty to obtain a four-year university or college degree. I serve on the local board of IDEA Public Schools and am proud that every child enrolled on one of their campuses, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status is exposed to a rigorous, college-preparatory education.”
Maribel Lopez, Director of Community Leadership, GO Public Schools West Contra Costa
“It helps me connect with many families that like mine, were labeled as ‘disadvantaged’ or a ‘minority’. Labels that often hurt and made one feel ‘othered’. My own experiences growing up have helped me to approach my own work with respect and humility and the knowledge that although I may have a similar upbringing as other Latinx folks, my experience is my own lived experience. I create space to listen to other people and make connections amidst our similarities and differences.”
Mike Espinoza, Executive Director, GO Public Schools Fresno
“At the heart of that is the Mayan concept of ‘coyuntura’—literally meaning ‘joint’ or ‘juncture’—but representing the indigenous conception of what community is: ‘I am your other you; YOU are my other ME’, meaning, despite our differences, we are one-in-the-same. By caring for you, your needs, and interests, I am actually caring for my own. In this regard, my Latinx heritage—particularly my indigenous roots—guide my work daily.”
Priscilla Aquino Garza, Director of Policy, Educate Texas
“My heritage and culture has defined me from birth. I was born to two immigrant parents—one Costa Rican and one Mexican. Our heritage has always filled me with pride and has motivated my commitment to improving education for other students of Latinx, Black, Asian, and Indigenous backgrounds. As a first-generation Latina, I am acutely aware of my otherness in schools, state agencies, and legislatures. I have remained in policy because I think it is important to ensure that my face, my culture, and my experience serves as an example in these spaces.
Yanira Wandera, Director of Community Leadership, GO Public Schools Oakland
“My mother, abuelitas, tias, and hermanas have been the backbone of my identity as a Latina leader. They’ve modeled for me how to step into my power with grace, humility, cariño for the community, and unapologetic advocacy for the underrepresented.”
“Today, my ‘Blacktina’ daughter, Aaliyah, influences my leadership. She code switches like a ballerina and has taught me to uproot the anti-blackness that was forced onto our culture.
These women make it easy for me to lead with my ‘Why?’ and the values they have planted in me are deep-rooted and forever drumming.”