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Eight greats: ‘Wise Latina’ leaders from San Diego

12 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Friday, July 24, 2009

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is on track to become the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, after clearing hearings from Republicans last week.

During the hearings, she said that her decisions would be based on rationality and “the law,” adding that her earlier remarks about being a “wise Latina” fell flat.

Sotomayor has previously said: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”

Although she has since retracted her statements, even Republican leaders such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) believe Sotomayor is a strong role model for young Latinos.

But Sotomayor is not the only Hispanic woman with a stellar record. San Diego boasts a large pool of “wise Latinas.”

Here’s a list of San Diego’s top Hispanic women leaders in politics and other areas. Of course, there are many more, but this is SDNN’s eight great “wise Latina.”

Lori Saldaña – California Assemblymember

An assemblymember for nearly five years, Saldaña has risen through the ranks of leadership to her current position as assembly speaker pro tem.

One of the “wise Latina” moves she has made this year is forming a group to combat hate crimes in San Diego. She created United for Hate Free San Diego, after noticing that racially-based hate crimes had grown in the last several years, particularly in Chula Vista, Poway, Oceanside and the University of San Diego.

United for a Hate Free San Diego brings together 52 faith-based groups to change the negative motivations and behaviors of hate groups. Ashley Walker, executive director of the San Diego Human Relations Commission, and Tony Young, a San Diego City councilmember representing District 4, also founded the group.

Like Sotomayor, Saldaña has a stellar track record. Saldaña serves on several assembly committees, including the Veterans Affairs, Revenue and Taxation, and Housing and Community Development Committees. She also serves on committees supporting women, including chairing the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the State Board for California Women Lead, an organization supporting women who serve or seek public office.

Saldana’s district includes the communities of Clairemont, Bay Park, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Tierrasanta, Serra Mesa, Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park, South Park, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, City Heights, Old Town, Normal Heights, Mission Hills and Downtown San Diego.

She is 50, separated, and has an adult step-daughter.

Mary Salas – California Assemblymember

Salas has been a California assemblymember since 2006. In 1996, she was the first Latina elected to the Chula Vista City Council, where she served for eight years.

As a “wise Latina,” Salas has emphasized programs that promote education. This comes from her experience attending college at the age of 37.

“In returning to college at the age of 37, I came to understand that lifelong learning expands life choices and opportunities — and that nothing gives more satisfaction than facing challenges and growing through success and occasional failure,” she said. “I pass this wisdom on to all women, young and old.”

As an assemblymember, she chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, and serves on committees including: Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy; and the Committee on Health.
As a Chula Vista councilmember, she chaired the University Working Group to establish a higher education center.

Her district currently includes the cities of Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, Coronado and portions of San Diego.

Salas, 61, is married to Sal Salas. They have two daughters – Sara and Michele -and three grandkids – Adriana, Michael and Marissa.

Alejandra Sotelo-Solis – vice mayor and councilmember National City

Alejandra Refugio Sotelo-Solis, 29, is the vice mayor of National City. She is also a city councilmember – the third woman and perhaps youngest to serve in this office.

Sotelo-Solis said: “My ‘wise Latina’ moment was when I decided to run for City Council to fulfill a life-long dream to represent the community I was born in.”

“Having been raised in National City, I understand the disparities afflicting our under-served neighborhoods,” she said. Now, “I will continue to grow as a decision maker that uses compassion, perseverance and balanced judgment.”

Sotelo-Solis also serves as a role model for university law students. She is director of the UC San Diego Community Law Project, which supports law and public policy undergraduates.

She has previously worked for Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, as well as Monterey Park Assemblymember Judy Chu.

She has been married for five years, with no children.

Olga Diaz – Escondido City Councilmember and businesswoman

Olga Diaz is a councilmember and business woman in Escondido.

What she has learned – and passes on to others – is the value of hard work, even in the face of defeat.

She explains: “My ‘wise Latina’ moment came to me in 2006, when in my first attempt to be elected to Escondido City Council I lost.

“I knew at that moment, that I had to work harder to win. I kept running and in 2008, I was elected as the first Latina councilmember in the history of the city,” she said. “Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to demonstrate that work ethic and objectivity are the qualities I bring… on behalf of all residents in Escondido – Latino or otherwise.”

Diaz has a track record of business leadership. As a past board member of the Downtown Business Association, she worked to improve parking in the Escondido business district and spearheaded special events. She also helped found the Escondido Charitable Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations.

She also owns and runs two coffee shops – Blue Mug Coffee and Tea – in Escondido.

Diaz, 33, and her husband Neal Griffin have four children – Shelby, Emma, Julia and Eli.

Nadia P. Bermudez – Lawyer and board director of San Diego La Raza Lawyers

Lawyer Nadia Bermudez is a trailblazer in the areas of law, women’s advancement and the Hispanic community.

Bermudez is a partner at Garcia Calderón Ruíz, LLP, where she specializes in commercial business litigation and employment law.

She is a board director of San Diego La Raza Lawyers, which supports Hispanic lawyers, and an immediate past president of the Lawyers Club of San Diego, a women’s bar association.

She has also done volunteer work at several organizations, including the Centro Cultural de la Raza, the Chula Vista Domestic Violence & TRO Clinic and the University of San Diego School of Law and Cal Western School of Law.

“A wise Latina, like myself, is grateful to and acknowledges trailblazers,” she said. Bermudez is 32, single, with no kids.

Gracia Molina de Pick – civil rights activist

Gracia Molina de Pick is like Gloria Steinam, Frieda Kahlo and Mother Teresa rolled into one.

Although she is probably in her 80s, she was so busy we could not get a hold of her. Instead, Daniel Munoz, editor at La Prensa newspaper, told us why she is a “wise Latina.”

The Mexican-born woman of humble beginnings became a faculty member at several San Diego universities. At Mesa College, she created the Chicano Studies program. At UC San Diego, she was a founding faculty member of what is now the Thurgood Marshall College, which catered to minority students.

“She was very active in upholding minority rights, minority education and the Chicano Studies program, when there was nothing like that in San Diego,” said Munoz. “These are things that nobody else had done, nobody else was even thinking about it. She was way ahead of her time.”

In recent years, de Pick has also been active in gay and lesbian rights. “She’s not lesbian,” said Munoz, “but she believes they deserve the same rights as everybody.”

A women’s rights leader, de Pick hosted Gloria Steinem in San Diego earlier this year.

Known for wearing flowing Mexican dresses, like the Mexican painter Frieda Kahlo, De Pick is a widow with three children.

Pearl Quiñones – president of Sweetwater Board of Trustees and counselor at the San Ysidro School District

At Pearl Quiñones’ high school, the counselor told Quiñones’ sister that “she couldn’t go to college because she was Mexican, and Mexicans do not go on to higher education.”

The counselor told Quiñones that she could not go to college either, she said, “because I wasn’t smart.”

Today, Quiñones holds a masters degree in Public Administration, while her sister has two masters. She is a strong advocate for education, especially among pregnant teens.

“The one ‘wise Latina’ thing I have done is to get an education,” she said.

Quiñones is vice president of the California Latino School Board Members Association. She also serves as a board member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and a delegate to the California School Boards Association.

Previously, she served as vice president of the California School Employees Association and was appointed to the California Department of Education Dropout Prevention Board.

She lives in National City and has one son.

Lorena Gonzalez – labor federation leader

Gonzalez is secretary-treasurer and CEO for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. She was the first woman and Latina to head the council since it began in 1902.
The Labor Council is a coalition of 125 local unions representing more than 189,000 working families in the region.

Gonzalez’ “wise Latina” philosophy, she said, “is my willingness to NOT play it safe.”

Her personal history is about taking chances. She started law school, despite being a pregnant, single woman at the time.

“(I) didn’t allow my lack of answers about what I would do once I had my daughter keep me from pursuing my dreams,” she said.

Upon graduation, Gonzalez took an entry level job with California’s lieutenant governor at the time. From 2000 to 2008, she moved up and served on the Commission on Economic Development and the California State Lands Commission.

Then Gonzalez gave up her stable, government job to work as an advocate for working families.

In her current job, she continues to take risks. Her efforts have resulted in a stronger living wage ordinance in San Diego and the elections of pro-worker legislators. “I am proud of the calculated risks we take as an organization, especially in legislation and politics,” she said.

She credits her heritage. “I think growing up Latina is directly linked to my ability to have the courage to (face) the criticism that often comes from being aggressive or assertive for a cause,” she said.

Gonzalez, 37, is divorced with two children – Tierra,13,and Antonio, 6.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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