Tatiana Baena

The latino policy institute

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Director of Grants & Federal Programs at the Central Falls School District

Born in Colombia, Tatiana spent her early years in Medellin immersed in culture and family. At the young age of 8, she made the trip with her family to migrate to the smallest city in the smallest state in this new country, Central Falls, RI. Surrounded by hard workers, her drive is ingrained in her DNA. After graduating from Central Falls High School, she went on to receive her Bachelor’s in Accounting from the University of Rhode Island. 

With a deep love and connection for her community, Tatiana has always been the first to lend a helping hand. During the pandemic, she led the family support efforts for the Pawtucket/Central Falls Beat Covid initiative. This created systems and processes to connect residents affected with the needed resources. Tatiana also combined her love of soccer and service to create Mundialito, a soccer tournament event to bring together the community by showcasing talent and promoting local businesses and organizations while also awarding scholarships to local student athletes. 

Being Latinx affects every aspect of Tatiana’s life. She’s a Latina y Colombiana de pura cepa, and it is obvious in the way that she talks, the way that she walks, the way that she dresses, what she eats, and who she is. In her current role at the Central Falls School District, she now is the Director of Grants and Federal Programs. For the past three years she has served as the Director of Enrichment and Opportunities, providing learning and growth opportunities to students in the district. Tatiana is also an entrepreneur currently working on starting up a soccer store, and a consulting business to support local nonprofits, small businesses and individuals to maximize their network and potential.

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Omi Hopper

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Creator of CookingConOmi

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Omi grew up immersed in her culture surrounded by her family. At the age of 11, her parents decided to move to the mainland and although they did not speak any English they worked hard and learned very quickly. To keep Omi connected to her roots and never forgetting her Spanish, her mother would send her back to Puerto Rico to spend summers with her abuelos on their farm in Las Tres T, Rio Grande.

These summers are where Omi learned life lessons and hard work ethnic with her ‘buelo, but her most cherished times were spent in the kitchen with her abuelita. Finding her love of cooking, Omi watched the master at work as she cooked fresh vegetables from the garden, with pure joy while music played feeding Omi hearty meals that would later feed Omi’s career. As the creator of CookingconOmi, she cooks her family’s recipes and shares them with others who miss these home cooked pieces of their home land. She uses her social media influence to keep the love for these dishes alive and pass them on to generations to come. 

As a mom to four multiracial boys, Omi tries her very best to teach them as her abuelita taught her, the richness of their Puerto Rican Culture and their delicious food. She points out how amazing that living in the U.S. you encounter so many different nationalities but she is proud of all that Latinos have achieved and the hard work that goes into keeping the culture alive. 

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Katya Rodriguez

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Director of Impact & Evaluation

Born in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, and growing up in Calexico, California, Katya came from a household where education was not a priority, instead her family focused on things that would apply to “real life.” That, combined with attending an underperforming school, led her to understand first-hand the results of receiving a low-quality public education, and how it inherently puts students at a disadvantage in college and beyond.

Katya is the Director of Impact and Evaluation at the Equity Institute. In her work, she combines her experience and passion to ensure educators provide the high-quality and equitable education students deserve. While there is a lot of work to be done to create an equitable system, Katya wants to ensure that people who have experienced these challenges first hand – like herself- are those at the decision-making table. 

Being Latina has influenced Katya’s drive and wanting to do more for her community. She thinks about her future children and their experience in this country, Katya often thinks, “ what can I  do to make sure they have a better life than I did? To ensure that people don’t tell them to ‘go back to their rancho’ or where they came from. To ensure they don’t feel “less” than others simply because they are Latinx and to receive the opportunities they deserve.”

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Elizabeth Ortiz, ESQ.

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Family Court Attorney at Ortiz Law Office

As a first generation Colombian-American, Elizabeth struggled to balance being a young mother while  attending CCRI part time and working in a law office. It was during this time she found her passion and went on to pursue a law degree from Roger Williams University. 

Combining her passion with first hand experience to socio-economic and family issues, Elizabeth felt drawn to Family court. Being one of few Latinx practitioners in Family Court issues, she best utilized her background knowledge and experiences to advocate for children whose parents go through high conflict divorces and custody battles. 

Similar to many of those who immigrate to the United States, Elizabeth’s family faced many challenges including learning a new language and adapting to a  new way of life. Elizabeth believes that Latino’s sense of community and work ethic has enriched not only our state but the nation by bringing together hard working people yielding a better life for their families.

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Siobhån Chavarrîa

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Owner of Berrî

Born in San Jose, Costa Rica to an American mother and a Costa Rican father, Siobhán proudly cherishes her Latin American roots that encompass a mix of indigenous and European cultures. She came to the United States as a kid, growing up around the state of Rhode Island until leaving to study Anthropology at the City University of New York.

Siobhán was interested in the deeper aspect of food culture around what and why communities eat what they do. As Siobhán trudged through her early years in the hospitality industry working long physical hours, she found her happiness in the artful creative moments surrounding food. Siobhán feels as her investigation into the roots of her culture have greatly shaped her and allowed her to be an active participant in the evolution of identifying as Latinx.  

For the last 3 years, she combined her academic knowledge with her intensive research to bring Berri to life. As a Latina business owner, Siobhán struggled with the limited options of either assimilating into whiteness or selling a caricature of herself and her culture. However, with Berri,   Siobhán  showcased the foodways in regions that have been left out of popular food trends such as Central American, the Caribbean and Northern South America in a beautiful and poetic way. 

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Joshua Xavier

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Employment Attorney at Partidge Snow & Hahn LLP

As the son of Dominican and Cape Verdean immigrant parents, Joshua learned first hand about the sacrifices his parents made by leaving everything they knew in their native land to come to the United States in hopes for a better life. His commitment to giving back and serving the less fortunate in the community as an employment attorney is deeply tied to his experience as the child of immigrants.

According to Joshua, employment serves as one of the most beneficial aspects in an individual’s life, “Our jobs provide us with purpose and a sense of dignity…the compensation we receive from our employers help us to provide for our families, put a roof over our heads, and help us pay for our children’s education.”  In his work, Joshua ensures that employers comply with laws regarding minimum wage and overtime requirements, sick time, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and other anti-discrimination laws. 

To Joshua, through music, food, language, and culture Latinos enrich the diversity of our state and nation. Passing down important traditions of our Latino heritage is an important way to ensure that generations to come do not forget about their culture identity and roots. 

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Victor Montanez

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Middle School Advisor

Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island and having to cope at an early age with his dad’s passing, Victor grew up like many other first generation students just trying to navigate through barriers of language and culture with a single mom. Victor attributes his success to both his high school and college advisors, who helped him navigate the many obstacles and inspired him to pass on that same drive and leadership to the next generation. 

Victor’s Puerto Rican and Bolivian heritage is something he is most proud of. His connection to his culture helps him to better relate and connect with his students and their families. “Having lived through these experiences and facing those extra barriers myself has made it possible to relate and support my students.” 

As a middle school advisor with the College Crusade of Rhode Island, he knows that young Latinos are the next leaders. They show great support for one another and their way of life instills greatness in each other to support and develop the tools and skills they need to overcome any obstacle they face. 

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Belisa Nunez

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College Success Coach

Belisa’s roots are a combination of far and near. After moving to Providence at the age of nine from the Dominican Republic, she continued to deeply connect and identify with her Dominican culture and upbringing. 

As she describes it, “Latinos tend to bring a little extra spice and a different perspective… They are not afraid to speak to you and you give advice as if you were their family from the moment they meet you… Being Latino means having a giant, multicultural, extended family whether you know them or not.”

After realizing how many of her peers did not receive the solid college advising but would instead have their opportunities and access hindered, Belisa realized that this was her calling. As a Latina and a College Success Coach  at the College Crusade of Rhode Island, she feels a moral obligation to help uplift and provide growth opportunities to those with similar backgrounds. 

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Jennifer Gaviria

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Clinical Faculty, Collaborative Partnerships for Preventative Mental Health Services 

Jennifer grew up in Central Falls and Pawtucket while holding on to her family’s roots in Colombia. Every summer, and nearly every Christmas, growing up was spent in Don Matias, Antioquia. 

Today, she works at Thundermist Health Center where she provides mental health and telemental health to adults, children and families. Jennifer also supervises, teaches and mentors Social Work RIC students.

In 2018, Jennifer became one of the co-founders of the Latino Mental Health Network of RI where they aim to recruit and retain aspiring and current Latinx mental health professionals. “Being Latinx has shaped my work immensely. My work focuses on providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services, decreasing mental health stigma in our community and encouraging Latinx folks to enter the field of mental health, either as nurses, therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychiatrists.”

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Paola Prado

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Associate Professor of Journalism at RWU

Paola Prado was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, nestled beneath the iconic statue of Christ that overlooks the city and the greenery of the rainforest. Born a year prior to the military coup that cracked down on freedom of expression and launched 21 years of dictatorship, Paola experienced the stark contrast between stunning natural beauty and extreme injustice. These experiences set her path towards a career in the news media and, later, in the academy.

With a fascinating upbringing surrounded by Brazil’s most talented artists and musicians, as well as journalists and media professionals, Paola came to the U.S. at the age of 18 to study film, at Denison University in Ohio and Sorbonne in Paris later to attend Georgetown University and join the press corps. 

Today, Paola is an Associate Professor of Journalism teaching Digital Journalism and Multimedia Productions and the Program Coordinator of Latin American and Latino Studies. In 2019 she was an editor for the newly published book “Climate Change, Media & Culture: Critical Issues in Global Environmental Communication.”

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