Lissette Castrillon

The latino policy institute

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Bilingual Speech and language pathologist

As a first generation Colombian-American born to Immigrant parents, Lissette connected with her roots through language. Being bilingual instilled in her the honor of speaking her native Spanish Language. In high school, she became fascinated by language and cultures that she set out to explore a career that married her passion with the experience of being bilingual, she found her path as a Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist.

After an amazing opportunity to study her undergrad in Orlando, Florida and her graduate degree in Portland, Oregon she felt compelled to come back to her home state of Rhode Island to give back to her Latinx community to advocate on behalf of this community and others who see a high need for bilingual professionals across disciplines. In her work she works closely to debunk the myth that speaking both languages will confuse a child and in fact show that learning both simultaneously, enhances the emerging bilingual brain.

Witnessing the hard work and drive first hand from her parents, Lissette is not only successful in her career but also successful in breaking barriers. She newly purchased a home where she resides with her fiancé and puppy Cosmo. She truly believes that Latinos enrich our nation with their desire to work hard and achieve success no matter the sacrifice truly valuing the American Dream.

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Brenda Almonte

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Director of Public Property for the City of Providence

As a first generation Dominican American, Brenda grew up the youngest of three girls to a single mom from the Dominican Republic. She grew up with the support and love of her community, especially her grandfather who took on the role of a father figure early in her life. In 2018, Brenda’s grandfather passed away at the age of 98. His love and advice is dearly missed.

 

Education has played a large role in Brenda’s life. She was the second person in her family to graduate from college and one of the only ones to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Roger Williams University. Brenda is currently enrolled in a MBA program at the University of RI. Brenda’s early professional career in property management allowed her to assist and connect with residents in need of affordable and accessible housing. Her experience and language abilities allowed her to better connect with Spanish speaking Latino residents, while ensuring that her team also understood the needs of this community as well.

 

Today, Brenda is the Director of Public Property for the City of Providence, where she ensures that neighborhoods with higher percentages of Latinos receive equal consideration when it comes to maintenance and rehabs of city owned/managed buildings such as recreational centers or schools. “It feels amazing to drive around my city and know I can provide excellent asset management. I am the first bi-lingual and woman to hold this position. I couldn’t think of a greater honor.”

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Zuleyma Gomez

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Chief of Staff for the City of Central Falls

Growing up in Central Falls, Rhode Island as a Mexican American, Zuleyma was able to witness a community that holds the utmost pride in their identity and constantly fights for the opportunity to become so much more. Having this experience throughout her childhood pushed the desire to have a hand in creating those opportunities by pursuing a degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College.

Zuleyma was not always heavily engaged in politics as a young adult. It was not until her 2014 involvement in the Latina Leadership Institute that opened her perspective and understanding of civic duty that is now ingrained in her. She registered to vote later that year to use her voice to help others understand the large result and changes that can come about in their own backyards.

Today, Zuleyma Gomez is the Chief of Staff for the City of Central Falls. She recognizes her duty to ensure all departments of the city are responsive to the community and that everyone has their voices heard when it comes to their community. She believes that the Latino community is gaining the strength and confidence to use vastly varied experiences to create new and truly authentic angles of civic engagement. 

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Catalina Perez

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Associate Director of Youth Leadership

Born and raised in Pawtucket, RI first generation to Colombian parents, Catalina used her upbringing and experiences throughout her own public education to follow a career in the education field.

As a young person, Catalina realized first hand the lack of space and ability to use her voice to speak on needs and concerns in regard to the education she was receiving. As a high school student she was made aware of the quality of her education and lack thereof as well as not having the support of those in power to make needed changes. Regardless, she persevered to receive her Bachelor’s Degree from Rhode Island College to be the change she wanted to see for students of color in public schools in urban communities. 

Today, Catalina is the Associate Director of Youth Leadership, supporting youth organizers all throughout New England pushing for more equitable practices and policies in education. She firmly believes our young people deserve to be at the table in an authentic way and help in the creation of schools to be an equitable place for all students of color.

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Janette Perez

The latino policy institute

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Community Advocate & Innovator

As a woman of color, Janette Perez took notice early on that when seeking resources in her community, those who provided the services didn’t resemble her or the community. Once becoming a parent, she found a passion to call out these inequalities and use her voice to bring about change to those roles. 

Janette used this drive to obtain a Masters Degree in Social Work focusing in Youth and Adolescent Trauma. She has served in countless roles such as Community Design Team member, Alumni from the Parent Leadership Training Initiative, she is also a member of the Providence Schools PTO and PAC as well as Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE.) 

She currently serves as a Clinician supporting students in schools. All this work has driven her to hope to one day begin a consulting business to support Non-profits and other outreach organizations by providing support in Trauma, Self-care and the balance of school and home while living in poverty. 

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Katya Rodriguez

The latino policy institute

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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.

The latino policy institute

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Family Court Attorney at Ortiz Law Firm

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

The latino policy institute

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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

The latino policy institute

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Employment Attorney at Partridge 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

The latino policy institute

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Middle School Advisor at the College Crusade of Rhode Island

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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