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

The latino policy institute

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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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Dr. Taino Palermo

The latino policy institute

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RWU Law student & President of the Native American Law School Association

Growing up as a military kid, Taino and his sisters were born in many different parts of the world but always called the Bronx, New York home. During the 80’s and 90’s life in New York was distinctly different from the life they knew in Puerto Rico, however their family maintained a strong connection to their indigenous identity as Taino Indians, hence his name. It was important that they never forgot who they were and where they came from.  

In college, Taino participated in after-school tutoring that set him on the path of being an educator and advocate for the coming generations. Taino noticed that for the Latino middle school students he worked with it was hard to believe that someone just like them was able to attend college. He knew then how important it was to serve as a model; but even more so, how important it is for those in underrepresented positions to demystify the pathway to make it easier for those who come after them. This understanding led Taino to a decade-long career in community economic development and education reform. Today, Taino is a part of the Class of 2022 Roger Williams University Law School and serves as the President of the American Indian Law Student Association.

Taino points to the fact that Rhode Island will be a majority Latino state in the not so distant future. He believes that, “we are too numerous in this state and in this country to not flex our collective impact to develop policies and programs that benefit our communities.”

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Jessica Vega

The latino policy institute

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City Council President for the City of Central Falls

Born and raised to a Dominican family, Jessica Vega describes her inner circle as a very close-knit community within a community. When she migrated to the United States from La Romana, Dominican Republic, at a young age with her older sister, Central Falls was the first place they called home. As her family began their new life in Rhode Island, she also spent time in Providence and went through the Providence Public School system which allowed her to have friends and experiences in both cities. 

Attending schools where teachers’ expectations weren’t much of anything for their students, as a brown-skinned, non-native English speaker these experiences lit a fire for Jessica as to what her career would look like with her. Her goal was to dismantle the unnecessary challenges her community faced and she found her passion in working with youth. After receiving her Bachelor’s from Rhode Island College she worked as a high-school advisor, where she ran after-school programs and assisted students beginning their journey to college. 

Jessica wears many hats in her community from Chair of the Central Falls Juvenile Hearing Board working to prevent youth from any criminal justice involvement by keeping child behaviors as child behaviors instead of criminal offense, to teaching students the power of civic engagement through the Democratic process called Participatory Budgeting. Her ultimate goal is to teach our students about the power of civic engagement through the democratic process. 

For Jessica, as a Latina, through her experiences and her work she was fascinated and frustrated by the folks who make decisions for communities they’ve never set foot in. To change that narrative, Jessica ran for the city council in Central Falls in 2018 to support her community in a different capacity as a public servant. Jessica now serves as City Council President for the City of Central Falls. She believes it is crucial for Latinos and BIPOC communities to understand that politics affect their daily lives and access to resources even if it may not be of interest to them.

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Joshua Seguî- Rodriguez

The latino policy institute

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Policy Associate at The Latino Policy Institute

Joshua Seguí-Rodríguez was born in the United States to a Puerto Rican single mom. Raising five children by herself, there came a time when she had to make the difficult decision to send Joshua and two of his siblings to live with their father in Puerto Rico due to food insecurity. Although the circumstances of his move were difficult, Joshua points to this as an invaluable experience that connected him to his culture and created his passion for making meaningful contributions to his community. 

At a young age, Joshua’s mother sat him down to explain that some people were going to hate him simply because he was a man of color and a proud Boricua. Being Latino influenced him deeply because of his early understanding of prejudice and injustice. Embracing his Puerto Rican identity, he learned as much about his history as he could. By understanding the similarities and differences between the history of his people and other historically oppressed groups, Joshua developed a strong sense of solidarity with people who have been relegated to the margins of society. 

Living in the mountains of Puerto Rico without running water, where he had much less materially and yet he and his community were happier, has helped Joshua chart his career trajectory. People’s connections ran deeper and everyone was so quick to gather, simply to be together. After serving as an administrator and educator in higher education doing racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion work, Joshua is excited to join the Latino Policy Institute’s team as a Policy Associate to do his part to build the sort of community he wants to live in. 

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Adriana Dawson

The latino policy institute

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Community Engagement Director at Verizon

While born and raised in Rhode Island, Adriana’s roots connect to the first Colombians to arrive in Rhode Island. Settling in Central Falls, her family assisted new arrivals with housing, employment and other new world needs. As a young child she also played a role in this work as an interpreter and navigator. While she was deeply immersed in her growing and thriving Latino community, while at school she experienced the complete. As one of only three Latinos in her Catholic school she felt like a cultural double agent straddling two very different worlds.

Adriana is also a first generation professional. She came from hard working factory workers who worked long days; Family dinner conversations never consisted of stories of the office or their industry. Her lived experiences launched her career and have continued to guide her professionally these past 25+ years. She has been in six  different industries and in each one she has led, guided and informed employers on how to authentically launch and engage in new flavorful markets. Adriana has braided her cultural fluency and business acumen to amplify the power of community. 

As a Latina, Adriana expresses how much Latinos have influenced and impacted every facet of the American experience from the economy, to our media, to food and music. Especially with the explosive growth and evolution of the amazing contributions Latinos have made in each and every sector of Rhode Island. 

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Marinel Russo

The latino policy institute

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Manager of Early Childhood Initiatives 

Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Marinel grew up around family, immersed in her culture. Although all of that changed at the ripe age of 16 when her mom, siblings and herself immigrated to the United States to reunite with her father. This was a huge uproot for a teenager, new country, new language and new surroundings. Her  parents were determined to overcome those difficult moments to create a beautiful new life filled with opportunities for their family. 

After graduating high school, Marinel graduated from Baruch College in New York. It was also there that she met her husband and they returned to Rhode Island where he had grown up to begin a family. After having her two oldest daughters, Marinel felt she wanted to do more professionally than her marketing analyst position. For her, teaching young English learners was a full circle passion for her as she understood the challenges they faced and their struggles. It was during her student teaching that she was introduced to an opportunity at the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children working to assess the quality of childcare programs in Rhode Island. In her current role as Manager of Early Childhood Initiatives, she oversees initiatives such as T.E.A.C.H Early Childhood RI, a scholarship and workforce development program that provides financial opportunities and counseling support to the early childhood workforce. 

As a Latina woman, Marinel points to her heritage as an influence for the way she approaches her work with the same conviction and passion as the food she feeds her family. She wants her daughters to grow up feeling just as proud. Latinos enrich our world from their emphasis on family, culture and history. To her, they are Americans who also don’t forget where they come from. 

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Elliot Rivera

The latino policy institute

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Executive Director of Youth in Action

Growing up in Worcester, MA as a first generation Salvadoran, Elliot Rivera did not have the access to most resources. What he did have were two dedicated parents working countless hours in manufacturing and janitorial services to get by. Never really thinking he would end up working with people, opportunities to support his communities from fighting within a union for undocumented worker rights to supporting youth in multiple settings came naturally to Elliot. 

As a person of Latine heritage, Elliot’s connection to his work and the journey of it is rooted in his deep core connection to all aspects of his culture. Now proudly calling Providence RI home, in his current role as the Executive Director of Youth in Action he is not only to amplify the stories and journeys of the next generation but also support them in their own journeys by opening doors to experiences and opportunities he was never afforded. 

For Elliot, the Latinx experience is a story of strife, persistence and love with an eye for community. Across all aspects of music, food and storytelling, He finds connections to his people through stories of his predecessors and their journeys and uses them to continue that legacy today and forward.  Celebrating each individual wholey– con mucho ritmo!

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Jennifer Gaviria

The latino policy institute

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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

The latino policy institute

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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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