When Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko addressed a group of community leaders gathered at a luncheon, the first thing he mentioned was how happy he was to work for Dr. Joseph I. Castro, the university’s president.
He is the real deal, said Bartko.
Bartko isn’t alone in his praise for Castro, who was easily the most influential Latino in the heart of California.
When he arrived on the Fresno State campus in August 2013, Castro was the first Latino – and the first from the Valley – to be chosen as Fresno State president.
“Be bold!” became more than just a catch phrase.
Fresno State began to change for the better.
Latino enrollment has doubled in the last six years, to 12,000. The university’s Chicano graduation ceremony attendance has surpassed that of the regular commencement.
Seventy percent of the university’s enrollment are first-generation students (Stanford’s is 10 percent).
When research pointed out that students suffered from hunger, Castro immediately launched a cupboard where students could get food and other essentials. This program has been duplicated by other universities and community colleges.
In the fall, U.S. News and World Report named Fresno State as the top public university in the country when it comes to reaching its graduation rate goals.
While Fresno State was named the No. 1 public university in that category, overall, it was ranked No. 220 out of about 300 of America’s largest universities.
The top universities include Princeton University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago, according to the annual rankings released Tuesday.
“To be evaluated in the same league as universities like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford speaks to the bold level of educational opportunity and quality we offer the students of the Central Valley,” said Castro. “The leap we took into the national rankings is like moving into the academic equivalent of the top athletic conference.”
Castro has proven that being bold brings great results.
2. Phil Serna
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna has moved beyond the giant shadow cast by his late father, Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr.
The son has made it clear, time and time again, that he doesn’t want to lead his political life trying to fit into his father’s shoes, but rather championing causes that helped shape his father’s life, as well as his own.
That, however, did not mean that Serna stayed in the shadows. He was a forceful critic of Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ support for controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. Jones unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Congressman Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.
Serna also focused on community. He led a county effort to make March 31 a holiday in honor of farm labor leader César E. Chávez. One hundred county workers participated in community service projects at area nonprofits and social service agencies. Serna held a ceremony at César Chávez Park in downtown Sacramento to recognize the holiday.
The supervisor was also a strong proponent
And speaking to Chávez’s legacy, Serna was one of the strongest proponents of a state bill aimed at providing overtime pay for farmworkers. He lobbied state lawmakers, including Republicans, to support AB 1066, authored by Assemblymember Lorena González, D-San Diego. When the UFW and other organizations supporting the bill convened for rallies at the state Capitol, Serna was there. Afterwards, Serna said it was a moment where “economic and social justice had been served.”
3. Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar
It didn’t take long for Cuéllar to make an impact on the California Supreme Court. Though most of the court’s decisions fail to generate much news, a 4-3 decision by the court not to review Vergara v. California sparked a sharp dissent by Cuéllar.
In the case, an appellate panel had overruled a Superior Court ruling that teachers’ job protections go so far that they violate a student’s constitutional guarantees of equal treatment.
“”There is a difference between the usual blemishes in governance left as institutions implement statutes or engage in routine trade-offs and those staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise. Knowing the difference is as fundamental as education itself,” wrote Cuéllar in his dissent.
4. Joe Del Bosque
The Firebaugh-area farmer hosted President Barack Obama in 2015, and soon his place became a “must-visit” for any politician seeking office.
He has become a leading voice for farmers in the Central Valley who want the federal government to deliver the water that has been promised to them.
In December, that effort appeared to pay off when President Obama signed legislation that included efforts to unloosen federal regulations to make more water available for agriculture.
5. Ricardo Lara
No other state Senator championed important causes for undocumented immigrants like Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. He introduced SB 1139, the Medical DREAMER Opportunity Act to help address the chronic shortage of medical professionals in underserved communities by ensuring that all people, regardless of their immigration status, have access to the state’s scholarship and loan forgiveness programs for health professionals.
The bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. According to Lara, there are many talented students who do not benefit from the resources of California in pursuing a medical career because of their immigration status.
Lara also won a huge victory when Brown signed SB 10, best known as the #Health4all bill, which allows all Californians – regardless of immigration status – to purchase health insurance through a state exchange. California became the first state in the country to request a waiver from the Obama Administration to allow undocumented residents the ability to purchase unsubsidized health insurance through Covered California, the state’s exchange.
Lara also spent a large portion of his time traveling throughout the state promoting #Health4allkids, an expansion through Medi-Cal that provides all low-income children, regardless of immigration status, health coverage. An estimated 170,000 children stand to benefit from the legislation.
Lara also tackled discrimination with SB 1146, a bill that requires private universities receiving public funds to publicly disclose if they discriminate against students on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. If found that they do, state funds could be retracted.
6. Izamar Olaguez
The Bakersfield native did not win Miss California 2016, but she did come in third overall in the July pageant held in Fresno. Olaguez, who finished second in 2015, has been an outstanding ambassador for a pageant that has started to draw more Latina contestants in recent years.
Olaguez, who changed her talent from singing mariachi tunes to Broadway songs, competed in five Miss California Pageants.
7. Tim Z. Hernández
The Valley native is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, but writing is nothing new to him. This year, he will release a book that looks at the lives of the undocumented immigrants who perished in a 1948 airplane crash near Coalinga.
The 28 men who died were buried without names attached to their grave. Hernández eventually found out the names of the dead and led an effort to a marker with their names to be placed at their burial site at a Fresno cemetery.
8. Moses Zapien
Zapien, after serving two years as a Stockton city councilman, was appointed in January to the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to fill an unexpired term. In his first meeting on the board, he was elected its chairman.
He spearheaded a move to hold at least five supervisors meetings in evening hours, saying citizens who worked needed opportunities to participate in government, and moving some meetings to evening hours would allow that.
His tenure as chairman of the board was often difficult, as members of the Service Employees International Union sought ways to disrupt supervisors’ meetings while their contract talks continued. Zapien was forced, as chairman, to call off one meeting because of the constant disruptions and clear the room at another, again because of the disruptions.
Although he was defeated in his run for the seat in November, Zapien intends to continue to serve the public. Among his many accomplishments outside his role as a supervisor is the establishment of nearly 100 Little Free Libraries in and around Stockton to promote literacy.
9. Martín Mares
Mares founded the Ivy League Project in 1992 with newspaper columnist Rubén Navarrete. The project connects mostly Latino students with Ivy League schools so that they can understand those universities are not off limits to them.
More than 260 students have been accepted to those universities.
In 2016, Mares left the Parlier school district to become CEO of the non-profit organization and immediately began to create more Ivy League Projects at more sites in California, Arizona and Texas.
10. Antonio Villaraigosa
The former Los Ángeles Mayor has been out of office since 2013, but he became very visible during numerous visits to the San Joaquín Valley as part of a listening tour.
In the days after the November general election, Villaraigosa announced he would be running for governor.
11. Henry R. Perea
The Fresno County Supervisor has been in office since 1991 when he was appointed to the Fresno County Board of Education. Since then, he has served as a Fresno City Councilmember and supervisor.
In 2016, Perea ran for mayor of California’s fifth-largest city and lost by 3 percentage points to Fresno City Councilmember Lee Brand.
For the 64-year-old Perea, 2017 will be the first time in a quarter of a century that he will not be in elected office.
12. Eric Guerra
Along with his colleague and former employer, Sacramento County Supervisor Serna, Guerra has paved a strong path since becoming the only Latino elected to the Sacramento City Council in April 2015. He was a policy analyst at the state Capitol when he decided to run for the seat when it was vacated by Kevin McCarty. Guerra knows the firsthand struggles of immigrants.
Guerra, a former farmworker who once lived out of his car, worked alongside Serna in pushing for the farmworker overtime bill.
Guerra also eased the fears of Latino residents when the state Capitol witnessed one of the worst violent clashes in its history between two groups with opposing views on then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump during a rally that left few hurt and one stabbed. Uniting with a group coalition of community leaders and lawmakers, Guerra gave a few words to ease the fears of immigrant communities and Latinos about the possibility of violence surging in Sacramento due to Trump support. In both English and in Spanish, Guerra’s message was clear: Sacramento is a place of tolerance and a place for everyone.
In the months leading up to the November election, he urged Latinos to register to vote during National Voter Registration Day.
13. Rubén Villalobos
The 43 year-old was appointed Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge by Gov. Jerry Brown on Dec. 24, 2014. Villalobos, of Panamanian descent, was a Modesto City School board member prior to his appointment. He became a lawyer on Dec. 2, 1998. Villalobos and his brother Aaron Villalobos opened their own practice in 2012.
“I had a great career, taking part in more than 150 jury trials. I most enjoyed interacting with citizens appearing in my juries. I’ll be doing the same thing (as judge), just in a different way, “ Villalobos told The Modesto Bee back in December, 2014. “Perhaps the most important thing an attorney or judge can do is work to make the law more accessible to the general public.”
In 2016, Villalobos focused on working in multiple trials, with much success.
14. Fernando Cabada
The Buchanan High School graduate exploded onto the world marathon scene when he clocked 2 hours, 12-minute in his marathon debut in Japan. He eventually lowered his personal best to 2:11:36 at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.
In the U.S. Olympic Qualifying trials in Los Ángeles, Cabada disappointed himself when he struggled to 55th place with a time of 2:27:53. It was nowhere near his personal record of 2:11:10 at the 26.2 mile distance.
He felt like dropping out of the trials, but he couldn’t find a place to disappear into.
But he couldn’t find a place to do so.
“I was trying to figure out how to drop out without many people seeing me,” he said. “But I kept hearing my name. I was wishing that everyone would quit cheering for me because I was doing so horribly, but at every turn there was someone yelling my name.”
15. Loretta Sánchez
The brash Orange County Congresswoman was the only top Democrat to dare challenge early U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris and ended up facing the state Attorney General in the November general election.
Hamstrung by name recognition in Northern California, Sánchez won only two counties as Harris swept to victory.
Sánchez had hoped to encourage more Republicans to vote for her in the all-Democrat general election. That effort failed.
In the first edition of 2016, the staff at Vida en el Valle identified the 16 Latinos to keep an eye on during the new year. We identified them because we thought they would influence the news in their environments. One year later, Vida en el Valle revisits the list and ranks the most influential Latinos of 2016.