Celebrando: Latinx Leaders Impact Chattanooga

Candy Giron, Lily Sanchez & Lizzie Hickman

La Paz Chattanooga advocates for our city’s Latinx population. Since opening more than 15 years ago, La Paz has seen the community flourish and expand with entrepreneurs and professionals who help create a vibrant, diverse business community.

La Paz believes the Latinx community is a great asset to Chattanooga and its economy, promoting inclusion through advocacy, educating individuals on Latinx culture and developing Latinx leaders in our community. 

La Paz took a leadership role as a Velocity2040 partner, including translating the main website and survey – ensuring Latinx voices helped shape the Velocity2040 vision.

What is Velocity2040? In 2018, community leaders and volunteers helped create a bold, ambitious plan for Chattanooga and Hamilton County’s future for the next 20 years and more than 5,000 community members completed the Velocity2040 survey. Responses indicated five priorities: learning, thriving, leading, collaborating and getting from A to B in 20 minutes or less.

“Our expectation is not just that Latinx leaders are qualified in areas of transportation and job placement equity, we consider what’s missing in our community,” says Angela Garcia, Business Development Director, La Paz Chattanooga. “We want to ensure that by 2040, Chattanooga will have the capacity to engage our community to achieve the Velocity goals. We want to help identify how the Latinx community contributes to economic mobility.”

La Paz honors Latinx leaders (latinx (la-teen-ex) is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina) and professionals at the Latino Leadership Awards at the Chattanooga Convention Center Sept. 16. Recognition of local Latinx leaders pairs perfectly with Hispanic Heritage month, celebrated in September.

The community nominates individuals for the Latino Leadership Awards, and past honorees determine recipients. It’s an exciting time to recognize new faces and an orgullo (or-goo-yo), or honor, to commemorate long-standing ones.

“I look for people who are accomplished either in their career or volunteer life. People who demonstrate the value of immigrants in all communities, and those who help others succeed,” says committee member Raquel Hidalgo, Partnership FCA and El Quijote Catering.

Latino Leadership Award Honorees Impact Community

José Alfaro
Director of Growth (COO), CO.STARTERS
El Salvador

Alfaro works to build strong, sustainable business models to support work at scale. He appreciates a creative approach to helping individuals and communities thrive through entrepreneurship. His first business was a catering company, but his dream is to build a sustainable food accelerator that supports minorities by expressing their culture through food.

Who or what has inspired you in your career? 

“My uncle Juan Alvarez came with nothing from El Salvador, but through hard work and sacrifice he built some of the most revered restaurants in the DC area. He reminds me that people need a chance to succeed.”

Dominique Brandt
Development Director, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area
Dominican Republic

Brandt was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic before moving to Miami. She moved into her current role after joining Habitat as Director of Volunteers and Events 11 years ago.  She’s passionate about affordable housing and serving organizations focused on the arts as well as ending human trafficking. She lives by Maya Angelou’s assertion, “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”

What makes you proud of your heritage?

“Latinos are not a monolith. We are as diverse as our countries of origin. Growing up in Miami gave me a unique perspective on being Latinx. Immigrants from all over the Caribbean, Central and South America made for a rich Latinx culture unified by language and our choice to make the U.S. our country of residence. I’m proud to represent my native Dominican Republic and share the richness of its history and culture.”

Carol Guerra
Library Services Specialist and Passport Acceptance Agent, Chattanooga Public Library

Born and raised in Panama, Guerra moved to the U.S. to study art and worked as a graphic designer before moving into early childhood and language education. Today, she assists the public at the Chattanooga Downtown Library with library resources, services and programs.

What do you love about your job? 

“I love working as a Passport Acceptance Agent. Being bilingual allows me to be more efficient during the process for Latinx families. They feel less anxious having the application process explained in Spanish. In addition, our Passport Services Department participates in local naturalization ceremonies. I share in the excitement of applicants obtaining their U.S. passports for the first time after becoming naturalized citizens. It reminds me of my experience becoming a citizen of this beautiful country.”

Ricardo Guerrero
Director Organizational Development, Volkswagen Chattanooga

Guerrero has over 18 years of experience as a Volkswagen human resources leader, first in Mexico before transitioning to Volkswagen Chattanooga in 2018.

Why is it important to support local Latinx businesses?

“Our community is growing fast, and day by day there’s more Latino participation. It’s never easy to establish a new brand, concept or business no matter what your background. Being an entrepreneur is a tough journey, and you need support from everyone in the community.”

Carmen Jiménez
Professor, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Puerto Rico

Jiménez holds a Ph.D. in Afro-Hispanic literature. She’s a Spanish professor at UTC and teaches all levels with a specialized course in translation. Jiménez helps organize UTC’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration and freelances as a translator.

What do you love about your job? 

“My job allows me to be a life-long learner while encouraging me to be creative and grow as a professional. My colleagues are hard-working professionals and are devoted to inspiring students to develop potential. Together, we teach our students to appreciate and love the diverse Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures.”

Ricky Leveron
Keller Williams Realty

Leveron came to the U.S. in 2012 at age 19 with the goal of impacting people’s lives. He fell in love with Chattanooga and today he works at Keller Williams and enjoys helping friends and clients achieve one of their biggest goals in life − home ownership. 

Who or what has inspired you in your career? 

“My grandfather inspired me most. He was a hard-working businessman who never gave up. He emulated who I want to be for my future family. My team leader at Keller Williams, Nathan Brown, is also a big inspiration as to whom I want to be come in the near future. He is an amazing leader.”

Jocelyn Loza
Marketing and Public Relations Strategist, Signal Centers
Founder, Latina Professionals of Chattanooga

Loza is a native of Chicago with Puerto Rican and Salvadoran roots. She’s a graduate of Andrews University, where she studied foreign language and public relations, and Walden University, where she earned a master‘s in business marketing. Today she’s a veteran in the field of marketing and public relations with experience in organizations ranging from corporate to nonprofit. In addition to her current work at Signal Centers, she founded Latina Professionals of Chattanooga, a professional development group that empowers minority women and promotes inclusion and advancement.

How do you inspire the next generation of Latino leaders?

“I have always assisted the next generation of Latino leaders, specifically Latinas, with developing a strategic roadmap to reach their career goals by connecting them to key resources that support their journey. Launching Latina Professionals of Chattanooga gives me the platform to increase my mission’s visibility, empower Latinas at different career levels and changing the overall status of Latinas in our city.”

Obadías Márquez
Physician, Tennova Healthcare

Dr. Marquez has 18 years' experience in the medical field. He’s a former member of the Critical Care Air Transport Team and a flight surgeon with the Air Force Reserve. He joined the Internal Medicine Group in 2005 and currently serves patients at Tennova Ooltewah. 

Who or what has inspired you in your career? 

“When I was a young boy, a boat with medical personnel stopped along the river in the town I’m from. I saw the positive effect on the quality of life of the people in my community. From that time forward I have wanted to help others in this capacity. I get up every day and live my dream. There is nothing I would rather do than learn more about medicine and apply that knowledge to help improve the lives of my patients.”

Antonia Morgan
Compliance Officer, City of Chattanooga
Puerto Rico/Costa Rica

In her Compliance Officer role, Morgan evaluates the City’s conformity in relation to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 federal law, collaborating with other departments and entities.

She engages not only with City employees, but also with constituents in providing information and resources to address their concerns related to Civil Rights, Fair Housing and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Morgan is passionate about civil rights and using our voices for change for all.

Why is it important to support local Latinx businesses?

“First, it ensures economic prosperity locally. Second, it serves as a key factor for increased wages and financial stability for local families, and thirdly, it adds diversity which guarantees a broader base of different products and services to the local markets, thus creating competition and better prices for all consumers. My family and I frequent several local restaurants, much more than I should; but, we love our Spanish foods and the variation in cuisine.”

Not pictured: Maria Alvarez, Chattanooga Airport and Hamilton County Health Department

Learn more about La Paz here. 

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