Martha Hernandez, the oldest of nine children, is a first-generation college graduate and a role model for her siblings who also earned university degrees and are now serving as physicians, teachers, a computer programmer, an organic chemist and a doctor of pharmacy. She attributes her family’s success to her mother who was an unwavering advocate for her children with a strong belief in the power of public education. Her lifelong support of the United Farm Workers and bilingual education has fueled her commitment to causes of equity and excellence in education especially on behalf of English learners. Her 42 years of public school experience at the classroom, school, district and county levels as well as her involvement in numerous state committees will serve her well to advance the vision of Californians Together. Martha and her husband Aurelio Jaúregui are the former owners of Evita’s Mexican Café in Ventura named after their daughter. She is especially proud of her son, Juan Carlos who is an attorney and a computer software engineer.
A native Californian, Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez is very proud to be both a fifth-generation Azusa, CA resident and the daughter of a Mexican immigrant. Understanding the similarities and differences between the life experiences of her parents in California schools has driven her passion to be an advocate for all students in California public schools, but especially English Learners. Aligned with this passion, she has served on the Azusa USD Board of Education since 2001 and has served on the boards of several statewide and national non-profits. She works to provide tools and resources to educators to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment for immigrant and refugee students. You can find her project Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students here.
Since the day she became a teacher in 1970, Shelly only taught and worked in bilingual, English Learner programs. Whether she was a teacher, principal, district specialist or county consultant, her passion has been working with and for English Learners and their families. Her life has been enriched by her experiences in different settings and communities. She grew up in a home in which social justice was valued and celebrated. As an educator, advocating for English Learners became a part of who she is. It was easy to retire from the Los Angeles County Office to Education to come work for Californians Together, and leading the organization was her perfect job. We have struggled, shed tears and rejoiced in our growing ability to influence and create new policy to build multilingual programs and honor the talents and gifts of our students and their families. By working in this movement, her life-long colleagues and friends have become her extended family.
Ruth Barnett Barajas
Project Director, English Learner Legacy and Leadership Initiative & Support for Immigrant Students
Growing up in San Diego County, Ruth had opportunities to become bilingual, applying what she had learned in her Spanish courses at school, starting with a high school summer program sponsored by Rotary International, in Leon, Gto., and continuing later on with a year in Mexico City, where she lived with a host family and attended La Universidad Iberoamericana. Ever since this experience, she has been a strong advocate for English learners and native English speakers alike, working so that all students could have the opportunity to become proficient in a second (or third!) language. With over 25 years in the field of EL education, Ruth has provided instruction and leadership at school and district levels, serving as a Bilingual Teacher, EL Programs Specialist, and School Principal. As Project Director for the English Learner Leadership and Legacy Initiative (ELLLI), Ruth works with senior EL Leaders together with Fellows and Partners from throughout California to continue to build and sustain the movement for educational equity and excellence for English Learners in our schools today and in years to come.
Margarita comes from a family that has roots in both the United States and Mexico. Her parents moved their four children from Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico to Los Angeles, California when Margarita was just ten years old. Although her mother was unable to complete her own schooling, she provided unrelenting support to Margarita in pursuit of her own. Her childhood experiences in the classroom were what led her to become a bilingual teacher, and to take an active interest in the area of educator efficacy with an emphasis on student equity. She has dedicated her professional career to working in urban communities, in particular, with English learners. Margarita has a breadth of experience working in all facets of public education, from the classroom to the district, county, and university levels. Her passion, work, and personal experiences have prepared her well to support the implementation of and contribute to the success of the Educator Workforce Implementation Grant: EL Rise! She and her husband Jorge are proud parents of Marco who is an undergraduate at the University of California and Emma who is in the 7th grade in East Whittier USD. Margarita enjoys the outdoors and you can find her hiking/running in the nearby trails. She has recently taken up gardening, and now understands why her mother had a passion for it.
Manuel comes to this work as a native Californian, son of Mexican immigrants, former English learner, and first generation college graduate. He stands on the shoulders of his family and wonderful mentors and teachers at school, who worked hard to ensure he had access to opportunities. Manuel now has over ten years of experience working in public education, starting as an English learner teacher in Los Angeles. He has since worked at DC Public Schools, he was an Obama administration appointee at US Department of Education, EdBuild, and the California School Boards Association, always focusing on closing opportunity gaps and equity. During his free time, you can find Manuel in Sacramento playing soccer, running, or just at home revisiting his favorite Star Wars or Marvel movies.
Victoria is excited to serve the Californians Together - EL RISE! team. She has a passionate voice for access and equity for ALL students and an uncompromising view that every student can learn given the proper tools, motivation, and nurturing environment that encourages exploration and enhances student confidence. To achieve these goals, educators need strategic professional learning, which will deepen their knowledge and efficacy in providing meaningful and impactful instruction. Most importantly, Victoria is an advocate for literacy and believes that all educators must read to model critical thinking, creativity, and encourage collaboration among their students and their peers.
Cindy is a first-generation college student; Cindy found school challenging, which naturally caused her to dislike school for many years. However, that changed when she entered 7th grade when a school counselor enrolled her in the gifted program and challenged her by making her a peer counselor, this encouraged Cindy to become further involved in extra curricular activities. Cindy has always been passionate about running her own business one day, but she remains mindful of individuals lower socio-economic levels. When she entered CSULA she remained conflicted with attaining a business degree or focusing on society, that’s when it struck her with the idea of intersecting the too together, so she majored in Business Administration and a minor in Sociology. So, for that past 7 years she has been working with non-profits that focus on homelessness. She is now excited to venture on a journey with Californians Together that helps advocate and create more resources for today’s youth.
Suzy is the new Executive Administrative Assistant for Californians Together. She has worked in nonprofit environments for almost a decade in settings that support leadership training for immigrants and young folks of color in the greater Puget Sound area, work to create cities that embrace good planning and good government, and that strive to create a fair, equitable, and peaceful world for everyone. After living in Washington State for ten years Suzy returned to California to be closer to her grandchild and family. Suzy is excited to join the Californians Together team and advocate for equity in education for English learners.
Karina Barron is the Project Assistant for the Educator Workforce Implementation Grant: EL RISE! Karina was born and raised in South Los Angeles and is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. Since learning the story about her parents' hardships and migration from Durango, Mexico, to the United States, Karina has been passionate about education, social justice, and giving back to the community. She is committed to the vision and mission of EL RISE! and Californians Together. Karina enjoys Dodgers games, reading, quality time with loved ones, and going to concerts.
Van was born in a refugee camp in Cambodia and was brought to the US when he was 4 months old. He is bilingual in Khmer, which he uses regularly in his community. He has been with Californians Together since 2011 where his technical and administrative skills are deeply appreciated. He is committed to the vision of Californians Together and is dedicated to helping build our capacity and outreach to educators and students. He enjoys his work, because he enjoys being challenged and the people he gets to work with.
Cristal Zeas is the administrative assistant for the English Learner Leadership and Legacy Initiative and is assisting the Support for Immigrant and Refugee Students (SIRS) project for Californians Together. As a Bay Area native and daughter of Peruvian and Nicaraguense immigrants, Cristal understands the need for accessible resources to help English learners excel in their education and personal endeavors. As a student who had the opportunity to become trilingual in English, Spanish and Chinese, she’s inspired by the work Californians Together does to encourage and impact English learners and bilingualism. When she isn’t working for Californians Together, she’s working alongside bankruptcy, immigration, and dependency law attorneys to further advocate equal opportunities and justice for immigrants and their families.