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.
Liz Alvarado is an experienced educator with over two decades of expertise in bilingual education. With a diverse background in education, ranging from research and evaluation to owning and operating a Spanish immersion preschool, Liz has developed a deep understanding of the needs of dual language learners. She holds a Ph.D. in Urban Schooling from UCLA and a Master's Degree in Education Policy and Management from Harvard.
Liz's passion for promoting excellence and equity for dual language learners stems from her multiethnic heritage and her great aunt's legacy, who was the first South American woman to become a professor of medicine at Ohio State University. Her aunt’s dedication to service, mentorship, and academic excellence has been a constant source of inspiration to Liz. Liz also has a deep love for the arts. She currently sings in a band where she performs in both Spanish and English and she is the founder of Little Language Adventures, a music-based language program for children. She believes that music, stories, and the arts are powerful mediums for promoting cultural understanding and celebrating diversity. Liz is honored to be part of Californians Together and to contribute to its mission of advocating for equity in education for English learners.
Sam Finn has worked as an elementary teacher, academic researcher, and strategic consultant to state agencies. He is dedicated to supporting the field of newcomer (immigrant student) education through research, resource creation, professional development, and national organizing. Sam is a native of Oakland, California, where he lives, and remains closely connected with Oakland Unified School District. He is descended from immigrants from Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine.
Ruth Barnett Barajas
Project Director, English Learner Legacy and Leadership Initiative & Support for Immigrant and Refugee 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.
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.
Cristina Salazar, grew up in California and Jalisco, migrating in accordance with the crop season. The 17 years of migration gave her a true bilingual and bicultural education that helped shape her world views. Understanding we live in an era of globalization and fluid borders, Cristina attended Sacramento State University where she majored in International Relations to learn how we function as a global society. After graduation, she fell in love with policy and making positive change at the state level through her work in the state legislature. As a long term English learner she understands the needs of these students and is excited to advocate for them through her work with Californians Together. During her free time she enjoys photography and capturing precious moments of her daughter’s life.
Victoria 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.
Born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, David is a proud product of California’s public schools. He seeks to ensure that every student in the state has access to a high-quality education and the supports they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond. David comes to Californians Together from the Data Quality Campaign, a national education and workforce policy nonprofit, where he worked to support the organization’s communications efforts. Previously, he worked directly with students in Azusa and Baldwin Park as an afterschool and extended learning instructor—it was this experience that prompted David to consider the impact of public policy on students and families. He is particularly interested in the intersections of economic, racial, and environmental justice in education. David earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UCLA as well as a master’s in American government from Georgetown University. Outside of work, David enjoys live music, visiting museums, and supporting his UCLA Bruins.
Bilingualism and biculturalism have been a part of Tamara’s life from the beginning. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a Chicana, Tamara grew up hearing stories in both English and Spanish at home and at family gatherings on both sides of the border. Her upbringing along with an early bilingual education helped Tamara build strong cultural values and develop bilingual language skills which have shaped her life and career. As an award-winning marketing and communications professional, Tamara has helped local and national nonprofit and philanthropic organizations grow their brands and audiences for more than a decade. Through strong and consistent storytelling, she has deepened organizations’ impact in the areas of equity, opportunity, health, and the arts. Tamara holds a Master of Arts in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor of Arts in Raza Studies from San Francisco State University. Outside of work, Tamara enjoys travel, time with family, the arts, exploring nature, and wellness.
Daryl is the new finance manager for Californians Together. He has worked in nonprofit environments for almost three decades in settings that provide educational opportunities for children and support services for children and families bi-coastally. Most recently he owned and operated a company that provided outsourced financial services for nonprofits nationwide. Daryl lives in Los Angeles with his partner and children. He loves the California weather since relocating to LA 7 years ago.
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.
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.