9 Latino Parents Who Are Making a Big Difference in Their Community

Get inspired by these Latino parents going out of their way to make their communities a better place and encouraging their kids to follow in their footsteps.
By Damarys Ocaña Perez
November 03, 2020

Latino parents don’t wear capes. But when it comes to their communities, they are not afraid to step in and save the day. As part of our Raising Hope in America initiative, we’re highlighting some of the incredible moms and dads across the country who are doing just that—taking care of others and inspiring the next generation to do the same.

Foodie to the Rescue

La Casita Pupuseria restaurants have been a hub in the greater Washington, D.C., area for Salvadoran sever since Iris Veronica Jimenez’s parents started the business in the 1980s. “Our community here is family,” says the mom of four, who manages the restaurants with her siblings. “We have one another’s backs.” When the quarantine began, Jimenez took care of that familia by doing what she does best—feeding them. Within the first two months, she donated 1,000 meals to people who were frontline workers, homeless, unemployed, or homebound. Her kids, ages 19, 13, 8, and 7, quickly became pros at packing up pupusas and rice and beans.“ My children’s lives have totally shifted because of COVID-19,” Jimenez says. “But they’ve seen up close how taking care of those in need makes us all stronger.”

Hostess With the Mostess

Credit: Courtesy of Anais Ramos

Some of Anais Ramos’s fondest childhood memories consist of watching her grandma, Marina, seamlessly gather Latino friends, relatives, and complete strangers for cookouts and block parties in their Boston neighborhood. “She was the first one in our family to move here from the Dominican Republic, and she knew how lonely life in a new country could be,” says the digital marketer, who has an 8-year-old daughter. “Abuela (grandma) just had this way of making everyone feel at home.” So when Ramos realized she was often the only Latina at the parenting groups in her neighborhood, she decided to channel her grandmother. This past year, she created Mommies & Mimosas, a free support group for Latina and Black mothers that meets for brunch, in person or via Zoom. Over the course of an hour, the moms chat about parenting and social issues, eat good food, and hang out. In fact, at the last virtual brunch, Ramos got a deejay to spin some tunes. “I wanted to provide a safe space where people of color felt that they truly belonged,” she says. “I know Abuela would approve.”

Traveling Medic

Credit: Courtesy of Joe Hurtado

Joe Hurtado was just a kid in Peru when his aunt Josefina, who lived in America, came to visit, her suitcases packed full of donations she’d collected for Hurtado and all his classmates. Later, it was Tía (aunt) Josefina who took in his family when they immigrated to the U.S. “She always motivated me to seek out those who needed help,” says the father of two boys, 5 and 2. “That’s one of the reasons I became a physician’s assistant.” In fact, Hurtado gave up a lucrative position in New York City to work in a clinic serving low-income residents in his aunt’s neighborhood in Greenwich, Connecticut. During the coronavirus pandemic, he asked his boss for permission to make weekly home visits to patients in public housing, at his own risk. Hurtado administers checkups and COVID tests. “People are always happy to see me at their door—sometimes I’m their only visitor all day,” he says. “Their appreciation keeps me going.”

Single-Parent Advocate

Credit: Courtesy of Nelly Cuenca

Four years ago, when Nelly Cuenca found herself raising a newborn son on her own, she wondered how she’d be both “mama” and “papa” to him. “Research shows that boys who grow up without the influence of a father are more likely to drop out of school, end up in poverty, or abuse drugs,” says Cuenca, a former social worker in Dallas. “Luckily, I have a great family as a support system. But I couldn’t help but think of all the moms who didn’t.” That’s why, months after her divorce, the Mexican American mom created a nonprofit specifically for mothers of boys. The organization, MaaPaa, offers free programs including peer-to-peer support groups, tutoring for kids, mental-health counseling, and even a food bank. “Every service we offer is designed to foster a stable family life, which is more important than ever in the times we’re living in,” Cuenca says. “If you empower a mom, you empower her children too.”

Money-Smart Mami

Credit: Courtesy of Alexandra Valentin

As a child, Alexandra Valentin saw firsthand how her parents’ divorce left her mother struggling financially. “I vowed that would never happen to me,” says the Puerto Rican mom of a 2-year-old daughter in Miami. Valentin eventually found a job and success working in wealth management. But it wasn’t until she saw a friend going down a path similar to her mom’s that she discovered her true passion: teaching Latinas financial literacy. These days she runs free seminars and educational workshops, coaching women on how to buy a home, build credit, payoff debt, find a side hustle, and save for the future. “Many Latinas were raised to leave financial matters to their husbands,” Valentin says. “I want to empower women to take control of their lives.”

Boss Lady

Credit: Courtesy of Veronica Sanchez-Soto

Veronica Sanchez will never forget the Friday afternoon her father picked her up from a college class and took a detour on the way home to show her the rough neighborhood where he’d grown up in Los Angeles. “My dad was a citrus picker’s kid,” says the Mexican-American mom of two girls, ages 5 and 3. “As we drove around, he told me, ‘The moment you get to where you want to be in life, remember to turn around and help the next person up.’” Sanchez, who operates McDonald’s franchises throughout L.A., kept her promise. She recently partnered with a local shelter to employ 15 homeless women, and she’s just getting started. “I’m honored to be able to give back to the community,” she says. “My dad is so proud.”

Mechanic Turned Gardener

Credit: Courtesy of Pedro Belen

Behind a row of used vehicles and stacks of tires at Pedro Belen’s auto shop in Tampa blooms a secret garden. With the help of neighbors and loyal customers, the Nicaraguan–Puerto Rican dad transformed the overgrown, 200-square-foot lot behind his workspace into an oasis where the underserved in his community can plant flowers and harvest veggies free of charge—everything from tomatoes to carrots—all while socially distancing, of course. “People see repair shops as these greasy, ugly places,” he says. “I wanted to change that perspective and give families a safe space to enjoy some time together. The fact that people come in and feel comfortable here means so much.”

Doula on a Mission

Credit: Courtesy of Yamel Belen

“The pregnancy and postpartum periods are two of the most challenging and isolating for mothers even in the best of times,” says Yamel Belen, a Dominican-American doula and mom of five, ages 22, 19, 14, 6, and 4, in Tampa (and wife of Pedro Belen, above). “So at the start of the quarantine, my immediate thought was, ‘How can I help women know they’re not alone?’” She turned to Instagram, turning her page @onelovedoulaservices into a resource for info on everything from breathing techniques to prenatal chiropractic care. Belen also began offering free services, such as video lactation consults, a weekly virtual meet up for new mothers, and complimentary birth plans for women of color. “I think of myself as a bridge, offering support,” Belen says. “If just one mom is helped, it’s all worth it.”

Fútbol MVP

Credit: Courtesy of Rafael Alvarez

A self-described nerd, business advisor Rafael Alvarez never considered himself a “sports person.” That changed the day his son, Xander, now 12, discovered soccer and the Mexican-American dad, who lives in Culver City, California, became his number-one fan. When Xander’s soccer club, Culver City FC, needed business guidance, Alvarez sprang into action. “Myson and his friends had learned a ton on the field, including teamwork and empathy, ”he says. “I had to do something.” He volunteered as the club’s CFO and took over its books, recruitment, marketing, and—through some savvy planning and aggressive recruitment of volunteers—turned the club around. Today, Culver City FC is thriving, with 14 teams, and it even sponsors 80 low-income, mostly Latino kids. “I never imagined I’d be helping run a soccer club,” says Alvarez, who puts in as many as 40 hours a week on his side project. “But it’s one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.”

A version of this article originally appeared in Parents Latina's October/November 2020 issue as “Hometown Heroes.”