Just weeks away from our second pandemic anniversary, 2022 looks like another year of uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, with long-term impacts for future generations.

In the Philadelphia area, Latinos — who make up 15% of the population — continue to face losses: jobs and economic stability, health and wellness and loved ones including their community leaders. But, in the last year, there have been prominent initiatives as well.

The Inquirer has created a list to highlight significant accomplishments of eight Latino individuals and groups in 2021.

The list is by no means complete. But it acknowledges the talent, effort, and impact of public servants, creatives, service professionals, and others. Throughout 2022, The Inquirer will continue to report on the work of Latinos in the region.

Help us report on the achievements of our region’s communities by recommending Latinos for their work in 2022. Fill out this online form or send a text message to the Latino Communities WhatsApp number: 267-908-1438.

INDIVIDUALS

Joanna Otero-Cruz, executive director and president of Women Against Abuse

Joanna Otero-Cruz is a leader in the nonprofit and government sectors in the Philadelphia area, working for agencies serving children, families, and survivors of intimate partner violence.

In November, she was named the executive director and president of Women Against Abuse, where she now oversees the strategic and operational implementation of the organization’s mission, at a time when Philadelphians experiencing relationship abuse are also navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the gun violence crisis.

Of Puerto Rican and Costa Rican descent, Otero-Cruz is a 2007 graduate of Peirce College’s Business Administration program, with a concentration in management. She grew up in North Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood.

From 1999 to 2010, she was the director for behavioral and family health services at Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a nonprofit focused on the self-sufficiency and well-being of Philadelphia’s Latino community. For the next six years, she served as the executive director of the nonprofit Concilio, one of the oldest Latino organizations in Philadelphia, where she revamped the organization by creating and executing a new strategic plan, internal restructuring, and board development.

In 2016, Otero-Cruz was appointed by Mayor Jim Kenney as deputy managing director of community services for the City of Philadelphia, where she oversaw eight city departments and a $23 million budget.


Magdalis Melo, Philadelphia city director for International Interior Design Association’s PA/NJ/DE chapter

Magdalis Melo, an interior designer born in Dominican Republic and raised in Atlantic City, N.J. was one of the Pennsylvania chapter members highlighted in April by the American Society of Interior Design for her business’ mission and success in the Philadelphia region.

Melo is a 2008 graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia’s Interior Design program and holds a certification in project management from Temple University.

In 2013, she founded Magda Green Design, a full-service architecture and interior design firm in Philadelphia, certified as a minority-owned, managed, and controlled business in the region.

Melo, who has worked on residential and commercial design projects as well as community events, is also the founder of Serene, a nonprofit dedicated to building interior spaces that provide dignity for communities in need through her architecture firm.

In July, she was named Philadelphia city director for the International Interior Design Association’s PA/NJ/DE chapter, a two-year term voluntary position that drives growth and leadership through networking and community events.


Luis Figueroa, nominated “Best Pop Artist,” 2021 Heat Latin Music Awards

Luis Figueroa, a Miami-based singer and songwriter, was nominated in the “Best Pop Artist” category for the 2021 Heat Latin Music Awards.

As a child, Figueroa participated in Temple University’s children’s choir and Philadelphia’s Lights of Liberty and in talent shows, such as Star Search (2003), Sábado Gigante and American Idol (2007). He attended the Girard Academic Music Program and the Artistas y Músicos Latinoamericanos Latin Music School.

A Philadelphia native of Puerto Rican descent, he is a 2011 graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music in business management and contemporary writing & production.

Upon graduation, Figueroa was hired as a music composer and producer in Los Angeles for the Canadian music group Magic. He joined a reggaetón music band together with singers Pedro Capó y Christian Pagán. In 2012, he was hired by Dominican singer Romeo Santos to join his Fórmula, Vol. 1 Tour as a vocalist.

In 2016, Figueroa’s ballad arrangement of Marc Anthony’s “Flor Pálida” on YouTube captured the attention of MAGNUS Media, the salsa legend’s management and entertainment company, which led him to a management deal. It also led to a joint live performance with the Puerto Rican artist at the July awards ceremony that year for Univisión’s Premios Juventud. Figueroa won his first award that night for the best cover posted on social media.

In 2020, he performed the opening act for Marc Anthony’s U.S. OPUS Tour. He also released his first single, “La Especialista,” for Sony Music Latin.

In May 2021, Figueroa was the engineer, producer and executive producer for Canciones del Alma, his debut album. He achieved his first #1 on the Billboard chart with his single “Hasta El Sol De Hoy.”

In the 2021 Heat Latin Music Awards, Figueroa competed for “Mejor Artista Pop” against Luis Fonsi, Ricardo Montaner, Greeicy, Sebastián Yatra, Aitana, Carlos Rivera, and Camilo, who won the category. The awards ceremony took place in July in the Dominican Republic. Figueroa performed at Philadelphia’s 6abc Dunkin’ Thanksgiving Day parade in November.


Julieta Zavala, honored as one of 37 Mexican artists in the U.S. by Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry

Julieta Zavala is a fashion designer from Mexico City who makes environmentally friendly apparel by repurposing denim, cambaya, and other fabrics imported from Mexico.

Zavala, a 2014 graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, is inspired by her Mexican culture and heritage. She tailors under her brand, Julieta Zavala Sewing and Design, at her home workshop in Newark, Del.

In July, Zavala showcased a new collection at the first Latino communities crafts fair held at the Cherry Street Pier. She was invited to Penn Museum’s 2021-2022 CultureFest, producing a catrina runway for the Día de los Muertos event in October with makeup artists Dayesla Ixtli, Mónica Martínez Quiroz, Letty Pineda, and Graciela Cruz.

Zavala was selected in late 2021 as one of the 37 Mexican artists based in the U.S. to attend the second annual binational artists gathering held by Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Institute for Mexicans Abroad in Mexico City in November.


Nasheli Ortiz-González, executive director for Taller Puertorriqueño

Nasheli Ortiz-González, a fashion designer, entrepreneur, and educator, was named executive director of the Latino arts and culture hub Taller Puertorriqueño in October.

A native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Ortiz-González received a master’s in fine arts from Savannah College of Art & Design, a bachelor’s in fine arts from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas of Puerto Rico as well as an associate’s degree in Fashion Design from Altos de Chavón in Dominican Republic, affiliated with Parsons The New School of Design.

She has worked for designers based in New York, Italy, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Her designs have been shown at Paris, London, New York, and Miami Fashion Weeks and have been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, and Forbes, among other publications.

In 2017, Ortiz-González was named chair and associate professor for the Fashion Design department at Moore College of Art and Design. In 2020, she was featured in the Netflix series Next in Fashion, and was named one of Al DÍA News’ 40 Under 40.


Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates

Signe Espinoza (she/her/ella), a public health expert, was named in October executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the nonprofit advocating for accessible and affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all Pennsylvanians.

Of Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan descent, Espinoza received a master’s degree from Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health in 2019.

Espinoza interned with Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates in 2018 before working as a program manager for the nonprofit Susan G. Komen Philadelphia in 2019. She joined Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates as its policy director in February 2020 and was named interim executive director in April 2021.

A Conshohocken resident, Marvel geek, and avid reader, Espinoza is also a board cochair of The Abortion Liberation Fund.


COMMUNITY COLLABORATIONS

Alianza Latina’s Latin America Thrives in Philadelphia

Alianza Latina Philadelphia (ALAPH) is an initiative coordinated by Philly’s Latino community leaders to promote civic and political engagement in the city. The group came together during the 2020 presidential election.

In 2021, it focused on creating partnerships with Hispanic and Latino groups in Philadelphia to promote joint projects like the Latin America Thrives in Philadelphia, a market fair that brought together Philadelphia-area representatives from nearly a dozen Latin American countries for the first time.

The outdoor market was held in LOVE Park in October and had 25 makers, artists, food vendors, and entrepreneurs who showcased traditional dishes, performances, jewelry, and textile products from such countries as Brazil, Peru, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and others.


South Philly’s Taller de Superhéroes

Artists José Lemus, Antonio Arroniz, and Ari Gutiérrez worked alongside South Philly residents and their family members on Taller de Superhéroes, an arts initiative workshop that took place at Puentes de Salud in early 2020. It was created to explore the ancestral roots and memories that parents share with their children about their migration journeys.

Participants created superhero costumes inspired by the conversations between them and their children. Within this artistic inspiration, which features symbols and myths of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the group created poems intertwining their experiences with magical tales of nature. These poems became the inspiration for an animated video of the stories assembled with mythical alebrijes creatures.

In June, Taller de Superhéroes was presented at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and had an exhibition run at the Alumni Gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The project’s animated video was selected for Migrant Cinema Week, which took place in Mexico City’s National Cineteca in December.