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Meet Us

Esperanza’s board and staff consist of dedicated individuals from all ages, races, ethnicities, sexual identities, religious and political ideologies, and socioeconomic upbringings. We came to the Esperanza at different times in our lives. Some of us have stayed a while, some have left, and others return and leave as their needs direct them. We are people surviving in a world overwhelmed with hate and anger, but we are also people who still hold on to hope. We believe in the role of art and culture in helping to share that hope. We believe that peace and justice can be reached, but we are people who also know that the road to esperanza, peace, and justice takes time and patience. Despite this, we are committed to the mission and vision of the Esperanza. We are Esperanza.


Amelia Valdez

Buena Gente Coordinator

Amelia Valdez was born and raised in the Westside of San Antonio. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1989 and received a scholarship for International Studies in the Caribbean through the Minority Community Scholarship Studies program. She is a published author in the anthology “Inside Separate Worlds,” which is currently being used at the University of Michigan. Amelia’s professional career started at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio as Director of Education and she was also a part of staff and policy development. During this time, Amelia also helped secure funds for youth programs and received recognition for youth development. Afterwards, Amelia worked at the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas as a Program Specialist where she played a major role in transitioning the organization to the Westside of San Antonio in order to serve more girls in the inner city.

Graciela Sanchez


Graciela follows in the footsteps of her mother and abuelitas, strong neighborhood women of color cultural workers and activists of San Antonio.  As a Buena Gente of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, a community-based cultural arts/social justice organization, Graciela works with staff and community to develop programs that culturally ground working class and poor people of color, queer people and women, individuals who are survivors of cultural genocide. Facilitating conversations on issues of colonization, genocide, power, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia among others, Graciela works with community members to develop and curate programs such as CineMujer, Uprooted: Tierra, Gente, y Cultura, Palestinians and Other Occupied Peoples, as well as organize gente to challenge oppressive laws in San Antonio, the United States and the world.

Imgard Rop

Radio Coordinator 

Imgard Akinyi Rop grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. She graduated with a BA in Journalism and Media Studies and majored in Development Communication from The University of Nairobi. She was awarded the Peace Builders Fellowship from The United Nations University for Peace, Costa Rica where she attained an MA in Media, Peace, and Conflict Studies.

She has worked on various programs with NGOs for instance Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Human Rights – specifically the rights of unaccompanied refugee children from Congo, Somalia, and Ethiopia –  and also Rain Water Harvesting with Indigenous communities.

Imgard has worked as a consultant for various films, including Street Muse Kenya and Wetu Pichu.

At the Esperanza, Imgard is in charge of coordinating radio programs and assists in media outreach.

In her free time, she likes watching documentaries and hopes to one day produce one.

Kristel A. Orta-Puente

En Aquellos Tiempos: Fotohistorias Coordinator

Looking for your voice as an artist, activist and chicana can take a lifetime to discover. My work at the Esperanza has been a perfect blend of my personal, professional, and educational interests and the first place I was ever employed that I truly felt at home. My passion for photography, history, and preservation is driven everyday by the En Aquellos Tiempos Fotohistorias project. “Fotohistorias” is a public history project that uses images collected and shared by the Westside community from the 1900s to 1950s, which are then printed on banners and installed on busy Westside streets and buildings.

The education I receive at the Esperanza is far more meaningful and valuable to me as a scholar, activist, and artist than any prestigious university could offer. Meeting elders and documenting the stories of my community has provided deeper connections to material I have studied, and insight to material not taught in schools and how to bridge those gaps through community historic preservation.

When I am not working at Esperanza, I am a professional photographer and enjoy all things that involve cameras. I am also a hoarder of amazing vintage fashions and am a thrift store expert.

Natalie Rodriguez

Grassroots Development Coordinator

Natalie was born and raised in Houston, Texas. In the year 2016, Natalie conducted her Internship and Fellowship at the Esperanza. In Fall 2016, Natalie graduated from UTSA where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology with minors in Women’s Studies and Spanish. She is currently studying Public Administration at UTSA to receive her Master’s Degree. Her passion is to organize and advocate for the LGBTQIA, POC, IMMIGRANT, and SILENCED COMMUNITIES.

At the Esperanza, Natalie with the help of Staff, Conjunto, and Buena Gente work to incorporate fundraising aspects into all of our events. As a grassroots organization, the Esperanza focuses on creating and maintaining equal relationships with all of our donors and the communities we serve. Natalie and the fundraising committees work together to organize and plan specific events in order to grow our Esperanza community, but also to ensure financially that the Esperanza can continue the work it has been doing for 30 years.

Susana Segura

Arte es Vida Project Coordinator and Barrio Historian

Susana Segura has been organizing in the Westside community since 1988. Her work has been with social service agencies, labor organizations, health awareness services and cultural arts groups but always grassroots organizing. With the demolition of La Gloria, a historic building, she started working alongside community to preserve the working class neighborhoods while making sure not to gentrify the barrio. She is currently working with Esperanza Peace and Justice Center to restore Lerma’s Nite Club, the longest running live conjunto music venue in the country, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As an organizer she is involved in campaigns of social, economic and environmental justice struggles centered around people of color, the working class and the LGBTQ community.

Conjunto Members

Norma Elia Cantu, Ph.D.

Norma E. Cantú, professor, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M at Laredo and Kingsville, respectively, and her Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. At Laredo State University, later renamed Texas A&M International University, she taught and served as Chair and Interim Dean. She was a senior arts administrator with the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC and was Acting Chair of the Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her teaching interests include Cultural Studies, Contemporary Literary Theory, Border Studies, Chicano/a and Latina/o Literature & Film, Folklore and Women’s Studies. Dr. Cantú has published articles on a number or academic subjects as well as poetry and fiction. Her publications on border literature, the teaching of English, quinceañera celebration and the matachines, a religious dance tradition have earned her an international reputation as a scholar and folklorist. She has co-edited four books and edited a collection of testimonios by Chicana scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Her award winning Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera chronicles her childhood experiences on the border. She edits the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Culture and Traditions book series at The Texas A&M University Press. She is currently the Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX.

Rachel Jennings

Rachel hails from the Appalachias. She came to San Antonio to teach at the University of the Incarnate Word and now works at San Antonio College as an adjunct professor in English.

Jan Olsen

Jan Olsen is a member of the Conjunto de Nepantleras and has been a passionate supporter of the Esperanza for over twenty years. It has been a life changing and challenging experience. Jan has lived in San Antonio since 1990 after retiring from the Army. She has been an activist and advocate in the Maternal/Child Health community as a nurse-midwife, as an arts activist and as a acupuncturist. Jan brings the lessons of intersectionality learned at the Esperanza to her work with Planned Parenthood, the peaceCenter, Stonewall Democrats, Inner City Development,among others. Recently retired, jan”s current philosophy is to “be informed, be involved and be inspired.”

Ana L. Ramirez

is a retired educator from the San Antonio Independent School District. After having taught English at Lanier, she became an administrator – Middle School & High School Principal and Human Resources Director. She then was a Teacher Certification Officer at University at the Incarnate Word and Assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Our Lady of the Lake University.

Gloria Ramirez

La Voz de Esperanza Editor

A native of Austin, Gloria has lived in San Antonio since 1977 is a retired bilingual early childhood educator. She was active in the anti-war movement and Chicanx movement as a student at UT-Austin in the late 60s and early 70s where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She has been involved with the Esperanza since its opening in 1987. Currently, she is a member of the PreK4SA board of directors, the Esperanza’s Conjunto de Nepantlera

Lillian Stevens

Lilliana Saldaña

Lilliana Patricia Saldaña is a Chicana activist scholar raised in San Antonio’s Southside. Saldaña attended Boston University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and International Relations, with a concentration in Latin American Studies and a minor in Journalism in 1998. Shortly after completing her studies, Saldaña worked at a dual-language school in San Antonio’s Westside and earned a master’s degree in Bicultural-Bilingual Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2002. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, she was involved in numerous campus-activist projects and worked in community settings, synthesizing her passion for research and social change. As a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Saldaña worked with Latina/o families to establish Nuestro Mundo, the first dual-language school in the city, and Formando Lazos, community development project with Latina immigrant mothers. She earned a doctoral degree in Human Development and Family Studies, with a minor in Chicana/o families, schools, and communities, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010. Her dissertation—“¡De mi barrio no me voy!: The identity and consciousness of Mexican American teachers at a dual-language school—examines the life histories of Raza teachers and the ways in which they transform, negotiate and reproduce the culture of schooling in San Antonio, Texas.

Nadine Saliba

Nadine is a Lebanese-Syrian immigrant who has been working with the Esperanza to educate San Antonio and South Texas residents about the struggles in the Middle East. A translator, Nadine works to bridge the gap between “American” and “Arab American” through cultural understanding and translation, literally and figuratively. She writes for La Voz de Esperanza and speaks in the community on the plight of Arab immigrants.

Rodolfo Rosales

Rodolfo Rosales was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. After receiving his BA from St. Mary’s University and his MA from Trinity University in San Antonio he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He received a Post-Doctoral Fellowship from the Ford Foundation/NRC and now is a Senior Scholar at the Ford Foundation/NRC. In the natural course of events he was then appointed to the faculty at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he is now retired as an Associate Professor. He is the author of The Illusion of Inclusion: The Untold Political Story of San Antonio (UT Press, 2000) and co-editor of Latino Urban Agency (Univ of North Texas Press, 2012).

Amy Kastely

Amy is a senior professor of law at St. Mary’s University Law School and a member of the bar in Texas and New Mexico. She is a nationally recognized authority on contract law, having co-authored a widely-known text entitled Contracting Law.  Professor Kastely also has written numerous articles exploring how law is shaped by narratives of race, gender, class, and other systems of subordination. Kastely served as lead counsel in Esperanza et al. v. City of San Antonio, the first case recognizing the importance of cultural rights in public arts funding. In addition, she has represented the Esperanza and numerous community coalitions in litigation and organizing projects involving a broad spectrum of important issues, including protection of the Edward’s Aquifer; the right of communities to use public streets, sidewalks, and parks for cultural events and political expression; racial bias in the City’s historic preservation practices; and the public’s right to witness government deliberations and to hold government officials accountable to democratic values.