Third Annual Fellowship Team    

  Mario Salinas


Mario Salinas, community organizer for Mi Familia Vota Texas and co-founder of ELL, is a fourth generation Houstonian engages daily in making the state he calls home the best it can be, now and in the future.

Both sides of Mario’s family grew up in historic Sixth Ward, in the heart of Houston. His maternal grandparents both worked in the cotton fields of South Texas and later worked in the factories that employed the residents of Houston’s early Mexican-American enclaves. Mario’s maternal grandmother retired as a janitor from a Houston-area school district, very proud of the small pension it earned her. Mario’s paternal grandfather came to work as a bricklayer in Houston from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico in the 1950s. The rest of his family, including Mario’s father at age 3, came to join him a few years later. Mario’s paternal grandfather, father, aunts and uncles naturalized as US citizens in the 1990s and exercise their right to vote at every opportunity.

A few hours after his birth, Mario was found flat-lined in the hospital nursery. After being revived, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and his parents were told he would never walk nor talk. Through many years of physical therapy, Mario was able to beat the odds and far exceeded doctors’ expectations. He began school in special education courses, but by the end of high school he was able to graduate with all honors and gifted and talented courses. He has been exposed to every level of public education available which has given him a wide perspective on the educational challenges facing the Houston area. While in high school, Mario also published his own local magazine or “zine,” served as head editor of his school newspaper, and oversaw the creation of an advanced mural painting class based on his mural designs. Mario is the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Houston – Downtown in 2008.

After college, he was a member of the inaugural class of City Hall Fellows, serving in the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. In 2009, he was approached by a group of community leaders to help establish Latino Giving Houston, which exists to supply funding to local Latino-serving 501(c)3s while establishing a culture of philanthropy among young Latino professionals. Although he still deals with a speech impediment, he was voted president of Heights Toastmasters in 2010 and has won numerous speech contests at different levels of competition. In January of 2012, he gave a TEDx talk in the Houston area about overcoming the negative labels and lowered expectation some may have held about him growing up, and related those lowered expectation to some of the challenges Houston’s Latino population faces moving in to the future.

His local governmental engagement experience includes being a member of Latino community coalition that made the new Houston City Council District J a reality during the redistricting process of 2011; going so far as to travel to San Antonio to assist in creating an alternative district map to present to Mayor Parker and City Council. He worked in the Public Works Department for the City of Houston for a number of years and served as the immediate past president of Latino Giving Houston.

Mario joined Mi Familia Vota in early 2014, as much attention is focused on the Texas Latino population, and the impact the growing community may have in statewide elections and policy in the coming decades. As the political parties court Texas Latinos with baited breath, the message needs to be relayed from Latinos to lawmakers that issues like immigration reform have real-world, daily consequences and that Texas Latinos will not stand by why we are scapegoated and taken for granted. With over half of Texas youth being Latino, the importance of establishing the positive habit of civic engagement early on needs to be relayed far and wide. An identity of empowerment needs to be adopted.

Mario hopes to be an example to the Texas Latino community of how negative labels and lowered expectations are meant to be shattered.

Carlos Duarte


Carlos Duarte currently helps promote civic participation within the Latino community as the Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. Over the past few months, he has also served as a teacher and leader to the ELL Fellows by guiding and motivating them to be confident, knowledgeable, and assertive.

Carlos is a Mexican immigrant who has worked on progressive social change for the past 20 years, both in Mexico and the United States.

For the past 15 years, Carlos has worked diligently in advancing the interests of working families and the immigrant and Latino communities in Arizona and Texas. He was honored to represent the Mexican community in Arizona by addressing former Mexican President Vicente Fox during his 2003 visit. Carlos has also worked with the Industrial Areas Foundation, Arizona State University’s Building Great Communities, Roofers Union, and Service Employees International Union. He has volunteered in numerous boards and commissions and is a recognized Latino leader having received numerous awards.

Carlos holds a Master’s Degree in Social and Industrial Psychology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the Universidad Autonoma de Chihuahua. He is currently an Arizona State University PhD candidate in Social and Cultural Anthropology with dissertation work on Latin American undocumented immigrant’s political participation.

Norma Torres Mendoza

Norma Torres Mendoza is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she is concentrating in Politics, Democracy, and logoInstitutions. In addition to serving as the Presidenta of Harvard Latino Student Alliance, she is the Director of External and Alumni Affairs for the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, the co-coordinator for the HKS Public Policy and Leadership Conference, and the Co-Programs Director of the Harvard Kennedy School Democratic Caucus. Norma is completing her PAE (Honors Thesis) with Mi Familia Vota, Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship. Essentially sNormahe is serving as a pro bono consultant to collect data, evaluate the efficiency and quality of the fellowship, formulate and evaluate options, and finally, make actionable recommendations Prior to HKS, Norma worked for Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she was a Human Capital Analyst. She concentrated in HR global transformations, where she evaluated how a company delivers HR services to employees. Furthermore, Norma co-founded the Young Owls Leadership Program (YOLP), whose mission is to prepare rising high school students as both leaders in their communities and competitive applicants to top-tier colleges and universities. YOLP is currently on its fourth year and the leadership has raised approximately $100,000 dollars. Nearly 174 students from the Houston area have participated, and many of them have been the first ones in their families to not only apply to but also attend 4-year universities. Norma was born in Queretaro, Mexico and grew up in Houston Texas. She graduated magna cum laude from Rice University with a B.A. in political science and Hispanic Studies.

Carlos Zamora

Carlos Zamora es un Abogado, Notario, Profesor Universitario, Consultor, Asesor, Carlos ZamoraMediador, Líder Comunal y Político costarricense, que reside en la Ciudad de Houston. Por años se ha dedicado con pasión a la defensa de los derechos, a educar a las personas y a aportar cambios que transformen la sociedad en la que vive. En la actualidad es Coordinador de Houston de Mi Familia Vota Education Fund (MFVEF), ayudando desde su puesto a educar, promover el compromiso y la participación cívica de las personas de la Ciudad de Houston. Desde su llegada a los Estados Unidos
se ha dedicado a educar y defender a los inmigrantes y sus derechos. Ha impartido Charlas sobre los Derechos Laborales, el Tráfico Humano,  la Acción Ejecutiva del Presidente Barack Obama, y promovido e impartido Talleres de Ciudadanía. Su lucha es constante, está claro que la Ciudad de Houston debe cambiar y que los cambios solo se darán si nosotros somos parte de él.

Amanda Cervantes

Amanda Cervantes is a student at Rice University School of Social Sciences majoring in Sociology and Policy Studies with a concentration in Law and Justice. In addition to beingFullSizeRender (4) an active member in campus organizations such as the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), Legalese, Martel Government, and Intramural Sports, Amanda is also the Vice President of the Rice Wildlife Conservation Corp (RWCC).

Amanda is a Mexican-American from Laredo, Texas, where she was exposed to many of the issues that face the Hispanic and Latino community. At Rice, she advocates for issues such as civil rights, race relations, and animal rights.

Amanda is currently a Summer intern at Mi Familia Vota and is a part of the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience. She hopes to set an example for Latino youth and empower them to take action in their own community.

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