10 of L.A.’s Most Fascinating Latinos

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Twitter: @AndreaGompf

Last week, LA Weekly put out their People 2013 issue, celebrating the most fascinating people in the City of Angels – and unsurprisingly, a bunch of Latinos doing cool stuff made the cut. Just thought we’d direct your attention to these inspiring locals contributing to city culture! Check ’em out below, and see the full list here:

Tony Dominguez: The Piñata King

This is the guy responsible for resurrecting the Mexican art of judas – giant papier mâché puppets – in the United States. He works on a crazy big scale that most aren’t able to achieve with piñata materials; he’s made 12-foot tall Virgenes de Guadalupe, skeletons that are two stories high, as well as ginormous cacti, smiling suns, devils and other imagery inspired by a Día de los Muertos aesthetic. In fact, you may have seen his puppets at the annual Día de los Muertos party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Soon, you’ll be able to get scaled down versions – he’s currently looking for space downtown to reopen his famed piñata store.

Carla Esparza: Mixed Martial Arts Badass

In January, Carla Esparza became the first Invicta Fighting Championships Straw-weight Champion in Women’s Mixed Martial Arts, beating out Bec Hyatt. Only 25 years old, she’s ranked No. 1 in her weight class in the world, and even though she’s only 5 foot 1 – like me, hayyyyy –  chances are she can kick your ass. After all, she trains FIVE HOURS A DAY. She’s at the forefront of tough ladies changing people’s minds about women fighting in MMA.

Omar Gonzalez: Galaxy Defender

We introduced you all to MLS Final MVP Omar Gonzalez back in December, and he’s still on a hot streak. Following his stellar performance for Galaxy in the final, he was invited by U.S. National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to join the team’s annual January training camp, where he earned himself a starting spot for the American team in its World Cup–qualifying match against Honduras. He expects to be part of the remaining qualifiers — and the World Cup next summer, so we have lots more to see from this man. Also, apropos of nothing, he’s 6 foot 5 and adorable. Just sayin’.

Margot Ocañas: Making L.A. Friendlier to Pedestrians

photo credit: Kevin Scanlon
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NYC residents may scoff at the idea of L.A. being a pedestrian city, but thanks to the efforts of Margot Ocañas the streets of Los Angeles may soon have just as many people on them as cars. As the city’s first “Pedestrian Coordinator,” she’s developing innovative ways to change the culture of a city where 80% of trips are currently made in cars – like building mini “parklets” and plazas where walkers can hang out, improving crosswalks, and developing more “human” streetscapes.

Ana Martinez: Walk of Fame Producer

For over 50 years, getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame has been a “MAMA I MADE IT!!” moment for the entertainment industry. But who decides where those stars get placed?  The answer is Ana Martinez, VP of media relations for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. In her 25 years with the chamber, she has organized more than 600 sidewalk ceremonies – earning her the nickname “Star Girl” (which kinda sounds like a super heroine to me). This begs the question: are some sidewalks more desirable than others? Is there especially coveted sidewalk star real estate (say, in front of the El Capitan Theater?). If there is, and if you’re lucky enough to receive the honor, Ana Martinez is definitely the person to know. And if you’re just a fan vying for a glimpse of celebrities as they accept their stars? Maybe shouting her name from the crowd will get you a better view…

Rocio Camacho: Mole Master

Naming your restaurant “Rocio’s Mole of the Gods,” may seem like hubris, but not when it tastes like this. Chef Rocio Camacho brings several generations of mole-making expertise to the table, crafting exquisite moles that she serves alongside dishes like green cactus tortillas and filet mignon. Her recipes bring foodies from all over to her modestly decorated restaurants in Sun Valley, even winning her “Best Mole of Los Angeles” from food critic Jonathan Gold. She dreams of creating the first TV show and cookbook wholly dedicated to mole – and with her track record so far, we have no doubt she’ll make it happen.

Rita Gonzalez: LACMA Curator

photo credit: Kevin Scanlon
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LACMA makes a regular appearance in our State of the Art: LA column, in no small part thanks to Rita Gonzalez’s expert curation. In particular, she has put together several exhibits that highlight Chicano cultural history and art – something she is well-acquainted with as a Whittier native – making LACMA one of the first large museums to showcase this underexplored genre of work. She’s playing a key role in diversifying the museum’s collection, and in highlighting art and culture that museums rarely feature.

Alicia Estrada: Eye-Catching Fashion

If you saw someone walking down the street in a dress made entirely of bottle caps you’d probably do a double-take, right? Well, that was a daily reality for designer Alicia Estrada, who’d rock creations made out of unconventional materials (shower curtains, etc.) when she was an accounting student at Cal Fullerton. After some prompting from a college professor, who noticed her creativity and aptitude for design, she eventually left accounting studies to pursue fashion, playfully naming her studio “Stop Staring!” ( a nod to the funny looks she’d get). Sixteen years later, and she employs more than 25 people at Stop Staring!’s HQ. Her dresses are carried in more than 1,000 boutiques in 55 countries, and celebs like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Eva Mendes have been photographed wearing them. And she did it all on her own, without any investors!

Armando Gonzalez: Sk8r Boi

photo credit: Kevin Scanlon
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As a kid growing up in ’80s Boyle Heights, skateboarding gave Armando Gonzalez an outlet through which to channel his anxiety/anger about gang violence in his  inner-city neighborhood into something positive. He was part of an early movement of Latino and other minority youth embracing skater culture, and in 2010 he decided to quit his day job to open a skate shop in Boyle Heights – Soul Skating L.A. –  that would give kids like him the same outlet. The shop offers free intro skate lessons and sponsors a team of up-and-coming street skaters ages 17 to 19. He tells the LA Weekly: “The skateboarding world is so essential to inner-city neighborhoods. Our motto is ‘live, skate, create.’ ”

Pablo Alvarado: Labor and Immigrant Activist

Back when the Arizona controversy over SB1070 first began cropping up, I found what I considered to be the best advocacy website to keep abreast of immigrant rights initiatives and news: the National Day Laborer Network (NDLN). Now, I regularly see the name of its director Pablo Alvarado in my inbox. As a founder of the day laborer organization, he heads up its coalition of nearly 50 day-laborer organizations nationwide that fight to protect the civil, labor and human rights of workers. The organization has had several successes, including creating 70 centers where workers can safely solicit jobs, and recovering “millions” in unpaid wages. Moreover, he has taken an innovative approach to organizing by incorporating the arts, especially music, into his efforts. In 1996 he helped found the band Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborers of the North), which has produced three albums of salsas, cumbias and ballads that express the day laborer’s trials and triumphs. Not content to rest on his laurels, Alvarado is now focusing creating a network of allies to further NDLN’s mission.