Tennessee NOTABLE LATINOS
Cuevas Martinez, Manuel Arturo Jose (1938-). Mexican-born Manuel is a fashion designer whose work has been worn by performers from Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton to Aerosmith, REM, and the Beatles. Known just by his first name, Manuel migrated to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s and came to Nashville in the late 1980s to open a high-end shop catering to the music industry. Known as the King of Cowboy Couture, Manuel has displayed his work in many venues.
Garcia, Pedro (1947-). Cuban-born Pedro Garcia is the director of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Coming to the United States through Operation Peter Pan in 1962, Garcia grew up in Iowa and began his career as an educator in California in 1971. He was named superintendent of the Carpinteria Unified School District in 1991 and came to Nashville to assume his current position in 2001. Selected as Nashvillian of the Year in 2002, Garcia has instituted key structural and programmatic changes in Nashville public schools during his tenure.
Arteaga, Josias (1948-). Colombian-born Josias Arteaga worked as the National Executive Director of Colombia’s YMCA. In 1997 he transferred to Miami and came to Nashville to work with Latino youth in 2000. He directs the Hispanic Achievers program for Latino youth across middle Tennessee, and his program has become a national model for other YMCA branches.
Mejia, Maria Clara (1952-). Colombian-born Maria Clara Mejia is the cofounder of Conexion Americas, Nashville’s first Latino-led and focused organization. As developer and chief instructor of a Latino cultural-competency training program, she has trained more than 3,000 people. Before coming to Nashville in 2000, she worked for the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank across much of Latin America.
Rodriguez, Greg Jr. (1954-2005). Greg Rodriguez Jr. was a well-known community leader and founder of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Born in Texas, he came to Nashville in 1994 through his work in the hospitality industry. In 2004 he was appointed Tennessee’s executive administrative assistant to the commissioner of safety, and he coordinated statewide activities for minority and migrant involvement.
Guzman, Salvador (1961-). Mexican-born Salvador Guzman is an entrepreneur who owns many restaurants across middle Tennessee; he also opened Tennessee’s first Spanish-language radio station. Trained as a veterinarian, he came to Chattanooga in the 1980s to work as a busboy, opening his first restaurant in 1991. He cofounded the Nashville-Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and was its first president. In 2006 he was elected to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Gonzales, Jerry (1962-). Born in Michigan, Jerry Gonzales is a civil rights attorney and founding member of Unamonos, one of Nashville’s earliest Latino political organizations. Gonzales came to middle Tennessee in 1997 and has campaigned for new driver’s-license
legislation, new court-interpreter standards, and stiffer laws for notarios publicos. He was co-counsel on a nationally covered court case in which a middle-Tennessee judge ordered a Mixtec woman to learn English or have her parental rights terminated.
McPeek Villatoro, Marcos (1962-). A Latino southerner, Marcos McPeek Villatoro was born in East Tennessee. His work as a writer and community organizer has taken him from Guatemala to Alabama to Tennessee, and he has written extensively of these experiences. He is the author of several mystery novels involving the detective Romilia Chacon. Some of the novels, such as Home Killings and The Holy Spirit of My Uncle’s Cojones, are set in Tennessee.
Hernandez, Monica (1963-). Mexican-born Monica Hernandez is the coordinator of the Pueblos de Latinoamerica project at the Highlander Research and Education Center, an institution widely known for its historic and contemporary social-justice work in the South. Working with Latino grassroots organizations across the region, she chairs the board of TIRRC and is involved in migrant rights and community empowerment throughout Tennessee.
Cunza, Yuri (1971-). Peruvian-born Yuri Cunza is an actor, producer, director, and community activist. After coming to Nashville in 1996, Cunza produced some of the earliest Spanish-language television segments in Nashville and founded the Spanish-language newspaper La Noticia. He has been involved in Latino organizations and migrant initiatives and served as president of the Nashville-Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Velasquez, Jaci (1979-). Born in Texas, Jaci Velasquez is an internationally known contemporary Christian singer and actress, with both English- and Spanish-language hits. Since she began recording music in 1996, she has been nominated for Grammy and Latin Grammy awards and has won multiple Dove awards. With platinum and gold albums in English and Spanish, Velasquez has acted in the movie Chasing Papi and currently lives in Nashville.
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