Latinas Thriving in City of Albuquerque, NM

Latinas are on the rise when it comes to owning businesses in the United States, particularly for businesses that invest back into their communities.

According to the most recent Census, Hispanics are approximately 48 percent of New Mexico’s population. In addition, 30.7 percent of businesses in New Mexico are Hispanic-owned, while the national average is at 12 percent. Hispanics and Latinos contribute approximately $36 billion to New Mexico’s economy.

Meet eight Latinas in New Mexico that are not only leading with determination and passion but are shining a light and impacting the economy at large.

Cynthia Borrego
CABQ City Council 

“Serving as the current City Council President, and as an Albuquerque City Councilor are my greatest achievements,” shares Native New Mexican Cynthia Borrego, President, CABQ City Council. “I am grateful every day for having the profound opportunity to serve my constituents, and the people of Albuquerque, and New Mexico through my knowledge of Planning, Financing, and respectfully conducted Community Relations.”

Councilor Borrego works on public safety and strategies to reduce crime, including increasing the number of officers in the City and expanding Community Policing programs. In addition, she focuses on economic development through the creation of jobs in her local community.

In this role, she is proud to have initiated several road infrastructure projects in her District that will lead to the development of new construction jobs. In addition, she has sponsored City Council Bills to assist small businesses with loans and grants offered during the pandemic.

“I realize it has been a very difficult time to keep our small businesses afloat during COVID,” she shares. “I will continue to look for opportunities to provide our small businesses with much-needed financial assistance, supplies, and opportunities especially during this pandemic.”

Board Chair of the Rio Grande Credit Union and the Board Chair of ABC Community Schools, Borrego also serves on the Executive Board of Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA), where she sits on the Council of Governments Water Board. Additionally, she is the President of the UNM School of Public Administration Advisory Alumni Board. She is the owner of Cyba & Assoc., LLC, a planning, development, sales, and consultation company.  She is also the owner of a small retail business showcasing artisan jewelry and collectibles in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.

As an entrepreneur and through her company, she worked as a consultant to help developers build and construct in the City and maneuver through the City Development Process. She was able to assist in the building of cell towers for current telecommunication providers, and also assisted small businesses with land use issues enabling them to initiate operations, businesses such as the local Bahama Bucks.

“After the economic downfall, I changed my business to focus on retail sales of jewelry and artisan products,” she shares. “Jewelry retail is an area I’d always wanted to try my hand at because, as I was growing up, my parents had a similar business. I believe that Albuquerque is the most beautiful and magnificent place in the world, due to our multiculturalism and inspiring diversity. I will never stop fighting to keep Albuquerque and New Mexico thriving and alive with excitement. I also believe in mentoring our youth, especially our young, beautiful Latinas and Latinos, to build our next generation of successful people.”

City Councilor Klarissa Peña
City of Albuquerque

Born and raised in Albuquerque’s South Valley, City Councilor Klarissa Peña represents District 3, which encompasses the Southwest Mesa and parts of the South Valley from Central Ave south and west of the Rio Grande in the incorporated area.  A proud mother of six children and grandmother of 11, Peña is also a caregiver to her brother with special needs. Today, she believes Latinas are blazing the path for the next generation of business start-ups. For Peña, it is through creativity that they are setting the example for women and mothers who must find ways to balance parenthood and working in or outside the home.

“The way we function as a society is forever changed and post-pandemic; we will see some of the most innovative ideas come from Latina women, from working at home to the boardroom,” she shares. “Today’s Census shows that 20 percent of the U.S. population is of Latino/a, Hispanic, Chicano or however you self-identify, I will say La Raza and we are a growing market that can no longer be overlooked.  This creates so much opportunity for Latina or Raza entrepreneurs.

Councilor Peña’s community involvement began over 29 years ago as a concerned parent wanting the best for her children. After joining her neighborhood association, she began working with community leaders and elected officials to help revitalize the community. Councilor Peña understands the challenges we face as a community and is committed to bringing much-needed business and jobs to District 3.

“Me and my husband set out to try and change what some people called the cycle of poverty and some of the systemic issues associated with it,” she shares. “We became involved in the community to try and address social and systemic injustice and improve community conditions.  This lifelong work has led me to run for office.  Holding this seat has helped to further the grassroots work we set out to do so many years ago.”

Councilor Peña’s most significant career achievement is fighting racial, social, and economic injustice.  This past year, she introduced and passed legislation ranging from addressing equity on Boards and Commissions to prioritizing funding capital programs and projects in underserved neighborhoods with the support of the administration, creating budget objectives to reduce admissions for low-income families to the city’s Museums and Bio-Park and supporting local artists who may not otherwise have opportunities to showcase their art, through a street banner project.  Also, repealing an ordinance that didn’t allow cruising on public streets.

Her priorities for the City of Albuquerque are to continue the fight. “The struggle is real,” she shares. “Having the love and support of my family is immeasurable.  My inspiration comes from my children who I didn’t want to see face some of the challenges I did as a child.”

Councilor Peña is the past President of the Southwest Alliance of Neighbors (SWAN), a coalition of 14 neighborhood associations committed to enhancing the community. As the former Executive Director for the West Central Community Development Group (WCCDG), she has worked hard to revitalize Route 66, a stretch of the historic road on Albuquerque’s Westside. She is a member of the Alamosa Neighborhood Association, honorary member of West Central Merchants, and member of New Mexico Family Living Providers. In addition, she is a former City of Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commissioner.

Helen Maestas
Deputy Director for Public Affairs City of Albuquerque
Office of the Mayor
City of Albuquerque

“What I love about our City is that it is not unusual to see Latinas in positions of leadership—we are entrepreneurs, small business owners, non-profit executives, and at the City of Albuquerque Latinas, and Latinos too, serve as Department Directors, Deputy Directors, and managers,” shares Helen Maestas, Deputy Director for Public Affairs City of Albuquerque, City of Albuquerque, Office of the Mayor. “We are leading in ways that challenge convention to move our community forward. When I think of the Latina women I know and work with, I see women who are fierce advocates for the communities; women who don’t take “no” for an answer, and who aren’t afraid to claim their seat at the table.”

As Deputy Director for Public Affairs in the Office of Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Maestas enjoys working with her Constituent Services and Civic Engagement teams, collaborating with community members, City departments, and external agencies to improve the lives of Albuquerque residents.

The first person in her family to attend college, Maestas grew up in Castroville,

California and spent a lot of time with her paternal grandparents, Carmen and Antonio, who immigrated to the U.S. from Michoacán and Jalisco, Mexico. Today she feels fortunate to work for bright and compassionate Federal, State, and local elected officials in service to her community.

“My current role gives me that opportunity to make sure that government is responsive to the needs of our community members,” she shares. “Working in the Mayor’s Office and having a seat at the table with him and members of our executive team, I am able to elevate the questions, comments, and concerns that people bring to us, and to leverage the resources of City government, across 20 different departments, to get answers and find ways to meet the needs of our constituents.”

Maestas’ goal is to have people say that when they call Mayor Keller’s Office, they felt heard and respected, and that her team did all they could to help them.

“I think of people, who like my mom, don’t think that government is “for” them, and I’m driven to change that perception by providing responsive public service,” she shares.

In addition to managing the Mayor’s Constituent Service operations, Maestas works closely with him to make appointments to over 50 City of Albuquerque Boards and Commissions, which have been created to provide advice to the Mayor, City Council, and Departments on issues that range from public art acquisitions to zoning. Overall, there are around 500 volunteer positions on our Boards and Commissions.

“Through my constituent service work, I’m making sure that serving the needs of our community remains at the forefront of our work in City government,” Maestas says. “Whether that’s making sure someone’s trash gets picked up on time, potholes are being repaired, crosswalks are being painted, or bringing together neighborhood and City representatives to work on solutions to address crime and homelessness.”

For nearly 20 years in public service, she is most proud of the opportunities she has been able to create for others. Maestas is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a BA in Political Science and Communication and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Management and Leadership at Western Governor’s University.

Michelle Melendez
Director of Equity & Inclusion
City of Albuquerque 

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and Latinx entrepreneurs have the hustle that is needed to make big dreams come true in our City,” shares Michelle Melendez, Director of Equity & Inclusion, City of Albuquerque. “We see it every day, from the creators who are selling their marvelous creations during our ABQ ArtWalk and at the grower’s markets and Railyards Market, to the small and medium-sized companies supplying the film industry and the goods and services that make our economy grow. We will rebound from the economic impacts of the pandemic because of Latinas.”

Albuquerque, New Mexico native, Melendez has more than 18 years of experience in community development, leadership development, and advocacy to address the social determinants of health and their policy antecedents. Today she brings a lifelong vision of racial equity to the Office of Equity and Inclusion and believes that her relationships with incredibly dedicated social justice, economic development and public health champions will lead the City of Albuquerque to embrace equity as a guiding principle in all areas of civic life.

As the inaugural Director of Equity and Inclusion at the City of Albuquerque, Melendez aims for legacy impact.

“I am leaving the City of Albuquerque with policies and practices in place that will outlast any change in administration and that improve outcomes for people who have been systematically left out,” she shares. “We use data, plus our lived experience, to inform policies and practices to influence who we hire as a City, who we do business with as a City, where we invest as a City and how we provide services so that ALL Burqueños have equitable opportunities to thrive.”

Melendez is thankful to live in a city where small business grants are available to solo entrepreneurs as well as those who employ others and more.

According to Melendez, their small business office provides access to many of the factors for success that every business needs. They’ve also focused on providing job training for some of the hardest-to-find skill sets that every entrepreneur needs on their teams. In addition, they offer preference points to businesses owned by local residents and those that pay men and women equally.

“We are working to update our ordinance on women and minority-owned businesses so that we can increase our spend with them on City goods and services,” she shares. “We are stronger because of our diversity. We bring diverse lived experiences and perspectives and solutions to every discussion and decision.”

Carolyn Ortega
CABQ Animal Welfare 

Lifelong resident of New Mexico, Carolyn Ortega, Animal Welfare Director for the City of Albuquerque leadership goes beyond her role as director. A businesswoman, wife, mother, grandmother and philanthropist, Ortega has inspired programs and her entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in building a new Veterinary clinic (first of its kind) that will serve all of the residents of Albuquerque. As the Animal Welfare Director, she oversees five Divisions, which include Animal Protection Services, two shelters, four adoptions centers, two shelter clinics, one community veterinary clinic and administration.  She has 149 staff and manages a $13 million budget. Annually the shelter cares for over 20,000 animals and has a 92 percent live exit rate.

“This clinic will offer low to no cost services (sliding scale based on income) to the residents of Albuquerque, which includes spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchipping,” she shares. “This will create a revenue stream to reinvest into the shelters, so that AWD can expand their services without pulling money out of other important programs in the City or requesting more taxpayer dollars.”

For Ortega, her roots in the community have shown her that it is not only the most impoverished that need help. She believes a large population of medium-income residents don’t quite qualify for low-income assistance but can’t afford the services.

“I grew up low-income and my mom had so many resources to help, but when I became a single mom of three making $12 the hour there weren’t any programs to help me; there was no help even to subsidize,” she shares. “I want everyone to have the same opportunities and access to services.”

Being engaged in the Hispanic community gives Ortega voice to the most vulnerable in society; “it is also my mantra of a forest is stronger than a single tree,” she shares.

“Hispanic women are my inspiration and motivation for making change and the more time I can spend with them the more impact we will have in our community as a collective,” she shares. “My overarching in this role is to be proactive, rather than reactive. Identifying creative solutions to reduce pet overpopulation will have a trickle-down effect that will reduce the number of pets that end up in the shelter and free up the resources to provide our pets with the enrichment and attention they need to increase their odds of finding their forever home.”

Anna Sanchez
CABQ Senior Affairs

Appointed as the Director of the Department of Senior Affairs for the City of Albuquerque by Mayor Tim Keller in March 2018, Anna Sanchez has more than 15 years of non-profit and operational management experience. Her goals as Director include helping to build an “age-friendly” community that includes improving the city for all community members, particularly older adults.

“No one should be left behind as they age, especially when there are so many values and life lessons we have to gain from these relationships,” she shares. “Recent projections predict that the City of Albuquerque will become the third largest population of seniors by the year 2030 and this is why it has become my mission that our services and programs support the spectrum of senior needs. My ultimate goal is to engage all generations into the aging conversation, change perspectives involving ageism, and empowering people to thrive while living long healthy lives.”

Being the only person of color or the only woman of color in a leadership role at the table inspires Sanchez to raise voices that are often marginalized. This has carried over from her previous work in non-profit development and fundraising to her current role as a public servant with the City of Albuquerque.

“In all aspects of my work, I want to ground myself with values that have stemmed from my upbringing – a strong foundation of family, community and service,” she shares. “The way that I measure my success is not based on my status, position or title, but the fulfillment of doing meaningful work that helps foster the lives of others.”

Sanchez believes her greatest achievement has been doing work that she feels has had a positive impact on her community and culture. Over the last 15 years, she has made Albuquerque her home and has taken pride in helping others through mentorship and the various work along with her career.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanchez facilitated modification of essential services, such as transportation, home services, case management, serving and delivering nearly a million hot meals for seniors, as well as establishing other safety net services for the community’s most vulnerable population. In addition, she advocates for the engagement of older adults and the adoption of a longevity approach to aging that engages younger generations to prepare for longer lives.

“This work has been insightful as I have become part of the ‘sandwich’ generation, where my husband and I are balancing raising a young daughter along with becoming a support system for our aging parents who live nearby,” she shares. “I feel our circumstance is a commonality within our Latino culture. This insight has helped me become more aware of the growing needs of our community and I am grateful to be able to gain this perspective. This has motivated me to create meaningful impact that helps support my people.”

Renee Martinez
Department of Finance & Administrative Services
City of Albuquerque

With more than 30 years of experience in organizational and information technology management in various domains; including finance, healthcare, environmental protection, water resource management and telecommunications, Renee Martinez, Director, Department of Finance & Administrative Services, City of Albuquerque, works with city departments, city councilors and the Tim Keller administration to identify and fund priority initiatives which in turn positively impact the social and economic climate in the community.

According to Martinez, New Mexico, particularly Albuquerque, has successfully groomed, supported, and recognized Latina entrepreneurs. In 2018, women-owned businesses made up 39 percent of New Mexico’s companies.

“Latinas are leaders in a large portion of these businesses,” she shares. “I see this trend continuing in the coming years, but would like to see the breadth in types of businesses led by Latina entrepreneurs grow and extend to fields that include engineering, manufacturing, film and finance.”

Prior to the City of Albuquerque, she served as the Deputy City Manager and Innovation Officer for the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Under her leadership, the City was successful in modernizing core technology and business processes. Key initiatives included ERP and Land Management system implementations and adopting a city-wide framework for performance accountability.

Martinez serves on the Quality New Mexico, LLC board, which provides training and networking around building quality systems and improving business performance. Today she is happy to share what Quality New Mexico has to offer with Latina entrepreneurs.

The City’s Economic Development Department provides programs that can assist Latina entrepreneurs in getting to the next level, including workforce development. The Job Training Albuquerque program provides Albuquerque small businesses the opportunity to improve employees’ skills through free training courses. In addition, the City’s Minority Business Development Center offers assistance and services with certifications and registrations, lending and equity proposals, capital lending, strategic planning, international trade assistance, and training.

“I am very proud of how the city has used federal COVID-19 stimulus funds to provide a lifeline to the local business community and to vulnerable populations over the past 18 months,” she shares. “We have helped small businesses that have had to close and re-open safely, seniors and families needing food assistance, school-aged children needing wi-fi to download school assignments, and the homeless with needed shelters and services.”

Martinez’ goal is to mentor the next group of leaders in the city and attract younger people to careers in local government.

“I tell anyone who will listen that local government is a great career choice,” she shares. “Local government is a place where you can make significant and direct positive contributions to your community. A city provides so many important services to the community; transportation, health, economic support, youth programs, senior programs, recreation, etc. My greatest achievement has been to make good career and job choices. I am happy when I am challenged, learning and serving my community.”

Patricia L. Chavez
Vice President, ABQ Mayor’s Volunteer Board

A community builder and passionate advocate for youth development and entrepreneurship, Patricia L. Chavez, President, PLC ENTERPRISES, and Vice President, ABQ Mayor’s Volunteer Advisory Board, has impacted the economic landscape of Albuquerque in many ways.

With over 30 years of community engagement, Chavez specializes in corporate and community relations, government and legislative relations, youth programs advocacy, training and leadership development, and more.

As the Vice President for the OneABQ Mayor’s Volunteer Advisory Board, she believes in its mission: “To provide programs to mobilize support, connect volunteers and assist organizations in building capacity to enhance the quality of life in greater Albuquerque.”

“Since being elected as the Vice President, and one of the only Latina officers on a Mayor’s Board in ABQ, I made it my personal mission to expand our volunteer stories through the CABQ Gov TV portal, utilizing film to share the “good news” stories of organizations such as MASK UP NM who with the volunteer works of almost 300 plus created masks for not only ABQ citizens but spread their works across the state,” she shares. “The MASK UP NM film has been shared not only on Gov TV, but across other social media platforms, YouTube, FB, Instagram, etc., along with another “FOSM-Friends of the Sandia Mountains”. These two organizations have exemplified outstanding volunteerism and impact the greater good of our community.”

Most recent, Chavez influenced the creation of a new film working collaboratively with the CABQ Department of Culture and Arts, the National Institute of Flamenco and the Ambassador Circle Founders: “Twin Legacies-The National Institute of Flamenco & the Ambassador Circle-11 Years” which premiered by Mayor Tim Keller on October 1st at the Albuquerque Museum.

Chavez’ personal mantra is to continue to “BREAK through the ‘Adobe Ceiling’ in New Mexico for Latinas. She became the first Latina/Hispana FEMALE Statewide Director of NM MESA, Inc. Today, she supports many diverse businesses, schools and community social impact organizations with PLC Enterprise contracts and volunteer “give back,” works diligently by following key life Patricia’s Attitude P’s: Purpose, Passion and Persistence.

“Our community is 46 percent Latino, no longer a minority, but majority and Latinas play a significant role in this impact across many fields,” she shares. “And more importantly, is for Latinas to be major players in every aspect of our community, whether it is in high-level government, corporate, business and volunteer roles.  These placements are critical for our youth, who will be the future leaders and entrepreneurs of our community.  Our youth need those role models and mentors they can look towards and emulate. It is not just up to one but to all of us in the community to determine those positive outcomes.  Each one of us must subscribe to making real differences in our community; not just for ourselves but for the young leaders in our future to build a better place for all; but we MUST challenge them by presenting ourselves and others as we push, pull and place that next generation into those new roles with new expectations of creating, building and sustaining a different kind of workplace, community and world.”






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