Madison365, a nonprofit online news publication, recognized six former University of Wisconsin-Madison students as part of Wisconsin’s most influential Latine leaders in 2021.
Areli Estrada, Mario Garcia Sierra, Cristhabel Martinez, Aissa Olivarez, Justin Rivas and Victor Villacrez are the six UW alumni mentioned on the list and recognized for their career accomplishments in Wisconsin.
Madison365 publishes lists like this annually, recognizing not only Latine leaders but Black leaders, Asian American leaders and other POC leaders, according to Robert Chappell, a journalist for Madison365 and the author of the list.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Chappell emphasized the importance of recognizing the variety of accomplishments these individuals have achieved, because often leaders only working in the racial justice areas are recognized.
“We are demonstrating that people of color not only do good work, but good work outside of the boxes that the rest of us put them in,” Chappell said.
According to the list, Areli Estrada is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Affordable Dental Care that provides low-cost dental care for those in need. Estrada was a first-generation college graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree from UW-Green Bay and went on to receive her master’s degree from UW-Madison.
Mario Garcia Sierra, a native Guatemalan, is the customer engagement and community development manager for Madison Gas and Electric. He also works as the board president for Centro Hispano of Dane County. Garcia Sierra was involved with Centro from 2008 to 2012 as the director of programs and worked to further Centro’s mission.
Cristhabel Martinez is the executive director of Dreamers of Wisconsin, an organization that aims to help undocumented students at UW-Madison. Dreamers of Wisconsin has recently expanded its program to the entire state of Wisconsin. Martinez also works closely with the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and volunteers regularly with AVID, DAIS, the Dodge County Jail and JustDane. Martinez hopes to earn a master’s degree in social work after finishing up her bachelor’s degree this year.
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Aissa Olivarez works as a managing attorney at Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, advocating for access to justice for people — especially those facing deportation — by providing legal representation and consultation. In 2016, Olivarez earned her degree at UW-Madison’s law school and went on to work for the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project. She returned to Madison in 2018 and was awarded the Belle Case La Follette Award by the Wisconsin Law Foundation for her work with underserved communities, according to a UW-Madison press release.
Justin Rivas leads community health initiatives for the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership. Rivas works to improve health outcomes and advance health equity throughout his community. He oversees Community Health Needs Assessment planning and Health Compass Milwaukee. Rivas also serves as the program director for the Milwaukee Enrollment Network. He graduated from UW-Madison in 2005.
Victor Villacrez is the commercial and development manager for Hovde Properties. He was recently named chair of the board of the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce. Villacrez also started the Madison Cusco Sister City Project and formed Mundo Esperanza, a nonprofit organization with a humanitarian and sustainable mission.
Madison365’s lists recognize attorneys, elected officials, government officials and people working in unique environments like racial justice systems, according to Chappell.
Chappell also said these annual lists Madison365 creates conveys an important message to the Wisconsin community.
“It provides a spotlight for people of color and how they’re being influential and successful in Wisconsin,” Chappell said. “Obviously, there are lots of people of color doing really influential and interesting things in Wisconsin, and we’re just glad to shine a spotlight on them.”