As San Antonio celebrates Diez y Seis de Septiembre, the Alamo City commemorates leaders who paved the way for Hispanics through education, political activism and even culture.
Accumulating the shortlist, meant taking into account education, community impact and the overall legacy in which such individuals were crafting. While the number of candidates who continually make a difference in the city through their personal and professional example, the five candidates run the gamut from local to national endeavors.
Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, MD
Dr. Cigarroa is a national renowned transplant surgeon. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Yale University and his medical degree from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Dr. Cigarroa became a faculty member at UT Health San Antonio in 1995. He was part of a surgical team that performed the first split liver donor transplant between two recipients in Texas. In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Cigarroa to serve on the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science. In 2009, Dr. Cigarroa became the first Hispanic to be named Chancellor of The University of Texas System. After five years, he returned full-time to his passion for patient care.
District 7 City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval
Councilwoman Sandoval (D7) was has been an active citizen of her district since she was old enough to participate in community.
In 1993, Councilwoman Sandoval (D7) graduated as valedictorian of Thomas Jefferson High School, and pursued a Bachelor’s in Science degree from MIT in Chemical Engineering, a Master’s in Science degree at Stanford University in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. As a Fulbright Scholar in 1997-1998, she also obtained a Diplomado in Binational Business from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in Mexico City.
She has over ten years of professional experience working with local governments. She has worked for VIA Metropolitan Transit in long range planning; the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District in air quality and climate change, environmental justice and public information and engagement programs. She has also worked with the Harvard School of Public Health and the UT School of Public Health San Antonio on environmental health research projects.
Dr. Robert Vela, Ed.D
Dr. Robert Vela is currently the president of San Antonio College (SAC). A transplant from Alice, Texas, Dr. Vela graduated from Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1994 with a Bachelor’s degree in both psychology and sociology.
He then got a Master’s in Science degree in Mental Health Counseling/Counselor at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1998 and a doctorate in educational leadership in 2003. He first started working for SAC in 2008 as the dean of Student Affairs, and then got promoted to vice president for Student Success in 2009, vice president for Academic and Student Success in 2012 until he got his biggest promotion yet: College President in 2014.
In 2017, Hispanic Outlook (HO) magazine named SAC among the top 25 community colleges for Hispanics. In fact, SAC was ranked No. 5 out of 100 schools. The list was based on various factors including enrollment, student success and graduation/completion rates.
Diego Bernal, J.D (TX-123)
Representative Bernal was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in February 2015. He graduated at Michigan University with a bachelors degree in sociology in 1999, a masters from University of Michigan School of Social Work in community and social systems in 2001 and a doctor of law (J.D.) from Michigan University Law School in 2004.
He represents District 123, home to downtown and north central San Antonio, parts of the city’s west side, along with the City of Castle Hills. He currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Public Education and is also a member of the House Committee on Urban Affairs and the House Committee on House Administration.
Outside of work, he pursued another passion: music. Diego has released three albums and contributed to other local, national and international projects, which, along with his legal advocacy, led to San Antonio Magazine naming him one of San Antonio’s Men of the Year in 2010.
Joaquin Castro, J.D. (TX-20)
Congressman Castro was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives as representative of Texas’ 20th Congressional District, which covers a large portion of San Antonio and Bexar County. He graduated with honors from Stanford University in 1996; and attended Harvard Law School where he received his Juris Doctorate degree in 2000.
Now in his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Joaquin serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was the 2013 Co-President for the House freshman Democrats and serves in House Democratic Leadership as Chief Deputy Whip.
Outside of the legislative chamber, Joaquin has demonstrated a strong commitment to his community. He created the Trailblazers College Tour, personally raising money to send underprivileged students on college visits, giving them exposure to some of the nation’s best institutions of higher education.
He also founded SA READS, San Antonio’s largest literacy campaign and book drive. Over 200,000 books have been distributed to more than 150 schools and shelters across the city.