WATCH: Hispanic Heritage Month forum to celebrate Latino cultures, contributions

National Hispanic Heritage Month annually recognizes the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino-identified communities. 

On Monday, Sept. 19, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares will mark the occasion with a virtual forum featuring several distinguished panelists who will share their stories and perspectives.

The event, the latest in OCDE’s series of online colloquiums based on the theme “Know My Name, Face and Story,” is free to those who register in advance at

Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 save the date

“More than a third of Orange County residents are Hispanic or Latino, and their contributions are essential to our region’s culture, economy, academic institutions and values,” Dr. Mijares said. “This month’s colloquium presents an opportunity to hear from respected community leaders whose personal experiences and unique insight can help us better understand the past, present and future of our county.”

National Hispanic Heritage Month spans 30 days beginning Sept. 15, which is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its independence on Sept. 16, and Chile’s independence is recognized on Sept. 18. 

Along with sharing their personal stories, speakers at the Sept. 19 colloquium are expected to discuss educational trends, challenges and strategies for ensuring equity and access. Educators, school administrators, students, parents and community members are encouraged to attend.

Here’s the list of speakers: 

Adriana Villavicencio, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Education
University of California, Irvine

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. Her research is focused on K-12 educational policy and school practices that deepen or disrupt inequities for underserved communities of students and families.

Her book, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper: Educational Opportunities and Outcomes for Black and Brown Boys,” published by Harvard Education Press, chronicles the implementation and impact of the Expanded Success Initiative in New York City, a precursor to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper and one of the country’s largest initiatives targeting Black and Latino male students.

Dr. Villavicencio’s current work focuses on improving schools for newly arrived immigrant multilingual students and racial justice programming in K-12 schools. Prior to becoming a researcher, she taught middle and high school English in Brooklyn, New York and Oakland.

Dr. Villavicencio earned her doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She also holds a master’s degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University.

Matt Navo
Executive Director
California Collaborative for Educational Excellence

As current executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), Matt Navo and his team of educational professionals help to deliver on California’s promise of a quality and equitable education for all students.  

Navo is the former director of System Transformation services for West Ed, where he supported districts and schools in developing strategies, structures, policies and practices that assist in closing achievement gaps.

Navo received his bachelor’s degree in education and his master’s degree in special education from California State University, Fresno. He holds an array of credentials, including a professional administrative credential, multiple subject teaching credential, a professional specialists credential in special education, and a supplemental credential with an autism emphasis.

Gaddi Vasquez
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Gaddi Vasquez has served in leadership posts in local, state and federal government during a lengthy career of public service. Before retiring, he was senior vice president of government affairs for Edison International and Southern California Edison, one of the nation’s largest investor-owned utilities. 

Before joining SCE in 2009, he served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations agencies based in Rome, including the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. He was also director of the United States Peace Corps from 2002 to 2006.

Early in his career, he served as an Orange County supervisor, as chief deputy appointments secretary to Gov. George Deukmejian, and as a police officer for the City of Orange. He holds a bachelor’s degree in public service management from the University of Redlands and has six honorary doctorate degrees.

Jack Miranda
Executive Director
Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership 

Jesse R. “Jack” Miranda III serves as the executive director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, which was established by his father at Vanguard University in 2000.

The center’s mission is to serve university students who identify as Latino, working to equip, educate and empower future leaders to strengthen their campus, churches and communities.

Miranda founded Living Faith Church in La Mirada, where he formerly served as lead pastor, and he’s been involved in many community organizations. A retired correctional peace officer of 22 years, he received his master’s degree in pastoral studies from Azusa Pacific University.

Itzel Meduri Soto, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Spanish

Biola University

HHM Itzel M. Soto

As a self-proclaimed academic from el barrio, Dr. Itzel Meduri Soto’s work centers on linguistic justice and promotes language diversity. She is a daughter of Mexican immigrants, born and raised in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Itzel Meduri Soto is currently an associate professor of Spanish at Biola University and writer for World Outspoken. Her writings cover a wide range of subjects, including bilingualism, racial identity, immigration and mothering. 

She is a graduate of Los Angeles Harbor College, California State University, Dominguez Hills and University of California, Irvine.