While the accelerating influence of Latinas on local politics and business has been relatively recent, a number of L.A. Latinas have been part of the established power base for years. Their backgrounds and professions are widely diverse, but they share a common reputation for being leaders not only in the Latino community but in the Los Angeles community at large. Here are profiles of 10:

Frank Swertlow and Laura Dunphy

Maria Contreras-Sweet


California Business, Transportation and

Housing Agency

One of the most powerful Latinas in Sacramento, and the first Latina to serve on a California governor's cabinet, Contreras-Sweet was previously president of Contreras-Sweet Communications, an international marketing firm. She was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in L.A. Her efforts against discrimination include founding Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) and serving as a commissioner on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission.

Some say Contreras-Sweet, who is in her mid-40s, has reached her political threshold, but she is likely to remain a high-profile advocate for women and Latinos. She has been criticized by some for her frequent commutes to Los Angeles, because her post in Sacramento requires constant attention to detail.

Laura Diaz


KABC-TV Channel 7

A 16-year veteran at KABC, Diaz became the first Latina to anchor a daily newscast at an English-language L.A. station in 1988. Today, she co-anchors KABC's top-rated 5 p.m. news and its second-placed news at 11 p.m. She earns more than $1 million a year, putting her at the upper stratosphere of L.A. newscasters.

Diaz started her reporting career on the street, covering fires, shootings and earthquakes. During the L.A. riots, she faced down a gunman who threatened her and her camera crew. In 1996, she won an Emmy for a report on AIDS and the Latino community. Three years earlier, she had been named Woman of the Year by the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation. Diaz is listed as one of the top 100 women in communications by Hispanic USA Magazine.

Her parents were field workers in Santa Paula. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as an English major and got her first TV job at KSBY in San Luis Obispo as a reporter. She joined KABC 1983 and began anchoring in 1985. Her prospects for moving up at the network probably are limited because there are too many veteran women ahead of her for top network jobs.

Maria Elena Durazo


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