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


Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees

Local 11

Durazo, in her mid-40s, still has plenty of political potential.

Besides heading the local union, she was named international vice president last year. Not afraid to make waves, Durazo successfully bargained for hotel workers' rights by threatening to circulate videos about the dangers of L.A. when the local tourism industry was struggling to recover from the 1992 riots. She also led a hunger strike last year to encourage a written deal for USC janitors and cafeteria employees who wanted assurance they would not be replaced by contract workers.

Known as an effective mobilizer and revered by her members, Durazo turned down several offers to succeed Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre. Durazo is married to Michael Contreras, head of the local AFL-CIO.

Linda Griego

Managing General Partner

Engine Co. No. 28

The New Mexico native helped launch the power-lunch hot spot Engine Co. No. 28 downtown 10 years ago, and has since established herself as a politically connected businesswoman.

She headed and was a major developer of programs and policies at Rebuild L.A. More recently, she served as interim chief executive of the Community Development Bank.

Before joining Engine Co. No. 28, Griego ran another restaurant, the Chili Stop, and honed her managerial skills as a manager of installation-and-repair crews for a phone company.

Griego was the first in her family to graduate from high school or college. Insiders say her family's small-business ownership and interest in politics continue to shape her own goals.

Dr. Aliza Lifshitz

Commentator, Physician

Cedars-Sinai, Univision, Radio Unica, La Opinion

An internist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Lifshitz is perhaps the best-known Latino physician in the United States. She has been a medical commentator on the Spanish-language Univision TV network since 1988, in addition to doing commentary for Radio Unica and writing a column for La Opinion in Los Angeles. She also wrote the first bilingual book for expectant mothers, "Mama Sana Bebe Sano Healthy Mother, Healthy Baby."

Lifshitz is not an ivory-tower physician; she frequently shows up at health fairs for low-income Latinos. She represents Latino interests at national medical organizations and is former president of the California Hispanic Medical Association. She was one of first physicians in L.A. to work with HIV-positive Latinos.

Lifshitz grew up in Mexico City and graduated from medical school at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. She also studied at Tulane University and UC San Diego.

Monica C. Lozano

President and Chief

Operating Officer

La Opini & #243;n

Lozano directs day-to-day management of La Opini & #243;n, one of the nation's biggest Spanish-language newspapers. She has spearheaded a number of new ventures to diversify the company and boost circulation, such as putting "La Opini & #243;n Business Centers" full-service offices that include fax machines, computers, overnight mail drops and translation services inside Gigante supermarkets. Under Lozano, La Opini & #243;n forged a distribution deal last fall with the Los Angeles Times to deliver the paper in the five-county Southern California area.

Lozano is a member of the California Board of Education and was asked to accompany Gov. Gray Davis on a recent official state visit to Mexico City to meet with the President Ernesto Zedillo (who has been known to visit the offices of La Opini & #243;n himself). She is one of eight co-chairs for the host committee for the Democratic National Convention.

Wanda Martinez

President and Chief Executive

Dean Ryan Consultants and Designers Inc.

Martinez and her employees handled most of the technical and design aspects of the massive Hyperion wastewater treatment plant project, which extended over almost 10 years. Such successes have helped her make a name for herself in engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men. Known as friendly and engaging, she has a knack for generating repeat business and devoted clients, including working with the Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers. She focuses on hiring high-profile experts and uses profits to lure the best project managers and engineers.

Naming the firm after her nephews, Martinez went out of her way to disprove those who didn't think that a woman could succeed in such a technical business. She refrained from putting "president" title on her business cards, to get a foot in the door and gain credibility in the business.

Today, Dean Ryan has a $15 million backlog of business, extending through the next five years.

Diane G. Medina

Director of Diversity


Walt Disney Co.

For the past 28 years, Medina has worked as a human resources professional and currently heads Walt Disney Co.'s outreach program to the Latino community. That means she is on the front lines providing career guidance and helping recruit minorities to Disney, a role that is taking on increased importance as ethnic groups criticize Disney and other studios for failing to hire minorities for work in front of and behind the camera.

Medina began her career in 1972 as employee coordinator for NBC in Burbank. She moved to Capital Cities/ABC before joining Paramount Pictures in 1989 as director of employment and employee relations. Five years later, she returned to ABC as director of diversity programs and community relations for KABC-TV Channel 7. In 1997, she joined Disney.

Medina has served on the boards of Imagen Foundation, Nosotros, the Hispanic Women's Council of Los Angeles, and many others. She was recently honored as Woman of the Year by the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and also received the Community Excellence Award from the Latino Entertainment Media Institute.

Anita Santiago

Advertising Inc.

Founder of one of the most successful Spanish-language ad agencies in the United States, Santiago has helped encourage blue-chip clients to target the Latino community in their advertising, including Wells Fargo Bank, Carl's Jr., HomeBase, Blue Cross of California, See's Candies and Ikea.

Santiago, who was born in New Jersey but began her career in Caracas before moving to L.A., is known for shrewdly tailoring campaigns to the sensitivities of the Latino market, like a "Got Milk" campaign for Latino mothers. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Adelphi University, a master's in Spanish from State University of New York, and a master's in clinical psychology from Antioch University.

She formed her first agency, The Hispanic Group, in 1987, handling marketing for Columbia Pictures' "La Bamba." She renamed the agency Anita Santiago Advertising in 1991. The firm has won more than 60 major awards, including the first Clio ever awarded to a Spanish-language campaign.

Hilda Solis

State Senator

In 1994, Solis became the first Latina elected to the state Senate. Then 37, she quickly established herself as a force in Sacramento with her successful work to raise the state's minimum wage while supporting other labor and domestic violence measures.

Now, the El Monte Democrat is challenging longtime congressional incumbent Rep. Matthew Martinez, D-Monterey Park, in one of the nation's most watched primary races.

The open March 7 ballot may work in her favor as she's garnered endorsements from several high-ranking Republicans like county Sheriff Lee Baca as well as from key labor groups, including the County Federation of Labor, and has the support of county Supervisor Gloria Molina, another powerful local Latina. If Solis doesn't succeed in her current congressional bid, insiders believe she can make it in a future election.

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