The somos tEAM
Rebeca Maria Barrera, MA - Executive Director
Becky Barrera is a long-time community builder with an education background. As a teacher in the Edgewood School District and faculty at two of the Alamo Community Colleges, Barrera learned of the vast disparities in opportunities for minority students. Her own experiences as a minority student has driven her to create solutions to barriers and myths about Latinos. She is a social entrepreneur and program designer and has created numerous private and non-profit enterprises and projects that have touched Latino families throughout the country.
As Executive Director of Somos cultura y más, Barrera encourages friends and colleagues to get involved in culturally rich activities and events. Her entrepreneurial skills help her plan projects that require many partners who add their special talents to each project. After several years of these "volunteer" projects building Día de muertos altars, cultural shows, book festivals, classes and workshops it was obvious to her that a new organization was being born, thus the beginning of Somos cultura y más.
Barrera is best known for creating the National Latino Children's Agenda, bringing together 40 national organizations to work on equity issues for young Latinos. This movement was her leadership project in the National Hispana Leadership Institute, and it evolved into her founding the National Latino Children's Institute (NLCI) in 1997. She served as President of NLCI for 10 years. As its primary visionary, she led the development of programs such as the award-winning Salsa, Sabor y Salud, Corazon de mi vida, Words for the Future, Ay Chispas! and Onda Sana. IN 1998 she developed the national holiday El Día de los Niños Celebrating Young Americans (a companion to Mexico's holiday) now celebrated in over 200 cities and communities on April 30 each year with U.S. Senate resolutions since 1999. She is the lead author of Amanecer the first bilingual curriculum for Head Start adopted by 65% of Migrant Head Start programs and Scholastic's Early Childhood Workshop adopted by over 75% of Texas pre-K programs during the 1990's. She also created Que Pasa? a student planner for Palo Alto College, and Puentes: a Family Engagement Program now being pilot tested at Pre-K for SA.
Barrera is one of few Latinas to serve on a Fortune company Board of Directors. In 1995 she was elected to the Board of Directors of Scholastic, a global publishing company and held that positions for 13 years. Later she became an executive in the company as Director of Latino Initiatives for 8 years. At the same time she was elected to the Board of Directors for NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the largest early childhood education organization in the world. An inductee of the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame, Barrera's vast networks and experiences led her to provide the vision and energy to establish Somos cultura y más and serves as its founding President.
Barrera established Tres Rebecas, a cultural arts design studio, boutique and libreria in 2006. Most famous for its collection of cultural textiles, the products are sold online.
Barrera is a 10th generation Texan through her father's family and second generation through her mother's family. She has interacted with Mexico and Latin America all her life and thrives on being bilingual and able to move in many cultural circles.
Merri Longoria Gutierrez - CulTurista
Merri Longoria Gutiérrez is first and foremost an advocate for her history, language and cultural traditions. She is a nationally recognized expert in the development of bilingual bicultural curriculum. After graduation from Our Lady of the Lake University, she began her professional career as a classroom teacher in San Antonio and Houston, Texas. While at Houston ISD, Merri became a teacher trainer, curriculum writer and was the supervisor for Bilingual/ESL classrooms and teachers districtwide. Her training skills and experience moved her to Education Service Centers and at the Texas Education Agency, which expanded her service to most of Texas.
This led to work nationally in the publishing industry with companies such as the Economy Company, Silver Burdett and Ginn, Scholastic, Perfection Learning, and Santillana Publishing. She was the first national bilingual consultant in a publishing company serving children and bilingual/ESL programs at the national level. She developed curriculum for grades K-8 in reading, math, science, social studies, parent literacy and ESL. Her programs have become widely used, among them Spanish Reading Keys, Literacy Place, Solares, the Early Childhood Workshop and the Academic Language Notebooks. She is the developer of the HEB Read3 culturally rich literacy program for preschool children not enrolled in early education programs and their families. As the Director of Bi-literacy for Scholastic she also worked as a national advocate and marketer of bilingual programs.
As director of a ballet folklorico dance company for 12 years, she empowered young dancers through knowledge of their cultural roots which added to each dancer's performance and technical dance ability. Merri and some of the dancers traveled to different parts of Mexico to acquire authentic dance costumes and to attend dance classes. The group performed live all over Texas, New Mexico and California and appeared on many TV programs. The group even performed for the FBI in Houston!
Gutierréz's love of all things cultural was inspired by her mother, who encouraged bilingualism at home as she did years of research on her family genealogy even before the Internet. Both sides of her history were among the earliest settlers of Texas, and Merri found great joy in discovering that her ancestor Rosa María Hinojosa de Ballí was the first cattle queen of Texas, even before it was Texas. Merri created a sculpture that commemorates her celebrated ancestor for the Árbol de la Vida at Mission San Francisco de la Espada in San Antonio, Texas.
Upon moving back to San Antonio in 2014, Merri continued to be an advocate for families and children. Her work has become community oriented and expanded to more diverse areas like Fashion Shows with themes like La Revolución and Fiesta in San Antonio, which allowed her to work with designers and artisans from Mexico. Merri became involved with the San Antonio Public Library and has worked to help create the annual Altar for Día de Muertos. For the travel group, Road Scholars, Merri has done presentations for the Signature San Antonio series that introduces participants to the culture of San Antonio's past and present. Other presentations for various groups include El romance de chocolate, a how to make tamales workshop, the Magic Molcajete about the spices in Mexico cooking and several other topics from the many things learned while traveling throughout Mexico.
Thelma Ortiz Muraida - Art Director
Thelma Muraida is an accomplished artist and graphic designer from San Antonio, Texas. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Trinity University, and continued her training with graduate work in printmaking and textiles at Eastern Michigan University and the Art Student’s League in New York.
Over time she has created a broad spectrum of illustrated work for children’s books, designed national publications, held art workshops for children and adults and has exhibited her artwork nationally. In the area of graphic design, she has worked with national corporations, publishing companies, design studios, nonprofit organizations as well as running her own art and design studio.
Her work can be viewed on www.thelmamuraida.com
Aida Canales – Community Liason
Willing to help in every effort of SOMOS events and activities, Aida Canales uses her background in organizing, managing, and bookeeping to connect with volunteers, performers, customers, young people and parents at every level of involvement with the community. Her charming sense of humor and her people skills resolve every last-minute crisis at events are ready to roll. Canales' expertise was developed over years of working with non-profit organizations such as Intercultural Development Research Association, PEEP - the Preschool Early Intervention Program, and the National Latino Children's Institute. She was the store manager for Tres Rebecas for 10 years and guided the store through a terrible fire with her positive outlook on life. An entrepreneur at heart, Canales runs her own life business with a Poshmark closet.