Noteworthy Hispanic Men and Women

Through Hispanic Heritage Month, Virginia.gov's spotlight celebrates the history, culture, and contributions of individuals who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean. Meet some of these noteworthy Virginians!

Photo of Michel Zahur

Michel Zajur

The CEO

Michel immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City as a child with his family in the 1960s. The family’s La Siesta restaurants became a vital point of contact for a developing community. Michel and his wife Lisa, an innovative educational leader, created a well-loved program to help local children and families learn about Latin American culture and the Spanish language through an interactive program dubbed “La Siesta Town.” Students from across Virginia were brought to the restaurant where they took “airplane rides” through Latin America, giving many Virginia children their first glimpse into a rich and diverse culture.

Learn More about Michel Zajur

Photo of Dr. Johnny Garcia

Dr. Johnny Garcia

The Leader

Dr. Garcia has become an innovation leader in the modeling and simulation, test and evaluation, autonomous vehicle, software development, and cyber security industries. His pioneering work in medical training simulations, enterprise architecture and unmanned systems has led to numerous regional and national awards. He is Founder and CEO of SimIS Inc. and Health Care Simulations LLC.

Learn More about Dr. Johnny Garcia

Photo Isabel Castillo

Isabel Castillo

Civil Rights and Reform

Brought to the United States as a child, she earned a master's degree in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University and received an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco for her advocacy work on behalf of immigrants' rights.

Learn more about Isabel Castillo

Jose Francisco Garcia Photo

Jose Francisco Garcia

Science and Medicine

Raised on his family's farm in El Salvador, he came to the United States to study agriculture. He is currently a graduate student in plant pathology at Virginia Tech's Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter, Virginia.

Learn More about Jose Francisco Garcia

Cecilia Hernandez-Pena Photo

Cecilia Hernandez-Pena

Community Leadership and Philanthropy

After coming to the United States to join her husband, she is now raising their children as a single parent on the Eastern Shore. In addition to working as a cleaner in a poultry processing plant, she serves on the board of Dos Santos, which provides a range of community services, primarily to Latino families.

Learn More about Cecilia Hernandez-Pena

Julia Garcia Photo

Julia Garcia

Arts and Literature, Education

Born near Cochabamba in the central highlands of Bolivia, she is a leader in the preservation of her native Quechua language and Bolivian folk traditions, especially dance. She teaches Spanish at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington.

Learn More about Julia Garcia

Cecilia Hernandez-Pena Photo

Cecilia Hernandez-Pena

Community Leadership and Philanthropy

After coming to the United States to join her husband, she is now raising their children as a single parent on the Eastern Shore. In addition to working as a cleaner in a poultry processing plant, she serves on the board of Dos Santos, which provides a range of community services, primarily to Latino families.

Learn More about Cecilia Hernandez-Pena

Jose Francisco Garcia Photo

Jose Francisco Garcia

Science and Medicine

Raised on his family's farm in El Salvador, he came to the United States to study agriculture. He is currently a graduate student in plant pathology at Virginia Tech's Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter, Virginia.

Learn More about Jose Francisco Garcia

Julia Garcia Photo

Julia Garcia

Arts and Literature, Education

Born near Cochabamba in the central highlands of Bolivia, she is a leader in the preservation of her native Quechua language and Bolivian folk traditions, especially dance. She teaches Spanish at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington.

Learn More about Julia Garcia