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Estella Acuña | 2024 Latina of Influence

Hispanic Lifestyle is honored to recognize Estella Acuña, Director of Chicano Student Program, University California Riverside, as a Latina of Influence. Ms. Acuña will be recognized for her leadership in our community during Hispanic Lifestyle’s Connecting Latinas of Influence | Inland Empire to be held on May 23, 2024 in downtown Riverside, California.

Estella Acuña is an exemplar of the dedication, expertise, and mission of the University of California, Riverside. At the core of our charge, as staff and scholars, is to “transform the lives of the diverse people of California” as a result, Estella has been committed to serve the region, county and state. As a staff member of over 25 years at UC Riverside, starting as a student assistant in the office of Chicano Student Programs to becoming its Director, she has been a champion for Chiano/Latino student success. In addition to her leadership on campus, she has also volunteered her time as the advisor to several student organizations, has served on campus and system-wide committees, has mentored students and staff alike, she is a pillar in the UCR and the Inland Empire community. Estella recognizes the significance of being a bridge-builder between the university and the local community, this critical component of her work has been recognized on numerous occasions but most significantly has established a strong partnership with community organizations, school districts, regional educational agencies, and elected officials to name a few.

NOMINATED BY 2023 Latina of Influence, Arlene Cano Matute
In the nomination statement, I will highlight a few accomplishments which I believe demonstrate her leadership which makes her highly qualified and deserving of this recognition.

Inland Empire Latino Lawyers Association (IELLA) is a non-profit legal service provider. For over 30 years, IELLA has provided free legal services for low-income and underprivileged Inland Empire residents. The legal assistance provided by volunteer staff attorneys is open to Riverside and San Bernardino counties, ensuring that the communities’ rights are protected and they have equal access to the justice system. Estella has served as a board member for over 10 years, coordinating expungement clinics in the community, creating internships opportunities for UCR and local college students, establishing career panels and mentorship events, and supporting the fundraising efforts of IELLA to continue its incredible work. In 2018, IELLA and the Board members were recognized as the California Nonprofit of the Year by Assembly District 61 presented by Assemblymember Jose Medina.

UCR Chicano Latino Alumni Association (CLA) was re-established in 2014 under the leadership of key Chicano Latino Alumni and Chicano Student Programs. As an alumnus and Director of Chicano Student Programs Estella was a founding member and board member serving in this role since the association’s reestablishment. Under her leadership, CLA has hosted an annual homecoming dinner to raise critically needed funds for UCR undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who align with the goals and mission of CLA which is the advancement of Chicano Latino students, alumni, and community. Most recently, Estella has co-led the Building Conexciones (Building Connections) program in partnership with CLA and Raza Assembly student organization establishing a community mentorship series focused on career pathways, professional development, networking, and post-graduation support. The quarterly series was held virtually during the pandemic this year and concluded with a weekend retreat that was attended by over 100 students held April 9 – 11, 2021.

Radio Aztlan KUCR 88.3FM is an award-winning campus radio station featuring Chicano Latino alternative music, serving as a tool to archive community narratives featuring interviews with community and musical leaders in the Chicano Latino community, and lastly recognizing and validating the musical and artistic contributions of Chicano Latinos. Estella has volunteered as a DJ for Radio Aztlan for several years, beginning as a student intern. Estella leads the annual Radio Aztlan Music Festival which has an impressive 20-year history providing a music concert held on campus that is accessible to the community and features Chicano Latino artists. Additionally, the festival also presents awards for lifetime achievement as a way to recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to the community. As a volunteer DJ, Estella has had the opportunity to archive and co-interview exceptional leaders in the Chicano Latino community and nationally, including renowned historian Dr. Carlos Cortés, award-winning author Sandra Cisneros, legendary muralist Barbara Carasco, and national ethnomusicologist Dr. Jesus “Chuy” Negrete to name a few. I have included her service at Radio Aztlan because it is a holistic overview of what service means to Estella, it encompasses equity, educational opportunity, cultural empowerment, and recognition of the community’s art/stories.

UNIDOS (United) is a collaboration of individuals and organizations dedicated to realizing the establishment of the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry . Estella has served as a founding member of the community organization since it was established in 2017. In her role, she has supported the vast community fundraising efforts, which has raised over $250,00 in over 3 years. She helped establish the En Dialago (In Dialogue) series this year, an educational fundraising opportunity in collaboration with Cheech Marin featuring quarterly virtual panels with world-renowned Chicano Latino artists. Scheduled to open in Fall 2021, this milestone for the community is a “movement of inclusivity” in Cheech Marin’s words, “Chicano Art is American Art” therefore this space features and recognizes the art and contributions of artists often left out of mainstream museums. Instead, the center will feature Cheech Marin’s collection of Chicano Art, support for Chicano Latino artists of the Inland Empire, educational initiatives, community programming focused on Chicano art, and an academic resource center. Estella and the founding members have worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality, a tremendous benefit to the Riverside community and Chicano art overall.

I could not imagine a more deserving individual for this award, Estella goes above and beyond for the students of UCR and the local community. In 2018, she was recognized as Woman of the Year by Senator Richard Roth for her community and campus contributions, similarly, in 2016 Estella was honored by Assemblymember Jose Medina as the 61st Assembly District’s Women of Distinction Luncheon for her service to the 61st District. She has changed the lives of many students, staff, alumni, and the community, even in the most difficult times such as this year. Her life-long commitment will undoubtedly continue to have an impact for generations to come.


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