parents set the model for Anna Maria’s political
activism. Jess was the first Latino elected to the San
Bernardino city council. Rita regained his seat when
she was elected in 1995. Her parents were her most
enduring role models and Anna Maria seemed fated to go
into politics. "When we ran for office, I always
made sure Anna Maria was involved. We would take her
campaigning with us door-to-door and in parades, she
would ride with us and smile, wave, and talk to
people" her mom says.
friend, she was intensely loyal, asserts childhood
friend Robbin Andrade. It is not by accident that her
best friends were all from her school days. Her five
closest friends, Robbin, Rosemary Mercado, Lisa
Saenz-Oshmann, Tamara Mann, and Janice Lubinski
remember Anna Maria’s devotion.
Anna Maria met at age seven when Robbin moved into her
neighborhood, one house away. Robbin would eventually
join Anna Maria on stage at that talent show. She and
Anna Maria kept in touch through the years even though
Robbin had left San Bernardino at age ten.
attests to Anna Maria’s complete dedication to her
friends. "She definitely thought of us as the
sisters she never had. She always made time for her
special girlfriends, no matter if she was traveling,
having a magazine deadline or just feeling under the
weather," she says. "We both shared a very
distinct appreciation of women who were accomplished.
We enjoyed watching documentaries on women who have
made a difference."
college, when Anna Maria made the move to Washington,
D.C., Robbin was already living there. "I was
amazed at how quickly and easily Anna Maria fit in,
especially coming from Hawaii," Robbin remembers.
"The city’s political and cosmopolitan vibe
suited her perfectly."
quickly made many new friends in the nation’s
capital, including attorney Raul Tapia, then a board
member of CHCI. Their first encounter was not
promising, "We got into a very lively
debate," he remembers. "Anna Maria would
challenge assumptions and make you rethink your
position." But always the consummate
professional, Anna Maria contacted Raul the next day
with a follow-up call. "We struck up a
conversation that would eventually last fourteen
advocate, Anna Maria was formidable. "She believed very
strongly in promoting the position of Latinas in this
country and that the best way to do this was through
economic empowerment," Raul says. People who came in
contact with Anna Maria couldn’t help but be engaged by
her conversations or influenced by her example. "She
was in love with life and it was contagious," explains
friend and mentor Rick Bela. "She swept everybody up
into her causes and projects, and we loved it."
The former CEO of the
Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility (HACR),
Bela met Anna Maria in 1988 at a conference for the National
Council of La Raza. "Anna and I talked a lot about the
limited opportunities available to Latinos, and especially
Latinas," Rick says. "She would remind me that
Latinas make up a very large market, especially for up-scale
cosmetics and clothing, but they’re virtually ignored by
these industries." Through her magazine and community
involvement, she affected the way corporations promote women
and appoint them to boards. In 1998, she launched the LATINA
Style 50 program, recognizing the best corporations for
Latinas to work in the U.S. The program was so successful
that the ceremonies recognizing the companies were held at
the vice president’s residence and the White House.
"She personified the best of her generation," Rick
continues. "Like other Latinos her age, she was very
comfortable with her own identity. Older Latinos are often
unsure about moving from one culture to another, but not
Anna Maria. She could be very mainstream and still not
question herself. Her confidence made us proud of her."
Another political mentor,
Polly Baca, the former vice-chair of the Democratic National
Committee (DNC), met Anna Maria when she was hired as a
researcher for the DNC. "Anna Maria was such a vibrant
young woman," remembers Polly. "She was such a
good writer and had so much talent. She did what so many
people want to do - she lived her dream."