50 Years of Inspiring Latino Leadership

Meet The Honorable Arabella Martinez, the CEO of the Latino Community Foundation


Arabella Martinez is an inspiring Latino leader, advocate, and philanthropist. This year Arabella Martinez celebrates 50 years of leadership in the Latino community. In 1964, Arabella founded the Unity Council, a nonprofit that became a national model for community development. Last month she celebrated its 50th Anniversary. She has dedicated her life to developing strong Latino-based institutions that support the education and empowerment of families. In 1977, she was the first Latina to be appointed as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Human Development Services by President Jimmy Carter.

Today, you will find her pinch-hitting as CEO for the Latino Community Foundation, a place where she has passionately served as Trustee for almost 10 years. Under her leadership, The Latino Community Foundation (LCF) has grown to be the premier Latino fund in California and a leader among foundations in the number of grants made to Latino-based organizations. Today, the Latino Community Foundation is building a movement. LCF is engaging Latino philanthropists and connecting them to community leaders who are building transformative solutions.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for Latinos in the US?

Education. That is where we have got to make a difference. If we can educate our kids, there is nothing that can stop us.

You’ve had an incredible career, what are you most proud of ?

I am really proud of, well I’m not sure if it’s proud, but my life’s passion has been focused on building Latino institutions. I am proudest of the Unity Council, the Raza Development Fund, and the Latino Community Foundation. I am proud of what we built together. The development of these organizations has brought me great joy and fulfilment. I could not have been luckier to do something that is so worthwhile to the community. It is a rare gift to do what you love and to benefit others.

What advice would you give young Latinas?

When I was young I decided that the only way out of poverty was for me to get an education. I was right. I urge young Latinas to focus on their education in an area that they love. It is also terribly important to treat others the way you want to be treated. How you live your life and treat others matters. Be charitable, read all you can, and never lose hope.

4. Tell us about a transformative time in your life?

I went to college and graduate school at Berkeley during a revolutionary time. It was the beginning of my career and I witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam war, The War on poverty, The Free Speech Movement, and The Chicano Movement. It was a turbulent, yet very exciting time. You could feel the electricity, the vibrancy in the air. There was real liberalism and it truly shaped me. I was always a Democrat because of my amazing step-father, but Berkeley took my understanding to the next level.

It was during this time that I also met my Latino and African American mentors. Evelio Grillo really pushed me to get a professional degree and Jimmy Delgadillo taught me how to fight. It was incredible to see Latino leaders coming together and building community power. That is where I found my identity.

5. What is your superpower? 

Hahaha, I don’t think I have a superpower. I do think that I throw my whole self into whatever it is I do. Sometimes that intensity probably wasn’t so good, but it is what has allowed me to make the contributions I have. It is my intense focus that is probably my superpower.