Hispanic Latine Advisory Council
The Mission of the Mayor’s Hispanic Latine Advisory Council is to provide opportunities that empower our community and celebrate our rich cultural heritage.
We are committed to working together to:
- Bring cultures together
- Provide a voice for our communities
- Foster cultural diversity
- Build trust
- Increase involvement
- Promote equal opportunity to access resources.
Since 1995, Brandy Cortes has provided various social services, case management and counseling services in Erie and throughout Erie County. These services specialized in mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance-use disorders.
At Gannon University, Brandy earned her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mental Health Counseling, with a minor in social work. She went on to get her Master’s of Science Degree in Counseling Psychology, with a certification in secondary guidance, also from Gannon. Brandy is an adjunct Professor at Gannon, teaching in areas of social work and psychology.
Brandy is a Board member of Erie Latino Leadership Association, and she is a commissioner for Diverse Erie, which focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and the needs for the BIPOC community throughout Erie County. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Brandy says that her greatest achievements are her two children, Kira and Mathias, who have also continued her passion of commitment to community service in Erie City and Erie County. Brandy’s drive toward community involvement originates from her own experiences growing up in poverty, on the lower east side here in Erie.
Her father and his family are from Costa Rica. Brandy empathizes with individuals and families struggling with financial limitations, language barriers, and lack of opportunities, especially for the BIPOC community.
One of Brandy’s major goals is to assist with creating, investing, and advocating for an environment in Erie City & Erie County, where people of all colors and backgrounds are welcome, included, and have equal opportunities.
Vanessa Belen has served on the City’s Community Police Relations Group and currently serves on the City’s Strengthening Police Community Partnerships Council. She is also a board member for the Crime Victim Center of Erie County. She is a former commissioner for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s Committee on Latino Affairs and former board member of the Erie Latino Leadership Association.
MARIE COLON GONZALEZ
Marie Colon Gonzalez is an Income Maintenance Caseworker in the state County Assistance Office with more than 15 years of experience helping the Hispanic population of Erie County with language barriers and self-sufficiency.
Marie was born in 1990 in Puerto Rico. She grew up in New Haven, Connecticut and moved to Erie with her family in 2000. In 2008, she graduated what was called the Perseus House Charter School of Excellence, was honored with the “Student of the Year” award and served on student government as treasurer, vice-president, and president.
After graduating, Marie worked as an interpreter through Spanish Bilingual Services.
She is the mother of six children.
In 2014, Marie began working for the Multicultural Community Resource Center. She served as an interpreter and later as an Aging Case Manager, Office Manager (Interpretation) and as a Drug & Alcohol Case Manager before moving on to the County Assistance Office.
In 2021, she graduated from what was then called Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a Human Services associate degree. Recently, Marie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from what is now PennWest Edinboro, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree.
Marie is committed to serving the Latino/Hispanic population in the Erie area and desires to be part of future changes and growth in the city by representing and being a voice for the community.
The rest of the Advisory Council are with us today. I’ll ask you each to rise while I introduce you. From your left (seated behind me), first up is:
Gloria Cota-Robles was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. As the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, she credits her Hispanic heritage and upbringing for her positive outlook on life despite struggle, her determination to improve the lives of others, and the importance of strong family relationships. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1993.
Gloria has over 20 years of experience working with adults with mental illness. She developed and managed financial programs, first through Case Management Support Services, then Erie County Care Management, which focused on promoting financial literacy in this diverse and vulnerable population.
Gloria has two children. Her adult son was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, resulting in total blindness. At 3 years old, he was diagnosed with developmental disabilities and autism. These challenges have provided many life lessons as she learned with her family to navigate support systems available to families with special needs children.
In recent years, Gloria has transitioned from public service to working at home to take care of her family. She hopes the next chapter in life affords her the opportunity to share her expertise and experience to contribute to meaningful change for women and families in the Erie community.
DR. RICARDO L. ESCAJADILLO
Dr. Ricardo “Rocky” Escajadillo graduated Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Natural Sciences, with a minor in Psychology. Rocky obtained his Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
With more than 10 years of experience in physical therapy, Rocky moved to Erie in 2017 and now works as a Whole Health Program Manager at the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Part of his responsibilities include improving outreach to the Erie VAMC staff to enhance their overall health and well-being. Rocky plays an integral role as the Special Emphasis Program Manager for the VAMC’s Hispanic employees.
He is passionate about educating others about the many historic Hispanic leaders in military and in the health field. Dr. Escajadillo also serves as the Chairperson for Diverse Erie Commission, advocating for and promoting new initiatives for the BIPOC community.
Israel Jonathan Estrada is a native of Honduras, a composer, and a gifted musician. He draws great joy from music and is passionate about sharing that joy with audiences and students. He began his musical career at the age of 7 in a music school dedicated to children, where he began playing the cello. At the same time, he was impacted by the many different musical composers that have shaped musical history forever.
As Estrada progressed in his studies, he became more intrigued about the art of musical composition. His first music theory teacher taught him the theoretical basis and foundations to create music and tutored him until his composing skills evolved, and he was able to create his first repertoire of compositions.
Israel continued his studies at Mercyhurst University, where he expanded his knowledge in music and composition and graduated with a BA in Music Performance. This helped him to get experiences composing music, making music arrangements, and playing with different groups in the US and around the world.
Israel has worked as a music teacher in different areas, including cello, voice, piano, and more.
He has worked with churches as a church musician and worship leader, and is currently working with 2 Methodist churches, as well as getting education and guidance to become a minister.
He lives in Erie with his two sons Israel, age 8 and Jackson, age 6.
Lourdes Jasso is a Mexican native who immigrated as a child with her family to Chicago.
In 2005, Lourdes earned her Bachelor of Arts in Photography from Columbia College Chicago. She worked in the Photography Department at Columbia College Chicago, along with the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Exhibition Department in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools.
In 2007, Lourdes moved with her family to Erie where she became a Program Director for the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House. Her ties to the community include her seat on Governor Shapiro’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, as a Democratic Committeewoman for Erie’s Sixth Ward, and as a mentor for Gaia Youth United, a teen group focused on social justice topics. Lourdes is also the Vice President of Folk/Traditional Arts for the CHROMA Guild.
Lourdes was in the Erie Reader’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2019, and was Erie Arts & Culture’s Carla Hughes Art Educator of the Year for 2022. She is pursuing her career as a mixed media artist with a focus on social justice causes. In this work, Lourdes seeks to center the experiences of Mexican immigrant women in the United States.
Mario Medina is the third generation on his mother’s side of his family to call Erie home. Mario’s father was a well-known Latino advocate in Erie and familiar to many Spanish-speakers from his time co-hosting a weekly Spanish radio program on WERG 90.5 FM, Gannon University’s radio station.
After graduating college from Gannon, Mario worked as a union organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1996 based in Atlanta. Mario attended law school at the Ohio State University and is grateful to once again live close to his family and to serve the community of northwestern Pennsylvania.
Mario also serves on the Board of Directors for Greater Erie Community Action Committee. He is a drummer, a hopeless Buffalo wings addict, and is currently Erie’s only Spanish bilingual attorney.
EDGARDO “EDDIE” OCASIO
Edgardo “Eddie” Ocasio was born in Philadelphia and, after a year in Puerto Rico, his family moved to Erie.
Eddie is a program director for the Multicultural Community Resource Center’s Family Support Center in collaboration with the Housing Authority of the City of Erie.
Eddie has been a community activist for the Latino community since 1991. He is also a co-founder and member of the Erie Latino Leadership Association (ELLA) since 2015. ELLA is focused on enhancing the lives of Latino’s in Erie County.
Since 2020, Eddie has been a member of the Erie Philharmonic’s Board of Governors. His professional experience has led him from HIV Testing and Counseling to Drug and Alcohol Counseling to Employment Coordinator.
Eddie’s experience with the community includes several planning committees, the annual Erie County Hispanic festival, health fairs, and more. Eddie is also the DJ for the weekly Spanish radio show on Gannon’s WERG 90.5 FM with over 10 years of experience playing Spanish music and informing the community about events and opportunities.
ARMANDO R. REYES
Born and raised on the southside of Chicago, Armando Reyes grew up immersed in a deeply rooted Mexican community. Attending public and private schools, he began to realize that most of the issues facing his community were derived from a lack of opportunities and resources.
After moving to Erie in 2007 to start a career as an auto mechanic, he began to focus on how he could become part of the solution to improve issues facing his family in their new city.
In 2018, he started Lake Erie Woodworks, a custom woodworking company, in the heart of Erie that he has grown into a recognized and respected member of the business community.
He also serves on the City’s Urban Forest Committee, is the Vice President of the Chroma Guild (which is a collective of Erie based artists of color) and is a Cub Scout leader. In the past, he’s served as Vice Chairman of the Erie County Young Democrats. In 2020, Armando was recognized as an Erie Reader 40 under 40 honoree.
Mary Santiago was born in Newark, New Jersey and is of Puerto Rican descent. In Newark, she established a female empowerment support group called “Women Rise Up,” as well as a food donation program for families in need.
She moved to Erie in 2017 where she has been a community advocate specializing in outreach services.
For the past six years, Mary has worked as a bilingual Nutrition Technologist at United Neighborhood Facilities Health Care Corporation’s Erie office which administers the state Women, Infant and Children program. She has also served with the Erie Kiwanis Club, Erie City Moms and many other community programs.