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Our members reflect a wide diversity in thought, experience and expertise – enriching each of us individually and strengthening us collectively.


Irma Márquez Trapero

Chief Executive Officer

Irma Márquez Trapero is the Executive Director of LatinoLEAD, a nonprofit organization of Latinx leaders across all sectors who join together to create innovative strategies to drive and define policies and perceptions that advance Latinx collective influence, success, and power. Irma is an immigrant from Culiacán, México. At the age of nine, her family emigrated to St. James, a small rural farm town in Southern Minnesota. She is a proud DREAMer and former Deferred Action (DACA) recipient. She’s passionate about the advancement of Latinx in the state of Minnesota and believes in the opportunity that Minnesota has to ensure this continues to be a great home for the Latinx community.


Irma has over 15 years of experience serving in the areas of community organizing, policy and political campaign work, immigration and employment law, nonprofit, and education. Irma holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Gustavus Adolphus College. She was also a 2015-2016 University of Minnesota's Humphrey Policy Fellow Alum and serves as a member of Make It. MSP Leadership Council, an initiative to have our region become a Top 10 metro at attracting and retaining talent, especially people of color. Most recently, she was accepted as a 2022 participant into Harvard Business School's Young American Leaders Program and was the winner of the 2023 Outstanding Community Builder Award recognized by the Minnesota Council of Latino Affairs and presented by Governor Tim Walz. 


In her spare time, she enjoys musicals and live concerts, being with family, and exploring new places with friends. Her happy place is throwing down in the kitchen and you will likely find her exercising and biking outdoors in the summer.


Karen Velez Barron

Chief Operations Officer

Karen Velez is an accomplished organizer and immigration advocate whose passion for human rights earned her the distinction of being named “40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics” by the Huffington Post. Before joining Women Winning, Karen has years of experience working in operations and has managed grassroots fundraising programs and organized successful donor events as Deputy Finance Director. Her own immigration story and frustrations with America’s broken immigration system helped drive her efforts as the face of DACA Sin Miedo, a Minnesota awareness campaign for DACA recipients, while she was still a high school student. 

Karen grew up in the suburbs of Minnesota surrounded by a large and close-knit family and eventually moved to Washington D.C. While in D.C., she majored in Political Science at George Washington University and worked as a paralegal at the nationally renowned, full-service immigration law firm, Benach Collopy. Karen’s experience in D.C. helped her build well-rounded experience managing various teams and legal research. Despite her love for the nation’s capital, Minnesota is home. She returned to be closer to her beloved family and to help Minnesota maintain its status as the Midwest’s progressive firewall.

Outside of her busy work life, Karen loves trying new, locally-owned Twin Cities restaurants, listening to her favorite podcasts, and of course, you can always find her spending time with her close friends and family.

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Melissa Vazquez

Communications & Community Engagement Manager

Melissa Gonzalez Vazquez is a polished individual and human rights advocate whose personal experiences with diverse immigrant communities drew her to nonprofits that celebrate and synergize Latine leadership from wide age ranges. Drawing from her firsthand encounters with the transformative impact of Latine-focused nonprofits, Melissa is dedicated to enhancing our community’s access, visibility, and success through purposeful programming, cross-sector partnerships, impactful narratives, and cross-cultural coalition building efforts. She’s passionate about building and showcasing Latine collective power across the Western Hemisphere and believes that Minnesota is an excellent hub to foster Latine leadership infrastructure and strategies. After building professional experience alongside leadership campaigns in Illinois, California, Florida, and throughout Texas, she is dedicated to connecting emerging vanguards across industries and highlighting our Latine community’s assets.


Melissa spent her childhood in Houston where she was immersed in ‘Tex-Mex’ culture and other international identities before relocating to Northfield, Minnesota to study at Carleton College. Upon completing her undergraduate degree in Political Science–International Relations, she stayed in Minnesota and focused her professional career on non-profit communications. Her background in congressional campaign communications and designing nationwide Latine leadership programming reinforced her passion for aligning Latine efforts and amplifying its collective influence through narrative writing, digital marketing and graphic design. 

Beyond her professional pursuits, Melissa finds joy in hanging out with her cats, attending high energy concerts, discovering hidden gem nature trails, and delving into the enchanting realms of fantasy literature during her leisure time. In the summer, you’ll likely find her swimming in  a nearby lake!

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Brenda Sanchez

Director of Leadership Programs

Brenda Sanchez serves as the dynamic Director of Leadership Programs. Most recently, she worked at the University of Southern California (USC) Race & Equity Center, where she supported K-12 racial equity programming and played a crucial role in the development of the Compton College Faculty Prep Academy. Prior to her time at USC, Brenda served as the coordinator for Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan's Children's Cabinet at the Minnesota Department of Management & Budget. Brenda also served under former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in Washington D.C. Wanting to serve her Minnesota community, she also served U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Through the City of Minneapolis Urban Scholars program, Brenda served in diverse roles, from working at Minneapolis Animal Control to contributing to youth and leadership development programming in Governor Dayton's Office. Through CHCI, Urban Scholars, and USC, she discovered her passion for pipeline programs, noting the potential they hold in shaping future leaders. With her extensive background in public sector roles, coupled with her participation in leadership programs for people of color, Brenda brings her expertise to LatinoLEAD. 


Brenda holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California and a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

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