WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino (FRIENDS), an advocacy campaign for the creation of a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall dedicated to the history of American Latinos in the US, announced today that Lili Gil Valletta has been appointed to lead its board of directors as chairwoman. In addition, Yvette Peña was appointed to vice chair, Jorge A. Plasencia was appointed to board treasurer, and Luis R. Cancel was appointed to board secretary. Two new directors have also joined the board: artist and advocate, John Leguizamo, and Texas entrepreneur and business leader, Luis Spinola.
“We are honored to have these visionary leaders join us in our mission to honor the impact and influence of American Latinos throughout our nation’s history,” said Estuardo Rodriguez, President and CEO of FRIENDS. “We look forward to tapping into their combined talent and leadership to continue our important work on Capitol Hill and beyond.”
The additions come after a pivotal year for the campaign with the passage of the National Museum of the American Latino Act in December of 2020, which officially establishes the museum within the Smithsonian Institution. The next two years of the campaign will be spent securing the best location for the museum on the National Mall and reaching a fundraising goal of $350 million for its design and build.
“I am honored to take the helm of such an important initiative and campaign that will impact generations to come. A strong foundation has been built thus far, and I look forward to working with the board members, and public-private partners to help us keep the momentum going and make this dream a reality,” said Chairwoman Gil Valleta.
Learn more about the board of directors below and read their full bios here.
Board Chair – Lili Gil Valletta
Lili Gil Valletta is an award-winning entrepreneur and CEO of CIEN+ and CulturIntel, companies she founded after over 15 years of executive experience at Johnson & Johnson and other corporations. Her cultural marketing and research tech firm helps Fortune 500 companies successfully understand and reach diverse markets to drive business growth and impact. Gil Valletta has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Latinas, Hispanic Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Top 50 Most Influential in Healthcare, and selected by The World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, among many other honors. She is also a regular television contributor.
An immigrant from Colombia, Gil Valletta earned a B.A. in Business Administration from Southwestern Adventist University, an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado, and completed the World Economic Forum’s Public Policy Executive Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Board Vice Chair – Yvette Peña
Yvette Peña is Vice President of Multicultural Leadership in the United States and Puerto Rico at AARP. Peña has more than 20 years of experience in executive roles, including serving as the first Director of Multicultural Affairs at Sports Authority and Walgreens.
Born in New York City of Dominican parents, Yvette Peña has navigated bilingual and bicultural spaces from a very young age. After graduating in Business Administration from Baruch College in New York, she has dedicated her career to the public sector by leading diverse community initiatives.
Board Treasurer – Jorge A. Plasencia
Jorge A. Plasencia is co-founder, chairman and CEO of Republica Havas, a creative, media and communications agency he co-founded in 2006. Plasencia is also co-founder and chairman emeritus of Amigos For Kids, a Miami-based nonprofit started in 1991 to serve underprivileged children and families. He is also the former board chair of UnidosUS, the nation’s
largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Prior to Republica Havas, he held leadership roles with Univision, Estefan Enterprises, and the Florida Marlins.
A Cuban American, Plasencia earned a B.S. from Barry University and completed the Advanced Management Education Program at the Kellogg School of Management.
Board Secretary – Luis R. Cancel
Luis R. Cancel is an artist, arts administrator, and distinguished public servant with a career that spans 30 years leading various not-for-profit and public agencies. He has served as the Head of Cultural Affairs for both New York City and the City of San Francisco, appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. He has served on several boards including the Smithsonian Council and on the National Museum of the American Latino Commission, appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Cancel earned an M.P.A. from Harvard University in Public Administration; an M.A. from New York University in Museum Management/Arts Administration and a B.F.A. from the Pratt Institute, where he studied painting and printmaking. He is a native son of the South Bronx.
Director – John Leguizamo
John Leguizamo is an Emmy-winning, Golden Globe-nominated actor. He recently received critical acclaim for his role in the Ava DuVernay mini-series When They See Us, for which he was nominated for an Emmy and Critics Choice Award, among many others. Leguizamo has starred in, written, and produced a number of notable films, Broadway productions, and TV series, including the Tony Award-nominated one-man show Latin History for Morons, highlighting the near total absence of Latinos in American history classes.
At the age of four, Leguizamo immigrated to Queens, New York from Colombia with his family, where he began his successful career in the entertainment industry.
Director – Luis Spinola
Luis Spinola is President and CEO of Azteca-Omega Group, a general contracting and construction corporation he founded more than 40 years ago. As a dedicated advocate for the Latino community, Spinola has spearheaded internship and mentorship programs for Latino and Latina students in engineering and construction and was honored by the Dallas Cowboys with the Hispanic Heritage Leadership award for his community involvement.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Spinola immigrated to the US in 1983.
About Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino
The Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino strives to create a museum in our nation’s capital to educate, inspire and encourage respect and understanding of the richness and diversity of the American Latino experience within the U.S. and its territories by highlighting the contributions made by Latino leaders, pioneers and communities to the American way of life. FRIENDS is not affiliated in any way with the Smithsonian Institution.