Co-Founder and Executive Director
Estela Ortega is the Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza and oversees the strategic and operational management of the organization, which has over 90 employees and an operating budget of $5.9 million.
Ortega began a career of service and community organizing as a young adult through participation in a number of advocacy, voter registration and anti-war initiatives in her hometown of Houston, Texas. In 1972 she went on to join the peaceful occupation of the old abandoned Beacon Hill Elementary School that would later become El Centro de la Raza.
For the next forty-two years, Ortega actively engaged in coalition building, political advocacy and strategic development while working at El Centro, distinguishing herself as one of El Centro’s most effective leaders and as a respected community organizer. Estela Ortega also serves on various boards and committees in the areas of civil rights, education, transportation, economic development and the environment.
Ortega has received numerous recognitions and awards throughout her distinguished career with the most recent being the 2014 Civil Rights Champion Award by the City of Seattle Women’s Commission, the 2014 Community Leadership Award by Tabor 100 and the 2014 Amazing Women Mentor Recognition by Asian Weekly.
Ortega was married to the late Roberto Maestas, founder of El Centro de la Raza, and has two accomplished daughters who are both attorneys and four wonderful grandchildren.
Principal Founder and Previous Executive Director
Roberto Maestas was born on July 9, 1938 in New Mexico. As a teenager, he came to Washington State as a seasonal Farm Worker. Economic reasons forced Roberto to drop out of high school but he later became one of the first Chicano students to graduate from the University of Washington.
Founder of El Centro de la Raza, Roberto was its Executive Director from 1972 to 2009 when he transitioned to the role of Sr. Advisor and Chair of Historical Resources at El Centro de la Raza.
Roberto did extensive writing, lecturing, and community action in the struggle for social, environmental and economic justice. He traveled and spoke extensively in Latin America, Asia, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and all over the United States.
Roberto was listed in the University of Washington’s Columns Magazine among the “Wondrous One Hundred” alumni. On November 12, 2009 the Seattle YMCA A.K. Guy Award honored Roberto Maestas, Larry Gossett, Bob Santos and Bernie Whitebear for their extraordinary achievement of building the strongest multi-racial coalition of any major city in the United States over a period of four decades.
Roberto passed away on September 22, 2010 at the age of 72. He was proud of the fact that he had been arrested at least 13 times for standing up for social justice issues, the last, in the Yakima Valley, just weeks before his death.