Meet the 2021 staff

Meet our student journalists

More than a year into an ongoing global pandemic, the Latino Reporter’s staff of intrepid student journalists have come together virtually — for the second year in a row — to bring you the news from around the country, the digital halls of the 2021 National Association of Hispanic Journalists conference and, for the first time, overseas.

Get to know our team:

Laura Anaya-Morga grew up watching her Mexican father wake up for work every morning and turn on Univision to hear the news. Raised in Fontana, Calif., Anaya-Morga’s interest in news took root at an early age. She took a special interest in stories that reflected the Latino community she was surrounded by. She honed in on that passion as a multimedia intern last year at ¡Presente! Media, where she covered immigrant detention centers and told stories rooted in the Latino experience. She was named news editor at her campus newspaper, the Highlander, where she edits stories to the latest Taylor Swift bop. Anaya-Morga is a recent graduate from the University of California, Riverside, where she studied media and culture. In the summer of 2021, she joined the intern class at the Los Angeles Times, where she covers local stories. Her passions include coffee shops and “Back to the Future” — the first one, of course. Follow her on Twitter @lauraanayam_.

Maya Brown

Maya Brown dreams of becoming a White House correspondent. She is fueled by a love of politics and a drive to cover issues that she can bring her own unique perspective to as a Black, Mexican woman. A recent “Hamilton” convert, Brown has viewed the decorated musical in its entirety three times over the last six months. Brown, a senior at Stony Brook University in N.Y., was named managing editor for the university’s student newspaper, the Statesman. She also serves as president of the Society of Professional Journalists chapter and vice president of the Latin American Student Organization at her school. Over the summer, Brown has worked at NBC Universal as a newsgathering intern for the social team. She draws daily inspiration from professional journalists like CNN’s Abby Phillip and Anderson Cooper. When she’s not working or immersing herself in campus culture, Brown loves to perform — even if there’s no audience to appreciate her talents. She dances, acts and sings, and enjoys indulging in an horchata when she can. Follow her on Twitter @mayaabrown10.

– Laura Anaya-Morga

Mónica Cappas believes that stories are therapeutic. Although it wasn’t clear to her at first, her never-ending love of books, movies, animation, and social justice led her to find a path that combined the elements of storytelling with her belief in social justice as a student studying television and radio communication at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Her studies focus on three main disciplines: film, production and journalism. Cappas, who appreciates the written word but feels at home behind a camera, hopes to work as a photojournalist when she graduates — or, perhaps, land a job working in television and film production. She got through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic by learning to appreciate the joys of the open road. She has become an avid road-tripper and continues to explore the nooks and crannies of her island. Follow her on Twitter @Mkappa2000.

– Aurora Martínez

Daisy Espinoza was just six years old when she was first awed by broadcast journalism. She can still remember the faces and voices of Don Francisco and Satcha Pretto as they strode across her television screen reporting the news and interviewing people on Despierta América. Inspired, Espinoza signed up for the morning broadcast at her elementary school — and she hasn’t stopped since. Born and raised in Houston, Espinoza began producing her own news packages in high school. A 2021 graduate of the University of Houston, Espinoza studied broadcast journalism and human development and family studies. During her time in college, Espinoza worked for the university television station, CoogTV, and served as the vice president and founder of her school’s Association of Latinx Hispanic Advocates and Allies. Previously, she worked in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as a studio intern and interned at Houston Public Radio. Follow her on Twitter @daisynespinoza_.

– María Paula Mijares Torres

Danelys Estévez-Dávila is passionate about the things that define people — the seen and unseen qualities that make individuals uniquely who they are. The daughter of Afro-Latino parents, Estévez-Dávila grew up in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. As a student at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, Estévez-Dávila has studied journalism, French and gender issues, all the while serving as an editor for Pulso Estudiantil. She enjoys pursuing stories about issues of race and gender, Latinidad and human rights. Through storytelling, Estévez-Dávila believes that people from different worlds can find common ground and connection. She works as a volunteer at her local radio station in Puerto Rico and has begun to experiment with podcast production. Estévez-Dávila is an ice cream and dark coffee lover — but not at the same time. Follow her on Twitter @estevezdavila.

– Jorge Flores

Jorge Flores uprooted his life and entered the unknown when he accepted an opportunity to pursue his dreams in the United States. Born and raised in Nuevo León, México, he was raised with a strong appreciation of culture and a deep understanding of his own roots and identity. When he moved to the U.S., however, he soon realized his story was part of a larger one and quickly began to understand the complexities that Latinos face in their communities. Flores has developed a passion for probing and learning about the intricacies of Latinidad, diversity and racial justice and hopes to use journalism to shine a light on these issues. A student at California State University, Fullerton, Flores is studying to become a bilingual journalist and hopes to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, ultimately landing a job as an anchor. He is working this summer as an intern at NBC Telemundo Enterprises and was recently elected president of the NAHJ student chapter at his university. In his free time, Flores enjoys listening to music — especially his favorite reggaeton playlists. Follow him on Twitter @jorgefles.

– Danelys Estévez-Dávila

Aurora Martínez grew up reading the newspaper with her grandfather. She fell in love with newsprint at an early age and recalls witnessing the valiant labor of journalists in a country where freedom of the press and expression was never guaranteed. To practice journalism, she learned, took bravery, commitment and a belief in something larger than one person. This admiration for the journalists of her country and the work they have produced in extreme adversity inspired her to pursue her own path toward becoming a bilingual journalist who hopes to write for a newspaper someday. Martínez is a junior at the University of Florida, where she was awarded a grant intended to help educate diabetes patients in Nicaragua, where she has been living and working throughout the summer — and from where she has pioneered the Latino Reporter’s first-ever international bureau. Martínez spends her spare time assembling puzzles with thousands of pieces and enjoys lounging in coffee shops around Gainesville, Fla. Follow her on Twitter @AuroraCeciliaM.

– Mónica Cappas

María Paula Mijares Torres is used to improvising in unfamiliar environments. As a student at Drexel University, she travelled nearly 13 hours to Greece for her first co-op program for sociology research. But when the coronavirus pandemic exploded in March 2020 and flights from and around Europe were cancelled en masse, what was supposed to be a six month trip quickly turned into a nearly year long stint in Greece. Despite being an ocean away from the familiar environment of her college, her friends in the U.S. and relatives in Venezuela, Mijares Torres made do. Her visa and lease were extended to accommodate her stay during the unexpected crisis. Shortly after her return in August 2020, Mijares Torres began another co-op — this time, closer to home at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she has worked as a bilingual features reporter covering stories in the local Philadelphia community. Her background in print and passion for writing continues to bear fruit at her student newspaper, The Triangle, where she serves as the news editor. Mijares Torres, a communications student with a concentration in journalism, is a podcast lover and language enthusiast. She hopes to someday cover Latin America and tell deeply reported investigative and narrative stories. Follow her on Twitter @mapamijares.

– Daisy Espinoza

Olivia Montes has had a passion for writing for nearly as long as she can remember. But she never considered pursuing a career in journalism until she joined her college newspaper, The Elm, and became fascinated by the editorial process. Montes is a junior at Washington College, where she studies communication, media studies and political science, with a concentration on identity and culture and a minor in journalism, editing and publishing. Over the summer, Montes has interned at Delaware State News, where she covers general news. Montes hopes to pursue a career in print journalism — where she can flex her writing muscles — but has recently discovered a passion for audio storytelling after she began a podcast at her college’s radio station. Through her work, Montes strives to bring stories to life about people who have been marginalized due to their identity. In her free time, Montes enjoys reading, writing and knitting — a relatively new hobby that she sought to master during quarantine. Follow her on Twitter @MontesLiv.

– Denisse Quintanilla

Denisse Quintanilla is an aspiring bilingual multimedia journalist who is focused on reporting stories that center the Hispanic and Latinx community. She is a senior at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, where she studies Spanish and communications with a concentration in media studies and production. In addition to writing for her college newspaper, The Outlook, Quintanilla also runs her own YouTube channel, where she showcases her interviewing abilities by sitting down with correspondents from news networks including journalists from Despierta América and Univision. She hopes the information she gets from these videos help inspire others to pursue their dreams, regardless of how hard it might get. Some of her most recent guests include Dr. Juan Rivera, Claudia Uceda and Alberto Martínez. She is an intern at CNBC En Español and hopes to continue her career in broadcast journalism after she graduates. When she is not reporting, Quintanilla enjoys learning new languages and traveling. Follow her on Twitter @denisseqtv.

– Olivia Montes

Marc Ray has lived his entire life in Houston, Texas, where he was born, raised and now attends the University of Houston, studying broadcast journalism. When he is not working, he spends much of his time playing basketball at his local recreation center or watching mixed martial arts as part of his daily routine — not only to pump himself up, but also because he deeply enjoys the sport. As you might imagine, Ray is a loyal fan of the Houston Texans and has worked for Houston Public Media, where he interned in the newsroom and produced sports features and election coverage. Ray covered the 2020 protests in Houston for El Gato Media network and occasionally produces videos for an internship at AARP. You’ve heard of “Emily in Paris,” but keep an eye out for “Marc in Tokyo” as Ray makes plans to follow his fandom of the “Fast & Furious” franchise all the way to Japan. You can find him on Twitter @marcraysports.

– Brandy Ruiz

Brandy Ruiz is a California girl who grew up surrounded by the lowrider culture and attended car shows monthly as a kid. Today, she is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, where she studies multimedia journalism, marketing and political science. Ruiz is a social media intern for El Paso Matters and is the editor and chief for Minero Magazine, the university’s bilingual, student-led publication. Her coverage has ranged from sports stories to pieces that deeply reflect the local community. One piece that she is especially proud of revolves around Hispanic Identity and its complexities. Ruiz believes the goal of a journalist should be to help make the world a more empathetic and understanding place by presenting people with facts as well as other people’s experiences. She dreams of working for Teen Vogue and becoming the magazine’s first-ever Latina editor in chief. When she’s not watching “Saving Mr. Banks” or “Julie and Julia,” she is at her local museum learning about different cultures or putting together her “bomb” quesadillas at home. You can follow her on Twitter @brcndy.

– Marc Ray

Meet the mentors

Nicole Acevedo joined the Latino Reporter newsroom in 2020 as its Spanish-language news editor. She is a reporter at NBC News Digital where she produces enterprise stories for NBC Latino and breaking news for From Puerto Rico’s reconstruction process after Hurricane Maria and the island’s financial crisis to politics, pop culture and the coronavirus pandemic, Acevedo’s reporting focuses on issues impacting Latino communities in the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America. In the past, Acevedo has published stories for MSNBCTelemundo 47 and NPR’s Latino USA. Before joining NBC, she was part of the inaugural cohort of students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s first Spanish-language bilingual journalism program. In 2016, she was one of 20 fellows selected to join the Knight Diversity Internship Program at CUNY where she completed an internship with Starfish Media Group, a production and distribution company founded by award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Acevedo left la isla nearly eight years ago to attend the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez has been visuals lead for the Latino Reporter for 12 years, occasionally filling in as director. He is an award-winning photo and multimedia journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle. He began his career in newspapers at the ripe age of 10, at his hometown paper, The Martinez News Gazette, where they were silly enough to give him a key to the building. His love of journalism developed there, choosing it as a career. In his 23 years at the Chronicle, he’s covered national and international assignments. Most notably he’s covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and worked extensively in Latin America, covering elections, natural disasters, economic policy, and immigration — even crossing through desert in Northern Mexico with immigrants through smugglers’ camps. Other notable work includes short documentaries on a doctor providing care in the Ngorngoro Crater of Tanzania, and on a group working to eliminate child slavery in Nepal. A San Francisco Bay Area native, he spends his off time rebuilding a craftsman home he bought 12 years ago, designing and building things by hand, and putting previous skills as a sous chef to good use.

Rafael Carranza credits the start of his journalism career to NAHJ. He is an alum of the 2006 Student Campus, the 2009 Latino Reporter and was an NAHJ Scholar. He joined the Student Project mentor staff in 2021. Carranza works at The Arizona Republic and the USA Today Network, where he covers immigration and issues along the U.S.-Mexico border. He contributed to the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning project “The Wall,” and earned a Rocky Mountain Emmy for his contributions. He previously worked as a correspondent covering the Pope and the Vatican in Rome, and before that as a television reporter in south Texas. When he’s not reporting, you are likely to find him out hiking the mountains and canyons of the desert Southwest.

Marissa J. Lang, a 2009 Latino Reporter alumna, is the co-director of NAHJ’s 2021 Student Project. A fierce advocate of Latino student journalists, Lang has served as an NAHJ mentor for the last four years and co-directed the first-ever virtual newsroom in 2020. Lang is a reporter for the The Washington Post, where she writes about gentrification, housing and the changing face of American cities on the paper’s social issues team. She previously covered protests, social unrest and the rise of domestic extremism for The Post, culminating in her coverage of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Lang came to the nation’s capital in 2018 from the San Francisco Chronicle, where she covered the tech industry. Lang has previously covered city government for the Sacramento Bee, criminal justice for the Salt Lake Tribune and all-things-Florida for the Tampa Bay Times. A native of New York City, Lang is a notorious pizza snob who has not yet found an acceptable substitute in Washington. She is a doting dog mom, avid yogi and unrepentant sinvergüenza.

Kassandra Lau is a Latino Reporter alumna and a two-time mentor for the program, having first had the privilege at the 2015 conference in Orlando, Fla. She is honored to take part in the program again alongside a handful of her fellow alums of the 2009 Student Projects. Lau produces the statewide, public affairs program Arizona 360 at Arizona Public Media in Tucson, Ariz., where her work has earned her two Rocky Mountain Emmy awards and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. She knew journalism was the right career for her after attending the 2008 UNITY Convention as a college freshman, where she saw a gathering of some of the most bright and talented journalists, all under one roof, and thought to herself, “I need to be part of this.”

Ana Ley has been a Latino Reporter mentor for the past eight years and is co-director for its 2021 edition. She is an alumna of the program and owes her career to it. Ley is a state and city editor at The Virginian-Pilot, where she previously worked as a local reporter. Her investigative work has changed laws, toppled public officials and demoted the CEO of a multi-billion dollar transportation company. In 2021, she was honored as a Livingston Award finalist for her work on the enduring role and legacy of racism in Virginia politics. Beyond accountability journalism, Ley loves Beyoncé, Chihuahua dogs and avocado-anything, in that order.

Vanessa Martínez joined the Latino Reporter newsroom in 2021 as a mentor. She is a data and graphics journalist at the Los Angeles Times. Beyond working with data, Martínez designs and builds special presentations for articles that showcase the news in unique and visually engaging ways. She previously worked at the Seattle Times and the Southern California News Group.

Jeff Mercado is a documentary producer, photographer and filmmaker from Los Angeles, Calif. His work focuses on finding the nuance in stories about race, culture, and sports. He is currently a producer and cinematographer for Vice News, an Emmy award-winning television program. Before he joined Vice, Jeff had worked at NBC, Univision, and ABC as a digital media producer. Jeff is a graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism. He is also a proud alumni of five community colleges in Southern California. Jeff joined the Latino Reporter mentor staff in 2021 after moonlighting as a fill-in mentor in years past. Follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram @jefemercado.