Women's Empowerment Panel

The Frida Empowerment Panel brings together strong women from the community to not only inspire the new generations of young women and girls, but to highlight and celebrate female strength and accomplishment.

The Panel

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Michelle Vallejo

Owner and Operator, Pulga Los Portales - Alton, TX

Owner and Operator, Hustle + Socialize - San Antonio, TX


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Vanessa Vega

Manager, Vegas Autos Inc.  Drummer to various bands and artists across the RGV.  Creator of LezDay Events RGV.

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Victoria Pena

Coordinator of Women’s Basketball Operations, UTRGV



Connie Garza

A woman of many firsts.

Natalia Velazquez

Certified Building Official

Diana Tovar

Sound Engineer, Casa Panchita Studios

Vocalist/Lead Guitar/Co-Founder, Geminii

About the Panelist

Natalie Velazquez

My interest in the construction industry began at a very young age.  I was 14 years old and very intrigued with my father who was, and still is, a licensed Master Electrician.  Joining him out in the field was the highlight of my day.  As my high school years were nearing to an end, I got more involved and extremely motivated to study the National Electrical Code and Building Codes.  This determination led me to become a Master Electrician and immediately began to work for the City of Mission.  Upon entering the workforce, it was to my surprise that I was the only female Building Inspector working for that city.

At a very early stage of my career, I had to prove myself in a male-dominated field, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, as one who wouldn’t let my gender get in the way.  I strongly believed that my work ethic, quality of work and determination as a Building Inspector would open doors for me.  In this field, continuing education is crucial due to the industry always evolving and knew it would help me gain the respect I deserved and would break the gender barriers that existed.

My determination, persistence and interest in construction soon led me to retain 14 certifications from several organizations, including the International Code Council.  I also hold three (3) stateC licenses, which consist of Master Electrician from Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, State Plumbing Inspector from Texas State of Plumbing Examiner Board and as a Code Enforcement Officer from Texas Health Department. 

In 2014, becoming the only female Certified Building Official in the Rio Grande Valley, was a confirmation of all the hard work I set out to be as a young lady in this field.  Working for the past 17 years in multiple municipalities and in the private sector allowed me to reach this goal.  I am currently the Certified Building Official for the City of Edinburg.  My duty is to oversee the Code Enforcement Division, which include building safety, health and code enforcement.  In my current role, the public’s life safety, health and welfare are always my number one priority.

All in all, my passion, skills and knowledge in the construction industry have allowed me to contribute in creating amazing communities in the Rio Grande Valley and I absolutely love it!

Vanessa Vega

Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Vanessa studied culinary arts for two years at LeCordonBleu in Austin before deciding to return to the Rio Grande Valley to help her mother with the family business, Vegas Autos Inc, which wasn’t doing too well. “I knew nothing about cars or its industry. Growing up my parents never let me learn about cars because it didn’t fit into the female role.” Vanessa learned to fix vehicles by watching other mechanics and getting her hands dirty. She then self-taught herself to buy and sell cars by pure trial and error. Eventually she started representing her company at the car auctions. Met with a lot of harassment in the beginning for being a woman, Vanessa says, “I’m now seen as ‘one of the guys.’ I don’t like this term but it serves me in that it lets me teach these men to be less machistas. I even encourage them to bring their daughters to the car auctions. And if I can create a bit of change [in these men] then I am creating change for the women [already] in the industry and those wanting to enter it.” Vanessa is also a musician. She studied drumming at the Berklee College of Music and is a sought after drummer across the Rio Grande Valley. She is the Creator of LezDay Events RGV, which is a social networking event for queer women and allies. 

Connie Garza

A woman of many firsts, Connie Garza was the first in her family to graduate from college; first female police officer; first husband/wife police officer team with Mission PD; first female to run the Criminal Investigation Division; first female to attain the highest rank of Lieutenant in the Mission PD; first and only one to date to attend the FBI National Academy representing Mission PD; first female volunteer firefighter; first female supervisor at the Hidalgo County Adult Probation Department; first female Assistant Director to run an all-male halfway house for the Hidalgo County Adult Probation Department; first master school board trustee on Mission CISD Board of Trustees. Ms. Garza has been recognized as a Shining Star by the Texas Corrections Association and as Hispanic of the Year, Woman of the Year and First Lady of Mission, Texas.

Michelle Vallejo

Michelle is a serial social entrepreneur committed to advocating for and promoting business leadership development in South Texas with a focus on the latino and women of color communities. She accomplishes her goals through direct programs and integrated community and business partnerships that focus on education, business development, cultural entertainment, and civic involvement.

Through her work at Pulga Los Portales and as co-founder of women’s entrepreneurship conference, Hustle and Socialize, Michelle has had the honor of working closely with organizations such as La Union del Pueblo Entero, LiftFund Women’s Business Center, The Somiseik Tribe of Texas, Launch SA, and Grindstone Coworking among many others, sharing resources, and supporting each other’s missions mutually.

Michelle attended Veterans Memorial High School in Mission, TX and studied Political Science and History at Columbia University in New York City where she was also Vice President of her class and Vice President of Policy for Ivy Council, an organization of student government leaders from the colleges and universities of the Ivy League. During her time as a leader for Ivy Council the organization received recognition from the U.S. Department of State as an official U.S.- China private sector engagement program, and expanded the Ivy-China program to include research, mentorship, and exchange programs with the All-China Student's Federation.

Most recently, Michelle has joined the Board of Directors of the New Leaders Council South Texas Frontera chapter, as Co-Director. New Leaders Council is a nation-wide progressive leadership training organization preparing the next generation of leaders for public office and community and business leadership.

Michelle is always looking forward to connecting with others. If you are interested in speaking with her about working together, or learning more about the projects and initiatives she is currently working on now, feel free to reach out to her on social media or email her at michelle@michellevallejo.com.

This is also an open invitation for you to visit Pulga Los Portales any Thursday morning where you can find Michelle alongside her family not only hosting a pulga party every week, but working to improve access to economic opportunity for everyone living along the South Texas Frontera.

Victoria Pena

Victoria Pena was born and raised in Edinburg, Texas. Victoria is the youngest daughter of Joel and Natalia Pena and has an older sister, Amanda Pena. Victoria played Varsity Basketball at Edinburg North High School from 2009-2012 and helped lead the team to the Sweet 16 in 2010.

She went on to play Divison I Basketball at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas from 2012-2016, appearing in 54 games while helping the team to the 2014 and 2015 Southland Conference Champions. As a senior, Peña was honored with the Murray Shaw Academic Award, which recognizes the student-athlete with the highest grade point average in each sport. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and is currently working on acquiring a master’s degree in Public Affairs.

 Immediately following graduation from SFA in 2016, she became a paralegal working for Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys in San Antonio before moving back to the valley to pursue a career in college athletics.

After gaining experience assisting the athletic compliance department at UTRGV, Peña became the assistant women’s basketball coach at Hill Junior College in Hillsboro, Texas. Hill went 18-13 in the 2017-2018 season and had two players sign to continue their collegiate basketball career at D1 institutions.

After a successful basketball season at Hill Junior College, Peña was offered an opportunity to join UTRGV as the Coordinator of Women’s Basketball Operations in the summer of 2018.

In their first year under Head Coach Lane Lord, the UTRGV Women’s Basketball team (who was predicted to finish 5th in the conference in pre-season polls) finished the season with a program record of 10 conference wins and an appearance in the conference tournament championship game and finishing with an overall record of 18-15.

Diana Tovar

After 7 years of playing music throughout the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas, Diana’s focus began to shift from only playing songs to learning how to record her own songs so that they sounded high-quality like the ones on the radio. She ended up attending The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences where she graduated with a certification in Audio Engineering. “I fell in love with the science and mechanics of music recording.”  Once she finished the program, she interned for a year in Los Angeles at a few major recording studios where she got to grow and learn from professionals in the industry. Then in the summer of 2015, Diana decided to return to the Rio Grande Valley and intern under Charlie Vela at Sound of Rain Studios. Quickly, thereafter, she began taking on her own sessions as a freelance audio engineer. “As far as I know, I am one of the only female audio engineers taking on clients here in the valley. My goal now is to put the Valley on the map.”  Diana is proud of the quality of music and production coming out of her current studio, Casa Panchita Studios.