-- She's been tapped to represent minority chambers on the city's new economic engine --
Diana Maldonado has an immense desire to help people — it's easily the most apparent characteristic to anyone who meets her. So when she lost her re-election to the Texas House of Representatives in 2010, she had no idea what would be next.
"I literally had absolutely zero on my calendar," she said. "I thought, 'I'll go running.'"
Maldonado added that exercise to her daily routine for a couple weeks and quickly learned she had found a hobby that would have a lasting impact on her life.
"It gave me the gift of healing and the gift of processing and decompressing for me to have clarity to look at what would be next on the horizon," she said.
Maldonado went on to work as a financial adviser. Then, in summer 2020, she became president and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, representing 650 member businesses and carrying the torch for the wider Hispanic business community in Central Texas.
She still runs, too. Maldonado has done 15 marathons over the last decade, taking her to places such as Napa Valley, the Twin Cities and Paris, France — her favorite marathon so far.
Her personal record was achieved here in Austin, with her second-best in New York City. She easily remembers that race as her most emotional. Her father had recently passed away and she was recovering from an injury at the time.
"I had a picture of me and him on my chest. Whenever I would get tired, I would just touch the picture," she said. "What kept me going was my dad because I had committed to run it in his honor."
The pandemic has put a damper on the marathon scene over the last year but Maldonado said she's signed up for runs at Yosemite National Park and in Berlin, Germany, later this year.
Until then, she's hyper-focused on elevating the chamber's voice in Austin's booming economy. She's strengthening its advocacy team and working to cultivate relationships at the local, regional, state and federal levels to stay on top of issues that are impacting Hispanic businesses. She said Hispanic-focused economic data is often left out of lawmakers' conversations.
Maldonado has also been creating relationships with companies moving to Austin that she said will, hopefully, lead to more opportunities for Hispanic businesses and create opportunities for a more diverse workforce. She'll also be advocating for all minority chambers of commerce as a member of the Austin Economic Development Corporation, the city's new economic engine.
"Everybody wants to come to Austin. It's very entrepreneurial and people want to chase the dollar," she said. "As people are coming, they're not taking the time to learn the landscape and learn the diverse communities that really made up Austin before the boom started."
"I don't want the Hispanic-owned businesses to be eliminated or be disenfranchised with this growth."
What's something most people don't know about you? I love feng shui. I stumbled into that maybe 20 years ago, and everywhere I go, I have to have that.
How did you earn your first dollar? We lived in Eagle Pass, which is a border town, and my father worked in San Antonio in the meatpacking business. He would bring back four or five dozen boxes of Dunkin' Donuts, and he told me and my sister, “Go sell these donuts for a quarter.” And we were so embarrassed. It's a small town, and you didn’t have those little luxury, fast food places. We were in elementary school, and people would buy them, of course. I was so happy coming back with dollars and quarters.
What's the most influential book you've read? I use it as a direction with my role at the chamber: "The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein. It's about how our government segregated America through policies and discriminatory laws. It's a fascinating read.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? I really wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people ... knowing that I could heal them, and then they would be better off — that was just very intriguing to me. My parents didn't have the wherewithal to support me to do that ... and my life went in a different direction. I still dance with the idea of how can I help people? How can I still impact people's lives in a positive way?
Dogs or cats? Dogs. My running tribe keeps bugging me to get another dog.
What is your favorite place to eat in Austin? There is this amazing sushi place, Mikado [Ryotei], and I like Juliet Italian Kitchen.
If you couldn't live in Austin, where would you want to reside? My first inclination is by a beach in Mexico, because of the food, the climate and I know the language and culture. The other [inclination] is hills and mountains. I've always wanted to go for six months to Europe and find out which areas and regions I'm attracted to. That's one of my goals: to take a sabbatical and maybe go for six months or a year to go traveling and get immersed in the areas that I visit.
If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? I've always wanted to meet the pope — this pope in particular. But I'm very curious about my great-great-grandmother because my mother was raised by her. It's the way I see my mom light up when she talks about her — and the sad stories. I would love to tap into that generation to know how and why I am here now.
Title: President and CEO of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, St. Edward’s University
Family: Son, Alex; daughter, Denise; granddaughter, Camila
Hometown: Eagle Pass
Originally published in Austin Business Journal April 7th
Written By Kathryn Hardison – Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal