Born in Thailand and raised in Los Angeles, Martorell studied political science and public law at UCLA where she received her B.A. and her M.A. in Urban Planning with a specialization in Urban Regional Development/Third World Development. She also studied Humanities at Chiang Mai University in Northern Thailand in 1988.
Engaged in social activism for the past 30 years, Martorell is currently the Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center, a non-profit organization she founded in 1994 in an effort to improve the lives of Thai immigrants through services that promote cultural adjustment and economic self-sufficiency. Her experiences leading to the founding of Thai CDC include work as a planner, as an aide to Congressman Mel Levine and work with other local and state legislative offices. She also created and taught the first Thai- American Experience course offered as part of UCLA’s Asian-American Studies curriculum in 1992.
During Thailand’s military coup of 1992, she mobilized the Thai community in Southern California to protest the atrocities committed by the military junta against civilian demonstrators in Bangkok, demanding a peaceful return to democracy for Thailand and its people. After the Los Angeles Civil Unrest in 1992, she co-authored the Mid-City Plan for the Coalition of Neighborhood Developers which sought to address the lack of economic resources in an inner city area of Los Angeles. The pivotal event also led her to documenting the demographics and social and human service needs of Thais in Los Angeles for the first time in a landmark community needs assessment study as a way to advocate for more resources in underserved communities. She has written on the topics of ethnic competency, the Thai immigrant community, Asian poverty, community economic development, urban revitalization strategies, human trafficking, and global capitalism.
She is known most notably for her work on over a half dozen major human rights cases involving over 400 Thai victims of human trafficking who were discovered working in conditions of slavery in the United States. Her tireless advocacy on behalf of the victims and the success of each case has made her a leading expert and sought after spokesperson on the serious issue of modern-day slavery. She taught a course entitled “Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery” at the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures.
Because of her deep commitment to creating positive change, she has also become a leading practitioner in the field of community development engaged in ongoing affordable housing development, small business promotion and neighborhood revitalization projects. Two of the projects undertaken by Thai CDC under Martorell’s leadership include the development of affordable housing through the rehabilitation of one of Hollywood’s historical edifices, the Halifax Apartments, and the development of Palm Village, an affordable senior housing project in Sun Valley.
In 1999, under her leadership, Thai CDC played a pivotal role in the eight-year long community organizing campaign which raised community consciousness and led to the designation of the first Thai Town in the nation right here in East Hollywood. The designation of Thai Town allowed the community to define itself and its place in history. For Martorell, the designation of Thai Town was the first step of a multi-faceted, economic development strategy to revitalize a depressed section of Hollywood while enriching the City’s cultural and social fiber.
Dedicated to social and economic justice, she actively serves in a variety of capacities in a number of community/immigrant/labor rights organizations with local, national and global concerns, including the California Community Foundation Council on Immigrant Integration, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the Labor Community Services Program, and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. She is also the co-founder of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program, the Rotary Club of Thai Town, and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. Committed to heightening awareness of Thai arts and culture, she also sits on the board of the Thai Community Arts and Cultural Center and serves as an advisor to the Thai New Year Day’s Songkran Festival Corporation. Formerly a member of the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women Task Force, she was part of a campaign that succeeded in the performance of a gender analysis by the City of Los Angeles of its personnel.
The California State University of Northridge Women and Gender Studies Department presented her with the Phenomenal Women Award on November 3, 2012. On June 29, 2012, she was bestowed the Royal Decoration of the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn from His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej for her tireless service to the Thai community abroad. She also received written honors from Congresswoman Karen Bass that were included in the Congressional record for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May 2012. She served on the Union Bank Community Advisory Board for three years between 2008 and 2011 and was chair in her last year. The members help guide the bank in its community reinvestment activities and outreach efforts in low and moderate income communities.
On September 28, 2005, she was confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council as Commissioner for the Central Area Planning Commission upon being appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and went on to serve as Vice Chair until she stepped down on June 10, 2014.
In 2001, the California Wellness Foundation selected her as a Violence Prevention Initiative Fellow.
She is also a recipient of a number of awards and honors, including the Asian Americans For Equality Dream of Equality Award, Assemblyman Mike Eng Inclusionary Award, Assemblyman Kevin De Leon API Heritage Month Honoree Award, State Senator Curren Price Sheroes Award, Thai Association of Southern California Exemplary Leadership Award , Kasertsart University Alumni Association of USA Advocate Award, KCET Unsung Hero Award, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics Leadership Award, Asian Pacific Women’s Network Women Warrior Award, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Distinguished Service Award, Korean Immigrant Workers’ Advocates Solidarity Award, Asian Business Association Asian American Leadership Award, Los Angeles Women’s Foundation Mentor Award, Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women Woman of Courage Award, and a Certificate of Recognition from Assemblyman Luis Caldera for “A Woman Making A Difference in the Heart of Los Angeles.”
Martorell has been married to her husband, Esteban Martorell since 1994 and has two children.