Lessons From My Single Mom

Growing up with a single mother as a child was something that truly influenced the way I went about into the world because my mother was my role model. mom and me2 I believe that goes for a lot of girls, they see their mother as their first role model, a figure of love and the embodiment of our first picture of what a woman should be.  My mother’s pride was something that always stood out to me growing up because she has always been the most tenacious person in my family. She was the middle child that at a young age decided she was going to be the one to get her family out of poverty.

She tells me that when she had to start looking for a new job to support my older brother and sister, the family still did not have a vehicle. Therefore she had to walk in her business clothes by the train tracks near her house to go out on job searches. She ended up getting a job a clothing manufacturer building and ended up being the breadwinner of the family and was responsible for moving my grandparents, her siblings, and her children to a good neighborhood and a nice house. I remember getting ready with her every morning. I would see her put on her sleek slacks, and stilettos. She always looked very classy and fashionable and she really enjoyed her job.

I was never close to my biological father and got to know my now stepfather when I was in eighth grade. My mother never filed for child support for me or my brother and sister. Her pride would not allow her to. I remember her saying, “We don’t need the money, I can provide everything you guys need.” Although the money could have helped, I do not ever remember struggling in my life. We did not have a lot, but we had everything we needed and each other, which was, much more than enough. I feel that I have been very lucky to view a strong and vigilant mother as my first role model. I learned these five things from having a single mom:

1. Alone time with my mother became a sacred thing.
Due to the fact that my mother was working full-time, she was unable to do things like cook half of my meals or be home when I got out of school. This time apart we had between us made me cherish the time I had with my mom when we were able to go shopping, on movie dates, and trying out new restaurants together. My brother and my sister rarely attended these outings because my brother is eleven years older than I am, while my sister is fourteen years older. This age difference meant that my brother and sister were older teens at the time who were not so interested in “hanging out with mom,” which really worked out to my advantage as a young girl. These little outings did and will always remain cherished times.

2. Growing up with an independent mom made me want to be independent.
Watching my mother be the breadwinner of the house gave me this image of an empowered woman as my first role model. She was strong and did not need a man to “take care of her.” This image resonated with me at a very young age and I started to believe in being a “super-woman” just like my mom.

3. She pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.
My mom is a vibrant burst of energy who is very welcoming and very good at talking business. She’s not shy at all and therefore does not think twice about speaking her mind. However, that was not the case for me when I was a young girl. I was originally very shy and timid, but over time a lot of her communication traits passed themselves onto me and I was no longer shy.

4. She gave me my sense of Girl Power.
If it was not for my mother and the life she gave me, I am not sure I would view other women the way I do now. My mom would always tell me that girls need to stick together because it is a hard world out there. Up until the eighth grade, my mom was single and was not at all trying to have a relationship. However, she never seemed lonely, but rather very happy. She would go out dancing sometimes with her girlfriends on rare occasion, but the bulk of her free time was with me.

5. She encouraged me to bond with my extended family.
The lack of time I had with my mom due to her work schedule made me create strong bonds with my aunts and grandmother. They helped raise me, so it was like having four moms! The strong bond of women who were in my house was astonishing. My family consists of mostly women. Living in a matriarchal house made me realize at a young age how powerful communication and comadre-like bonds are amongst women.

Latinas Celebrate Asian Heritage

For these Latinas, being multicultural allows them to draw inspiration upon two cultures and celebrate different traditions. Abigail Abad and Alyssa Downey are both Latina college students with a Filipino background. Both of them have a mother with Mexican-American heritage and a father of Filipino heritage. During Asian-American heritage month, they share how their Asian roots have inspired them.

Abigail Abad10676187_10206006482710030_5199045678945335576_n

What similarities do you see between Asian and Latino culture?

The similarities between Asian and Latino culture are how close families are. When there is a problem, both cultures are always quick to help each other out in any situation. Both cultures have taught me that regardless of what is going on, family always comes first and you have to stand up for your loved ones.

What are some differences?

The most distinct difference between both cultures is definitely how the Asian culture is more reserved. I have noticed that my dad is a lot more private when it comes to his feelings. My mom, on the other hand, is a lot more open and expressive. This has been one of the greatest struggles for me because my dad does not always express his emotions, so it has been a challenge for me to understand him. I’ve had to learn how to find a balance between both of my parents and understand how to listen and communicate with them.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite Asian traditions?

My favorite Filipino tradition is that of opening the east window of the home during the morning hours. This is a common practice because you allow the grace of God to enter the home through the rising morning sun. I find this tradition to be my favorite because it incorporates my faith I have grown up with.

Have you ever been to the Philippines?

I have never been to the Philippines, but it is one of my goals to visit. My father has shown me many pictures of it, and it looks absolutely beautiful. I would love to visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River and the Banaeu Rice Terraces. I am greatly intrigued with the Banaeu Rice Terraces because they are terraces that were carved into mountains by indigenous people. This is beautiful to me because visiting such a place would allow me to experience Filipino culture and history.

Have you met a lot of your extended family members from your dad’s side?

I have not had the privilege to meet a lot of my father’s extended family members. However, I have been able to learn about extended family member’s through my aunts and uncles. I am Filipino and Arabic through my father, so a lot of my extended family is spread out across Asia.

What do you like most about being multicultural?

I absolutely love being able to learn so much about both sides of my family. I have fallen in love with both cultures as I’ve grown older. I grew up closer to my mom’s side of the family, so the Latino culture has always been more prominent in my life. Now that I am older, I have spent a lot more time learning about the traditions of my Filipino and Arabic culture. It has been a beautiful learning experience for me because I have been able to learn about different foods, customs, and languages because of my multicultural background. I also have learned to embrace how I look. I remember growing up and always being asked, “What are you?” and my response would always be “I’m different. I’m mixed.” I’ve embraced the fact that I am different, and it’s a beautiful thing.


Alyssa Downey DaughterDad

What similarities do you see between Asian and Latino culture? What are some differences?

There are honestly more similarities than differences between the two cultures. My Filipino family is so much like my Mexican family. They cook amazing food that’s horrible for your health about 90% of the time. They tend to use their outside voices more than their inside voices. Family gatherings are huge, and you can meet a new family member you didn’t even know you had at nearly every gathering. The average height between women is around 5’0, most Filipinos are Catholic, or have a very firm stance in their faith. Tagalog (the language spoken between Filipinos) has some similar words that can sound like Spanish. Family ties are also very strong, just like they are with my Mexican family. The only differences that I can think of are the obsession with gambling that the majority of my Filipino family has, and that they usually eat white rice with everything, including breakfast.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite Asian traditions?

I love a lot of the food. I like to eat:

  • Pansit, or noodles that have an extreme amount of grease, but they’re amazing.
  • Lumpia, or egg rolls usually filled with chicken/pork/beef, and vegetables.
  • Puto bread (yes, this is REAL, and I know this is a bad word in Spanish, but it is not in Tagalog) white bread that has the consistency of a cupcake and tastes like coconut but isn’t too sweet or too bland.
  • My favorite is a large dumpling of a really nice white bread, filled with beef, chicken, or pork that’s seasoned really nicely.

Have you ever been to the Philippines? Have you met a lot of your extended family members?

No, but my dad has. He has a light complexion and doesn’t look Filipino, so when he went when he was about 14, his family had to hide him between them as they rode around in the streets in a small cart in fear that someone could have taken him. But I have met a lot of my extended family members, as the majority of them live in Las Vegas, El Paso, or up near Virginia and Maryland.

What do you like most about being multicultural?

The fact that I have been exposed to so much in each culture has made me realize that Mexicans really aren’t the only race in the world, since El Paso can make it feel that way sometimes. I am also part Russian, Chinese, and Irish. It’s really great to have family members who live, breathe, and eat, Nascar and Country music, but others who do the same with white rice and gambling, and beans and tortillas and quinceañera. I think it’s been really great to see how each culture is different, but the same in so many ways. It makes one realize that people really aren’t that different after all.

Lizzie Velasquez’s High Road

lizzievelasquez1Nearly ten years ago, Lizzie Velasquez was one of the many who was victim to cyberbullying when she was just 17 years old. Instead of letting that get her down, she took that experience and grew from it. Cyberbullying has been a growing problem for years, and although awareness of the issue has grown, there are still many who experience some form of cyberbullying.Now, at 27, Lizzie is a motivational speaker and an author of three novels, and her first documentary, “A Brave Heart”, just premiered at South by Southwest (SxSW) in March.

While at SxSW, Lizzie sat at a panel with her friend and colleague, Justine Ezarik – known to many as iJustine on Youtube – and together they discussed everything Lizzie had been through, as well as what it was like to film the documentary.

Lizzie was born with a congenital disease which, until recently, was unknown to most doctors. Lizzie is one of two people who have this disease in the world, and one of its biggest issues is it keeps the body from gaining weight. Someone on Youtube had posted of video of her, calling her the ugliest person in the world, and that is what led Lizzie to become a motivational speaker.  

By the end of the SxSW panel, Lizzie made sure to leave a few lasting words with the audience.

“I hope you leave (after watching her documentary) more inspired for yourself and, honestly, a little bit angry,” Lizzie said. “Stand beside me against cyberbullying.”

One of Lizzie’s campaigns is about taking the high road when it comes to cyberbullying. As great as it is that so many people try to stop others from sending hateful words on the internet, they are not doing it the right way. Stopping hate with hate never got anyone anywhere.

Everyone should take the high road when it comes to cyberbullying. On Lizzie’s website for her documentary, there is a video called the “High Road Movement,” and it is a visual presentation of what taking the high road is all about.

According to Lizzie, what people who experience or witness cyberbullying have to do is take that negative energy and turn it into positive energy, just as she did. Ten years ago she saw a hateful video about herself followed by hateful comments wishing the worst on her, and she took that and grew from it.

During the Q&A at her panel, one brave teen went up to the microphone in tears.

“Lizzie, I just want to say that you have changed my life (…) thank you so much,” she said.

And she wasn’t the only one in tears either. All around the room, sounds of sniffling could be heard. Lizzie Velasquez’s optimism and ability to see such great things in the world is inspiring and contagious.

“Lizzie made me think of myself in a different way. She doesn’t let her disease define her, and I’ll never let anyone or anything define me either,” said 17-year-old Brianna Nance.

The American Society for the Positive Care of Children said “Nationwide, 14.8% of students report being cyberbullied, including being bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, or texting, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) report, by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)” as of June 2014.

By taking Lizzie’s story and words seriously, more people can begin taking the high road and start making a serious difference when it comes to cyberbullying. 

Temporary Love

child abuse 2

Credit: Dosomething.org

The victims in family abuse cases often involve children, and recent studies suggest children carry the emotional trauma for life.  It is here, in the United States, where the highest number of children reside in foster care. Teens who are sometimes completely forgotten when the system figures that they are of legal age, 18, and boots them out. According to the Children’s Bureau, Texas held 11,523 children in 2005 and reached an increase of 16,903 children in the fiscal year of 2011. The numbers continue to increase every 12 months (fiscal year).

Through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families report of 2013, noted that 21% of the children in foster care were Hispanic and the White population held the largest percentage at 45%.

In 1989, at age one, I became a number in the system. I survived, managing to graduate college and become stronger because of it. Many children become runaways or poverty-stricken adults. My five other sister’s case never saw light. We spent a total of two and a half years away from our biological mother. There is that present realization that there exists a more prosperous possibility from turning my life around after returning home.

This is my story.

In 1990, foster care administration took my sisters and I from our home. People love to tell me that I could not remember that far back because I was 2 at the time, but asking my sister every year if it was a black lady with a white car who gently pulled me by hand,  reinstates that I lived through the experience. My sister’s acknowledgement makes my experience more real.

My eldest sister, Liz, found the courage and capability to tell visitors that our father was sexually abusing all of us for the past 11 years. At the time, I could barely speak. For eight years my biological father abused all of us. I thank my sister for helping place a man in jail, but, more importantly, she eradicated future abuses.

It feels to me that our case received so little media attention; soon after we were taken out of our homes, it proved no better than when we left.  My sisters were placed in pairs, Liz with Christine. Yvette with Ivy and, tragically, I was left alone with one verbally and physically abuse foster-mother, named Christina, and a rat-infested room alongside older white “brothers”.

In our case it seemed as though personnel took us out of harm’s way, but in our case, our conditions were worse than home life. Alternatively, it seemed. Yes, children become those “cases of sexual abuse in foster care” in which abuse was “more than four times higher than the rate in general population”, yet, ironically, the same risk of being with uncaring abusive “caregivers” became peril to our safety.

In foster care, we continued to live among boys and suffered constant sexual harassment and mistreatments from staff. I roomed with a 12-year-old boy, who tried to will my body to sleep on the top bunk while “Chucky,” the movie, played loudly in the dark room.  It seems that personnel ignored family preservation and by chance took a horrific case, and made it unquestionably worse.

My experience was one of many that year.

Yes, parents are unprepared for the challenges of raising kids, but their parental obligations may soon become second nature. Protective services often offer counseling as a means to deal. Services offer the  parents a chance for weekly calls, weekly all the while they do their part of making “check up calls,” in hopes of keeping the family unit safe. Counseling may serve as a therapy to understand a parents’ need to beat a child as an outlet for their anger.

Counseling programs during my time in foster care helped my mother understand that the victims were her very own children. I can recall her eyes moist with anger and frustration over the allegations of abuse. Therapy helped her make the right choice to process that the grotesque events did occur. She made a mission to leave father by placing a restraining order against him. I feel that counseling influenced my mother into acknowledging that those traumatic events really occurred, and she could see that we truly endured so much.

The protective services took the time to know us as people. They closely worked with my mother on a deeper level than a case number. It truly felt that the care system treated us as individuals, closely working with us to ensure a better placement.  With years of counseling, my mental capacity to grasp the abuse serves as a reminder that I am finally where I belonged. The fights among other foster siblings would cease and the constraints of court orders and parental denials would cease. I returned to my own home with my real mother and sisters in 1993.

Compared to national statistics, reunification with parent(s) or Primary Caretaker(s) is at a high of 51%, with each case differing by situation. In fewer cases in the early 2000s, the young grew out of the system, age 18, and were thrown out to fend for themselves. In 2013, social services placed 3,717 children out of the system.

During the first year in my foster care stay, my physically abusive foster mother nearly came close to adopting me. This woman would slap me for not finishing a chile filled, hot bean tortilla in 3 bites. She would deny me water for days, resulting in me going to the hospital for liver damage. I was 2 years old. The “care” became worse, often resulting in lice filled heads, for my sisters and me. Though separated, my sisters let me know that they roomed with twelve other children, aged from 4 to 13, in one room. I grew terrified of large stuffed animals after the foster mother scared me daily with a big bear. I still hold that fear today, as silly as it may seem. It is no surprise that when one child got sick, another grew sicker!

Money to adopt a child elsewhere may help a child here more effectively. Lack of funding, care and hospitality failed us. My mother, sisters and I reunited when I was near death. To put it plainly, America may need to step back and adopt inside the U.S. By slowly focusing on the terrible cases, Americans may realize that there exists other means for family creations, here. Mandatory family preservation and therapy programs may help reduce a child’s erroneous placement in the system.

For more information on children living in foster care and how you can help, visit: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/statistics/childwelfare-foster/?hasBeenRedirected=1


Celebrating Carnival

This was it. This was my chance. They would never see it coming. I looked down and slightly shook the yellow and purple gun I was holding— just to make sure it was still loaded.  I stood up very carefully, trying not to give away my position (behind the bushes of the park) by accidentally stepping on—CRUNCH. A leaf. Dang it. Ok, it’s now or never. I pulled the trigger and fired at my oh-so-oblivious friends.

 Their faces were priceless. Soaking wet, one of my friends thrusts a pink water balloon at my direction. Luckily, I dodged it. But…while I was laughing and celebrating my triumph, another friend sneaked up behind me and finally got me wet. Sigh. 

Photo Credit:  Jorge Silva / Reuters / Corbis

Photo Credit:
Jorge Silva / Reuters / Corbis

It’s that time of the year again, so load up your water guns and put on your dancing shoes because the biggest parties around the world are about to kick off. Yes, I’m talking about Carnival and you don’t want to miss this!  Carnaval, or Carnival season, is mostly a Roman Catholic tradition that occurs the two weeks before Lent an involves parades, processions, lavish costumes, concerts, contests and more.

If you are a Latina/o who was born and raised here in the States, then you are probably not very familiar with Carnival. But don’t worry, here’s a quick run down of the festival’s background: The purpose of Carnival is merely to have a wild time and celebrate before the withdrawals of Lent.  The festival tradition was brought to Latin American by the Spanish conquistadors.

In the States, the closest thing we have to Carnival is Mardi Gras, but to be honest, it’s not exactly an accurate representation of Latin American festivities. In Latin American countries, they go all-out to celebrate Carnival by throwing endless parties, wearing colorful costumes and having lively music at every street corner. Needless to say, they take it very seriously: in some places, the Monday and Tuesday of Carnival also are designated as national holidays.

Of course, the traditions can vary throughout Latin American countries, yet all festivities will always embrace two very important things—dancing and music. Each country has its own culture, history, music and traditions built-into the festivities, which make each Carnival festival so exclusive. For instance, as a young girl in Venezuela, Carnival was my favorite season because of the water fight tradition with friends and family. The memories made there celebrating with friends and family will always be some of my most cherished childhood moments.

Without further a do, here is quick guide of some of the best places to celebrate Carnival in Latin America.

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
If you have ever seen or heard of the animated movie “Rio”, you have an pretty solid idea of how significant the Carnival season is to Brazilians. Well, let’s just duplicate the intensity and fixation with Samba depicted in the movie to accurate reflect real life Brazilians.  Tourists flock the city to watch dancers wear excessive costumes, while enjoying samba parades and dancing competitions Brazil hosts one of the world’s popular and largest carnivals. Also, during the night, each neighborhood hosts a street samba parties. How neat, right?

2.  Barranquilla, Colombia
There’s a legend behind the diverse disguises of the four-day Barranquilla festival.  Long ago, a local didn’t have enough money to buy an over-the-top costume, so he chose to go to the festival with a simple shirt and tie, and a pair of pants upside down. But that’s not all, he added one final touch to his outfit — a paper bag with holes in it over his head. Thus, ever since then, the marimonda  disguise became a well-loved  tradition, and one of the most popular disguises of the festival. As in most carnivals, groups of dancers compete to be designated as the best of their city and women participate in contests elected by the “Queen of Carnival”.

3.  Oruro, Bolivia
This festival has been celebrated for more than 2,000 years and lasts the 10 days. On  different note, it is known as the highest (literally) major carnival in the world since it sits at an altitude of 3,710 meters!  History and culture are definitely the main focus of the festival and this is visible through the expressive dances: especially La Diablada, the “Dance of the Devils.”

4.  Veracruz, Mexico
Not nearly as experienced as Oruro, Veracruz has its own Carnival celebration known as the most “joyful” in the world. Initially, partygoers would dance on the streets and form caravans in order to show off their outfits and traditional masks. Yet, pretty soon, they started involving costume and dancing competitions, with the caravan being the main focus of the celebration. A unique aspect of the festival is the large bonfire held on the first day of the carnival, where all “bad moods are burned away”.

5. El Callao, Venezuela
This festival can be described as a melting pot of history, rhythm and traditions from places like the West Indies, the French Antilles, and Trinidad. A key feature of this celebration is the Venezuelan calypso music, influenced by the Trinidad immigrants of the 1880s. Two distinctive costume styles are the Madamas and the Devils. The Madamas are dancers who wear elegant and colorful African headscarves and robes. They represent the principal figure of the Carnaval:  La Negra’ Isidora Agñes, the founder of the festival. Moreover, during Carnival, the Devils dress in red-and-black costumes with frightening masks.

As a final note, do not underestimate the power of these festivities. I cannot emphasize enough how meaningful Carnival can be to Latin American communities. It not only  functions as a prominent means of expression, but for years, even decades, Carnival has served as a way to review people’s lifestyle and history.  In other words, it paves the way for further understanding and interpretation of different cultures and traditions that are seemingly convoluted or absurd to an unknowing spectator.

And if you don’t make it to this year’s Carnival, there is always a next time!

It’s Not Just a Dress

Credit: http://www.couturesbylaura.com/

Credit: http://www.couturesbylaura.com/

Written by Arianna Gomez


The incoming First Lady of Texas visited Coutures by Laura on a rainy Friday afternoon for one of the final fittings for the gown and dress ensemble she is to wear for the inauguration and ball. Coming off the coattails of a hard-earned victory in the governor’s election this past fall, one might expect a- rightly- proud woman. The kind of woman whose demeanor implies power and importance.
Yet there is no air of superiority. To a passerby, she appears entirely ordinary- simply one of the many influential Texan women that frequent the boutique. She speaks kindly with the seamstresses, and often consults her assistant for advice in a manner that suggests a friend seeking the opinion of another friend; she greets everybody with a handshake or a polite nod and smile. And, amidst the busyness of a fitting, Mrs. Abbott converses with me as I look on as Laura Gonzalez, my grandmother, makes those final adjustments to ensure that just right fit.
The gown. Under the light of the crystal chandelier which hangs in the showroom, it is a deep, rich red, starkly contrasting the rainy and grey weather that can be seen outside the window. Like every aspect of the gown, the color was carefully chosen by Ms. Gonzalez & Mrs. Abbott. “(We chose) the color red to represent the Republican party, but especially because the color red was really capitalized upon in the campaign,” she says, turning in the mirror at Ms. Gonzalez’s request. They are attempting to decide upon the belt of the dress; there are two styles Ms. Gonzalez has crafted. Ultimately, Mrs. Abbott selects the band adorned with a unique flower, made of the same material as the dress, as she feels it truly ties together the classic yet simple style of the dress.
Indeed, the phrase classic yet simple truly sums up the First Lady of Texas’ style. “I like the style because, to me, it doesn’t change with time. I like it simple,” she says. Ms. Gonzalez nods in agreement as she alters the gown ever so slightly. Style is not the only thing that the two women see eye to eye on, though- the handful of shared values between them is one of the many reasons that Cecilia Abbott chose Coutures by Laura to create her attire for the big day. 
Values of family, education, service, perseverance in the face of adversity, and faith were all cited by Mrs. Abbott as common principles between the two Hispanic women, along with their drive and determination. In an era when the Hispanic people are often dubbed the silent minority, they are anything but silent, each working hard to achieve their goals and succeed, to leave a legacy for future generations.
It was their common bond in heritage that served as a large component in the decision of who was to design the attire for Mrs. Abbott’s appearances at the Inauguration and Ball. And it was this common bond that gave Laura Gonzalez the desire to create the inauguration attire, and reach out to Cecilia. 
I wanted to make the clothes she would wear on such an important day because I knew her and because she’s Hispanic. I knew her already from her previous visits to the boutique – so I wanted to help her to be dressed the best way she could be, the way that best complimented her, and the best way I could serve her within my abilities and capacities… I really wanted to be of assistance to the woman that is going to be the first Hispanic First Lady of Texas,” she says. 
Over the course of the weeks Ms. Gonzalez worked on this dress,  and I came to realize that it represented what Mrs. Abbott and Ms. Gonzalez stood for. This dress was created with hard work, with careful stitches, with meticulous attention to detail. 
And this drive came, in part, from her heritage and past. Ms. Gonzalez has been in the business for over thirty years; Coutures by Laura began as a small boutique in McAllen, Texas. Ms. Gonzalez says she was taught the art of designing, creating and sewing as a very young girl. 
“I strongly believe that this passion for sewing, designing and creating is in my genes,” Ms. Gonzalez says. 
Her drive to design is much like Cecilia’s drive to better education within Texas, which has come from her parents- dedicated educators who were the children of immigrants. 
Hispanic people are hard workers; I saw this in the care and time my grandmother, Ms. Gonzalez, put into the dress and gown. Despite the hours and considerable effort that went into the gown, however, not once did she complain, or take off, or wish to be doing something else. She worked hard. She worked quietly, late into the night and early in the morning. She persevered. She did her best- a value instilled in her at a young age, from her own family as she grew up in Mexico.
“My Uncle Rafael always said to be the best at what you do. If you’re going to be a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper there is. So if I’m going to make dresses, I’m going to be the best at making dresses,” she says.
And the dress certainly was the best. As Mrs. Abbott stood in the mirror at the final fitting, it was easy to see that it fit just right, moved smoothly, and complimented Cecilia well, but yet never commanded so much attention that the eyes were not focused on the wearer. The hard work that had gone into the gown was visible. After she had inspected it closely one last time, and guaranteed that it was truly perfect, there it was: that hint of quiet pride that the Hispanic people hold, reflected in Laura Gonzalez’s eyes. 
It did not linger for long. She was already thinking about what was coming next. 

Iconic Latina Actresses

film-reel-2Latinitas continue to be underrepresented in film and television, but these outstanding actresses have made a name for themselves.

Karla Souza is a 28-year old Mexican actress, mostly known for her role as Barbara “Barbie” Noble in the Mexican film “Nosotros Los Nobles”.  Her career started in the movie “Aspen Extreme” when she was 7 years old, and at the age of 14, her parents sent her to France, England and Russia to study acting. She later returned to Mexico to attend the Centro de Educacion Artistica de Televisa.  After her studies, she perfumed in “Terminales” and “Los Heroes del Norte and “Niño Santo”.  She pursued more movie roles and starred in Mexican movies like “Suave Patria”, “Me Late Chocolate”, “From Prada to nada”, “Nosotros los Nobles” and “No se Aceptan Devoluciones”.

Now, she is starring as Laurel Castillo as a series regular in the new Shonda Rhimes tv series,“How to get away with murder”.

Bella Thorne is best known as CeCe Jones from the Disney Channel  series Shake It Up. She is an American actress, dancer, singer and model with Cuban ancestry. She is the youngest of 4 children — who are also in the entertainment industry. She started her career as young as six weeks old! As a toddler, she shot her first pictorial for “Parents Magazine”. As she got older, she started doing commercials and movies. After moving to California when she was 9 years old, her father passed away. From 2006- 2009 she had appearances in various shows and films, but her stardom arrived in 2010 when she was selected to co-star Disney TV series “Shake it up”. In 2011 she released her first single “Watch me” followed by “TTYLXOX,” and in 2014 she released “Call it Whatever”. A woman of many talents, she recently co-starred in the comedy Blended, with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Thorne is also a sponsor for impoverished children in Africa and supports organizations such as Friends of El Faro and the TJ Martell Foundation.

Alexa Vega is an American actress of Colombian descent, born in Miami, Florida, on August 27, 1988. One of her iconic roles is from the Spy Kids Trilogy, but her career began at the tender age of 8 with her role as Jo Harding in Twister. She has made several guest appearances in  ER and Ghost Whisperer, and has performed in several films, including “Walkout,” “Remember the Daze,” and “Repo!”. She was cast as Penny on Broadway’s “Hairspray” in 2009, and in 2011  she returned to her Latina roots while filming “From Prada to Nada”.

Rita Moreno (Rosa Dolores Alverio) was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931. She was brought by her mother to New York City in 1936. She received her dance training from Paco Cansino, and would later earn her first role on Broadway, as Angelina in “Skydrift,” at the age of 13. She started in several films as her career grew in film, television, and theatre. She is one of twelve individuals to have accomplished the “EGOT” (received an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), and is the only Latina to have achieved such an accomplishment. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” Grammy for “Electrical Company” (a kids TV show),  two Emmy’s for jest appearances on “The Muppet Show” (1977) and “The Rockford Files” (1978), and a Tony for Best Featured Actress in “The Ritz”.

One of the most influential Latinas in the entertainment industry, Rita Moreno has left her mark on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  George W. Bush and Barack Obama have recognized Moreno’s work with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a National Medal of Arts. Today, after 51 films, dozens of guest appearances on television, and numerous performances in theatrical productions, she keeps on working in the entertainment industry and as a key spokesperson in raising the awareness of osteoporosis.

Starting High School

Photo Credit: http://education-portal.com

Photo Credit: http://education-portal.com

Written by Imani Calaban

Hearing or thinking about the words “growing up” can be pretty nerve wrecking. When you hear “growing up” you think about: work, bills, work, independence, and, oh yeah, did I mention work? There are different phases of growing up: elementary school, intermediate school, middle school, high school, college, your life-long career, and retirement. Each one has its ways of making you feel scared or anxious. The first “growing phase” that probably freaks us out the most is high school. You feel like you’re finally growing up. You feel like it’s going to be the time of your life. You know that this is the beginning to the rest of your life, and you know that the decisions you make in high school will impact your future–  high school sounds pretty scary.

I started high school in the Fall of 2014, and I go to a school with over 90% of the people are Caucasian. Overall, everybody was very kind and welcoming, which is usually how your peers treat incoming freshmen. High school is definitely overwhelming at some points, but, at the same time, you have a lot more freedom at home and during school.It took me a few days to find all of my classes perfectly, but I had it down by the second week. There is a lot of homework, but it’s also pretty easy. The teachers aren’t as hard on you as they used to be. Now, it’s up to you to get your work done which makes you feel very mature.  During school the teachers let you work at your own pace. There are pep rallies, the sports are more competitive, and the school itself is bigger and better! You might not get along with everybody, but you are certainly not alone. There are plenty of other people in your school that are just like you– keep in mind high schools have hundreds and sometimes thousands of students that are attending!

If you enter high school with a good attitude and maintain that good attitude the whole time, you’ll do great! There’s a lot of people in high school that are just like you, you just have to find them. You can find people  with like-minded interests through after-school clubs or sports.  Yes, it’s okay to feel stressed or overwhelmed, but just remember that it’s a big part of growing up! You have to push yourself to get everything done and done on time. Anything you do in high school can/will affect your future. The way it affects your future is all up to you.

Immigration Executive Order

This past November, President Obama announced changes to the immigration system which could affect five million people out of the 11.2 millions immigrants living in this country undocumented. Immigration is a controversial issue that many Latinitas feel passionate about and that personally impacts the families of many young Latinas.


What is the Immigration Executive Order?
These new immigration orders will protect the parents of residents with legal status or citizens from being deported for three years. This immigration executive order is not a path for legal status nor citizenship; this is deferred action. In addition, the administration will also be issuing work permits for immigrants. This is a simple action because it is what the president can do when Congress fails to pass policy changes.

What is the debate about?
Many critics believe the problem with deferred action is that it is only temporary since it can be taken away by an executive order really easy. In 2016 when President Obama ends his term, the new president would be able to start deporting the immigrants covered by the Obama administration. There are many people who are opposed to this action because they misunderstand how it will work and have the wrong idea about immigrants.

Who Qualifies?
Not all undocumented immigrants will automatically get accepted; there are certain qualifications to fill. According to WhiteHouse.gov, eligible immigrants will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation if they come forward and pass criminal and national security background checks and pay a fee. They will also be eligible for work authorization and must start paying taxes. To qualify, individuals must show that they are: a parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as of the date of the announcement (regardless of the age of the child), have been in the United States for at least five years (starting on January 1, 2010), are not an enforcement priority, and present no other factors that would make a grant of deferred action inappropriate. This temporary relief is also open to an individual who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16 years old and has been continuously present for at least five years (starting on January 1, 2010), regardless of how old they are today, and present no other factors that would make a grant of deferred action inappropriate.

How does this affect Latinitas?
Sophia’s Story – Finding Some Relief
For many Latinitas, this executive order brings some relief for their loved ones. Sophia Alarcon, 16, welcomes  the new immigration action. “I think it is a relief for everyone in here living with fear,” said Sophia. Although Sophia is a U.S. citizen and has lived here all her life, she has feared for her parents because they are both undocumented. She is thankful that the new order gives her parents some temporary relief. “It is awful thinking that at any time my parents could be deported and I would be here all alone,” she added.

Jacqueline’s Story – Hoping for her Friends
Even though not all Latinos are impacted directly by immigration policy, many can relate to the experience because they have friends or extended  family members who immigrated to this country for a better way of life. Jaqueline Magallanes, 15, has seen the struggles her parents have gone through to achieve their residency in a long and complicated immigration system. They immigrated here and went through a lengthy process to become legal residents. She is a Mexican-American with U.S. citizenship and has friends who are being impacted by immigration policies. She wants to see the government further extend its policies. “I think the government could do more, because three years is not enough,” said Jaqueline.

Liliana’s Story – Fearing for Her Parents
Liliana Rodriguez, 17, has benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She immigrated from Mexico in 2009, and first came to the U.S. without her parents when they sent her here to live with her aunt. Her family moved because they faced economical challenges and wanted to provide more opportunities for their children. Thanks to DACA, Liliana is able to pursue her education here.  Although she likes seeing some steps taken to help immigrants, she feels that more policy changes need to happen. “I would love if the date when families got here was extended. I got here in 2009 to live with my aunt, but my parents didn’t get here until August 2010, so they can’t apply,” shared Liliana. She continues to fear for her undocumented parents and hopes more changes will happen soon to help them.

Melissa’s Story – Living in the Shadows
For some Latinitas, the executive order is not comprehensive enough to help them and they continue to live in the shadows. Melissa Ochoa, 16, is an undocumented high school student. She is concerned that people have stereotypes about immigrants that prevents real immigration reform from happening. “It is horrible that many people are opposed to this. They think immigrants are bad people when in reality most of us are here to study and work,” said Melissa. She moved to the U.S. from Mexico in late 2010 during elementary school with her family. Her family came to escape the drug violence and because they were victims of extortion in Mexico. She came on a tourist visa and then remained in the country without documentation. Because of the timing of her arrival, she barely missed the qualifications to benefit from recent executive orders. She is still undocumented and fears being deported, but is hoping for more extensive immigration reform.

Latina Activists: !Sí Se Puede!

Photo Credit: Cnn.com

Photo Credit: Cnn.com

Written by Karen Lazcano

From “!Sí Se Puede!” to getting out the vote, Latinas are using activism to bring attention to deserving causes across the nation (and world!). They believe in what is right and continue to fight for it. Check out these Latinas and the causes they are advocating for!

Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson is an internationally known actress and activist. She has a successful filmography under her name that also extends to her charitable work. Rosario is the co-founder of Voto Latino, an organization that works to get out the Latino vote and promote a stronger America. Her work has helped to get other celebrities on board with Voto Latino. She also supports the Lower East Side Girls Club, V-Day, and Amnesty International.

Eva Longoria
Eva Longoria is a successful actress, scholar, and activist. In 2013, she graduated with a Masters in Chicano Studies from Cal State Northridge. The 39 year old is a force of talent to be reckoned with. Longoria has long been a supporter of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and even serves on the board! In 2006, she founded Eva’s Heroes, a charity that helps developmentally disabled children. Eva is also a political activist, lending her name to causes like the Latino Victory Project, a movement dedicated to harnessing the power of the Latino community in elections.

Rosie Perez
Rosie Perez is a Puerto Rican-American actress. You can catch her weekday mornings as a co-host on ABC’s “The View.” Rosie is an activist for AIDS, Puerto Rican rights, and education access for youth. She was appointed to The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) in 2010 by President Barack Obama. Rosie also serves as the chair for the artistic board of Urban Arts partnership, an education nonprofit in New York City dedicated to breaching the achievement gap.

Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta has dedicated her life to advocating for migrant workers as a labor leader and activist. She co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez and then went on to form the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Her constant commitment to the Latino community and lobbying efforts have helped to pass legislation such as the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Plan. Dolores continues to advocate for causes important to the Latino community, such as immigration reform. She proves that even at the age of 84, si se puede!

Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario is an author and reporter, most famously known for writing Enrique’s Journey–for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. In Enrique’s Journey, she tells the story of  Honduran boy and his struggle to get to the United States to find his mother. She is  strong advocate for the rights of unaccompanied migrant minors, serving on the board of Kids In Need of Defense. She also shares her testament to the difficulties faced by Central American migrants throughout the country.


You know her from her wildly infectious hits like “Hips Don’t Lie” and “She Wolf,” but there’s more to Shakira than meets the eye. Shakira has long used her star power to shine a light on causes like education and child advocacy. In 1997, she founded the Pies Descalzos Foundation to ensure that impoverished children in Colombia have access to education. Shakira has also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has been appointed as a member of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics by President Obama.

To learn more on how you can be involved, check out the volunteer opportunities available at your school and within your community. Volunteering and being involved are the first steps towards making a difference and making an impact in someone’s life.

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