Latinas Find Voice, Identity in Art

girls3The future art majors of the world are about to hit the homestretch of their high school careers. Already, art hopefuls are awaiting art school response letters and anticipating the hardships of futures as professional artists. Despite all the stress and uncertainty, young creatives remain as passionate as ever.

Gabby Desporte, a high school senior at McCallum Fine Arts Academy (MFAA), says that she can remember always loving to draw, but it wasn’t until middle school that drawing became something more than just an activity she liked to do. “When I heard about McCallum, that’s when I was like, alright, I want to make some kind of career out of this,” Desporte said. MFAA is located in Austin, Texas and appeals to students wanting to hone and challenge their skills in the fine arts. There is an application process which includes portfolios, auditions, and teacher recommendations. If chosen, students must be prepared to dedicate four years to the program. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Desporte said, “but I knew that I wanted to do some kind of art, so I immersed myself.”

Since then, Desporte has been attempting to figure out which careers will allow her to infuse art with a more financially secure profession. College has always been in the equation, she says, and though her parents have always been supportive, they’ve also wanted her to keep her goals feasible. Currently, she’s considering pursuing a degree in advertising.

Maya Medrano, also a senior at MFAA, finds herself in a similar position. Like Desporte, she has been drawing since she was very young. Art has since weaved itself into her every-day life. “I’ll be doing something and then all of a sudden, oh look, there’s a sketch,” Medrano said. “Recently the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed is sketch in my sketchbook. Sometimes I just wish the world could pause so I could get all these ideas out,” Medrano said.

Combining her love of drawing and storytelling, Medrano’s ideal situation is to build a career in comics. However, she’s already prepping herself for the obstacles she may meet in the professional art world. “I’ve met with a lot of comic book artists,” she said. “An alumni from one of the colleges I’m applying to was saying, ‘If I had to go back, I would definitely take a major in something broader.’” The advice has pushed Medrano to change her focus from sequential art to illustration which she hopes will broaden her freelancing opportunities.

Beyond the concerns of careers, art has remained a helpful and essential element in both young artists’ lives, allowing them to examine their surroundings and even themselves through the lens of art. This includes how their Hispanic heritage influences or, in some cases, does not influence, their work.

Desporte is currently working on a project detailing street life in Latino communities, specifically the cholo community. Because her subject is a traditionally marginalized and stigmatized group of people, she says that the images sometimes come across as intense to outsiders. She hopes that her project will showcase something deeper. “They are human too,” she emphasizes. “There’s still going to be those sweet candid moments. They actually are approachable people.”

Medrano, on the other hand, has found herself being less influenced by Latino culture and admits to feeling like she is awkwardly stuck between her Mexican heritage and her American upbringing. Instead, her largest influences came from Japanese manga and anime, superhero cartoons, and horror films. And yet, her experiences through art have been more introspectively enlightening. “Without art, I definitely think I would be more lost and would not have figured out as much about myself,” she said. “I actually think that art is just my default way of life. Art is the same thing as having brown skin.”

Desporte agrees. Art is a way of life.

While both artists admit to feeling worried about the future and about the career path they will soon be pursuing, they also carry with them the understanding that art is just part of their genetic code. “You wake up in the morning and you understand that art is what you do,” Desporte says. “You encapsulate yourself in it. It just becomes a part of you.”

Talento Latino: Haide

A television station called Estrella TV, whose headquarters are in Los Angeles, held auditions for their show called “Tengo Talento Mucho Talento.” Auditions were held across the United States and Latinitas was able to interview one of the show’s contestants, Haide. One audition was held in Austin, Texas. In the Austin audition, a young 19-year-old Latina named Haide  to the final round and will now participate in the show which will start in March.

Haide, seated between the contestant with the white cowboy hat and contestant wearing a black shirt, shared that she felt pretty confident going into the auditions. According to HAide, she knew that she had an advantage because she is musically educated. Haide previously studied opera at a university, but due to expenses she had to quit her studies. Despite not completing her studies, she is confident in what she learned while she was enrolled.

“I know I have the knowledge that the others do not have. I know how to control my vibrato and other techniques that others are not so good at,” she said.

After the auditions were over, Haide was surprised at how much Latino talent Austin, Texas holds. Fortunately, she was able to advance through three rounds of cuts and was given the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles twice –where the last two auditions were held. Others were not as fortunate as Haide, but she provided some insight for those people.

“The advice I would give to other Latino contestants would be to truly prepare themselves. Truly take the time to study their voice and be on a stage,” she said.

Advancing Through the Competition

The amount of talent in this talent show was incredibly large. Yet due to other factors that play out in reality TV, talent was not the only factor that determined whether a contestant advanced or not. Producers are actively observing which people will be able to attract more ratings. The contestants not only had to demonstrate their talent but they also had to provide a brief description of their life. In the end, contestants had to be talented and had to have compelling stories that would attract and enhance the audience’s emotions and connection with the contestant.

Although Haide was only able to advance three rounds, she says “I learned so much and I made many connections that will be very beneficial to me in the long run! I plan to continue my music career but this time dedicating more time to it to prepare better for next season.”

While there may be mixed feelings about reality TV, it is exciting to see how Spanish television is expanding. Haide is aware of the progress Latinos in the media are making.

“I think it is quite evident that Latinos are not falling behind in the media industry. We see more and more reality shows in Spanish that have been taken from English ones, and we see celebrities like Shakira transcending into the English media more and more,” she said.

Television continues to function the same way it did many years ago, it still earns its profits from commercials and its goals are still to get high ratings. But as Haide mentioned, Latino media is transcending and Spanish network TV is rising.

Gymnast: Madison McGuire

At only age 8, Madison McGuire already has big dreams and has her plans set on becoming an Olympian. Madison McGuire has been in gymnastics for four years now and has come a long way, but not without the help of her family. She has a twin, three brothers, a loving mother, father and stepmother to keep her motivated. She has turtles, a cat named Bella, and two dogs. When I met with her, she had just broken the growth plate in her big toe while running onto the vault and stumbling on her foot.

In the process of the bone breaking event, Madison was training for a National testing opportunity, just after being recruited from the Talent Opportunity Program (TOPS) in Huntsville, Texas. This program evaluates female gymnasts on their physical abilities. These programs are for the coach and the gymnasts, as they go through training methods on the national level. Madison’s mom, Amanda Amaya, said that they’re very eager to try again next year. The regional testing is in the summer and Madison should be recovered and ready to go when the time comes.

After participating in the TOPS program, Madison and her family’s goal is to become a level 10– she’s currently  at a level 7. The talent levels of gymnastics can be complicated at times, but Madison and her family are grateful to have done their research. Levels 1 through 6 require the girls to do the same routine, and are scored on their physical abilities and performance. Once they move up to levels 7 through 10, the girls are known as optional gymnasts and can exhibit their individual talents by creating their own routines and choosing their own music. Madison will compete in her first level 7 competition this February, held in San Antonio, TX.

Madison’s specialty is the bars, which pose as the hardest event in gymnastics, but she enjoys the challenge. When asked if she had any advice for girls in gymnastics, Madison states, “ You can do it. It’s very fun doing all the tricks, it was hard for me when I first started, but it got easier with practice. The medals make it all worth it.” Ms. Amaya, Madison’s mother, proudly claims that their goal is to keep Madison healthy and happy throughout her gymnastics career, but their dream is the Olympics. In life, Madison hopes to go to the Olympics, after that she hopes to pursue a career as a veterinarian, or a gymnastics coach. And just like any other little girl her age, Madison likes reading the “American Girl Books”– her favorite character is Samantha. Latinitas is so excited to spotlight Madison and we wish her luck on her athletic journey, the Olympics would be a great feat!

Click here to watch a video of Madison on the bars!

Chica Who Cares: Laura Saldivar

Meet a modern day superwoman. A Senior in high school, Laura Saldivar has a resume most college grads wish they had. Before the age of 17, she implemented teen driving safety programs in Illinois through several educational outreach programs. As an advocate for service learning, the implementation of several safe driving outreach programs, like the Jacobs Safety Initiative, has helped reduce the number of youth fatalities in motor vehicle accidents.  The Jacobs Safety Initiative led to the creation of another safe driving program in Qatar, a country which, according to Laura, has the “second highest car accident rate per capita in the world.” With an impressive and extensive resume, the road towards success has not been so easy. “Acquiring support from administrative staff has been difficult”, says Laura, but she advices teens to “start searching, go for it, and don’t be afraid.” With hard work, passion, and determination, any teen can follow in Laura’s footsteps and be the next modern Superwoman. Here’s what she had to say when asked about her accomplishments, dreams and advice for teens:

1. What influenced you to become heavily involved with driving educational outreach programs?
With car crashes becoming the number one killer of teens I felt it was imperative to create prevention programs in my community. If I am able to save just one life I have done my job. Also, having a parent that is a driver’s education teacher, I have seen firsthand the impact car crashes have on families.

2. By being involved with so many organizations, what valuable lessons have you learned? How have they helped shape who you are today?
With being involved in a variety of groups like Youth Service America’s Youth Council, I have been able to gain multiple life skills. I can now write grants and budgets for projects, public speak, create presentations, and have self confidence. Before starting my service work, I was a shy student and service-learning is really what broke me out of my shell. The opportunities that have been an outcome of my work are truly incredible. I am able to travel the country, I helped to start a teen safe driving program in Asia, have been a keynote speaker, helped to write a civic blueprint for my state, and have had my own TV show all before the age of 17. My different boards have helped make me the leader I am today and have helped me to spread my message of teen safe driving to a broader audience. I am now able to help other schools around the country start their own programs and also gain the support of my fellow board members. The networks formed on national youth councils help to sustain and better youth programs.

3. You’re a busy young woman with an impressive resume, how do you handle the stress and find time to do it all? Any time management secrets?
With all of my time commitments I always keep a planner by my side. This not only has helped me keep track of my service work but has also helped me a lot in school. It keeps me very organized and if I miss a day of school for a service event I always let my teacher know in advance. In addition, I always make timelines for projects. As silly as it sounds, it helps my projects to run smoothly and it helps me to stay on track with project planning. It is small organizational tricks like this that help keep me afloat!

4.What are your plans after high school?
After high school I think it is only fitting for me to continue my safe driving work! I hope to attend the University of Illinois and create my own major in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement. I hope to one day open my own center for car crash victims and to work for either the National Safety Council or the Department of Transportation.

5. What advice would you give to girls who want to implement an educational outreach program and events at their local high school?
For starting a project in your community it is very important to start small! First, determine a need within your community and a find a group of youth who are also passionate about this issue. Next, it is important to find an adult sponsor or mentor who will help guide and support your program. Since your program will be primarily youth led, it is important to determine what resources are available and what community partnerships you can form. These partners can help you measure your results of impact and help to sustain your program for following years. Youth Service America is also a great resource when it comes to funding and finding different service opportunities. Their online newsletter contains a variety of service grants that youth can fill out. Most projects can be free and be community donated items. It might also be beneficial to include different classes at your school to help you solve the issue. (Ex. Safe Driving: Business Class- brochures, Math-Statistics, Art- safe driving posters, band- safe driving school song, drivers education-create PSAs, etc.)

6. How can other Latinitas become more involved with the community?
Another way to get involved within your community is to log onto gysd.org. GYSD is one of Youth Service America’s major projects called Global Youth Service Day. This day is the largest service event in the world and reaches over 100 countries. By logging on to their website, you can find local projects in your area that you can help out with on April 20-22, 2012. This website also contains an online toolkit that will help guide you in the creation of your own projects. This year I am helping the Illinois Students Against Destructive Decisions Student Advisory Board to implement a project called Dome Shift. We are inviting all of the SADD chapters in the state to a series of workshops on different issues and then letting participants meet with their representatives. All in all, when joining different nonprofits, they can help support your program and train you to learn even more.
Laura Saldivar, photo courtesy from Discusawards.com.

Calista Caroline Burns, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Calista Caroline Burns, age 11
Nominated by:  Girls Inc. of San Antonio
Hometown:  San Antonio, Texas

Volunteer Experience:  Calista has fed meals to the eldery during Thanksgiving. She was one of the top 5 fundraisers for the iWin Joe Jonas Fun Run Benefitting the Special Olympics. Calista has also volunteered at a local children’s home during their annual Funlympics Day. Her 3rd place Lemonade Stand for Most Successful Business for National Lemonade Day, proceeds went to a local charity. Calista also participated and helped plan and facilitate a Girls Inc town hall on the topic of nutrition and health for kids at Girls Inc.

Challenges She Has Overcome:  Her parents divorced early in her life. The adjustment from moving between parents was tough. However, both her mother and father keep a healthy relationship for Calista’s well-being.

Leadership Experience:  Calista is a natural giver. Whether it is helping the elderly, children or animals, Calista always wants to give back and help those in need. Calista is a very humble young lady. She knows she is fortunate to have parents that award her of many opportunities and experiences, and she realizes that many are not that lucky. Her big heart is what motivates her to help others. She is always thinking of ways to better serve the needy and the underserved.

Extracurricular Activities :  Calista’s extra-curricular activities include: Kate Schenk Elementary Student Council President; Peer Assistant Leadership (PALs); photography club, patrols, and choir.  Her hobbies include: singing, guitar, swimming, dance, art, modeling and acting.

Positive Role Model:  Although Calista is only 11 years old, she has had ample opportunities to build her leadership skills. With these leadership skills she now possesses, Calista is always willing to help girls her age find their inner strength. Calista spends her summer with Girls Inc enrolled in the Glenda Woods Girls University Summer Camp. She is with girls younger and older than her for 10 weeks out of the summer. Throughout the days the girls are taught different curricula. If a girl doesn’t understand a concept, Calista is the first to help that young girl out. If someone gets hurts during sports, Calista is the first to be by her side to see if she is ok. Calista serves as an ambassador for Girls Inc in which she has spoken on behalf of Girls Inc to board members, community members and media. The girls see her as a role model because she is not afraid to speak to other adults or especially in front of the camera. After they have seen her poise, the girls are always interested in learning about the ambassador program.

Elizabeth Lara, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Elizabeth Lara
Age: 17
Heritage: Mexican-American
Hometown: Cd.Juarez, Mexico

Volunteer Experience:
I have volunteereed at school selling concessions during volleyball games, hosting fundraisers, participating in canned food drives, contributing to coat drives and at school festivals I have worked certain booths. Also, I have participated in the LULAC convention for women and for the BMW Passion for Fashion event to raise funds for AIDS.

Biggest Challenge:
The biggest challenge I have overcome, is speaking in front of a large group of people. Recently, since I am the Historian for the Dual Language Advisory Board at school, we had a convention with over 300 students, teachers from all over the district, and the Ambassador from Spain. The representatives from every school had to give a speech on what the club was doing at the schools, and also explaining the importance o f speaking both languages. I had to give part of the speech, and even though I was a nervous wreck at first, I managed to give a good explanation, hence overcoming that insecurity.

Leadership Experience:
Some of my leadership experiences is being the soccer captain for two consecutive years. All the younger girls look up to me for advice on and off the field. The feeling of helping someone excel is indescribable, especially when they take the time to go and say “thank you”.

Clubs & Activities:
I am on the yearbook staff at school, on the Dual Language Advisory Board, and I am on the soccer team. I am also part of the organization called Fellowship of Christian Athletes; this is a place to create bonds with students from all the different sports all over campus.

Advice:
I think the fact that I never settle for average is something that makes me a role model for other people. I have always been taight to go for the extra and never to give up. Girls can be very insecure at times, but I have learned everyone has virtues and weaknesses that with time will turn into strengths.

Nancy Martinez, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Nancy Martinez, age 16
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
Nominated By: Noraine Buttar

Volunteer Experience:
Nancy volunteers for several organizations. She is one of two youth on the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria’s (SAPCA) board of directors. She also participates in all of SAPCA’s activities. Nancy served as a Project Sticker Shock volunteer, where she worked with a team of youth and to put “STOP” stickers on multi-packs of alcohol to discourage people over the age of 21 from buying alcohol for those under the age of 21. Nancy also serves as a Peer Advisor, mentoring youth and helping them with their homework. She is the President of Latina Youth for Excellence (LYFE), a group at TC Williams High School in Alexandria VA, that promotes volunteerism among Latina youth. Nancy also serves as a Counselor Aide at a local recreation center where she facilitates a summer youth camp known as Kids Are Terrific (KAT) Camp. She teaches children about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. SAPCA members benefit from Nancy’s input during board and quarterly member meetings. The community benefitted from her volunteer efforts during Community YouthMapping, where youth mapped resources and services provided for youth, children and families by organizations in the City of Alexandria. Younger children benefit from Nancy’s tutoring and mentoring. She has helped children read, write and do their homework.

Challenges Overcome:
Nancy was homeless for a period of time in 2010, and lived in a shelter with family members. Throughout this time, she volunteered for various projects like Community YouthMapping and Project Sticker Shock, served on the SAPCA board and worked as a Counselor Aide at the local recreation center.

Extra-curricular Activities:
Nancy serves on clubs in the school and organizations in the community. She enjoys reading science fiction books and dancing.

Qualities As a Role Model:
Young Latinas look up to Nancy. They see how much she has accomplished both in school and in the community through her volunteer efforts. They want to emulate her behavior and successes. Nancy shows that even substantial obstacles, such as being homeless, shouldn’t stop you from accomplishing your goals and giving back to the community.

Alma Benitez, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Alma Benitez, age 18
Hometown: Austin,TX
Nominator: Brooke Maudlin

Volunteer Experience:

Alma graduated from Akins High School with honors. She was enrolled in several AP classes and still made time to volunteer at school and with Latinitas. She volunteered with the Latinitas summer camp and helped with Akins high school student organizations.

Challenges She Has Overcome:

Alma has been living with her grandparents because her mother is not a positive role model.  She will be the first to attend college in her family.

Extra-curricular Activities:

Alma was an editor for her newspaper and attended Latinitas after-school club for three years where she offered help with lesson plans and video production.

Qualities as role model:

She is a healthy, positive 18 year old who beat the odds of the and served as a role model for other average Latina teens. She is attending a 4 year university in the fall.

Leticia Hernandez, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Leticia Hernandez,  age 16
Hometown: Austin TX

Volunteer Experience:
She has volunteered at a variety of places, including hospitals, schools, non-profit organizations and churches. Leticia is passionate about helping others, giving back to the community and knowing that she can make a difference. The blessings she’s received throughout her life motivate her. An array of people have benefited from her efforts such as children, the elderly, economically disadvantaged, special needs kids, natural disaster victims and people of the Austin area.

Challenges  She Has Overcome:
Her father passed when she was a little girl. She was bullied every day almost of elementary school. She was in a car accident in June of 2011. She sustained extremely serious injuries, but regardless, stayed as active as she could within my community, continuing to help as much as possible.

Extra-curricular Activities:
She loves to swim, write, practice the piano, play the violin, sing and take photos. Leticia loves to read, cook, bake, listen to music, learn, study and dance.

Role Model Qualities:
Leticia is a good example and positive role model to other girls because she tries to be as kind to everyone as possible and to make rational, good decisions. She is also very self-motivated, driven, studious and is considered an all-around good person.

Yessenia Lopez, 20 Latinitas Under 20

Yessenia Lopez, age 16
Hometown:
Orem, UT
Nominated By:
Abril Altamira, Latinos in Action

Volunteer Experience:
Yessenia has been in a organization and honor class called Latinos in Action for two years. She has worked with fundraisers and community service. During the school year, she tutors elementary students two times a week and assists the teacher with lessons or translation. She is very passionate about helping the Latino community strive to be better. Her motivation is her future. She works very hard in school so one day she can go to college and receive the education she wants for a better future. The students and teachers she has helped have expressed their great gratitude for all Yessenia has helped them with. The small students showed much more knowledge after she helped them and taught them. They considered her not only a helpful tutor but also a friend. As for the teachers, they knew they could always count on her.

Challenges She Has Overcome:
Yessenia has hard a rough time in her family but works hard to push them ahead. She also was diagnosed with Lupus. She has been rushed to the doctor many times. Through all the medication and difficult effects, she has held her head high and worked harder.

Extra-curricular Activities:
When Yessenia isn’t doing community service she loves to hangout with friends and family. She also likes to attend church activities.

Role Model Qualities:
She is everything any girl should want to be. She is honest, smart, caring and overall motivated. She works harder than anyone on both her education and self. Her first year in High School, her P.E. teacher asked that every student rate themselves from 1 to 10 depending on how hard they had worked that day. Yessenia was the only 10. Then, the teacher went on to ask if anyone had a serious illness. Yessenia was the only one. She said she had Lupus. That shocked everybody in the room! She had worked the hardest and yet she was the one with the most problems. That motivated everyone to work harder. Even if Yessenia had problems, she was always positive and willing to help anyone and everyone.

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