Photographer JeanPaul SanPedro captures actors through the lens of their Cuban roots

It’s one of those earth-shifting, life-altering moments that remains forever embedded in our collective memory.

We will all probably remember what we were doing, where we were the night of November 25, 2016, as news broke about the death of infamous Cuba dictator Fidel Castro. That night, generations of Cuban-Americans who had witnessed or heard their loved ones relating stories of fear and oppression finally began to heal.

Shortly before that, however, an actor, director, and photographer based in Los Angeles, JeanPaul SanPedro, set out to create his own revolution– a revolution of using his camera lens to capture the strength, the resilience, and the beauty of his Cuban-American contemporaries. All are actors, directors– artists– like him. Although their personal thoughts and opinions, as well as their experiences, are as different as night and day, all seem to agree that the time has come for the archaic perceptions of Cubans and Cuban-Americans in the media to change.

I got to speak with several of these artists who are breaking ground in their industry, simply by breaking their silence– and striking a fearless pose.

 

JeanPaul SanPedro, JeanPaul SanPedro Photography


If you see the pictures, there’s a few actors there that you might not recognize, but they’ve done 42 independent films, but they’re not known, and they don’t get noticed by Hollywood, yet they’re very talented people. It doesn’t have to be all Andy Garcias. It’d be cool if he came, but it’s more about the struggle that we go through, which is a similar struggle [to the one] that they’re going through in Cuba.

To me, Raúl has been in power since about 2006, officially since 2008. They’re very much officially under that Castro law. I hope for the best; I hope to go back there one day, and it would be a freer country, and, you know, I would love to shoot a movie there one day, but we’ll see where that goes.

There’s a lot of people in Miami; I remember older people, my friends’ grandfathers, have like this very distinct wine bottle, like a four-foot-tall wine bottle, and it was saved. I was always like, ‘why don’t you guys drink that?’ They were like, ‘this is for the day Fidel dies.’ And a lot of people unfortunately passed before [they opened] that bottle, but a lot of people got to see that. I empathize with them, what a victory for them. To say that I understand exactly– I wasn’t there. I was born here, I was born in Miami. That’s what I know.

I wanted to show that with the pictures. I know Roberto Sanchez came from Cuba, I think in the eighties, and some people have been through it rough, and I think we did a good job with the pictures depicting ourselves as strong, powerful people.

I really wanted to stay away from anything cheesy, or as anything depicting us as what commercial media sees us as. Some people were like ‘oh, let’s put like a party with rum,’ and I was like, ‘no, I don’t want to get into the commonalities that people think of us. I just want us to be there, strong, and dress nice, dress sharp, and with a purpose, and I think we achieved that. The pictures have been really impactful. People have been writing me and writing these actors, and a lot of them I like to read, not so much about the pictures, but, ‘Wow, you look so classy, you look so strong, so elegant.'”

I’ve gotten E-mails and messages from people in Miami, people my age, who aren’t that vocal about the whole Cuba thing. Even people from Puerto Rico who live in New York who wrote me and said, ‘I love this series, it’s so powerful.’ I really think it’s because there’s a hunger on the whole in the Latino community to maybe start uniting. In this case, it’s art with people coming together, voicing their opinions, no matter at what cost.

There’s so many more roles now, why do women need push-up bras and huge accents to do a role? Either that, or it’s the very street Latina from New York, or the maid.

Latinos that make it here, they make it and then they feel so happy that they made it, that they feel afraid to speak their minds because they’re going to lose any position or status that they’ve arrived to, and I get that, because everyone has families and they have to make money, but we’re also suffering. It’s really our own fault, because we don’t unify. I don’t like to be seen as crying about it…it’s more about taking action.

 

Guillermo Jorge, Guillermo Jorge at IMDb

I was born in Mercy Hospital, in Coconut Grove, ‘Miami,’ Florida.  My father was from Havana, Cuba, and my mom from the eastern part, Holguin. In my 13 years in L.A., I never really cherished where I come from. I feel like I received more help from non-Cubans than I ever did from my fellow countrymen.

Coming to L.A., I’ve always wanted to feel more American.  I dove into this world of entertainment. I received the [stereotypical] responses when they heard I was Cuban. ‘Oh, I love Scarface; oh, you guys must be hot-tempered and passionate.’ I avoided my roots until the last 4 years. Maybe because I don’t ever really play Cuban, at USC, I was told I wasn’t white enough. I’ve played everything except Cuban. I have had resentment towards the Cuban community, the conservativeness about it, especially these past 4 months. I saw this as a way of tuning into my heritage and bonding with what I know.

My parents lost a lot in Cuba, especially my mother’s side of the family. My father came over to the U.S. through the Peter Pan flights- Like my dad said, with a little briefcase and a pair of shoes. He lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana in a basketball gym before heading down to Miami.

We’re a proud people who have endured loss and strife. We’ve shot up the American dream in government and entertainment, etc.

Somos pocos, pero somos fuertes.

 

Doris Morgado, Doris Morgado at IMDb

I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where my family received political asylum after my grandfather was released from a Cuban prison for being against the communist government.

I love JeanPaul’s work and the vision of getting Cuban actors, who are super talented, in a sexy and sophisticated photo shoot. The offer was too great to pass [up]. It’s important to portray our look with that of our talent. As Hispanic actors, we are so diverse, so this shoot helps put us in a new light— a stronger, more brilliant light where we all shine.

My grandfather was a political prisoner in Cuba and we were lucky enough to be able to leave Cuba to ensure a better future for my brother and me. It wasn’t easy for them to leave everything behind, but thanks to that leap of faith and that courage, I’ve been blessed to have been raised in the U.S.

Projects like these are very important because Latinos can sometimes be placed in a small box of what society thinks of us, but we’re so much more then that.

Cubans are strong, beautiful, passionate, loving, and intelligent individuals. We have so much to offer to the community and especially to the world through the arts. We’re great storytellers because of the mixture of cultures and different ethnicities within our island. We are able to portray many different stories simply because our looks are so mixed and our story and our culture is so rich.

I think right now, we’re at a great place in history to allow the world to see us as we see ourselves. We are much more than the box that we are placed in because of our origin of birth. I’m excited that more and more projects are being made that are accepting and embracing our culture.

 

Carlos Gomez, Carlos Gomez on Twitter

So, I was born in New York city, but raised in Miami. With all the attention that Cuba is getting at the moment, we really don’t have a big acting community that is Cuban.

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’m very proud of my heritage and thought it was a nice gesture to put it out there, where I was from. Both my parents are Cuban and even though I wasn’t born there, I grew up with a strong sense of culture that is still a big part of who I am. 

It’s interesting all the dialogue about immigration. In the sixties, when all the Cubans came to the U.S.  because of the political change, this country welcomed them. Very different what’s happening now with immigration and where it’s going. I just think what’s good about this project is that it lets people know that there are Latinos working in Hollywood from many cultures— Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, etc. I think Cuba is a mystery to a lot of people; many people just think of rum and cigars and overlook the fact that there are eleven million Cubans in Cuba today who are curious about the world. I think slowly, with Internet on the island, people will be able to see outside of Cuba and learn about other countries outside of the island. I had the opportunity to do an episode of “House of Lies,” the first American television show to shoot in Cuba since 1958.  It was one of the most amazing jobs I had ever had.  We worked with Cuban crews and it was beautiful seeing both American and Cuban crews working together. I really think the arts can bring any culture together. I hope for the Cuban people and artists in the country, that we can continue a dialogue to further exchange music, art, theater and dance between both the U.S. and Cuba.

 

Bertila Damas, Bertila Damas at IMDb

[I was born] on la calle Regla (street) in Luyano, Havana, Cuba, in the Clínica Hijas de Galicias .

Anytime that there’s an opportunity to gather with my Cuban friends, it’s always something I am interested in. It’s always fun and it is a chance to feel that feeling of being Cuban, to hear the sound of Cuban, which brings back the joys and the tribulations. In this case, it was truly a lovely honor to share with such a talented group and to connect with each other in the aftermath of Castro’s death. 

[To me, it’s] as personal as it gets; it is the music that runs through the blood in my veins. My history, my ancestors, my heart.  I don’t know a Cuban that does not have an interesting story to share. 

Like every Cuban exile, I feel the pain of loss and separation as well as the continued hope for a Cuba Libre.

I consider myself fortunate and grateful that I have had a home in the U.S., a country that has offered me sustenance as well as the freedom to live my life as I have seen fit without hindrance.

The photo bears witness. It is an opportunity to document who, what, when, and where; that we were here and that we made a difference. I hope that there will be more work like this that will document those of us who are Cubans in entertainment as well as other industries. Perhaps the photos will serve as a hopeful inspiration for those that may follow us and their future.

I dream in Cuban, I dance in Cuban and I live in Cuban…

Ser Caribeña es ser el mar, las palmeras, y la azucar…es tener en mi sangre la historia de la esclavitud, la sangre del Siboney y las raíces de los conquistadores..mi piel, mi sangre, negra, roja, y blanca… para siempre en mi corazon, Cuba.

 

Roberto Sanchez, Roberto Sanchez at IMDb

I was born in Havana, Cuba on January 4th, 1965. I came to the U.S. when I was three years old.

Initially, it was an opportunity to shoot with JeanPaul (who is Cuban) again. We had done a photo shoot a few months back, also with a “Cuban theme.” This time, we thought it might be cool to get together with some other Cuban Thespians and do a nice group shot— something that would show who we are and what we represent without being stereotypical. I reached out to about 12 friends of mine, most of whom I had worked with before or had met at industry events. Everyone was immediately on board. With the current event happening in Cuba this past week, our photo shoot became something more than what it was initially intended to be. For me, it was a celebration of a partial end to an era that brought a lot of pain and heartache to my family. My story is not very different than [that of] others who decided to leave in hopes of a brighter future.

My father was a member of the Cuban National Judo team back then. We were able to leave for Spain a couple of weeks before the team arrived in Spain for a competition. Our intention was to never return to Cuba. Authorities in Cuba found out and kept my father behind. It would be 16 years before I saw my father again.

I think projects like these are important because we are able to show a bit of who we really are not what others think we are. We are strong, hard-working, educated, positive, loving, musical, dramatic, and we come in all shades and colors.

I think it’s important to never lose touch [with] who you really are. We have been blessed with wonderful opportunities in this great country, the best country in the world. But I will never forget where I came from or where a part of me still lives. One day, I will return home, but not yet. One down (Fidel) and one to go (Raul)!  ¡Dale!

 

Maylen Calienes, founder of Latino Filmmakers Network

What I wrote [online] in regards to that picture just came out of me because of the feeling that I felt from the picture. Like, ‘wow, I feel like I look strong. I feel like I look powerful. I feel like I could rule the world in that picture. It just came out of me naturally because of the feeling the picture gave me as a human being and as an artist.

For Latinos it’s very hard, especially– because I know we have Univision, we have the Latino market which is a completely different thing, but Latino-Americans, our generation, our people, are bilingual. When is it that we’ve seen a picture of Latinos dressed up in a Vanity Fair-type of thing? You usually see other colleagues of ours in the entertainment industry.

Latinos haven’t really broken that barrier. Latinos are just seen in that light of ‘el barrio.’ That’s what I feel, and even at Sundance, the first two years, I used ‘A Royal Social Affair’ and the crown to take Latinos out of el barrio and bring them to monarchy because we have to start being seen in a different light in order to start making progress in this industry. We have to seem like everybody else, too.

 

To view all of JeanPaul SanPedro’s photography work, please visit www.jeanpaulsanpedro.com.

Energizando Nuestro Pueblo / Energizing Our Community #EIJ15 #VayamosJuntos

 

Divulgación: Toyota auspició mi estadía de hotel durante la conferencia Excellence in Journalism 2015. Como siempre, todas las ideas y opiniones son mías. 

Disclosure: Toyota sponsored my hotel stay during the Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference. As always, all ideas and opinions are my own. 

 

Este fin de semana pasado, asistí a la conferencia Excellence in Journalism 2015 aquí mismo en Orlando– y volví a visitar una parte de mi vida muy impactante, cuando empecé a estudiar periodismo.

 

This past weekend, I attended the Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference here in Orlando– and I revisited a part of my life that had a great impact on my life, when I began studying journalism.

 

La asociación nacional de periodistas hispanos (NAHJ, en inglés), fue la primera organización profesional que ha apoyado mi trabajo como bloguera y como activista. De la misma manera, Toyota siempre ha apoyado a la comunidad hispana, y lo mostraron de nuevo durante EIJ ’15 como uno de los auspiciadores principales.

 

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) was the first professional organization to support my work as both a blogger and an activist. In much the same way, Toyota has always supported the Hispanic community, and they demonstrated this solidarity once again during EIJ ’15 as an official event sponsor.

 

 

Toyota fue el impulso detrás del NAHJ Hall of Fame Luncheon (almuerzo “Salón de la Fama”) este año, donde reconocieron al periodista veterano José Díaz Balart de MSNBC, y le otorgaron el NAHJ Presidential Award of Visibility.

Toyota was the driving force behind the NAHJ Hall of Fame Luncheon this year, during which MSNBC veteran journalist José Díaz Balart with the NAHJ Presidential Award of Visibility.

 

 

phonto

Un selfie épico con dos figuras fenomenales, el secretario de Vivienda y Desarrollo Urbano Julián Castro, y el periodista de MSNBC José Díaz Balart. 

An epic selfie with two phenomenal figures, Secretary of Housing & Development Julián Castro, and MSNBC host José Díaz Balart. 

Durante el almuerzo, oímos historias conmovedoras de periodistas que se sintieron impactados por las historias que cubrieron, y que les dieron voces a personas que no las tenían.

“El privilegio más grande que Dios te puede dar es de darle la voz al que no puede hablar.” 

“The greatest privilege God can give you is to be the voice of those who cannot speak.” 

–José Díaz Balart 

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Durante el almuerzo, muchos comunicadores valientes fueron reconocidos. 

During the luncheon, many fearless communicators were recognized.

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Siempre me da mucho orgullo representar a Toyota como embajadora. 

I’m always proud to represent Toyota as an ambassador. 

Como una foto vale mil palabras, mejor les dejo con una muestra visual de mis experiencias.

Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, I’ll leave you with a visual sample of my experiences.

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Con Mekahlo Medina, presidente de NAHJ. 

With Mekahlo Medina, NAHJ president. 

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Con María Rosa Collazo de República, una amiga muy querida, al frente del nuevo Toyota Mirai, energizado por hidrógeno (¡67 millas por cada galón!) Este carro sólo emite vapor de agua. 

With María Rosa Collazo of República, a very dear friend, in front of the new Toyota Mirai, fueled by hydrogen (67 miles per gallon!) This vehicle only emits water vapor.

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Con Alejandro Vitale de República. Es todo un caballero.

With Alejandro Vitale of República. He is an absolute gentleman.

phonto (1)

Con Sonoko Jin of Toyota. ¡Qué bien la pasé con ella! Gracias, amiga. 

With Sonoko Jin of Toyota. What a wonderful time I enjoyed with her! Thank you, my friend.

phonto (2)Gracias, Javier Moreno, por tu amistad. Eres un ser increíble. 

Thank you, Javier Moreno, for your friendship. You are a remarkable being.

¡Gracias un millón, Toyota y NAHJ, por esta experiencia inolvidable en mi pueblo!

Thanks a million, Toyota and NAHJ, for this unforgettable experience in my town!

Para más cobertura sobre este evento, haz clic aquí para ver el trabajo de los NAHJ Student Projects (los proyectos estudiantiles de NAHJ). 

For more coverage on this event, click here to see the work of the NAHJ Student Projects. 

–Laurita

Voten Para su Comunidad / Vote for Your Community #Raja4All

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Aunque nací en Puerto Rico, me crié en Orlando desde los tres años. No hay duda ninguna de que las experiencias más vitales para mi las he vivido en el condado Orange en la Florida. Por eso hago el esfuerzo de mantenerme informada sobre eventos importque occurren en mi comunidad– como las elecciones locales.

Mañana, el martes, 8 de abril, se llevará a cabo una elección especial en el condado Orange. Shaun Raja está corriendo para la cámara de representantes del estado de la Florida, representando al distrito 44.

Al jóven demócrata, que se graduó de la Universidad de Florida (UF, en inglés) con un bachillerato de ciencias políticas en el 2011, le apasiona apoyar a los negocios pequeños. El muestra su dedicación a las empresas pequeñas al formar parte de una compañía que fundaron dos de sus mejores amigos.

En cuanto a la educación, Raja cree en la importancia de enfocarse en el desarrollo del idioma a una edad temprana. El también quiere emparejar a estudiantes de escuela secundaria con empresarios de compañías pequeñas para que los jóvenes aprendan destrezas críticas que les servirán bien en el mundo de trabajo. Su visión innovativa unirá a sus dos causas y funcionará a favor de la educación y de las empresas pequeñas.

Ya mi familia y yo votamos por correo, pero si aun no lo has hecho, es sumamente importante que vayas a votar mañana.

Shaun Raja verdaderamente es para todos, y si votas por él, estarás votando a favor de la comunidad del condado Orange.

 

Por favor denle un “like” a la página oficial de Shaun Raja en Facebook, y síganlo en Twitter para enterarse de lo último acerca de la campaña y votación. 

 

 

Although I was born in Puerto Rico, I grew up in Orlando from the age of three. There’s no doubt that the most vital experiences for me have taken place in Orange County, Florida. That’s why I make an effort to stay informed on important events happening in my community– including local elections.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 8th, a special election will take place in Orange County. Shaun Raja is running for the State House of Representatives in the state of Florida, representing District 44.

The young Democrat, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in political science in 2011, is passionate about supporting local businesses. His dedication to small businesses shows through his partnership in a local company that was founded by two of his best friends.

When it comes to education, Raja believes in the importance of early language development. He also wishes to pair students with small business entrepreneurs so that they might learn critical skills that will serve them well in the workforce. His innovative vision will unite both causes and will work in favor of education and small businesses.

My family and I already voted by absentee ballots, but if you haven’t done it yet, it is of the utmost importance that you go vote tomorrow.

Shaun Raja really is for all, and a vote for him will be a vote in favor of Orange County.

 

Please “like” Shaun Raja’s official page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter for updates on the campaign and on voting. 

 

Divulgación: Yo seré compensada por participar en esta campaña. Todas las ideas y opiniones son mías. 

Disclosure: I will be compensated for participating in this campaign. All ideas and opinions are my own. 

De Donde Vengo, A Donde Voy / Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

TopBlogueras12Esta temporada está mostrando mucho fervor político y social, de todas las opiniones en el espectro. Durante el 2013, a pesar de faltar tres años para la próxima elección presidencial, no ha habido un tema crítico o controversial que no se ha discutido, tanto en el congreso, como en los foros públicos en el Internet.

Durante el siglo veintiuno, siempre ha sido así. No obstante, este año hay una variable muy diferente y palpable: la voz de nosotros, los Latinos. Finalmente se siente como que los líderes de Estados Unidos nos están escuchando– y con figuras prominentes y reconocidas en Washington– Secretaria del Trabajo Hilda Solis, el Senador de la Florida Marco Rubio, los gemelos Julián y Joaquín Castro de Texas, la juez de la Corte Suprema Sonia Sotomayor, por ejemplo– es imposible ignorar la influencia directa que estamos teniendo en asuntos nacionales, e internacionales también, por el hecho de tener conexiones personales con otros países.
Por eso no nos pueden ignorar cuando expresamos insatisfacción con el estado de situaciones como la inmigración, la calidad de la educación de jóvenes hispanos, y la reforma de salud. Porque somos demasiados. Porque hacemos alboroto. 
 
Mi historia de inmigración, a la verdad, no la puedo considerar mía completamente. Mis padres y yo nos mudamos de Puerto Rico para Orlando, Florida, cuando yo tenía sólo tres años. No recuerdo nada. No puedo declarar con orgullo que recuerdo la sensación de pisar la tierra estadounidense. Pero tengo las anécdotas que he oído de mis queridos papás.
Desde que nací en San Juan, Puerto Rico, y fui inmediatamente diagnosticada con espina bífida e hidrocefalia, la vida de mis padres consistía de Mami llevarme a citas médicas (a unos cuantos especialistas variados) en diferentes áreas, y Papi trabajando a tiempo completo para la administración de seguro social. Aun yo teniendo la Bendición de haber conseguido de los mejores médicos en la isla, fue una lucha para Mami, quien tuvo que soportar horas y horas de espera en una oficina llena– a veces un día completo– para poder ver a mis médicos.
Cuando le ofrecieron la oportunidad a Papi de transferirse a la oficina federal de Orlando, la consideraron una idea perfecta, porque acababan de abrir una clínica para niños con espina bífida en Orlando, donde se podía ver casi todos los especialistas en un sólo día.
Queriendo lo mejor para mi, mis padres hicieron la decisión más difícil de sus vidas– mudarse para Orlando, donde no teníamos familia ninguna. También, la barrera de idioma se le hizo difícil a Mami, quien era un poco tímida para hablar el inglés.
Aunque para mi, visitar a Puerto Rico es “ir a casa,” donde tengo por lo menos la mitad de mi familia “inmediata” (me refiero a mi Abuela, Tío, Tía, y a algunos primos hermanos), vivir en los Estados Unidos me ha brindado tantas oportunidades– una educación formal excelente en las escuelas públicas (incluyendo un programa preescolar), y una carrera universitaria para la que pude conseguir asistencia económica.
Claro, también he conocido tantas personas maravillosas, Latinos y no-Latinos, que me han transformado la vida para lo mejor.
El año pasado, fue con mucha emoción que Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) me escogió para formar parte del grupo de Top Blogueras que visitaron a la Casa Blanca. Juntas pudimos hablar con oficiales en los ámbitos de educación, salud, y agricultura, y motivarnos unas a la otras.
¡Esta semana, LATISM ha mostrado de nuevo la fe que tienen en mi, al seleccionarme como una de las Top Blogueras del 2013! Me siento muy entusiasmada y Bendecida de poder compartir esto contigo.
La misma organización que facilitó que oyeran nuestras voces a nivel nacional, ahora nos invitó a compartir nuestras historias a nivel internacional. Sí, es cierto. ¡Ayer fuimos a las Naciones Unidas! Jamás hubiese soñado que yo tendría esta oportunidad, y siento tanto agradecimiento hacía todos que lo han hecho posible.
Luego, compartiré con mis “panitas” durante la conferencia de LATISM ’13 en el hotel Waldorf-Astoria. El sábado a mediodía, hablaré en un panel, junto a mis bellas hermanas Eileen Carter Campos, Lisa Quiñones Fontánez, y Eliana Tardío, sobre “Mas allá de las enfermedades crónicas y las necesidades especiales.” ¡Si estarán en la conferencia, no se lo pierdan! Estas son todas mujeres tan emprendedoras, y las quiero muchísimo.
Como si eso no fuera suficiente para mi, otro de mis queridos hermanos de LATISM, Julio “Julito” Varela y su papá, “Papi Julio,” me invitaron a asistir junto a su familia a la final de “America’s Got Talent” el martes, donde su hermano, Fernando, y su grupo FORTE, fueron finalistas en la competencia. ¡Qué orgullo! ¡Qué honor!
Los trataré de mantener al tanto siempre que pueda– a través de Facebook, Twitter, instagram, y vídeos, si puedo. Por favor, sigan los hashtags #LATISM13 y #LATISM para seguir la conversación durante toda la semana.
Pues, ya lo saben todo– de dónde vengo, y para dónde voy. ¿A dónde iré próximo? Eso, sólo Dios lo sabrá.
This season has demonstrated great political and social fervor, and opinions all over the spectrum. During 2013, despite not having the next presidential election for another three years, there hasn’t been a single critical or controversial topic left undiscussed, in Congress, as well as in online public forums.
During the 21st century, it’s always been this way. However, this year, there is a very different and palpable variable: our voice, that of we the Latinos. It finally feels like U.S. leaders are listening to us, and with prominent, recognized figures in Washington– Secretary of Labor Hilda Soils, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, twins Julián and Joaquín Castro of Texas, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to name a few– it’s impossible to ignore the influence that we are having on national affairs, as well as international issues, given our close ties with other countries.
That’s why they can’t ignore us when we express dissatisfaction at the state of issues such as immigration, the quality of education for Hispanic students, and health care reform. Because we are too many. Because we make noise. 
 
It is difficult for me to consider my immigration story truly my own. My parents and I moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando, Florida, when I was only three years old. I don’t remember anything. I can’t proudly declare that I recall the sensation of stepping on U.S. soil for the first time. But I have the anecdotes that I’ve heard from my beloved parents.
Ever since I was born in Puerto Rico, and diagnosed immediately with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, my parents’ lives consisted of Mami taking me to numerous doctor’s appointments (to quite a few different specialists) in different areas, and Papi working full-time for the social security administration. Even with the blessing of having some of the best doctors on the island, it was a struggle for Mami, who often had to wait hours and hours in a crowded office, often a whole day, for me to see my doctors.
When Papi was offered the opportunity to transfer to the federal office in Orlando, my parents thought it was the best idea, because they had recently opened up a clinic for children with spina bifida right in Orlando, where you could see almost all your specialists in one day.
Wanting the best for me, my parents made the most difficult decision of their lives, and moved to Orlando, where we didn’t have any family members. Also, the language barrier was very challenging for Mami, who was a bit shy about speaking English.
Although visiting Puerto Rico means “going home” to me, since half of my “immediate” family is over there (meaning my Abuela, Tío, and Tía, and some of my first cousins), living in the U.S. has afforded me so many opportunities– an excellent public school education (including preschool), and a college career for which I was able to get financial assistance.
Of course, I’ve met many wonderful people– Latinos and non-Latinos alike– who have transformed my life for the better.
Last year, it was with great emotion that Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) selected me to participate in the Top Blogueras Retreat, and we visited the White House. Together we were able to speak with officials on the issues of health, education, and agriculture, and also encourage one another.
This year, LATISM has once again demonstrated their faith in me by selecting me for the 2013 Top Blogueras Retreat! I feel very excited and Blessed to share this with you.
Yes, it’s true: yesterday we went to the United Nations! I never would have dreamed I’d have this opportunity, and I’m truly grateful to those who’ve made it happen.
Later, I’ll be sharing with my “panitas” during the LATISM 2013 conference. On Saturday at noon, I’ll be speaking on a panel, alongside my beautiful hermanas, Eileen Carter-Campos, Lisa Quiñones Fontánez, and Eliana Tardío, titled: Beyond Chronic Illness & Special Needs.” If you’ll be at the conference, don’t miss it! All of these women are go-getters and I love them very much.
As if that weren’t enough for me, my hermano Julio “Julito” Varela and his dad, “Papi Julio,” invited me to attend the final performance of America’s Got Talent, where his brother, Fernando, and his group, FORTE, were finalists. What pride! What an honor!
I’ll try to keep you all updated via my social media outlets– Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and videos, if I can. Please follow the hashtags #LATISM13 and #LATISM to keep up with the latest!
Well, now you know everything– where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Where I’m headed next, only God knows. 😉

Cuenta conmigo: El voto Latino / Count Me In: The Latino Vote

Recuerdo un día hace ocho años en que me sentí como si tuviera las manos atadas. Me sentía furiosa. Frustrada. Sin voz. Sin poder.

Era un día como hoy, hace ocho años, el día de la elección general en los Estados Unidos, cuando el senador John Kerry estaba corriendo en contra del Presidente George W. Bush.

Sólo faltaban exactamente dos semanas para yo cumplir 18 años. Y no había nada que yo podía hacer.

Sin embargo, sí hice algo– hice trabajo de voluntaria con Mami, haciendo llamadas (“phone banking,”) yendo de puerta en puerta, y asistiendo a eventos en mi comunidad.

 

Foto original en NewsTaco.com / Original Photo on NewsTaco.com

 

 

Durante las elecciones pasadas del 2008, me da vergüenza decir que no me envolví mucho. Pero voté en una elección nacional por primera vez, y fue a la vez la elección más histórica en los Estados Unidos.

Este año he recurrido más a las redes sociales. Aunque no he salido para hacer trabajo de voluntaria, siento que he aprendido más sobre la importancia del voto Latino este año que en cualquier otro año.

He asistido a conferencias grandes como LULAC y LATISM 2012, donde el papel de los Latinos en esta elección se ha reiterado mucho.

Envié mi papeleta por correo hace semanas. Me tomé el tiempo de estudiarme los candidatos y las enmiendas locales.

Me he educado sobre temas que son muy relevantes para nuestra comunidad y sobre las estadísticas asombradoras, de acuerdo a un reportaje de CNN publicado en junio:

 

  • Actualmente, hay 50.5 millones de Latinos en los E.E.U.U.
  • De acuerdo al censo del 2012, ha habido un aumento de 43 por ciento en la población Latina desde el censo del 2010.
  • Se estima que 29 por ciento de la población de los E.E.U.U. serán Latinos en el año 2050.
  • 59.4 por ciento de Latinos fueron votantes registrados en el 2008.
  • 49.9 por ciento de Latinos votaron en la elección del 2008.
  • De acuerdo a VotoLatino.org, los Latinos entre edades 18 a 25 son los menos que se han registrado para votar

 

¿Ven el patrón que me asusta? Si Latinos que están registrados para votar no ejercen ese derecho, nuestra ciudadanía pierde valor. Necesitamos alzar las voces. 

Qué bueno que hay muchos recursos bilingües en el Internet con el motivo de educar al votante hispano. Aquí tengan algunos:

 

  • Ya Es Hora, una campaña para aumentar la participación cívica de los Latinos (español)
  • El blog de MomsRising, una organización que apoya los derechos de mujeres y niños (inglés)
  • Voto Latino, una organización imparcial enfocada en movilizando a Latinos a que voten (inglés)

 

 

Ahora que tienes todos estos recursos a tu disposición, y si ya estás registrado para votar en tu estado, no hay excusa. Hay que alzar nuestras voces. Y hay que hacerlo ahora. 

 

 

I remember a day eight years ago on which I felt like I had my hands tied. I felt furious. Frustrated. Voiceless. Powerless.

It was a day like today, eight years ago, Election Day in the United States, when Senator John Kerry was running against President George W. Bush.

I was to turn 18 in exactly two weeks. And there was nothing I could do.

However, I did do something. I did volunteer work with Mami, phone banking, knocking on doors, and attending events in my community.

During the last general election four years ago, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get as involved. But I voted in a national election for the first time, and it was the most historic election in the United States.

This year, I’ve turned more to social media. Even though I haven’t gone out to do volunteer work, I feel I have learned more about the importance of the Latino vote this year than during any other year.

I’ve been to large conferences like LULAC and LATISM ’12, where the role of Latinos in this election has been reiterated often.

 

Foto original de es.memegenerator.net / Original photo from es.memegenerator.net

 

 

I mailed my absentee ballot weeks ago. I took the time to learn about the candidates and the local amendments.

I’ve educated myself on issues that are very relevant to our community– health care, education, immigration, and voter suppression, to name a few– and on shocking statistics, according to a CNN article published in June:

 

  • There are currently 50.5 million Latinos in the U.S.
  • According to the 2012 U.S. Census, there has been a 43% increase in the Latino population since the 2012 Census.
  • An estimated 29% of the U.S. population will be Latino in 2050.
  • 59.4% of Latinos were registered voters in 2008.
  • 49.9% of Latinos voted in the 2008 election.
  • According to VotoLatino.org, Latinos between the ages of 18 and 25 are the demographic least registered to vote.
Are you seeing a disturbing pattern? If Latinos who are registered to vote don’t exercise that right, our citizenship loses its value. We need to raise our voices. 

It’s a good thing there are many bilingual resources on the Internet with the purpose of educating the Latino voter. Here are a few:

 

  • Ya Es Hora, a campaign to increase the civic participation of Latinos (Spanish)
  • The MomsRising blog, an organization that advocates for the rights of moms and children (English)
  • Voto Latino, a non-partisan organization focused on getting Latinos to vote (English)

 

Now that you have all these great resources at your disposal, and if you’re already registered to vote, there is simply no excuse. We have to raise our voices. And we have to do it now.