Who is the artist behind Mexican skeletons and “La Catrina”?

José Guadalupe Posada’s “La Catrina.” (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

José Guadalupe Posada’s “La Catrina.” (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

Ever wonder who was responsible for “La Catrina” and the skeleton figures which are a part of traditional Mexican culture, and are growing more popular worldwide?

The man behind the famous bony cadavers and skulls is Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada.

As part of the 22nd Annual San José Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival, San José’s Mexican Consulate is celebrating Posada’s legacy with “El Centenario Posada 2013.”  The free exhibition, which also features the work of artists from the U.S. and Mexico who have been influenced by Posada’s work, opens September 13 and will last through December 30.  More importantly, it marks the 100-year anniversary of his death.

José Guadalupe Posada (right) with his son (left). (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

José Guadalupe Posada (right) with his son (left). (Courtesy New World Prints Collection)

Known as the “printmaker to the Mexican people,” Posada’s thousands of illustrations ranged from political cartoons to religious art that captured the time in which he lived. Posada’s influence can now be seen internationally, especially in the Day of the Dead imagery he popularized after his death, as well as in illustrations for liberation during World War II, Lucha Libre, and the Grateful Dead.

Sadly, Posada died without an awareness of the influence he would have in the modern art world. He died in obscurity and in poverty and left no descendants.

“‘La Catrina’ we think was created in 1912 — the year before he died,” says curator Jim Nikas, who 70 selected works of 2,300 from the New World Prints Collection for the exhibition. “He would be a graphic artist today — somebody available for hire — that’s what he was in those days.”

Nikas explains that most of Posada’s illustrations were published by the Mexico City press of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. As a lithographer, Posada made stone and lead engravings which he sketched first.  He then used a chemical process for his final touch.

“Arroyo could use the printing blocks over and over for different stories that he wanted to write or poems of people they knew who had died,” says Nikas.

Nikas likens Posada to icons like Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin.

“The more we look at the work of Posada, we feel the energy of his genius and the collective total of his work gets magnified over time,” he says. “He used the power of the image to change public opinion and to be used in social movements, be it for human rights, or to expose corruption…That’s something that Posada has given to us.”

Nikas and his wife, Maryanne Brady, are also working on a documentary about the artist which is expected to be completed in time for Day of the Dead.

“Skeletons soften the pain of death — people get used to the idea we’re all going into a whole pile of bones and maybe it’s not so terrible after a while,” says Nikas about how he got interested in researching the Mexican artist. “It’s crept into the culture of the U.S. and in Europe.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Lucha Libre celebrates its 80th anniversary taking a bite of the Big Apple

Luchadores in New York City on August 21, 2013. Pequeño Pierroth (left), Caveman (center) and Mascara Celestial (right). (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Luchadores in New York City on August 21, 2013. Pequeño Pierroth (left), Caveman (center) and Mascara Celestial (right). (Photo/Kristina Puga)

You may or may not know that the traditional masked Mexican wrestling sport, Lucha Libre, has had a long-time presence in the U.S. in its nearly 80-year existence. It became more mainstream in the U.S. after the 2006 comedy “Nacho Libre,” starring Jack Black, and its presence is only growing. This year, a partnership was announced that will promote Lucha Libre AAA – Mexico‘s largest wrestling league – to the U.S. audience and possibly get a spot on El Rey, a new English-language Latino channel set to launch in January 2014.

This Saturday and Sunday, Javier Clorio, a Mexican-American communications professional originally from California, says he is excited to bring Lucha Libre to New York City in honor of the sport’s 80th anniversary. He raised $5,000 to bring 26 wrestlers from the U.S. and abroad – with secret identities behind their masks – to battle each other (“technicos”/good guys vs. “rudos”/bad guys) to become the star luchador of the Big Apple.

“People around the world recognize Lucha Libre — they go to stadiums, concerts and other events wearing Lucha Libre masks,” says Clorio. “I am also excited, because this event will benefit the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation — they help people accomplish their dream of having their own business by helping them with their business plan…I know currentHispanic business owners who have capitalized from the EHBCC, and I am glad that by doing this event we are raising funds so more people can accomplish their dreams.”

Máscara Celestial (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Máscara Celestial (Photo/Kristina Puga)

The 23-year-old luchador who goes by the name Máscara Celestial is accomplishing his childhood dream of becoming a professional luchador. Originally from Mexico City, he says his parents didn’t believe him when he would tell them he wanted to be a luchador when he grew up, but he’s been practicing since he was 15. Two years ago, he moved to New York to challenge himself to a higher level.

“Life in the U.S. is not easy,” says Máscara Celestial, who works 12 hours per day at Kennedy Fried Chicken and trains in the gym for three to four hours every morning, with only one day off from work to compete. “I haven’t slept for the past three days, but I don’t want to remain stagnant. I want to excel as a luchador.”

He explains he wants his good guy character, Máscara Celestial (“heavenly mask”), to develop a great story line, until his body can’t take it anymore.

“I love my character — a good character in a very difficult world,” he says.

Pequeño Pierroth (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Pequeño Pierroth (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Pequeño Pierroth says when a luchador puts on his mask, he is also putting on his alter ego identity. He was born and still lives in Mexico City, but in Lucha Libre world, he plays a Puerto Rican. His job as a “rudo” is to get the audience riled up.

“I tell them, ‘Why are you proud to be Mexican if you are dying of hunger?” says Pequeño Pierroth, named the diminutive form of a famous Mexican luchador – Pierroth. “Some people really get angry for real.”

He has 21 years of experience in the ring — a few months of which were with the WWE.

“When I was a boy, I was the little one and other kids would bully me,” says Pequeño Pierroth, who was also poor as a kid, selling candy and singing on corners to help support his family. “Now I travel to Madrid, London, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia…I’m not rich, but I’m stable and happy. I love Lucha Libre — maybe more than my wife.”

Caveman (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Caveman (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Caveman is a 20-year-old Puerto Rican from New York. He trains with a Dominican coach at the Bronx Wrestling Federation.

“When I was growing up, my brother and family watched wrestling faithfully,” he says. “Going into high school, I met a girl and she broke my heart. I went through a depressed phase and almost committed suicide.”

His low self-esteem at the time transformed the shy and timid youth into the Caveman today. He says he let his beard and hair grow, forming his version of a mask. He had the urge to become a hermit, but his wrestling coach made him a Caveman outfit and urged him to keep wrestling as the Caveman persona. Today, he says he easily transforms into his character, pretending to pick bugs out of people’s hair and acting surprised whenever he sees a modern object — the most important thing to him he says is to make his fans happy.

“Now professional wrestling is my life,” he says, although he still doesn’t get paid for it. That’s a privilege that comes once your name becomes known in the Lucha Libre world. “I’ve dropped a lot of things because of wrestling, because it saved my life…I’m actually living my dream.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

10 immigrant entrepreneurs in the US

Jordi Muñoz with one of his drones. (Courtesy 3D Robotics)

Jordi Muñoz with one of his drones. (Courtesy 3D Robotics)

According to a new report, the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity released by the Kaufman Foundation, immigrants were twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans in 2012. The number of new Latino entrepreneurs has also nearly doubled, from 10.5 percent to 19.5 percent since 1996. Here is just a sampling of some immigrant pioneers in various fields:

1. In 2012, Sofia Vergara became the highest-paid female actress on television at $19 million. But few may know that besides being a two-time Emmy-nominated actress, the immigrant from Colombia is also a very successful entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of a 16-year-old talent management company, Latin We, which made an estimated $27 million two years ago. She has a clothes line with Kmart, and just last month, she also launched The Nuevo Worldsocial network, which connects Spanish-speaking celebrities with their fans on social media. So far there are only seven celebrities hosting pages on the site, sharing personal blogs, videos and photos, but Vergara herself is enjoying the personal connection with her fans.

“I love keeping my fans up to date with everything I’m doing on Twitter,” Vergara, who hasmore than 4 million followers on Twitter, told Forbes. “I’ve been desperate for a social way get to know them better and to share with them in more detail what I’m interested in, and what I think they would be interested in – and to hear what they think!”

2. Cesar Millan, self-taught dog expert originally from Mexico, became a household name with his television series, “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan,” which was broadcast in more than 80 countries worldwide. Millan immigrated to the U.S. at 21 to train dogs. “I didn’t know I had something to offer…where I grew up, you grew up thinking that Americans knew everything,”he told NBC Latino. He says he jumped the border and was homeless for two months. That’s when he realized Americans were not connected to their dogs. He now has a new series, Leader of the Pack on Nat Geo Wild, and a new book, the “Short Guide to a Happy Dog.”

3. Beto Perez is the Chief Creative Officer and co-creator of Zumba back in the 1990s, and today has one the largest fitness empires in the world. When he was an aerobics instructor in his native Colombia, he forgot his usual exercise tapes, so he improvised with some salsa and merengue music he was carrying in his bag. And that’s how the exercise phenomenon was born, which incorporates hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo, martial arts, and some Bollywood and belly dance moves into a fitness routine. He moved to Miami, not knowing a word of English, and today Zumba Fitness, an organization that sells Zumba videos and products, has approximately 12 million followers taking weekly classes in at least 125 countries.

“Over the years, fitness became too complicated and difficult,” Perez told Reuters. “They forgot about normal people — mothers, grandmothers and the housewives who want to stay in shape and have some fun. That’s the essence of Zumba.”

4. Maria De Lourdes Sobrino is the woman behind the multi-award-winning, 31-year-old brand brand Lulu’s Desserts, which manufactures more than 45 ready-to-eat Mexican-inspired desserts, including rice pudding, gelatin and flan. It all started because she missed the ready-to-eat gelatin snack from her native Mexico. So in 1982, she founded her company, based on her mother’s recipe. Today, she says she has about 30 employees and sells her products in Walmart and grocery stores throughout California and Texas. She’s in the process of expanding her market to include the East Coast, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

“I am proud to continue our service to our consumers — especially the Hispanic market,” says Sobrino, who was 29 when she started her business. “The contribution of Latinas is very important to the economy of our country. I wrote  “Thriving Latina Entrepreneurs in America”because a lot of people don’t understand we bring talent and ideas. We take a lot of risk. I brought capital from Mexico from selling property and savings.”

5. Marcelo Claure is the founder of Brightstar, a specialized wireless distributor and a leading global services company serving mobile device manufacturers, wireless operators and retailers. It is the largest Hispanic-owned business in the U.S., with a presence in approximately 40 countries, and was ranked #58 on Forbes 2012 List of America’s Largest Private Companies. Claure was born in Guatemala, moved to Morocco as an infant and spent his early youth in the Dominican Republic and his high school years in Bolivia. According to The Miami Herald, while passing through Boston in 1995, Claure went into a cellphone store to buy a phone, and by the time he walked out, he owned the store.

“The owner hated owning a retail store, was looking to get out, and said to me, ‘If I could find someone who wanted this store, I’d hand them the keys right now for nothing,’” Claure told The Miami Herald. “I told him I’d take it, and if the store made money, he’d get 49 percent of the profit.”

Within two years, Claure owned 150 stores in the Northeast and had set up a network of drivers who carried phones in their car trunks and delivered them to customers to make the purchase hassle-free. In 1997, he moved to Miami to launch Brightstar.

6. Jordi Muñoz is a 26-year-old immigrant from Tijuana who never finished his degree at the University of Mexico, but is now the president of a drone-making company called 3D Robotics Inc. He says he loved building things ever since he was a boy, and he learned to program micro-controllers by ripping off the sensors from his Wii and then programming the code to work with the sensors to make his toy helicopter fly. Then, he discovered a blog called DIY Drones, founded by former editor-in-chief of Wired, Chris Anderson, where he started posting his ideas in a forum on the blog. Anderson believed in his idea, loaned him $500, and soon after, 3D Robotics became a million-dollar company selling up to 80 to 200 packages a day at $500 to $2,000 each. Anderson even left his job to run the company with Muñoz.

““It’s amazing what you can do with $500,” says Muñoz who after three years, has approximately 70 employees in San Diego, Tijuana, and San Francisco. “The support here is incredible. In Mexico, nobody would send me a check like that. There are good people here who trust. You can start a business in your garage, a big corporation like Apple. You can really do it…The U.S. has a flexible mentality…There is no way you cannot be successful in the U.S. You only need to work hard.”

7. Carmen Castillo came to the U.S. from her native Spain with a student visa, and 20 years later she is the founder and owner of SDI International Corp. — a global technology services corporation which serves many Fortune 500 companies. Castillo wanted to own her own business ever since she was 6 years old and believes her success comes from her proactiveness. “We really have to figure out what’s going to be next,” she says in her bio. “The difference between us and most of our competitors is that we are truly global suppliers. You have to be a true global player to be able to hold and sustain a contract with a Fortune 100 company.”

8. Dr. Rafael Yuste immigrated to New York City from Madrid, Spain, 26 years ago, with two suitcases, a medical degree, and not knowing a single person. Today, the neuroscientist is not only a professor at Columbia University, where he leads a laboratory, he is also one of the six researchers to help launch the new decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity — a multi-billion-dollar project the Obamaadministration announced earlier this month.

“For me, one of the best things in my life was to come here,” says Dr. Yuste about the opportunity he’s had to develop his career as an American citizen. “I think the Brain Activity Map has been the demonstration that the U.S. is a beautiful country, because an idea that came out of a brainstorming session, in a year, makes it all the way to the State of the Union address of the president…it goes all the way up to transform the country — in this case, in science.”

9. Maria Contreras-Sweet, founder of PROAMÉRICA Bank in Los Angeles, came to the U.S. from Mexico with her mother and siblings at the young age of 5. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, while she was still a high school student and working in a jewelry store, she was approached to work for the speaker of the California Assembly. That opportunity broadened her horizons, and after getting her degree in political science, she opened the Contreras-Sweet Company, an international management consulting firm for Disney, Coca Cola, and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, before she founded PROAMÉRICA Bank, a 7-year-old financial services provider for Latino entrepreneurs.

10. Adriana Ocampo was born in Colombia and raised in Argentina. She moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was a teenager, and she says the first words out of her mouth (in her native Spanish) when she got off the plane was, “Where’s NASA?” Today, she lives inWashington, D.C., where she is the Director of the New Frontiers Program at NASA, managing three new missions, including one exploring the planet Venus.

“My parents always taught us to never give up, and your dreams will come true,” says Ocampo about what led to her success. “And coming to this country — the country of dream makers.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

First-time filmmaker devotes herself to Puerto Rican veterans, “The Borinqueneers”

Documentary filmmaker, Noemi Figueroa. (Courtesy El Pozo Productions)

Documentary filmmaker, Noemi Figueroa. (Courtesy El Pozo Productions)

Noemi Figueroa Soulet had a background in Hispanic commercials and acting and was planning on becoming a dance therapist, but somehow the story of the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment, the only Hispanic-segregated unit in Army history during World Wars I and II and the Korean War, lured all of her attention. So much so, that the Nuyorican, without any filmmaking experience, dedicated nearly a decade of her life to creating her first and only documentary, “The Borinqueneers,” in order to tell their story.

“The Borinqueneers” is the first major documentary to chronicle the story of these forgotten soldiers. The one-hour version premiered nationally for the first time on PBS in 2007, and the Armed Forces Network aired the film to more than 850,000 U.S. troops overseas. Having won many awards in the past five years, throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, it’s screening again on Saturday, November 17, at the 2012 International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival in New York City.

“I’ve always been interested in Latino issues and trying to show positive role models and show that we are the fabric of society,” says Soulet, producer, director and writer of “The Borinqueneers.” “If anything proves that, it is the service of our soldiers – that’s the ultimate sacrifice.”

Throughout the nine years it took Soulet to make the film, she interviewed approximately 275 Puerto Rican veterans over the phone and in person. Soulet says the majority of the 65th veterans live in Puerto Rico and Florida, but she has even interviewed a Mormon in Utah.

“The hardest part was selecting them…24 appear in the film,” says Soulet, who explains the most time- consuming part was the fundraising needed to fund the film and do the research. “There was very little information out there…I remember contacting the Center for Military History inWashington DC…I began forming relationships with people through the internet.”

The more she talked with veterans, the more committed to the project she got.

“There was a point that I had gone in so deep there was a point of no return,” says Soulet, who says she bonded deeply with the “viejitos,” as Soulet calls them, and found the subject matter of a lifetime. “They’re dying — you then feel, ‘If I give up, and all these years are wasted for nothing and their stories don’t get out,’ I would feel a tremendous guilt.”

Soulet, now 55, slowly had become the voice of the Puerto Rican soldiers that no one ever heard about.

“In my film a veteran says at the end, ‘I just want the American people to know we did our share,’” says the filmmaker, adding,  “They would ask me, ‘Noemi, when are you going to finish?’ They wanted their story told.”

And she says years after the film has been completed, the veterans continue to call her.

Soulet recalls a story of a veteran who was wearing one of the 65th Regiment caps, which she sells on her Web site. “He went to pay for the meal, and the cashier recognized the cap and said, ‘Are you a Borinqueneer? I can’t charge you. You’re one of our heros.’ He called me, so proud, and I thought, ‘That’s why I did this.’”

Soulet says by taking nine years to complete her film, she’s formed relationships so strong that some of the men are like adoptive fathers to her.

“It really affects me and breaks my heart, because now they are going fast,” says Soulet about the passing of many of the veterans year by year. “I’ll get an e-mail from the veteran’s family saying they passed away, and that I meant so much to him.”

Soulet says in some cases, she only spoke to a veteran only one or two hours, but they never forgot those few minutes in which someone was truly listening.

“When they’re gone, and when I’m gone, this film will always be there,” says Soulet, who dedicates her days now doing national presentations about the 65th Regiment. “That’s my legacy, because I don’t have children…This is my baby.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

New site focuses on finding mentors for Latino youth

Courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

Due to being short-staffed, Hector Cortez has been working three director positions at the national headquarters of the iconic Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in Philadelphia – director of Hispanic mentoring, vice president of strategic community engagement, and chief diversity officer. He doesn’t do it for the money, because he only gets paid one salary. He says he does it because having a mentor changed his life drastically for the better, and he’s working his hardest to replicate that experience for other Latino children.

After three years at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America trying to entice Latinos to be mentors, Cortez is excited to announce the launch of LatinoBigs.org this week- the nation’s first bilingual Web site focused on one-to-one long-term youth mentoring services. The site will be a platform to recruit more Latino volunteers and will allow mentors to share their stories of inspiration.

“It’s important to me, because I had a mentor in my life when I was in high school,” says Cortez whose father died when he was six, and his mother raised six children by herself. “I joined a street gang and started doing drugs. I just didn’t care, but it was this mentor who changed my life, and because of him, I was able to graduate high school.”

Cortez says his mentor also inspired him and made it possible for him to go to college.

“He was able to talk to a small college and influenced them to accept me even though my grades were not good,” says Cortez who was raised in Chicago but is originally from Puerto Rico. “He said, ‘Take a chance on this kid,’ and they paid for it. I was on probation the first quarter, and I made it. I completed four years in three and then did my masters, and it was because of him.”

Hector Cortez (Courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of America)

Hector Cortez (Courtesy Big Brothers Big Sisters of America)

Cortez says his mentor influenced him to care about people, to care about what you do in your life, and to care about giving back. Through Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, he says more than 200,000 kids a year are mentored, and one volunteer is needed for every child for one-to-one mentoring.

“As we’ve grown, 20 percent of all the children from across the nation are Latino,” says Cortez, who expects that number to grow at least 4 to 6 percent a year. “One of the things that’s critical to us is volunteers, because only 9 percent of the volunteers are Latinos…Latino children, by the year 2015, are going to be the biggest group – they will be our leaders, and they need help now.”

He says LatinoBigs.org was launched to create a buzz, because there are a lot of kids who don’t have adults in their life and need someone to help guide them.

“We would really like to recruit more male volunteers,” says Cortez, because the program which requires a commitment of 3 to 4 hours a month, for a year, tends to mostly recruit women. “Instead of watching TV or a football game, spend it with a kid and you can make a difference…When you are a mentor something happens to you as well – it’s fulfilling.”

Cortez also mentions how one pivotal moment he helped out with was a reminder his work was worthwhile.

“We took a child and their family to a see a college in Georgia,” says Cortez. “After that event, we got an e-mail from the dad saying, ‘My son stopped me and started telling me that he wanted to go to college. That was the first time he spoke of the dream as a reality.’”

Cortez says 90 percent of the Latinos he’s encountered in recent years say they want to go to college, but a big portion don’t think they are going to graduate.

“There’s a big difference between the dream and making it real,” he says. “Mentoring can make it real.”

By impacting one child, Cortez says you really make an impact on the entire family. He was the first in his family to graduate high school, and he says because of that, four out of his six siblings followed his example.

“We want to tell people – do something,” says Cortez. “Help us make a difference.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Nashville’s first Latino councilman talks business

Fabian Bedne knocking on doors before being elected Nashville’s first Latino councilman. (Photo/Andrew Wilson)

Fabian Bedne knocking on doors before being elected Nashville’s first Latino councilman. (Photo/Andrew Wilson)

Fabian Bedne never thought he’d be Nashville’s first Latino councilman. In fact, he says rather bashfully that it makes him feel self-conscious when people bring it to his attention, because he just wanted to serve his community. For Bedne, each day is about providing a service and listening.

“I had ideas on how to make the community better,” says Bedne on what made him run for office.

Bedne says his father raised him to help out whenever he could, so it comes as easily as breathing for him. He first came to the U.S. from Buenos Aires, Argentina, as part of an architect exchange program that aimed to bring social change to low-income communities.

“I worked in Columbus, Ohio in low-income neighborhood to fix crack houses,” says Bedne. “I was in charge of training ex-convicts in construction. We didn’t mind their background; we just wanted to give people a chance.”

He remembers having a blast, because he was doing what he loved — architecture, while also stabilizing the neighborhood. He was only planning on staying in the U.S. for the one-year program, but love kept him here. He met his wife while working in Ohio, and ended up moving to Nashville in 1996 to move closer to his wife’s family.

“In the beginning I was a little bit lost,” says Bedne. “And then I had this fire in my house, and the people were so nice. They brought me new clothes to wear to work. I realized it was a very welcoming place.”

As usual, his mind started wondering about ways he could give back. Back then the Nashville Latino community was small, today today is about 10 percent according to the 2010 Census.

“I was always interested in the political process,” says Bedne. “It’s important that Latinos get involved politically because they can create a sense of ownership. You can then start making decisions about the future.”

Bedne first ran for councilman of Nashville four years ago, and he thought he’d only get 100 votes, but he ended up getting 33 percent of the vote. It was then that he realized that Nashville was ready for someone like him, and it only pushed him to knock on my doors for nine months until he did get elected this year.

“It takes time and work to get people to trust you,” says Bedne. “Sometimes I would sit on someone’s porch and talk about the history of the place. People are interested in that. They want to connect.”

Bedne says he also ran for councilman because he loved the community.

“My district is not majority Latino,” he says. “I just happened to be Latino, and I was very excited that I got elected and that people didn’t care what my accent was. They liked the idea that I could serve them and make the district better.”

He says that the residents of Nashville are aware of the importance of people outside coming in.

“It became a city that grew dramatically,” says Bedne of how the city has changed since he first arrived. “We have many minorities that make Nashville home. I would say that probably 50 percent of Nashville wasn’t born there.”

He takes pride in the Hispanic entrepreneurial presence in Nashville, although it is a small 3 percent from the city’s latest count in 2007. He says Nolensville Road used to be in decay years ago, and now it resembles a little Mexico, lined with grocery stores, and restaurants.

His current mission he says is to make it even easier for residents to open their own business, as it is an extremely important part of their economy.

“For years, through personal initiatives, he’s been able to be a resource and helpful neighbor in the community, says Yuri Cunza, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “He is a great example of what a good neighbor means. For those that are new or second-generation Hispanics, that is great to have – a friend in our own Hispanic community.”

Bedne says what most satisfies him is getting solutions to people’s problems by going from meeting to meeting and being a part of his city’s synergy.

“My wife says that I’m enjoying it too much, because I still have a business,” he says regarding his architecture company, Organicus, LLC, which he also runs. “Each family is different, and I like to listen to what they really need. That makes my day.”

Last week was Bedne’s first meeting as the only Latino at the Metro Council’s Black Caucus. The group of 10 recently changed its name to Minority Council to include him, and he says he’s hoping this will encourage more people to participate. He also is the first councilman in his district to send out a monthly newsletter via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook to further promote unity.

“My dad, he passed away recently,” Bedne says. He believed in making things happen when other people didn’t believe. That showed me that you shouldn’t take no for an answer. You just need to do it. I hope that I get to earn that reputation as well.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Don Miguel Ruiz answers questions about love


Don Miguel Ruiz used to be a surgeon in his native Mexico, until he realized what he was really called to do was heal the human mind and spirit. The ancient Toltec wisdom of his ancestors contained all of the tools needed, so he trained with his mother to become a Shaman. He moved to the United States to share his wisdom, which he has been doing through books and seminars for almost two decades. Ruiz is author of multiple international bestsellers, including “The Four Agreements and “The Mastery of Love.” Today, Valentine’s Day, NBC Latino asks the guru about love.

NBC Latino: What is love?

Ruiz: There are many different definitions to love, because every person has a different definition. I believe it is an equilibrium between gratitude and generosity. When you receive, you feel a lot of gratitude and that converts into generosity. Life gives us everything that we need. When we have gratitude, we start to share it. Each person that receives from you starts to grow. True love is completely unconditional. When we start to put conditions, it is no longer love.

NBC Latino: Two people in a relationship can’t be equally in love with each other. One always seems to love the other more. Is it better to love, or to be loved more? Why?

Ruiz: This is something you cannot force. It is what it is. It’s just like being hungry and being thirsty.

NBC Latino: What are your thoughts on marriage?

Ruiz: You have to find someone that believes the same as you if you want to be monogamous and live that way. What is important is to make an agreement with yourself. Determine what you want in your life. Then let that person come and make that agreement with you. It’s not about right or wrong. Take responsibility for your decision.

The idea of matrimony is changing. Fifty years ago everyone had to be married. Divorce is becoming more and more popular. People are more aware that the promises are not really forever. To live with someone you don’t want to live with is really a nightmare. I think it is much better now. Before women had to stay married even if they were being abused. Things are changing for the better in many ways. What keeps couples together is respect. You need to trust, and trust yourself, too.

NBC Latino: Can infatuation ever be the path to true love?

Ruiz: Infatuation is something beautiful, but be aware if you are infatuated. Enjoy it, because it feels good. If you have that awareness, it never becomes a need. If you don’t have that awareness, you don’t have complete control, and you become the needy one. And the other person becomes like your drug provider. In “The Mastery of Love,” I talk about infatuation becoming like a drug addiction. One is the addict and the other is a provider. The addicted one is going to blame the other. We distort what love is, because we make love conditional.

NBC Latino: Can someone love you who judges you, criticizes you, won’t forgive you, and wants nothing to do with you?

Ruiz: It is most probable that that person feels hurt. In life, no one is your owner. You live in your own world. Others live in their own world. Trying to control another’s life is selfish. If someone treats you like this, they don’t want you to be you. They want you to be like they want you to be. People act selfishly, because they feel important personally, but they can’t even control themselves.

NBC Latino: What does it mean when someone appears to love you and then after a while they tell you that they don’t love you as they should. “It’s me, not you?”

Ruiz: The truth is that we are always living in the present. The past and the future don’t exist. The only thing that we can be sure of is the present. Everything is changing. Love is not static. It is also changing every moment. Imagine if nothing changed? Even our body changes. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be loved or won’t be loved. If there is a couple that loves each other, and one leaves, the one that stays feels a greater need, and might feel that they don’t deserve love. You can be in love with someone, and then the love is killed. Sometimes it’s the fear of being alone makes you accept things that make us blind, and you don’t see what’s really happening.

NBC Latino: Have love/relationships fundamentally changed because of increased life expectancy, technology, etc.? Can a couple fall out of love after time?

Ruiz: Love transforms. Any dream will get to the end. Anything that is created will end. What is immortal is life. In your life, you can have a lot of dreams. After a certain time, the dream is over and it dissolves. The only one that will always be with you is your physical body, until you eventually leave your physical body. Everything else will go. Everyone else will leave – your parents, your boyfriend, everybody.

NBC Latino: Are you supposed to have and wait for your soul mate in life, or settle to reproduce before it’s too late? 

Ruiz: There is no soul mate. It’s just a belief. Anyone can be your soul mate. If you like the way a person talks, behaves, dreams, and the attraction is there, stay with that person as long as you can. But always live in the present time. Always enjoy it the best you can. You don’t know if you will be alive tomorrow. You only have today. If you learn how to live like it’s your last day, you will always enjoy your dreams intensely.

You don’t need to look for love. Just be whomever you are, but be wise enough to accept the person who believes what you believe, so you can enjoy life together. You can be happy with whoever, if that person respects your beliefs and who you are. You can be with anyone, but only you know who you like and who you don’t like.

NBC Latino: When do you know that it is time to leave a relationship?

Ruiz: You need to be responsible for your choices. If you don’t like a person, don’t say yes. If you want to change a person, that means you have picked the wrong person. You need to love the person the way they are, because no person can be changed, and no person can change you. If it’s not working, get out. Say “I have to go.” Have the courage. That person might get mad, but it’s nothing personal.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Man crochets to pay for grad school

Jose Luis Zelaya (Photo/Jason Syptak)

Jose Luis Zelaya (Photo/Jason Syptak)

Jose Luis Zelaya is a well-spoken, educated 24-year-old male with indomitable determination and rapid fingers. He is also anxiously awaiting confirmation from the Guinness World Record’s title as the fastest crocheter at 37-44 stitches per minute.

Zelaya says he’s been using his crocheting skills to earn a living since he was 13. As a kid in his native Honduras, he was forced to find odd jobs to help support his family.

“I saw a lady crocheting in the street, and it was cold, and I wanted to make myself a sweater,” says Zelaya. “I asked her if she could teach me, and she said no, because I was a guy and not a girl.”

Being the determined soul that he is, he didn’t let “no” stop him. He just taught himself by watching closely as other women crocheted on the street. Little by little he learned and mastered the art, and this December, he started his own business on Etsy where he sells his homemade beanies for about $15 each.

Now an undocumented grad student, Zelaya still has to support himself by crocheting since he is not allowed to legally work in the U.S. The faster he crochets, the faster he can put himself and his 20-year-old sister through school.

Zelaya is a graduate student at Texas A&M University in College Station, where he is pursuing a master in English as a Second Language curriculum instruction. He struggles to make his monthly payments every month since his beanie income is as unstable as the weather.

Since he started his online business, he’s made 2,300 beanies, but this week he’s only made $60.

“Last weekend I went around knocking on people’s doors,” says Zelaya. “That’s the only way I can support myself.”

He says his faith in God also pulls him through.

“If I take care of other people, I know that He will take care of me,” says Zelaya. “I know I will be ok. I know something is going to happen last minute to help me.”

And Zelaya gives back as fast as he moves his fingers. Not only is he the president of the Council for Minority Student Affairs at his school, he is a leader in his campus ministry, and he spends the rest of his free time tutoring in College Station middle schools.

“He is organizer of people and can motivate and communicate from the heart,” says the University’s director for Latino campus ministries, Devin Tressler.  “He told me, ‘Mark my words, I might be gone from here, but two years from now there will be a tutoring program in every middle school run by college students.’”

Tressler says he believes a lot of it stems from Zelaya’s experience.

“He has a huge heart, and he wants to help young people,” says Tressler. “That’s what I respect about him most. He helps people to see the significance of helping others.”

Zelaya’s most serious problem might be how is going to make next month’s rent, but he’s not worried.

“After I graduate, I would love to work to fix the immigration system,” says Zelaya. “If the Dream Act passes, I will benefit. If it doesn’t pass, I will go on to get my PhD so that I can inspire a lot more people to pursue higher education. I don’t know how I will, but I know that if I’m dedicated and persistent, and I don’t quit, I will make it.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Mexican-American woman vintner tells family secrets to success

Amelia Ceja (Courtesy Ceja Vineyards)

Amelia Ceja (Courtesy Ceja Vineyards)

The Ceja Vineyards in Napa, Calif. have continuously flourished since Amelia Ceja took charge of the family wine production company in 1999 as the first Mexican-American woman vintner.She says the way they’ve been able to penetrate a really difficult market is the Latino way – with warmth, great food, great wine, and most recently, with social media.

The family-owned business has grown to produce about 10,000 cases of wine a year, and to owning more property in Napa and Sonoma. But it’s not all just about the wine. Ceja also opened a wine tasting salon, lounge and art gallery in downtown Napa. Visitors can enjoy wine and cheese while listening to Latin funk, salsa and appreciating the local art.

Ceja says she works around the clock to introduce people to her wines, and she is currently reaching out as far as China for distribution.

“We appeal to every demographic group because of the way we bring people in,” she says. “We have gone from vineyard workers to an award-winning business. If we’re not on hugging terms, we didn’t do our job.”

Ceja runs her business like a home; everyone is family. She wants her customers to feel at home and appreciate wine and food. If you’re not in Napa, you can share in the experience through videos on her blog, where she pairs Mexican food with wine.

“What I missed the most was the food,” says Ceja about her earliest memories of coming to the U.S. “The food here in the ‘60’s was atrocious. I took my thermos, because I wanted to eat warm food at school. I got my love of food from my grandmother.”

The Ceja Family (Courtesy Ceja Vineyards)

The Ceja Family (Courtesy Ceja Vineyards)

Her son Ariel now owns the restaurant Bistro Sabor, which serves many of the families recipes paired with Ceja wine. Her other son, Navek, studied digital arts and shoots most of their videos, more than 136 currently on YouTube with more than 180,000 views.

“My daughter, Dalia also loves to cook,” says Ceja. “We’re launching another site called Salud Napa which means cheers and health. I’m very interested in the diabetes and obesity epidemic in the Hispanic community. It’s very important to me that everything I prepare is healthy and nutritious.”

Ceja, who has been honored as “Business Woman of the Year” by the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and “The most outstanding female leader, innovator and visionary in the wine field in the North Bay” by North Bay Business Journal, says what she is most proud of is having three highly-successful children. She says they have been crucial asset to the company.

“It wasn’t because we urged them, but they all went away to college, and they all came back, and now indirectly they are working with us,” says Ceja. “It really enriches our brand because it is very important to take Ceja to the next level. They are contributing really great content and ideas in which to grow.”

Her daughter, Dalia, the director of sales and marketing of the family business, wants to pursue an executive MBA in the near future. Dalia followed in her mother’s footsteps and now maintains her own blog, while also continuing to write on the company’s blog several times a week.

Ceja is always moving. This month, she will travel to Michigan to be a keynote speaker at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. On February 22, she will be featured in the independent documentary Dreamland as one of 12 Californians who have made pioneering imprints on the state. The documentary will air on PBS.

Ceja says it’s been a lot easier for her kids than when she arrived in California from Jalisco,Mexico in the 1960’s. At 12 years old, she helped her migrant farm worker father pick grapes.However, her children don’t take anything for granted.

“They also follow our tradition of giving back,” says Ceja of her three children. “And that really comes from my parents.”

“I hope if they have children, they will transfer that. We have to leave this earth better than how we found it. Both our people and our planet. We’re building a legacy.”

And just in time for the Super Bowl, try this award-winning recipe for carne con chile that she prepares here for us.

As Ceja says, “Salud!”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.