Marysol Castro, Mets’ First Female PA Announcer and MLB’s First Latina, Hits it Out of the Park

marysolcastro

Marysol Castro at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. (Courtesy New York Mets)

Marysol Castro remembers a hot and humid summer day between third and fourth grades. She was playing stickball with her brothers and neighbors in her native Bronx, New York, and she remembers some boys looking at her with disdain when she hit her first home run.

She noticed the looks, but it didn’t stop her, and it certainly hasn’t stopped her yet.

Castro, who’s about to turn 44, has spent a little over a month in her job as the first female public address (PA) announcer for the New York Mets and the first Latina PA announcer in Major League Baseball.

“This month has been incredible,” said Castro, speaking to NBC News from her new “office” in Citi Field. “The minute I open this door and look at this view, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am.”

During her two-decade career, Castro has worked in local TV news and has been a national network weather anchor on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and on the “The Early Show” at CBS, as well as a reporter on ESPN — all positions often dominated by men.

“I’ve worked really, really hard,” said Castro.

marysolcastro2

Marysol Castro is the first woman PA announcer for the Mets and first Latina for MLB. (Photo/ Kristina Puga for NBC News)

Sporting feminine wedge sandals and bright red nail polish, Castro is petite, yet she speaks with an authoritativeness and power that shows she’s used to hanging with the guys and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Castro was ambitious at an early age; she recalls first wanting to be the shortstop for her hometown team, the Yankees, and then wanting to go into politics. At 12, she decided on her own that she would get a full scholarship to boarding school, and she did. Castro says she knew the world was bigger than the Bronx, and she wanted to see it and learn about it.

She taught English at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, and it’s there, Castro says, where she learned the power of real communication. After attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she began her career in broadcasting.

A ‘BRIDGE BUILDER’ FOR MLB’S GROWING LATINO AUDIENCE

The new PA announcer is proud of her job and of being a Latina role model.

“In almost every job I’ve had, I’ve been the only Latino,” said Castro. “We have to reflect the eyeballs that watch us.”

Both of Castro’s parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico. Her father, who passed away when she was 10, was a U.S. Navy veteran, a NYC bus driver and was active in the Young Lords, a groundbreaking civil rights group, as well as other community organizations.

Landing her new position “means everything,” said Castro, because she gets to “be a bridge builder for other Latinos” at a time when Hispanic-viewing baseball audiences are at an all-time high in the U.S.

A study showed that the addition of international players to MLB teams, many from Caribbean and Latin American countries, have resulted in a jump of millions in profits. As of last year, MLB players hailed from 19 countries, including the Dominican Republic (93 players), Venezuela (77) and Cuba (23).

Castro, who grew up speaking primarily English, went to the Mets Clubhouse on one of her first days on the job and asked each player how they wanted her to pronounce their names. This meant a lot to many of the players, including the 11 Latinos in the 40-member team.

“They looked at me with a smile, which seemed to say, ‘Wow, no one has asked me that before,’” recalled Castro. “That, to me, means a lot…Everyone is entitled to have their name pronounced correctly. It’s a human thing.”

The youngest of four children, Castro said that by the time her parents got to her, they realized none of their kids were fluent in Spanish.

“So it was important to me to learn it, and I now teach my two boys, Liam and Gavin, Spanish,” said Castro.

On the days she’s not announcing for the Mets, she hosts “The Weekly Good” on OGTV, and “Somos,” where she highlights exceptional Latinos; she enjoys using her storytelling to counter negative news.

Her advice for getting ahead? Reading everything and asking random questions has always helped her.

“Be curious…study the people you admire,” said Castro. “Treat people kindly. Don’t be allergic to hard work, and don’t say ‘no’ to any opportunity.”

Castro said she’s thankful for the way the Mets have welcomed her pioneering role. She said her colleague Colin Cosell, who alternates the PA announcer position with Castro, shed a tear when a little girl held up a sign for Marysol’s opening night that read, “Congratulations on being the first woman!”

In many ways, she’s still the scrappy girl with the confidence to play stick ball with the guys.

“I never settle in any area of my life,” said Castro. We’ve come far, but we have a long journey ahead of us.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

Female “Carlos Santana” rocks out for clean water, civil rights

Cecilia Villar Eljuri (©Manovill Records)

Cecilia Villar Eljuri (©Manovill Records)

To Guayaquil-born Cecilia Villar Eljuri – better known as just Eljuri – music is as integral to her life as water.

Her mother was a pianist and composer so Eljuri was exposed to boleros, tango and flamenco when she was five. When she was 12, she says she became addicted to guitar and rock.  She started playing her own music at 17 in clubs in New York City, where she still resides.

“I write from the heart, but it’s mostly from experiences and people I meet when traveling – about empowerment and fighting for change and rights and everything else,” says the eclectic musician often called “Carlita” for her resemblance to classic rock guitarist, Carlos Santana.

After playing an active role trying to get Latinas to vote in the last U.S. presidential election, via Voto Latino, the latest change Eljuri is fighting for is clean water in her native Ecuador. A luxury not all citizens of the world have.

“I met the president of Water Ecuador at an Ecuadorian festival in Washington DC in 2008 – I was performing and he had a booth,” says Eljuri who had also just released her first solo CD.

“He wanted to help treat people as a med student and found a lot of people had stomach issues and it came from the water being infected. Instead of curing people after they get sick, he thought, ‘let me prevent it.’”

Over the years, they stayed in touch, and chose Isla Puna – a small island four hours from Guayaquil, with little access to the mainland and extremely contaminated drinking water, for their next clean water project. It will begin construction on January 6.

“We provide them education and then connect with communities to teach them how to maintain a water center – we make it self-sustainable,” says the singer, who had a benefit concert this past October. “We raised tons of money, and we did a hot-a-thon releasing a single for the concert to raise more money…The money goes right to the project.”

She explains that Water Ecuador is mostly run by volunteers.

“There were 20 last summer – many were students from Harvard and Yale,” says Eljuri.

While Eljuri continues to raise money for clean water, she is also working on a music video for one of her latest songs, “Ya es hora,” and an educational guitar series for beginning and accomplished guitarists to find their “voice.” This year, she plans on touring the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

New global lingerie company employs single mothers in Medellín

Naja founder, Catalina Girald (Photo/Camilo Echeverri)

Naja founder, Catalina Girald (Photo/Camilo Echeverri)

Colombian-born Catalina Girald was a mergers and acquisitions attorney at a prestigious law firm for four years when she left to get an MBA from Stanford University in 2006. Little did she know, however, that the sewing and design classes she took for fun while an attorney at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology would actually lead to her next career.

In 2007, Girald founded one of the first venture-funded fashion sites for independent designers – Moxsie – which was sold to Fab.com two years later. And this year, she began an international web-driven lingerie brand called Naja.

It all started when one of her undergarments was “falling apart,” explains Girald, saying she thought to herself, ‘Why can’t they be the same quality as in Colombia?’

Apart from the quality, the Latina entrepreneur says she was also concerned about the cost of lingerie. “I wanted to found a brand that had an accessible price for consumers.”

So Girald, based in San Francisco, created a business plan – but with a deeper mission. Her goal included making sure her brand empowered women – something she feels was currently missing from stores.

“They use a hypersexualized type of photography, and when I look at that, it doesn’t look like me,” says Girald about other mainstream lingerie brands.

So she set out to create a line that makes women feel good about both wearing the lingerie – and about the company itself.

“We train and employ single mothers in Medellín,” Girald says about Naja. “Every purchase you make is a contribution to the employment to a single mother in a poor area. If you buy lingerie, you’re helping women in need.”

From Medellín herself, Girald explains that Naja partnered with the Golondrinas Foundation – an organization that educates children of poor families by also educating their parents.

“We partnered with them on their sewing program,” says Girald. “When you order lingerie, you get a free wash bag and half of that amount goes to the training program, and the other half goes directly to the women we employ.”

Meticulous thought went into the crafting of Naja, from its humanitarian concept to using quality materials and designs from local artists, explains Girald.

“We spent a lot of time interviewing women to find out what they wanted,” says Girald, who is in her mid-30’s. “On May 3, an engineer and I moved to Colombia, to my parents’ house, because we didn’t have any money to start the company.”

After working on the concept, Girald says Naja ended up as a brand which primarily flatters women over the age of 28.

“That’s when women’s bodies start changing,” she explains. “Our cuts are designed to cover up bellies. There’s a double layer in the front – it is comfortable and beautiful.”

Some of the articles of clothing have [motivational] quotes – “so you can feel a little bit better about day.”

Girald also gushes about the texture of the cotton used for Naja garments – the samples of which she cuts herself.

“In order to be designated Pima cotton, it comes from a part region in Peru that has a particular soil that makes the cotton feel creamy,” says Girald. “We spent four months researching our (bra) cups which are 70 percent memory foam and 30 percent polyurethane. You can put them in a suitcase or washing machine, and they won’t break.”

As far as the future goes, Girald says she hopes Naja grows into a really large brand that’s accessible to most people, and also employs lots of people.

“My ultimate dream is to help women in the U.S. with employment,” says the businesswoman.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Latina Leaders: First Hispanic and female honored by American Heart Association for volunteerism

Dr. Ileana Piña (Courtesy Montefiore Medical Center)

Dr. Ileana Piña (Courtesy Montefiore Medical Center)

Dr. Ileana L. Piña was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to Miami with she was six in 1959.

In July 2011, Dr. Piña joined Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Centeras professor of medicine and epidemiology and population health, and vice chief for academic affairs, respectively. Her primary role is to reduce re-admission rates for heart failure patients. She also serves as a principal investigator for 11 ongoing research projects and presented on several topics at this year’s American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

Most recently, Dr. Piña was the first Hispanic and female to win the Chairman’s Award for volunteerism from the American Heart Association for her dedication to educating the community about heart health across diverse populations.

How does it feel to be recognized for your long-time dedication to heart health?
Humbling. Blessed. I think there are so many people that deserve this award more than me. I’m humbled to take it especially because I am an immigrant.

At what age did you realize you wanted to study medicine? And what pulled you towards studying cardiology specifically?
I have always loved the smell of hospitals. I was very poor, and my father died when I was nine – he had a heart attack at 49. He took me to school that morning and was dead by 3pm. After he died, my mother and I moved into the projects in Miami. When he died, we didn’t have education [about heart disease] – the American Heart Association had been founded, but that education didn’t get to immigrants like us. My mother died when I was 19 of cirrhosis of the liver.

I started college after my mother died – the rest of my family was still in Cuba. I had three jobs – modeling, tutoring, drawing blood. I’m a product of community college, because that’s all I could afford. I then went to the University of Miami, by then I was living with my aunt who had come from Cuba – but I paid for my own education.

I also have a masters in public health, because I got tired of patients not getting the right medications at the right time. Heart failure is an epidemic. We need to think differently about it – look at the population, and look at what we can institute to make a difference to patients.

What accomplishment throughout your career are you most proud of?
My daughter – the light of my life. She’s a veterinary student at Ohio State University and graduated with a BA from Duke in May.

A study recently came out saying younger Hispanic women face higher risk of death from heart attacks. Why do you think this is the case?
Hispanic women are more behind in knowledge. Hispanic women are now where Caucasian women were 10 years ago. It’s not very good. That’s why we’ve had all these campaigns in Spanish. We have the same risk factors.

RELATED: Latinos raising awareness on how to keep Hispanic hearts healthy; offer tips

What can we do to prevent this?
I’m trying to get Hispanic women to pay attention – know your cholesterol, exercise, lose weight, really take care of yourself and teach your aunts, daughters and grandmas. I have seen a lot of young Hispanic women who sat with chest pains for more than three days – it’s more the norm than the exception. There’s also a fear to go to the doctor, but more than anything else it’s a lack of acknowledgement that there’s something wrong. Symptoms are not always crystal clear. If you have symptoms, go see somebody. Don’t make up excuses. We always take care of everyone else but ourselves.

What do your daily duties entail, and what do you love most about your job?
I spend 30 percent of my time with the FDA as a consultant for devices and an internal medicine reviewer…I see patients in the clinic, in blocks of time. I’m responsible for reducing the 30-day readmission rate for heart failure. It’s unacceptably high. Patients come back for many reasons. Nobody has a perfect answer, but we’re working on it. I do clinical trials with my chief, Dr. Mario Garcia. We coordinate the clinical trials, and I mentor the fellows on their academic projects.

What piece of advice would you give a young Latina who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Do whatever you love. If you do whatever you love, you’ll never go to work.

The U.S. gives you the opportunities. I had 30 cents in my pocket when my father died, lots of hand-me-down clothes and often felt hungry, but if you keep your nose to the ground, the U.S. will give you the opportunities. That’s why I love this country. Work. If you don’t work, you don’t get anything.

RELATED: FDA has banned trans fats, but does it get to the heart of the problem?

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

Latina Leaders: From psychologist to online networking leader

Dr. Angelica Perez (Photo/India Perez-Urbano)

Dr. Angelica Perez (Photo/India Perez-Urbano)

If Dr. Angelica Perez sees a young 20-something girl working in a store, it’s not rare for her to ask, “Are you in college?”

“That’s something I’ve always done, and I’ll do that forever, until I die,” she says. “That to me, is my life mission.”

Dr. Perez has always been an independent thinker. When she was a teenager, although all of her peers applied to the nearest high schools, Perez never limited herself. Instead, she thought, “I want to go to the best school I could go to.”

Today at 45, that way of thinking has taken her far. Besides having her own clinical psychology practice, she also is the publisher and CEO of New Latina — an online resource for other career-driven Latinas, and the newly created online ELLA Leadership Institute, which after only a week of existing, already has more than 2,000 members worldwide.

“What I love the most is when I can help a woman truly identify her potential and embrace it,” says Dr. Perez. “When I can help her see how much bigger she is than she thinks she is, that’s true empowerment… Having them own that, makes my day.

Growing up, as the eldest daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, she says she grew up very fast in a neighborhood known for drugs and shootings in the 1980’s.

“You’re what they call the ‘cultural broker’ or bridge — I was always empowering people around me,” says the woman who as a girl made her bedroom a little classroom. “I never felt like I had a childhood or teenage-hood. I almost felt like I was a social worker growing up — putting fires out for a lot of people.”

She says little by little she learned by observing people, how to resolve issues.

“Psychology was a perfect match for someone who wanted to help people and intervene,” says Dr. Perez, who originally set out to be a pediatrician because of her father’s dream.

Eventually, she went on to complete her PhD in clinical psychology from Fordham University.

“The majority of my work is on women,” says the mother of four children, about her 25 year career.

“What I started realizing is that a lot of these Latinas coming to my practice were coming in because they were frustrated by the challenges they were facing in trying to become ambitious Latinas, and figuring out what they need to do,” she says. “So I found myself doing more career coaching than psychiatric evaluations.”

She soon realized what the underlying issue was.

“They were coming in without mentors at work and not having role models,” says Dr. Perez about her patients who had parents who have never worked in corporate America, or attended college. “I hardly have women who are depressed, they just don’t have a lot of confidence.”

She says just as our mother’s were pioneers in a new country, the new generation is now navigating their way into the unchartered corporate world.

“That’s why it’s important to give women connections to influential networks, and teach them what is the strategy to succeed in their career sector,” says Dr. Perez who has been working on creating the Ella Leadership Institute for about a year. “What I want to do is not have inspirational events anymore where women are inspired, and then go home and there’s nothing. What I want to do is create an event that’s value driven.”

She plans on hosting an annual conference and networking events that are TEDx style, with an exchange of ideas. What started off as a group on Facebook, is now an online network of more than 27 groups of like-minded women, grouped by region and expertise.

“I really believe that Latinas are going to globally take over the world,” she says.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Rita Moreno reveals all in her new memoir

Rita Moreno (Courtesy Rita Moreno Archives)

Rita Moreno (Courtesy Rita Moreno Archives)

Rita Moreno, at 81, says she might return to taking flamenco classes now that she has finished writing her book, “Rita Moreno: A Memoir,” which hit shelves this week.

The first Latina to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita, the tough girlfriend to the Sharks’ gang leader in “West Side Story”), was also one of the few artists to also win an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony Award. The Puerto Rican-born actress has been breaking down barriers in Hollywood for more than 50 years, and last year, she concluded a sold-out run of her one-woman show, “Life Without Makeup,” in Berkeley, Calif. In her book, she talks about all of it, including her love life in between.

“I got inspired by doing a play about my life in Berkeley where I live,” says Moreno about what made her write her memoir now. “It had so much success with audiences, I figured a book would be better, because I could include a lot more material — that’s how it started.”

She says her love for performing and dancing began at a very young age.

“I started dancing for grandpa in Puerto Rico when I was 3 or 5,” says Moreno. “He’d put on some music — I’m sure it was salsa, and I’d shake my little booty and everyone thought it was adorable. I loved the attention. It’s also another way of being appreciated…through an audience.”

The very graceful actress with a feminine voice and manner, was also born very headstrong. She says she felt an incessant pull to audition for her first play at just 13 and asked her mom to take her.

“It was very interesting, because I had never been in a theater,” says Moreno, who had at the time been taking dance lessons. “Doing a play was exotic. It was a wonderful experience, but the play [“Skydrift”] closed the very next day. That gave me the taste of how cruel show business could be…”

She says the business changed a lot since she started her acting career. Moreno says it’s still not really great for Latinos in film yet, but at least the door is ajar.

“It really was impossible,” she remembers. “There were no Latinos anywhere, and if there were, they would play Indians. [Today,] Jennifer Lopez is able to talk like herself. When I did films, I always had to do an accent.”

But the memory that will always bring a smile to her face, she says, is getting an Oscar.

“It was my very first award and still the greatest of all,” she says. “I was really in disbelief. I couldn’t believe I beat Judy Garland. I didn’t have a speech ready. It never occurred to me…I was so unprepared.”

She says she played back the video of that moment in time, many times, to her two grandsons who are now 14 and 12. She can still recite it by memory.

“‘I don’t believe it…pause…Good Lord, I don’t believe it…pause…I leave you with that,’ That was it!” laughs Moreno. “That sure was poetic, huh? It certainly shows I was very surprised.”

Besides her award-winning career, what it was like moving to New York City, and leaving her brother in Puerto Rico at age 5, Moreno also writes openly about a short fling with singer Elvis Presley and her tumultuous 8-year love affair with actor Marlon Brando — which at one point dragged her low enough to almost commit suicide. Since then, she’s learned a lot about herself, and love.

“Love is a great deal about respecting the person you’re with,” says Moreno, who later had a happy 45-year marriage with Leonard Gordon. “That’s what makes a lasting relationship. Romantic love is all based on fantasy. The people who dream of the handsome prince are in for a big surprise.”

Instead of fantasizing, she says she’s learned it’s more practical to follow your instinct and ask yourself, “Is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with?”

She says that was one of the biggest questions she’s ever asked herself, but she ultimately chose her husband because she felt he offered her “enormous protection.”

“I had too many frauders in my life,” says Moreno. “Also, he a sense of humor — he really made me laugh — that has always been very important. We met through a mutual friend who just felt we were meant for each other.”

She concurs their gut was right. They had a daughter and spent many happy years together until his death in 2010.

Just last night, she says excitedly that Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to her book party at the house of the producer of HBO’s controversial series, “Oz,” from which she won an ALMA Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series in 1998, 1999 and 2002.

“I loved it,” says Moreno about Sotomayor’s book, which she narrated for audio tape. “It’s a wonderful book and she’s a remarkable woman.”

On March 7, there will be a special screening of “West Side Story,” and a book signing of “Rita Moreno: A Memoir,” at New York’s Cinema Arts Centre.

“It’s the whole business of presenting my life to an audience,” she says. “I hope people will be moved by it…cry at the sad stuff…laugh at the funny stuff…”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com

The Hispanic Museum of Nevada finds its home

Lynnette Sawyer at ribbon cutting ceremony for the new  Hispanic Museum of Nevada.

Lynnette Sawyer at ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Hispanic Museum of Nevada.

You might call Lynnette Sawyer a pioneer. Proud to call herself Nuyorican, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1978. Sawyer brought along the most precious belongings given to her by her family – a güiro, a piece of mundillo, a cemi, a Fania All-Stars album, and a Puerto Rican flag. Little did she know these few mementos of her heritage, which she held so close to her heart, would lead her to become the founding director of the only cultural museum in Las Vegas.

Culture was always a part of Sawyer’s life. She says she lived through the Black Panther and Chicano movements, and was exposed to the elements of NYC’s El Barrio and Museum Mile growing up.

Sawyer left her historically-artistic haven and comfort zone to follow her military husband to the city of lights and casinos in the desert Southwest. Las Vegas was a city of only 37,000Latinos in 1980.

She vividly remembers when DJ Rae Arroyo played salsa music for the first time on a Vegas radio station around 1993.

“Tears came to my eyes, when I heard ‘Vamanos pal’ Monte’ play. When you hear something like that after so long it’s like, “Am I hearing things?’,” Sawyer reminisces.

Sawyer taught middle school at St. Christopher’s Catholic school for more than 25 years and is now retired. In 1990, she says her life changed for good – all because of a broken glass display case in the school’s hallway.

“I asked the principal if I could fix it and put some things about Hispanic culture there,” says Sawyer. “From there on we kept growing.”

Sawyer and her husband started a family in Las Vegas, and she wanted her sons to be exposed to culture. But since there wasn’t much of a museum scene, she started adding items to the glass cabinet, from pieces she brought from NY, to pictures and posters about Cesar Chavez and Selena. She says others also started to chip in with special objects of their own.

A few years later, Sawyer opened the first Hispanic Museum of Nevada in the lobby of The Nevada Association of Latin Americans.

For the past 20 years, Sawyer says the Hispanic Museum led a nomadic existence, moving to different community centers and lobbies depending on the group’s budget. In November, it moved into its sixth home in the Boulevard Mall, after an anonymous donor agreed to cover the expenses for a year. Those expenses range from $30-50,000. The official grand opening was Jan. 27.

“The reason it was given to us was the person knew the work we have done in the community through the years, and that we would be an asset wherever we went,” says Sawyer. “And now with the focus on tourism from President Obama, there isn’t another cultural museum in Nevada.”

At the Boulevard Mall, the museum is now at a central location. It’s the only cultural institution in a city which only has six other museums. Among them, the Atomic Testing Museum and The Mob Museum, according to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

“We have a whole demographic of people that may or may not go to a museum, and then they walk by and come in,” says Sawyer. “At our grand opening we had artists present their talent, their work was for sale, and we had different countries showcased.”

She says the favorite part of her job, which she calls a “lifelong passion,” is interacting with the many different cultural groups – ranging from Colombian, Cuban, Mexican, and Dominican, and seeing how they light up when they see their traditional dances and art showcased.

She says the Museum has received about 1,000 visitors since January from places as varied as Alaska, MexicoPuerto Rico, and Montana.

“We know that although we are termed Hispanics in the U.S., we have our own differences within our own subculture, but because we are called Hispanics in the Census, we should then unite to become more of a force in our country,” says Sawyer. “We are able to that and we are doing that. I feel that is where the strength is – in unity.”

Originally published in NBCLatino.com.