Sylvia Spotlights: Writing, Women, and the Big "What-ifs"

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Archive for the category “Culture”

“My Writing Process” Blog Tour

Deadlines. Flexibility. Routine. The need to write. The need to create or produce. Fortunately, I am disciplined to sit at my desk and write almost daily, but taking part in this “My Writing Process” blog tour at the invitation of a writer and teacher I truly admire—Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days–really made me think. Judy is currently working on Wild Women, Wild Voices, which intrigues me to no end since I’m a big advocate for empowering women. You can find out more about Judy’s projects and process at www.judyreeveswriter.com

Diving into the 4 questions this blog tour is based on, I begin…

  1. What am I working on?

That’s a loaded question since I write non-fiction, fiction and articles—and teach.

For fiction I’m working on “the book of my heart.” Finally. It’s been simmering and shifting voice and point of view and being pushed to the back burner for seven years now. It’s about a breast cancer survivor who has lost her mojo and believes the only way she can get it back is by reviving her high school rock band—much to the surprise of her husband, kids, and best friends/band members. This year I have an agent who is so ready to take it out into the world, that I finally have a deadline. Maybe that’s what was missing all along. As a journalist I thrive on deadlines.

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

Salsa Serenade, previously published as Serenade

I’m also self-publishing my old romance titles that I received the rights back on. The first, Salsa Serenade, is out now.

Non-fiction--biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

Non-fiction–biographies of 150 remarkable Latinas.

For non-fiction, I still work with my The Book of Latina Women: 150 Vidas of Passion, Strength and Success. The 2013 re-release is currently a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards; winners will be announced on June 28 at a banquet in Las Vegas. Receiving that call from Kirk Whisler of Latino Literacy Now was my version of what the Academy Awards must be like. I was speechless and teary and overcome. The women featured in the book are amazing and even today I get goosebumps when I speak about them. My agent and I are talking about breaking down the book into a series for middle grade readers and highlighting much-needed Latina role models from various career fields.

For journalism, my favorite magazine to write for is Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. I cover amazing educators, advances in the education field, overcoming stereotypes and visionary perspectives. Next up is a piece on the incredible community outreach work being done by students of the MFA program at Cal State San Bernardino headed by Dr. Juan Delgado, a poet himself.

  1. How does my work differ from that of others of its genre?

Good question. In all my work—fiction, non-fiction, articles—I find myself writing about inspiring people/characters I’d want to hang around with at a dinner table. I write about strong, intelligent, selfless women, Latinos and Latinas who blaze trails and surpass the bar. I write about people who have integrity and values and follow their passion despite the risks; those who have time for others and learn as much as they teach. Those who question the norm and break stereotypes. Those who speak for the underdog. Their stories mesmerize and need to be told.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

Because I believe every person has a story to tell—and that includes the characters that live in my head for my novels. I’m intrigued by people and their journeys, their obstacles and their vision. I’m often in awe of how they can somehow pull from that inner core—even on the darkest of days—strength, desire, perseverance and passion to change direction and make things happen.

  1. How does your writing process work?

It starts with acceptance of fewer hours sleep and that my desk will never stay clean for more than a couple of days before the next project takes over the space. It usually pays off in the end…

Elbow deep in a new project

Elbow deep in a new project

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

In the READ LOCAL San Diego booth at the Encinitas Street Fair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I teach media studies and journalism at a community college. The days I don’t, I get up by 5:00 to start writing on my fiction. For some reason, my brain is in its more creative juices. On those days I pick up where I left off. Almost always I work on my desktop computer, though I carry a notebook to jot down ideas, or else I forget. I’m going to try to use my laptop this summer for more portability. I take an exercise break—usually a spin class or brisk walk—around 9:30 to get the blood flowing and give my brain a rest. Then right back to it.

In the afternoons, between lesson plans and grading papers, I work on articles, non-fiction, or editing. That could mean research. Interviews. Outlines. Transcribing notes. First draft. Second draft. Third draft. Sometimes more, especially for articles. At night I’m usually fried, so I watch TV and enjoy it, dissecting well-written shows.

Deadlines trump all routines, however. When I worked on The Book of Latina Women, two weeks before deadline, I was probably at my desk 15-18 hours a day.

And then there’s life. Curve balls are thrown at us all the time and I deal with those as they come. More importantly, I like spending time with my kids, family and friends and practice escapism in different forms like salsa dance lessons, hiking, reading, traveling, eating, movies and concerts. I convince myself they’ll bring a depth to my writing, one way or another.

I figure how can I write about life if I’m not experiencing it?

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’d like to learn more about my projects and writing life, please check out www.sylvia-mendoza.com

* * * * * *

Now it’s time to pass the baton. Two of my friends are up next on this blog tour and will post their routines on May 5.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Caridad Pineiro is a Jersey Girl who’s written over 40 novels/novellas—dark and sexy romantic suspense and paranormal romances for those who live to love on the edge—and contemporary romances under her sweet, but still naughty side, Charity Pineiro. Visit www.caridad.com/blog

Ara Burklund writes YA with a unique voice and twist. Her first book, If I Die Before I Wake, is out now from the Alloy Entertainment division of Warner Brothers. Take a look at her other projects, sure to stand out in the ever-expanding YA genre, at www.araburklund.com

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Encinitas Street Fair–Connecting Readers to Local Authors!

The ENCINITAS STREET FAIR is this coming weekend, April 26-27! It’s so much fun and a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday in San Diego.

Encinitas Street Fair

If you’re in the area, please visit the READ LOCAL San Diego booth on Sunday from 1:30-4:00. I’ll be joining other authors as we sign and talk books.

The opportunity to meet and mingle with other local authors of all genres, meet readers and share our writing process sounds like a perfect kind of weekend. To have it in quaint yet eclectic Old Encinitas on Highway 101–one of my favorite communities in San Diego–is the proverbial icing on the cake.

I’m proud to be a member of READ LOCAL San Diego. The mission of READ LOCAL is to connect readers with authors in their communities. According to its website, it was “created to raise awareness of the expansive literary community in the greater San Diego area, to foster a meaningful connection between local authors and readers, and to enrich the lives of readers through ongoing events and outreach programs.”

I just like the fact that we see the power of the written word come alive in a variety of genres; there’s something for every reader. Much like a bouquet of wildflowers, we will each offer the unique beauty of our individual books as part of a bigger collection of art.

Hope to see you Sunday!!!

For more info on READ LOCAL, visit http://sandiego.readlocal.org/

For more info on the 400+ booths and the weekend schedule for music and entertainment, visit: http://www.sandiego.org/events/festivals-and-street-fairs/encinitas-april-street-fair.aspx

The Salvation of Artist Fabian “Spade” Debora

The Poetic Flow of One Man’s Perspective–My Heart Jumped

Inspiration. I seem to always be looking for it. I run into it all the time.

My critique group rocks

With my friends, who endure hardships and still are the most amazing, generous, talented, loving people surrounding me. With my own kids, who I sometimes watch with awe with their blossoming. With my parents who withstood unbearable conditions to succeed and offer their kids better lives. With my professors, whose knowledge spurs me to do better. With my employers and editors who who create environments of respect and professionalism that make me aspire to make a difference. With my educator mentors who are in academia because they want to teach and envision our future leaders. With my colleagues, who are so committed, their achievements create magical outcomes. With my interviewees, who have taught me about life and living and how attitude is everything.

I’ve been lucky to work with students and clients like at UCSD-Extension, who write about their lives. Memoirs. Creative non-fiction. It is a brave thing, and often times, I am inspired beyond words as they are willing to be raw and real. Maybe this is why I started my own company offering writing and editing services–so that I could help clients develop their stories while staying true to their visions and voices–and ultimately share with the world the life experiences that so moved them, transformed them, or led them to better places of awareness. I see my clients who are already inspirational and motivational speakers like Daniel Gutierrez and Dr. Yasmin Davidds, whose words I read to this day.

And now, my clients who wrote 8 Ways to Say I Love My Life will have their book out this Fall.

Raw, real, rich in detail, 8 Ways Delivers

All eight authors laid their hearts bare and the resulting book has that “wow” factor to me. I cried. I laughed. I saw light after dark despairing depths.

What I know is this, some memoirs, inspirational works and self-help books rise above. They have the potential to inspire and change lives.

I listened to Jane Fonda speak on Life: The Third Act and her focus was on–what do we do now, with long life expectancies, for the last three decades of our lives? Should I do anything differently, I wondered.

It is not only about our purpose in this world, she said, but in our approach to it. How do we react to the good that comes to us and the bad that corners us?  When you strip away everything material, what matters? Fonda shared a quote by Viktor Frankl (how did I not read him before?), author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

I had to find him, his work, his words.

“I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets…”

His passage on love flowed so poetically, I read it over and over and my heart leapt. Imagine, to be lucky to love that way, to have someone love you that way. To know that love is one of those “things” that matter. So as Frankl, a Holocaust victim enlightened me when he shared bits of his life and philosophy, I saw inspiration.  Those who write about their lives are bold and brave and inspire in their own way. I am right where I am meant to be.

I close with Frankl’s poetic perspective of love:

“…for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…” 

~ Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor & Author, Man’s Search for Meaning

Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?

Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Assignment: Journalism 620: Online Publishing)

With more than 7 billion people in the world (US Census Bureau), the Internet and social media make us believe that it just might be a small world, despite the numbers. With an incredible network of connections, it is sometimes unfathomable to believe that someone from California could possibly connect to someone they have never met in London, through the various Internet sources find a bed and breakfast or do a home swap in time for the  2012 Olympics.

Bodies, bridges, social networks–what do they have in common?

Oh, the beauty of being interconnected. This phenomenon for everything from businesses, to a body, to social networks is shown historically in the book, Linked: The New Science of Networks: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life. According to the book blurb, author “Albert-László Barabási, the nation’s foremost expert in the new science of networks, takes us on an intellectual adventure to prove that social networks, corporations, and living organisms are more similar than previously thought.”

At this point in time, there is a convergence of centuries of mathematical and scientific formulas that form the basis for the belief that networks are present everywhere and in everything. Barbasi describes nodes, links, hubs and networks, labeling “isolated nodes” as people. As an example,  he says when people meet each other, they form a link. When several people get together, say at a party to share information, they form a network or cluster. So, like the internet, a network of connections can go from “isolated nodes” to isolated networks to big clusters with a commonality. Networks can be “computers linked by phone lines, islands connected by bridges and molecules in our bodies linked by chemical bonds.” These networks are linked to connectors and hubs that can cause exponential growth and opportunities for more connections and knowledge.

“Networks are …competitive…dynamic systems that change constantly through the addition of new nodes and links.” with a vivid example of serving a rare wine at a party. Share this with another person, then that person tells the next and then that person tells someone he knows. Pretty soon, everyone knows about the tasty rare wine and it will be gone before the next link can be created. Connectors are people who can literally, connect people, business, entities to others. Hubs “are places on the Internet where all of the important things from connectors are linked.”

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

Barabasi uses the concept of “Six Degrees of Separation” to explain how closely we can be connected to others and not even realize it. Hungarian Author Frigyes Karinthy first wrote about this theory—that everyone in the world can be connected “through a chain of acquaintances of no more than five intermediaries”—in his 1929 “Chains.” This concept is illustrated in the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Actor Kevin Bacon is seen as a Hollywood hub for all actors who have worked with him or someone he knows.  

The best example of these types of strong and weak connections is LinkedIn. Strong ties are those people who are super close to us, but the best “investment” is to branch out to the weak ties, those we may not know as well, but who can broaden our connections. In my own LinkedIn account, some amazing statistics state:  510 connections link you to 6,365,236+ professionals; and, 65,321 new people in your network since July 22. Wow.

When I took Social Media for Editors at UCSD Extension, what I learned from instructor Erin Brenner reinforced Barabasi’s viewpoint: that for effective connections, I would not benefit from linking to so many other writers, but I would benefit if I linked to organizations or individuals who I wanted to reach as potential clients, such as motivational Latina speakers.

Barabasi mentions the “power laws;” one revolves around the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. His belief? Power comes from a few. He said that 80% of the property in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Another: 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. My favorite?  How 20% of the population earns 80% of the income.

There are consequences to all this interconnectivity that the general public may not aware of.  In some cases, if technology fails, the world as we know it can come to a stop. There are entities that help monitor what can go wrong, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA focuses on “the development of new network technologies that will allow the networks of the future to be resistant to attacks and continue to provide network services.”

Precautions must be taken. “MafiaBoy,” a 15-year-old who hacked into and handicapped Yahoo, Amazon.com, CNN.com, Etrade and Excite in one fell swoop, was first thought to be a cyber-terrorist by the FBI. Barabasi shows how those sites came to a screeching halt for serviceability. Barabasi also mentions how if major hubs are shut down, a domino effect can ensue. His example? American airports. If Chicago O’Hare, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta were shut down, “all air travel within the United States would come to a halt within hours.”

Interconnectivity. There is absolute awe in the concept. But there should also be a little bit of wariness. A little bit of fear. And a whole lot of respect for the power at our fingertips.  

 

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Oscar Pistorius–Inspiration for the Olympics & Beyond!

By Sylvia Mendoza

No whining, no blaming, no pity parties. This is living. Oscar Pistorius should be the new poster guy for Nike.  Just Do It!

Can hardly wait for the Olympics to start. Go Oscar!

 

Oscar Pistorius is going to the Olympics: Oscar Pistorius has been selected to run in both the individual 400 metres and the 4×400-metre relay at the London Olympics and is set to become the first amputee track athlete to compete at any games.In a surprising last-minute decision Wednesday, South Africa’s Olympic committee and national track federation cleared the double amputee to run in his individual event. (Nationalpostsports.tumblr.com)

Picasso: Transforming a San Antonio Community

Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos

The Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos exhibit at Texas A&M University San Antonio brought more to the community than exposure to great art.

ASSIGNMENT: FINAL PROJECT/BACKPACK JOURNALISM
Digital Journalism Masters Program
By Sylvia Mendoza


Okay. This was one of the most difficult, most challenging homework assignments I’ve EVER had. I lost track of the number of hours–no–days spent on developing the story.

In retrospect, since I’m a print journalist, I should have just written the story the way I normally would, then break it down into script format for the video I put together.  The story was pretty amazing and inspirational as it was–my favorite types of stories. Texas A&M University, San Antonio, is in the “South Side,” which up until now, has been notoriously an impoverished area with high drop out rates.

Texas A&M opened this campus in the heart of this community, the only four year university in the surrounding vicinity. The positive impact has been great. Enrollment increases every semester. With more than 500 acres to build upon, the architectural plans are phenomenal and the curriculm, top of the line.

And the best part–the community has access to everything it offers–from classes to cultural events and everything in between.

With the effort of many, the university brought the exhibit “Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos” straight from Spain; never before had any of the 97 pieces left that country. Nearly 10,000 people made their way to the exhibit.

With the motto: Access to Success, the university gave a glimpse of greatness, and all of a sudden, many residents and student saw a glimpse of all the possiblities for their own futures and the blessings in their own backyard.

Onward.

Texas A&M University San Antonio

Texas A&M San Antonio is shaking things up on the South Side. The possibilities for growth in educational & cultural avenues is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Script –Picasso: Transforming a San Antonio Community

 [Notes: VERSION 1]

The Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos Exhibit took place from March through May 2012 at Texas A&M University, San Antonio, a brand new campus with only one building to its name.

[ReadRate:15]

[Reporter/Narrator: MENDOZA]{**MENDOZA**}

[TAKE: CLIP Montage of San Antonio Proper; lead into South Side San Antonio & Photos of Picasso: VO/Mendoza]: 1:30

ATH THE HEART OF SAN ANTONIO, THERE IS A CULTURAL RICHNESS IT OFFERS ITS PEOPLE AND TOURISTS ALIKE. LESS THAN 25 MILES FROM ITS CORE, HOWEVER IS…THE SOUTH SIDE, UP UNTIL NOW,  AN IMPOVERISHED AREA WITH A HIGH DROP OUT RATE AND NOT MUCH OPPORTUNITY TO WITNESS AND EXPERIENCE THE ART & EDUCATION AS INSPIRATION.

BUT WHEN TEXAS A&M OPENED ITS SAN ANTONIO CAMPUS ON THE SOUTH SIDE LAST AUGUST, THE MOTTO WAS “ACCESS TO SUCCESS.” THIS WAS BECAUSE OF THE BELIEF THAT THE MORE THEY OPENED THEIR DOORS TO CULTURAL AND EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES, THE MORE THE COMMUNITY WOULD BENEFIT.  

BRINGING a PICASSO EXHIBIT TO THE CAMPUS BECAME A MISSION FOR THE UNIVERSITY AND THE EFFORTS OF MANY MADE IT HAPPEN. SYLVIA SUTTON, A TEXAS A&M MOM BORN AND RAISED ON THE SOUTHSIDE—AND A FORMER SCHOOL PRINCIPAL, STARTED THE BALL ROLLING.

SERVING ON THE NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL SPANISH TASK FORCE OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN WASHINGTON, D.C., SHE IS A CERTIFIED GENEOLOGIST. HER RESEARCH TOOK HER TO SPAIN OFTEN. WHILE IN SPAIN, SHE BEFRIENDED JAVIER MEDINA, THE OWNER OF AN EXTRAORDINARY AMOUNT OF PICASSO WORKS AND CONVINCED HIM TO BRING AN EXHIBIT TO SAN ANTONIO, AND, MORE SPECIFICALLY, TO TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, SAN ANTONIO.

 

Texas A&M University San Antonio

Grand clock tower at TAMUSA entrance greets students, community & visitors

 

[TAKE: VO: SYLVIA SUTTON]: 56 I THINK I WAS A GOOD DAUGHTER. I WAS A GOOD PROFESSIONAL. I WAS A SCHOOL TEACHER AND THEN A SCHOOL PRINCIPAL FOR 23 YEARS. I WAS A GOOD MOTHER, I HOPE. AND A GOOD WIFE. AND NOW I’M ENTERING ANOTHER SEASON OF MY LIFE. AND I WAS THINKING WHAT CAN I DO FOR MY PEOPLE?

THIS VISION OF WHY NOT THE SOUTH SIDE? WHY NOT BRING IT TO THESE PEOPLE? MANY OF THEM WILL LIVE THEIR LIVES AND NEVER SEE A PICASSO OR A WORK OF ART. WHY NOT PICASSO COME TO THEM?

[TAKE: VIDEO DR. MARIA FERRIER]: 40 SYLVIA SUTTON HAD BEEN WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE OF DE GALVEZ, BUT ALSO WITH THE PICASSO FOLKS. AND THE PICASSO FOLKS SAID “WE WANT TO BRING THIS SHOW TO THE UNITED STATES AND TO TEXAS BECAUSE OF THE DE GALVEZ CONNECTION. AND SHE SAID, “WELL, I KNOW A UNIVERSITY WHERE YOU SHOULD DO IT. SURE ENOUGH, BEFORE THIS BUILDING WAS COMPLETELY BUILT, THE GUYS FROM SPAIN CAME, LOOKED AT THE SECOND FLOOR AND SAID, “OH MY GOODNESS. THIS IS THE PERFECT EXHIBIT HALL. SO THAT’S HOW IT WAS DECIDED TO BRING IT HERE.

 

[PAN: STILLS]: 9

[TAKE: VIDEO DR. MARIA FERRIER]: 45 WE HAVE A BRAND NEW CHANCELLOR BY THE NAME OF JOHN SHARP AND HE IS AMAZING. I TOLD HIM ABOUT THE VISION, HE SAID, “ALL RIGHT MARIA, WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?” AND I TOLD HIME AND HER MADE IT HAPPEN.

SO FOR OUR STUDENTS—AND NOT JUST THE STUDENTS BUT FOR THIS COMMUNITY,  THIS VERY UNDERSERVED AREA OF SAN ANTONIO, TO HAVE THE GREAT WORKS OF PICASSO—AND NOT ONLY PICASSO BUT SALVADOR DALI—IT’S CALLED PICASSO, AMIGOS y CONTEMPORANEOS—SO HIS CONTEMPORARIES AND EVEN SOME OF HIS TEACHERS…WE’VE HAD MORE THAN 6,000 PEOPLE COME BY HERE.

 

[TAKE: VO/ MENDOZA]: 1.00 FOR ALMOST TWO MONTHS, 97 PIECES OF ART BY PICASSO AND FRIENDS THAT HAVE NEVER BEFORE LEFT SPAIN had found their way to TAMUSA CAMPUS. IT HAS MADE AN IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY. ALMOST 10,000 PEOPLE HAVE WITNESSED THIS RARE OPPORTUNITY. FOR MANY, THIS IS A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME.

FOR OTHERS, SEEING THESE GREAT PIECES BY PICASSO HAS NOT ONLY BROUGHT ART IN THEIR LIVES AND INTO THEIR SOULS, THE EXPERIENCE CAN IMPACT AND AFFECT THEIR VISION OF THEIR OWN FUTURE. TEXAS A&M HAS GIVEN THEM ACCESS THAT CAN VERY WELL LEAD THEM TO THEIR OWN SUCCESS.

[TAKE: PAN STILLS]: 10

[TAKE: VIDEO: DR. FERRIER]: 15 IT HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY HUGE FOR OUR COMMUNITY AND OUR STATE. AND WE WERE VERY, VERY BLESSED. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? IT’S ALL ABOUT THOSE DIVINE CONNECTIONS I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE IN AND WITNESS EVERY DAY.


[TAKE: PAN STILLS/ VO MENDOZA]: 25 PERHAPS TEXAS A&M STUDENTS AND THE COMMUNITY ON THE SOUTH SIDE WILL BE INSPIRED BY PICASSO, BY HIS ART AND BY HIS PURPOSE. PERHAPS THEY’LL BE INSPIRED TO REACH FOR THEIR OWN SUCCESS. HAVING THE PICASSO, AMIGOS & CONTEMPORARIOS EXHIBIT AT THIS CAMPUS WAS ALMOST MAGICAL.

 

[TAKE: VO: Sylvia Sutton]: 10 THINK ABOUT WHAT THEY’LL SAY 30 YEARS FROM NOW. MY UNIVERSITY HAD PICASSO HANGING IN THE HALLWAYS. AND THEY’RE GOING TO SAY, “YOU’RE CRAZY.”

[OUTCUE: MENDOZA]: 6 “FROM THE SOUTH SIDE, AT TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY, SAN ANTONIO, I’M SYLVIA MENDOZA.”

TOTAL TIME:4:45] {**PKG**}

Picasso at Texas A&M, San Antonio: Transforming Community

Le Goût du Bonheur, 5/16/1964. Reproduction of a drawing from a sketchbook. © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Le Goût du Bonheur, 5/16/1964. Reproduction of a drawing from a sketchbook. © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Our assignment in Week 2 of the Backpack Journalism master’s class at National University was to develop a google map and corresponding story. I was on assignment for Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine at Texas A&M University, San Antonio, to cover the “Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos” exhibit there, which had been a huge success. How did it ever come to this one building university on the “south side” of San Antonio, the only 4-year university in the impoverished area? The TAMUSA administration is determined to keep bringing opportunity and access to students and the community at large, and offered free admission to this exhibit, in particular. It opened eyes, brought awe and gave tribute to the hard-working community.

Here is my blurb, also found at my Google map of the event.

An incredible  “Picasso, Amigos & Contemporaneos” exhibit was held at Texas A&M University, San Antonio, approximately 15 miles from the famous Riverwalk San Antonio, and 25 miles from the airport. It is the first time these 97 works of art in different mediums had ever left Spain. Since opening on the “south side”  last year, the university has brought the community cultural wealth in the arts, opera, music and politics–even the governor has spoken at this shiny new one-building university that has plans to grow in the next 10 years. The motto “Access & Success” drives the faculty, administration and community to provide opportunities to its students at this, the only 4-year university in the area. Picasso is only the beginning.

Please see my Google map at: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=202476648307905244629.0004c0158d193c969b79f&msa=0

“Serving Those Who Have Served Us”: USC School of Social Work Reaching Military Vets

“Serving Those Who Have Served Us”: USC School of Social Work Reaching Military Vets and Families
By Sylvia Mendoza


Vietnam Vet Ernie D’Leon believes concerted efforts of USC’s School of Social Work, nonprofit organizations and U.S. military services, can help vets deal with their demons and help themselves.

When Army Sergeant Ernie D’Leon arrived home from Vietnam, complete with a Purple Star for his heroic efforts, he had hoped to ease into civilian life and bury his combat experience. The first question his girlfriend asked, however, was, “Did you kill anyone?”

Thinking he would have had time to transition, to feel solid American ground, to have time to adjust, the question instead jolted him into a reality he was not prepared for. “I realized I might not be treated as a regular person, that I maybe I might even be looked at as a barbarian,” he said.

 D’Leon was only 20 when he and 70 men were sent on a fire fight. The two men on either side of him were instantly killed in an ambush. He earned the Purple Heart and was sent to Fort Ord in California for four months before rotating out of the service.

By day, he was “normal,” masking his pain and trauma. By night, nightmares plagued his sleep, the flashbacks vivid.  “In Vietnam, you ceased compassion for life—for your own and for your enemies. That haunts you.”

D’Leon disappeared to Tahoe for two years, to try to get his head straight. “There wasn’t a name for post-traumatic stress back then,” he says. “The government trains me to kill a guy but it doesn’t help me figure out how to live my life after I do that.”

The transition was as difficult for him as it had been for his father. A WW2 vet, the senior D’Leon had been in thirty-six bombing missions and suffered from debilitating nightmares, said D’Leon. It was painful for him to watch.

D’Leon did eventually come back to San Diego, earned his degree from San Diego State University, became an assistant vice-president of a software engineering company, married and had kids. The façade worked for a while. Then, 20 years after returning from Vietnam, he self-medicated, had self-destructive tendencies, then spiraled and crashed, the long suppressed stress and nightmares of the war finally bringing him to his knees. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

He finally talked to a therapist. The timing must have been right because he cried and admitted to survivor’s guilt. Since then he has pulled himself up and tried to help himself with positive activities such as surfing, yoga, therapy, and community service. Education was his salvation.

It seems almost all military vets, especially those who see combat, can suffer from PTSD or any of a number of ailments that affect overall health and well-being as they try to transition to a civilian life, a “normal” life. Home and relationships are not what they were before they enlisted.  Even though there are countless organizations, nonprofits and government programs that offer assistance to vets and their families, they are mostly run by volunteers.

D’Leon himself is on the board of directors of American Combat Veterans of War (ACVOW), based in San Diego’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital (though not funded by VA). He works as an outreach group facilitator and when he can get groups of vets—from all wars—to gather and talk about their experiences, he knows they are on the right track of healing—or at least facing their demons.

He also knows he is not trained as a social worker or therapist.

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San Diego, a true military town, has more than 175,000 military personnel and families and approximately 57,000 retired military personnel. Now San Diego is home base for the USC School of Social Work Academic Center, which offers a specialization in Military Social Work. Graduate students are trained to become “mental health professionals with the unique mental health, physical and transitional concerns of active duty service members, veterans and their families.”

The University of Southern California (USC) started the first of its kind program in the nation with its School of Social Work—a specialization on military vets and their families. Its slogan on the Military Social Work’s program’s brochure states, “Serving Those Who Have Served Us” and “No one comes home from war unchanged.”

Dr. Jose Coll, former Marine and founder of USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, one of the first universities to offer a specialization in military social work.

Dr. Jose Coll, former Marine and founder of USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, one of the first universities to offer a specialization in military social work.

Based at the USC School of Social Work Academic Center in San Diego, this emphasis includes special training of graduate students in specific courses such as “The Military as a Workplace Culture,” Managing Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress and Preventive Care and Health Management in Military and Veteran Settings. Offered electives delve further into issues that may affect a vet and his/her family, including: Disabilities and Family Caregiving; domestic violence; loss, grief and bereavement; Diversity; Mental Health Practice with Severe and Persistently Mentally Ill; Substance Abuse and Other Addictive Disorders; the Societal Response to War: Advocacy, Politics and Policy; even Spirituality is covered. Students are also placed in internships where they will work directly with vets and their families in everyday transition, such as at schools, rehabilitation centers, correction facilities, veterans affairs hospitals, university counseling centers, mental health centers. Dr. Jose Coll, a Cuban immigrant and Marine vet who served from 1996-2000, is one of the founders of the military social work program and former director of the USC San Diego Academic Center. “This is a culture unto itself,” he explained. “Active duty and vets’ needs—and their families’—are unique. We have to help prepare students to become trained mental health professionals familiar with their unique mental health, physical health and transitional concerns.”

At Coll’s urging the center was placed in San Diego, a military town. There are approximately 95,000 active duty personnel in the county, and with families, that number increases to 175,000. There are about 57,000 retired military personnel. In addition, Coll believes subcultures like Latino, African American, and women vets have specific needs to be addressed. By tradition—whether family, societal or cultural—these subcultures have more expectations and doubts when transitioning to civilian life. In addition, it takes time for active duty, vets and their families to learn to trust professionals.

An injury made Coll retire early and that was difficult because he was not ready to retire at 23. As he learned more about social work and went on to earn his PhD in the subject, he knew he wanted to address military needs. Coll’s book, A Civilian Counselor’s Primer for Counseling Veterans, focuses on the family system, sub-cultures, brain injuries, new interventions, exposure therapy, substance abuse and homelessness, among others. “The school’s mission is an enormous undertaking, but a necessary one.” Another book is in the works.

If vets, active duty and their families don’t get the attention they need by trained professionals, they can spiral out of control, said Coll. According to the Center for a New American Security, suicide rates of military vets and active duty personnel from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has increased rapidly. And according to the Veteran’s Administration, there can be as many as one suicide every 80 minutes. “Over 50 percent of individuals who committed suicide did not see combat,” said Coll. “There could have been counter-transference from drill sergeants in basic training, or any other number of reasons, even though the military is selective about who gets in.”

The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs website shows that VA’s suicide hotline has been receiving about 10,000 calls a month from current and former service members. Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 500,000 calls and made more than 18,000 life-saving rescues.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) estimate that over 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.  America’s homeless veterans come from all wars—World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost half of homeless are Vietnam veterans and of these, more than 50 percent are African American or Hispanic.

Then there are some issues that plague veterans across the board. The new buzz phrase for PTSD symptom is “moral injury,” says D’Leon. “The moral injury is the dilemma faced in those first two years of coming back. You had the greatest ideals in the world: honor, bravery, conviction. It’s tough to rationalize, let alone tough live with, knowing you were a part of something so against all the principles of spirituality.”

The transition home can be brutal. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post in January 2012, an increase in numbers of domestic violence, post traumatic stress cases, brain injuries was cited.

“In that place between military and civilian life, a warrior falls off the radar,” explained D’Leon. “Hunting down those who fall off that radar is essential. Not much has changed since Vietnam in treating military and their transition home. The Veterans Administration does a great job with the resources they have. It’s not enough.”

Opening the Military Social Work program has probably come at the right time and aims to do this. Enrollment has increased since it opened in 2009, going from 47 students to 180 in 2011. An absolute benefit about the program, said Coll, is that 70 percent of the students have had some formal affiliation with the military. “Some are retired, some are spouses, some are military children. There are captains sitting in a classroom with enlisted men and women. There are vets from different wars. And yet, they are all there with one thing in mind—they have to understand and approach the military culture differently.”

A Civilian Counselor's Primer for Counseling Veterans by Dr. Jose Coll

A Civilian Counselor's Primer for Counseling Veterans by Dr. Jose Coll

Another major component to the program, said Coll, who is now at St. Leo University as Director of Veteran Student Services, is to get vets to use their GI bills and earn their higher education degrees. “They already have the leadership and discipline training and can think critically,” he said. “With a degree, they can have voice and power and be able to change their lives politically, economically and socially.”

This could be easier said than done. Many vets do not feel like they fit in. They may be sitting in a classroom with other 23-year olds, but how many have been deployed to Afghanistan three times? “The community at large doesn’t understand where you’ve been as active duty,” said Coll. “This is a challenge you have to face for many years to come, for the rest of your life. You have to use your experience but don’t let it get in your way to success. You gave that person sitting next to you the opportunity not to serve.”

For some, the best transition might be to start in community colleges. Often times, however, any transition is unbearable and takes time.

“Even if you can sit still, your mind is going a million miles a minute,” said D’Leon. It took him nearly six years to earn his degree at San Diego State University after returning from Vietnam. “It’s hard to focus when you’ve been trained to move at a moment’s notice. You’re aware of every minute thing—shuffling of papers, a pencil that is dropped, the inflections of your professor’s voice. Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. Sometimes it’s difficult to participate because you’ve been trained not to make mistakes—or someone can die. Better to not say anything, not put yourself in that position. That’s the mentality of a combat vet coming back to the classroom.”

Coll realizes the implementation of a program like USC’s military social work may take years to see a difference, but the difference has begun. His biggest wish is that the Department of Defense develop a model where, as soon as men and women are recruited, they are prepared to start thinking of life after the military, for retirement. “Everyone has to get out sooner or later, and the dialogue has to be about your newfound capabilities and the transition to school and career. The military has to take ownership of this element of transition.”

In the meantime, Coll knows USC is on the right track in addressing the military culture specifically. “Education can turn their lives around, but we have to give them the tools and attention to see their abilities and believe that they can be productive members of society after serving in the military.”

Vietnam vet Ernie D'Leon, kneeling left, with his recon team

Vietnam vet Ernie D'Leon, at left, kneeling, with his recon team

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The “Browning of America”: Will Latinos Truly Influence the 2012 Elections?

Civil Rights Activist Dr. Stephan Balkaran

Dr. Stephan Balkaran, Professor of African-American Studies and Coordinator of the Civil Rights Project at Central Connecticut State University

The Browning of America: Will Latinos Truly Influence the 2012 Elections?
By Sylvia Mendoza

It is election year and even though the focus may be on presidential candidates, there is another major force to be reckoned with—the Latino presence in the United States. With more than 51 million Hispanics living in the country, the potential voting power can easily tilt the scales for any candidate.

Yet, instead of seeing the positive influence a huge Latino turnout at the polls can be, candidates are cautious when addressing the Hispanic community. Emphasis has shifted to the controversial issues of immigration reform, variations of the Dream Act and the swell of racial tension that affects American-born Latinos as well as undocumented immigrants.  Stereotypes of the Latino community have been perpetuated, inciting racism, racial profiling, hate crimes, discrimination and civil and human rights violations.

At the American Association of Hispanics In Higher Education (AAHHE) Conference held in Costa Mesa, California, in March, Dr. Stephan Balkaran, a professor of African-American Studies and coordinator of the Civil Rights Project at Central Connecticut University, presented the workshop: “Can the Hispanic Vote Change the Outcome of the 2012 Election? “No other immigrant group in the history of the United States has the opportunity to redefine America—politically, economically, and socially—like the Hispanic community today.” 

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are more than 51 million Hispanics living in the United States. Approximately 11 million are undocumented. In Georgia, Illinois, Idaho and New Jersey, the Hispanic population has grown by more than 180% since the 2000 census. Under the Hispanic “umbrella,” there are many ethnicities. Immigrants from Mexico are the highest population in the U.S. at 39%, followed by Puerto Rican, Cuban and Guatemalan.

U. S. Hispanic Population

U.S.Hispanic Population (by millions)
2010 U.S. Decennial Census

Balkaran has termed this presence as the “browning of America.” In mainstream white America, he said, the image of Latinos is mostly negative and that image has to change. “Whether you’re fourth generation or a recent immigrant, you are always marginalized by the color of your skin,” he said. “It isn’t about the economic strain of Latinos in this country or the language barrier. It’s that this country isn’t ready for brown.”

Latino Population Swings the Vote

PINK: California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York each have more than 1 million immigrants.
BLUE: In Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, the Latino population has doubled--or increased up to 180%--since the 2000 U.S. Census.

An immigrant from Trinidad, Balkaran arrived in the U.S. at age 18 and started working at the United Nations and World Bank internships. As he studied, however, he witnessed disturbing trends at the university level. “When I became a professor, I started to see how the institutions treated black and brown professors. They were passed over for promotions, research was undermined.”

The author of “The Photobiography of the Civil Rights Movement” and “Broken Dreams, Broken Promises, Disparities and Disappointments: Civil Rights in the 21st Century,” Balkaran was determined to teach about the effects of race and culture. “We have to overcome fears based on race and embrace social change and diversity.”  

That positive social change can occur if Latinos vote, said Balkaran. Voto Latino, a grassroots organization, has been building a movement to get Hispanics registered to vote and estimate that 12 million will do so this year. “The Hispanic vote cannot be taken for granted,” said Balkaran. “We’ll be the major vote in the next 20 years.”

Politicians have honed in on that vote, but seem reluctant to address hot topic buttons like immigration reform and the Dream Act.  “Immigration reform has become the Civil Rights movement of the 21st century,” said Balkaran.

Even so, only presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has put a plan on the table. “He says that if immigrants been here 20 years, have gone to church, have learned English and have no criminal acts, let them be citizens,” explained Balkaran. 

Obama, on the other hand, has lost the confidence of the Latino community because of his failure to address the issue, said Balkaran. “He’s fixed Wall Street and Main Street but not Brown or Black Streets. He broke up more families in his first term of presidency than two terms combined with President Bush. He has reneged on the greatest asset of this country. America’s greatest betrayal is on Hispanics.”

During President Obama’s term in office, the number of deportations has hit record highs, yet no immigration reform policy has been instituted. Since 2007 nearly 1 million immigrants have been deported. In 2011 alone, there were nearly 400,000 deportations to Mexico. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing on deporting those with a criminal record, but only 35% of those deported had committed serious crimes.

Deportations From 2001-2010. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From http://www.AmericasVoiceOnline.org

Immigration reform has been addressed in prior years, but currently affects mostly the Mexican population because the Wet-foot, Dry-Foot policy protects Cuban immigrants and other policies are in place for immigrants from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Columbia and Haiti. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 held employers accountable and they faced fines for employing undocumented workers. It also gave amnesty to those who had been in the country since before 1982. In 2001, President George W. Bush and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox had agreed on an immigration reform policy that both countries could live with, which included border security, drug trafficking control and legalization solutions for those already living in the U.S. Before it could be implemented, however, the terrorist attacks on September 11, brought discussions to a halt.

Despite President Obama’s failure to establish an immigration reform policy, which was a high priority in his last campaign, and current deportation statistics, a Fox News Latino poll showed that Hispanics are still more likely to vote for Obama again unless a Republican brings in a Latino on his/her ticket.

Another issue that can affect the way Latinos vote is the Dream Act. Variations of the Dream Act have been passed—or not—on a state by state basis. Tom Curry, national affairs writer for msnbc.com explained that the Dream Act offers a form of amnesty for “those entered the United States illegally before their 16th birthday to remain as legal U.S. residents, as long as they’d committed no serious crimes, earned a high school diploma, or served in the military.” According to stopab131.com, led by California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, AB 131 allows illegal immigrant students to apply for and be eligible to receive California grants, scholarships and financial aid to attend state colleges and universities. Even though citizens would be first to receive this aid, state tuitions are increasing by almost 12% and financial aid is being cut. However, the CalWatchdog site states that approximately $15-40 million has been earmarked for Dream Act recipients.

The answer is not in prosecuting innocent kids who want a college education, said Balkaran. “Those who say they are taking away opportunity from white kids is ridiculous. How many white Americans live off the government collecting welfare? Why are those numbers never brought to light? Every immigrant that went before us has gotten a piece of the pie, but when it comes to brown America, the rules change. The dream is for all of us.”

Latinos can definitely influence the elections this year, said Balkaran, and that American dream can become a reality if Latinos get involved in grassroots efforts not only to vote and voice their opinion, but to run for office at a local level, like school boards. Community engagement is crucial.  “We need to start breaking down barriers, elevate ourselves with education, and practice diversity,” said Balkaran. “Latinos have the power in numbers alone to effect social change.”

 

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