Saluting my Hermanas in Arms this Memorial Day

Last year the Military Writers Society of America published an essay I contributed to the 2013 anthology titled “Our Voices.” You can find the book at Amazon.com here.  It’s comprised of 60 essays and 15 images, all created by military writers, including essays by Valerie Ormond and Miyoko Hikiji, two members of the recently launched National Women Veterans Speakers Bureau.  The book is lovingly compiled and edited by Betsy Beard, VP of MWSA, mother of Army Specialist Bradley S. Beard who deployed to Iraq in 2004 and “deployed to Heaven” after that to use Betsy’s words.

If you know a military member or veteran, allow me to suggest this book as the perfect gift this Memorial Day as we remember those who have died in service to our nation.

Military Writers Society of America 4th Annual Anthology

Military Writers Society of America 4th Annual Anthology

Because Latina women in military uniforms are rarely seen in news stories, because the average American doesn’t think of a Latina servicewoman when he/she hears the word “military veteran,” I wrote this piece to shine the light on several who have served with distinction and those who have died while serving.

The essay published under the title “Speaking Up for My Hermanas in Arms,” – here I’ll call it what I originally titled it “Saluting My Hermanas in Arms,” which seems perfect as we approach Memorial Day. Here it is, as published, with a few updates added in there to provide links to more.

I hope it touches your heart and I hope you share it with someone who has served.

—————-
Saluting My Hermanas in Arms

Our voices are rarely heard in conversations about military veterans. Say “military veterans” and most adults and children will immediately think of elderly gentlemen carrying flags in a hometown parade. Say “Latina” and most adults will think of a sexy media-created stereotype; don’t believe me? Go to Google images and search “Latina” to see what I mean.

In the USA today, the nation’s 51 million Latinos are still invisible on mainstream media, unless it’s to reinforce a tired stereotype. When we show up to sing the National Anthem at major sporting events on broadcast TV as happened twice this summer, many confused haters refuse to see us as Americans, call us foreigners or worse. I miss that about the active force, the multicultural teams of Americans from every corner of our vast nation. I remember that while I served, globally, the sense of team, mission and camaraderie always trumped any issues of ethnicity, race and such matters. I’m reminded daily as a civilian and veteran that the American people really haven’t evolved away from fear, ignorance and misunderstanding of people with names and skin different than their own.

So I offer my voice, one of many too-quiet voices of Latina military veterans and service women, so that we can begin to associate the word Latina with the image of a strong, self-assured American woman, in service to country, in a military uniform. Many Latinas like me come from families with a long history of military service, a heritage of service that has not been celebrated and a tradition of service that remains largely unknown to our fellow veterans and to our fellow Americans. So I raise my voice to showcase a few examples.

I want you to think of Lt. Colonel Olga Custodio, daughter of an Army sergeant, who holds the distinction of being the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force military pilot training. Upon retiring from the military, she became the first Latina commercial airline captain too. Yet, like so many other extraordinary Latinas, even as an Air Force aviator, I had never heard her name. I heard of her on a business trip to San Antonio, immediately interviewed her and wrote the first profile of this distinguished aviator. It was first featured in Fox News Latino and later on a national TV broadcast on Fox, a gorgeous six-minute video tribute of her personal story and desire to pursue military aviation service. When I read my bilingual children’s book and speak about my own military aviation service at school events around the nation, children enjoy seeing Olga with the T-38 supersonic jet she flew as a military instructor pilot. They love Olga’s story of tenacity. Many more Americans know of Lt. Colonel Custodio’s determined service and her accomplishments. Little Latina girls have a new, important role model of substance. Our voices as Latinas, as bloggers, as veterans, matter.

I want you to think of Lieutenant Jessica Davila, the first Latina Coast Guard helicopter pilot, who recently summarized her story in LatinaStyle Magazine. Her first seven applications to attend flight school were rejected; her tenacity paid off and she was selected the eighth time she applied; off to Naval Air Station Pensacola she went. Should you ever find yourself at peril on the sea, it might be Lt. Davila, First Pilot in the MH-65D, who saves your life while hovering over you. Her determination, her voice as an outlier Latina aviator, matters.

I want you to think of Kerrin Torres-Meriwether, a Navy veteran now middle teacher and her twin sister who is a Marine captain (and mother) deployed to Afghanistan for a year. In one of our first email exchanges she shared with me:

“We come from a long line of military service members: our grandfathers were in the Air Force, various Army uncles, a brother attended high school military academy and Valley Forge, a retired USMC dad, retired USAF National Guard step mom, an aunt who’s an Air Force nurse, etc. We are a proud military family.”

I had the privilege of being invited to Kerrin’s middle school in Maryland in April, to deliver the presentation I call “The Unlikely Military Aviator” in English and Spanish to dozens of students with last names like hers and like mine. WE two made that event happen, our voices as Latina veterans inspire our young people; our voices matter. I’m confident that because she is their teacher and I was their guest speaker, future military officers will come from that group of students.

Importantly, I want us to also remember a few more names, names I was exposed to this week when I discovered the upcoming Tribute Flight project, a “77-day mission flown in a specially modified aircraft bearing the names of American and Coalition troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

They created a montage titled “Fallen Military Women Tribute Video,” a must-watch video that beautifully honors our fallen women. Here are the names I want to highlight, my fallen hermanas in arms:

Aleinas Gonzales
Analaura Gutierrez
Ashley Sietsema
Barbara Vieyra
Anamarie Camacho
Emily Perez
Frances Vega
Adriana Alvarez
Juana Arellano
Jessica Sarandrea
Maria Ortiz
Linda Tarrango
Myla Maravillosa
Dominique Cruz
Tamara Archuleta
Ramona Valdez
Linda Jiménez
Tamarra Ramos
Thalia Ramirez
Lizbeth Robles
Isela Rubalcava
Niyireth Marin
Marisol Heredia

These are the ladies with obviously Latino-looking names; surely I missed others who married someone, as we Latinas do often, whose last name is something completely different.

My point is simple: I want to stop, reflect on the full sacrifice these Latinas made for this nation, honor them and be their voice that says, “I served proudly. I died in service as an American military woman. Please remember my name.”

The last fallen military woman you’ll see in the video is Captain Victoria Pinckney. Her maiden name? Victoria Ann Castro, daughter of Larry and Michelle Castro. “Tory” attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, played rugby and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in systems engineering space systems. She met her future husband Richard there and graduated in 2008. Tory became a military pilot and earned a Master Degree in psychology. When she perished in a KC-135 plane crash near Chon-Aryk, Kyrgyzstan on May 3, 2013 the accident didn’t make national news, but I heard about it immediately because she was from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington. Specifically, she and her crew were part of the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, my former squadron from the 1990s.

I mourned her death and that of her crew and raised my voice. We halted production on my bilingual children’s book, a book about a Captain Mama who serves onboard KC-135s, just like Victoria. I learned that she was indeed a true Captain Mama – a 27 year-old first-time mommy of a little boy named Gabriel who was seven months old when she died. I cried for her baby boy who would remember nothing of his extraordinary mother and would only know of her through stories later in life. I cried for her husband, suddenly a young widower and single father to an infant. I cried for her sisters, her father and as a mother of three, I cried for her mother. I decided to pay my respects to Tory though the children’s literature we were creating. I wondered if I would ever feel it was enough to honor this young woman and aviator. Her name and the names of her fellow crewmembers, now included in a special tribute in the book, will be known to kids in schools, homes and libraries forever. I have a new appreciation for the work that I do and so I raise my voice a little bit louder.

Victoria’s extraordinary life was beautifully summarized in an 8-minute video shared within a Facebook group honoring her time on Earth. It’s here and I hope that as you hear my voice, you take a moment to honor her life.

We women, we Latinas serve proudly, as many in our families have also done before us. When one of us is killed in action, we shouldn’t be invisible. We must be seen and appreciated as Americans, as service women, who gave everything. I want the voices of our Latina service women to be recorded, available and seen and heard. I want our voices to speak to baby Gabriel one day, to add to what his family will tell him about his mother. I want him to know that his mother was part of an amazing group of women too, so he can appreciate her in that context as well. As an author, I want him to know how much she was loved and admired, even by someone like me who never met her. I want him to hear our proud, American, Latina voices, and so I write…

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What Was it Like? The White House Champions of Change Event Experience

As I fly home tonight physically restrained in my airline seat, no longer moving, walking, networking, or engaged in an event in our nation’s capital city, I can FINALLY be still and reflect on what just happened this week. I can begin to process it all and let it begin to sink in. Two weeks ago as I walked into the Skyway Cafe at the San Carlos Airport with my BFF, I received a call from Washington D.C. that was echoed minutes later in this email:

“Congratulations for being selected by The White House as a Women Veteran Leader Champion of Change! As part of the Champions of Change program, the White House recognizes every day Americans who are making positive changes in their communities. This Champions event will honor women Veteran leaders who have contributed to our nation’s business, public, and community service sectors. You were selected because of your tremendous work and leadership, and we hope to honor you at an event at The White House on Tuesday, March 25, 2014.”

Two weeks before that, on February 27th, a fellow woman veteran had informed members of a Facebook group that nominations were open for this and that the deadline was the next day. I read the criteria and because I know a woman veteran who received this honor last year in the Renewable Energy category, I asked her, another veteran/author, my sister and my BFF to please consider submitting a nomination for me. With a tight deadline of one day, the adage of “if you want something done, ask a busy person,” proved true once again. All four completed nominations!

So with that call as I walked into the airport cafe, I learned I’d been selected as one of ten veteran Champions of Change. I immediately began to feel the exciting disruption of a call like that, in my “momtrepreneur” life that’s already filled to the brim. Let me provide a little insight for those who may one day be nominated and selected for this initiative. The deadlines come fast – I was told that my bio, names of my two guests and all required security information was due the following day; a 600-word blog post that would be hosted on the White House site, was due the following Monday. Whew! But when the White House and Department of Veterans Affairs want to shine a bright spotlight on your military service and current professional endeavors, you just somehow make time to do all that. In addition, there was the need to buy airline tickets and secure lodging. The days following were a blur.

Fast forward to the morning of the event, March 25th. After planting radishes in our garden in California on Sunday wearing shorts, I found myself in a thick winter coat, with scarf, wool hat, boots, walking toward the White House in light snow flurries, arm-in-arm with my beloved sister Selina who had flown in from Colorado. It was a beautiful, wintery snow scape….we were like children again, off to a grand adventure together!
We arrived at the security gate and met up with my BFF Sonya Sigler who had been with me when I got the call. We cleared the multiple levels of security required to enter the White House grounds. Soon, we were networking in the ladies room with members of the audience that were coming to witness the event. I enjoyed listening to my sister do her natural conversationalist thing, introducing my work and literature to the women in the room who asked questions about our travels.

No sooner had I stuffed a breakfast bar into my mouth and brushed my teeth when I was suddenly whisked away to join the other nine veteran honorees. The officials from the Department of Veteran Affairs and the White House took their official photographs of our group of women veterans.

WHCoC Group Photo

10 Honorees at the White House Champions of Change: Women Veteran Leaders event 3/25/14

By now several faces looked familiar, having already connected on LinkedIn and Twitter. We were briefed on event logistics, joined by Army Colonel Morales representing the office of the First Lady, smiled for many pictures and eventually took our seats. But before we separated, I pulled the colonel aside and handed him a copy of my bilingual children’s book, Good Night Captain Mama that I had just signed to the First Lady. I told Colonel Morales that I appreciated the work Mrs. Obama is doing with military families and children and I wanted to say thank you with this unique children’s book. He looked at it, said “Wow, this is fantastic. I’ll be sure she gets it.” Then I took my seat.

The women on the first panel blew us away with their work, initiative and continued service to others. They were the following leaders:

Honorees, left to right:  Stacey Young-McCaughan, Dana L. Niemela, Sonia Jo Kendrick, Mary Johanna Forbes, Erica Borggren

Honorees, left to right: Stacey Young-McCaughan, Dana L. Niemela, Sonia Jo Kendrick, Mary Johanna Forbes, Erica Borggren

• Erica Borggren, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs
• Mary Johanna Forbes, Assistant Director for Veterans Services, Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs
• Sonia Jo Kendrick, Founder of Feed Iowa First
• Stacey Young-McCaughan, Director of Research for the STRONG STAR Consortium
• Dana L. Niemela, MSW, Coordinator of the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program

The work each is doing is truly important and in Sonia’s case, groundbreaking. The story that struck me the most was Erica’s tale, which includes attending the U.S. Army’s West Point Military Academy and graduating as valedictorian of her class – that’s different. Then, she became a Rhodes Scholar after graduation.

Then it was our turn to take the stage. I had the tremendous honor of joining these women on our panel:

Second panel at the Champions of Change: Women Veteran Leaders event 3/25/. Honorees from left to right: Ellen Houlihan, the Honorable Coral Wong Pietsch, Martha Daniel, Deborah Scott Thomas, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

Second panel at the Champions of Change: Women Veteran Leaders event 3/25/. Honorees from left to right: Ellen Houlihan, the Honorable Coral Wong Pietsch, Martha Daniel, Deborah Scott Thomas, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato

• Ellen Houlihan, Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, West Point Association of Graduates
• Coral Wong Pietsch, Judge, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the first woman to reach the rank of general in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps and the first woman of Asian ancestry to be promoted to general officer in the Army)
and two fellow entrepreneurs leading their own businesses:
• Martha Daniel, President and CEO Information Management Resources, Inc.
• Deborah Scott Thomas, Founder, President & Chief Executive Officer of Data Solutions & Technology, Inc.

There were many, many nuggets of wisdom uttered (and tweeted) that morning. These are ones I remember weeks later:

“Use your scraps of time wisely.”-Ellen Houlihan

“Not all of us who are veterans have been victimized.” – Dana Niemela

“Keep your sense of humor.” – Honorable Judge Wong Pietsch

“I remember acting way more confident than I actually felt. I’ve grown and learned by being in situations that made me feel very uncomfortable.” – Erica Borggren

Martha had the audience in stitches when she told story about a corporate golfing event where the playing field was suddenly leveled for all the participants. Her one-liner?
“Remember that the women, just like the men, were looking for their balls.” Unforgettable.

The recording of the event that was streamed live that day is here. I’d encourage ALL professional women to spend the hour watching it, and to share with a younger women (or student) you mentor.  The specific stories of leadership and self determination, of tenacity and of standing tall and confident when feeling otherwise, will help anyone who is ready to hear those examples. Women can learn much about what leadership FEELS like from those of us who have worn the uniform and been “the only whatever in the room” as Ericca described it.

I had given a great deal of thought to what I would say up there during this event that was being live streamed across the country. What I wanted to do first was salute my parents. I wanted the fact that I am the daughter of immigrants to be prominent in my storyline on this momentous day because that’s where my story starts – like so many other Mexican citizens, my parents left their home country to come here and contribute their work ethic, skills and talents to the USA. Aware of the fact that of the ten veteran honorees on stage I was the only Latina, I knew I was representing so many other proud Latinas, daughters of immigrants, who have worn the uniform. Several of them were watching the event live.

I had written my key messages on index cards, to answer the questions we were told we’d be asked. I had thought about how I wanted to position my name, personal brand and company brand to a live national audience. I happily listened to my fellow veterans tell their stories, free of nerves that might have been present had I not prepared. I’d been coached well by Elizabeth Perez, the women veteran who was previously honored. This experience reminded me of the need to ask those who have walked ahead of us, to help us do it better, to avoid their mistakes and to make our moment in the spotlight as positive and enjoyable as possible. What I hadn’t prepared for was what happened on the way to our lunch.

I received an email from a woman named Karly, working for my congressman Eric Swalwell. She said he had seen a news story during his morning reading about the event I was attending at the White House. He wanted to meet me in his office. How crazy is that? So after lunch, the three of us took a cab up the Hill to the Cannon House building and were greeted like has never happened before in all my previous visits to our lawmakers.

We were welcomed into his office and he began to ask questions about my business, my family, my story, my books. He asked for my ideas for two issues on his mind and I shared what has been on my mind for months. Photos were taken with five different cameras  and the staff invited us to return the next morning for an escorted tour of the U.S. Capitol, oddly something I had never done.

Outside snowy Capitol

Outside snowy Capitol

Snowy daffodil

Snowy daffodil

Then we walked to Union Station for a late lunch to warm up, snapping photographs of daffodils and crocus flowers blooming through the snow. My sister caught a train north to visit my brother and his family; Sonya and I joined the Board members of National Resource Defense Council for dinner and networking, at the invitation of my friend and NRDC attorney Adrianna Quintero. It had been a uniquely full and amazing day.

When we arrived the next morning, Karly gleefully said, “I have a surprise for you!” and led us into the Congressman’s office. She turned on the TV and said, “This is from this morning.” I turned to the TV and saw my Congressman paying tribute to my work on the floor of the House of Representatives. I was stunned and speechless. I couldn’t believe it. I felt my life flashing before my eyes. He held up my beloved bilingual children’s book and emphasized the work we do to create this unique literature.

Moving Tribute On Floor of House of Representatives

Moving Tribute On Floor of House of Representatives

He summarized perfectly why the White House chose to honor me. I was deeply moved at this emotional tribute. Wow. Click here to watch the two and a half-minute recording of his speech from the floor of House of Representatives.

We were led on a fantastic and leisurely tour of the Capitol by staffer Alana.

 

 

 

Sonya and Graciela at Lady Liberty in the US Capitol

Sonya and Graciela at Lady Liberty in the US Capitol

As we entered the gift shop for a few minutes, she took a call and informed us that we needed to hurry back because the Congressman wanted to see us one more time before going to the floor for afternoon voting. We rushed back there and he greeted us. I thanked him from the bottom of my grateful heart for honoring my life and work in this most profound way.

Congressional Record copy of tribute speech by Congressman Swalwell

Congressional Record copy of tribute speech by Congressman Swalwell

Then, he pulled out the final surprise – a printed copy of his speech that has been entered into the Congressional Record.

With my Congressman Eric Swalwell, receiving copy  of his tribute speech entered into the Congressional Record

With my Congressman Eric Swalwell, receiving copy of his tribute speech entered into the Congressional Record

Again, I was left speechless and humbled. All I could do was hug him and his entire staff.

 

I don’t know what’s ahead. I don’t know what all of this will lead to, what new doors will open, but I do know that it was a miraculous week to me – completely surreal, completely full of unforgettable people and unforgettable moments. I’ll never have a week like this again; now I understand what is meant by this saying “When you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, the entire universe conspires to help you.” Coming within a year of the violent mugging I suffered last spring, this week of being honored by two of our three branches of federal government felt even more special, more gratifying, a vindication of sorts. I’m truly blessed in this life. Thank you universe. Thank you.

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Gratitude for Those who Helped Me Survive (and Thrive) in 2013

My oldest child had surgery earlier this month, which forced me to completely slow down and stay home in a caregiver role. As a business owner, in previous years this necessary medical activity would surely have led to thoughts of lost productivity and anxiety. But this is 2013- the year I was violently mugged and injured and the year my two other children had brushes with death.

So to satisfy my need to write one more article before the end of the year, I have chosen to only write about one thing: GRATITUDE.

I have tremendous gratitude to the lady who was there to call 911 as I got hit from behind simultaneously by two violent ghosts I never saw. Without her assistance and description of the attackers, it would have been a very empty police report. The evil pair apparently had watched me before I left the coffee shop before dark because they knew where I had secured my smartphone; I lost my laptop, phone and sense of security that night, about five feet away from my car. I’m grateful too that they wanted my tech and not my life.

I am grateful for Linda, our former au pair from Germany who took care of me when we arrived in her town for our long-anticipated first European vacation with our children; my knee injury from the April mugging lead to a subsequent worse injury on a Belgian train within an hour of our arrival. That was followed by crutches, an orthopedic appointment in a German hospital, a wheelchair, prescription drugs. Without Linda’s help there and elsewhere, our family vacation would have been a complete disaster. Thank you Linda for your love, assistance and extraordinary patience with your comadre!958782_10201201056567817_119106324_o 968671_10201212361410431_366584603_o 987086_10201212341009921_429794170_o 958205_10201206226497062_48352660_o

 

 

 

I’m extraordinarily grateful to our former au pairs in Germany and their families for their tremendous hospitality and for assistance rendered to the injured “host mom.” Thank you Gaby and Rolfy for hosting our family in your home in Germany and for memories that will truly last a lifetime! Thank you Mandy for 24 phenomenal hours in Braunschweig. Thank you Nansin and your family for meals in Bebra that we’ll never, ever forget (or work off!) Thank you Gunther and Rolfy for pushing me up and down hills along the Rhine River in Cologne and giving my husband a break.959282_10201189656442821_1243555512_o

I am indescribably grateful to my husband Genro who spent our vacation that wasn’t, pushing me in a wheelchair in four European countries, in train stations, airports and cobblestone streets. Imagine Venice, Italy, the city of canals and hundreds of stepped bridges. Now imagine Venice in a wheelchair – nightmare! My husband’s physical and character strength was my crutch when it all got to be too much for me one particularly difficult day in that city.958896_10201212194206251_1431647764_o968614_10201212227247077_1599389109_o 958247_10201206272898222_74627091_o968629_10201206284178504_1689928554_o

 

 

 

I am grateful to the driver of the SUV who somehow managed to avoid hitting my nine year-old daughter on the 4th of July as she decided to sprint across the street back to me when all the cars were stopped watching fireworks…or so she assumed. If you’ve ever watched your child miss certain death by about three inches as you scream her name, you know exactly how traumatized I still am by that moment, and how truly grateful I am to hug her tightly every day and night. If you never have endured that horror, count yourself double lucky.

With the backdrop of all that going on in the first half of the year, I am deeply, deeply grateful to the entire team of creative women who helped me birth my first bilingual children’s book, Good Night Captain Mama, on our planned launch date of July 4th weekend. 1048614_10201460426411901_1586154727_oWe somehow got there despite the mugging, the broken femur and the wrecked car and other unpleasant things that happened to several of us on the team. Small business owners are ferociously tenacious creatures, aren’t we? I’m proud to call Ruth and Suzi friends and express gratitude for pushing with me all the way to the end. Linda, Anabel, Rosi and Ivonne – thank you for all you did to keep the project on track and excellent.

I am forever grateful to my friend Stacy who was watching my kids when I was at a physical therapy appointment to heal my injured knee. It was that hour of that summer day my son choked on a Lego while using his teeth to pull two pieces apart. Thank you Stacy for the quick thinking and knowing how to do the Heimlich maneuver! How do you express gratitude to the friend who saved your son? I’m trying….

I’m grateful to Dr. Angelica Perez, founder of the ELLA Leadership Institute and the ground-breaking Latinas Think Big event that took place at Google’s L.A. office in October. I met many of the women from the Latina Leadership Network Facebook group, most notably my host in L.A. Gina Espinoza and Dr. Nelly Cardinale who traveled from Miami. 1379520_10202183776695206_2131983286_n1278871_10202177096808213_1084989899_o 1272967_10202170868572511_336580214_oIt was the first time that a Fortune 100 corporation had hosted a Latina leadership event and it foreshadows what’s to come. Thank you ladies. Thank you Angelica, a woman I know will be my life-long amiga.

I am grateful for artist America (of Global America) who arranged for me to attend the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention as an exhibitor. Relationships started that day led to all kinds of wonderful activities in the latter half of 2013. I met John Estrada and Duane Goff of the storied American GI Forum. One Friday night, a Facebook message from John “Can you be in a parade in San Jose on Monday?” led to a conversation with his sister Marie of the AGIF and a dinner in San Jose where I met a kindred spirit named Gloria sitting with Duane. That chat with Marie also led to one of the best memories for my family and I for 2013.

1412420_10202404748019351_660329088_oI am deeply grateful to the AGIF for honoring me in the San Jose Veterans Day Parade and to Tony of Blvd Bombs, owner of the gorgeous, red 1953 Bel-Air convertible lowrider, who drove my children and I in the parade. We will always remember the sign on the car introducing us to the crowd as “Captain Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, Captain, Iraq, U.S. Air Force” as we shared our ride with former Navy SEAL Leonard Sanchez and my hubby marched ahead of us as a part of the color guard. 996651_1420000241562395_406088992_nWhat a happy, joyous day after all the trauma we had survived the previous months!

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Thank you America, John, Duane, Marie, Gloria and all the Latino military veterans my son met at the AGIF dinner that night. You all made quite an impression on all of us! I was truly honored to meet each of you and look forward to 2014 activities.1412811_10202404749099378_1808230199_o

I’m grateful to all of the reporters, editors, journalists and producers who responded to our bilingual media blitz for Veterans Day to promote our children’s book nationally, with the strong message that “Mommies and Latinas are veterans too!” Judging by the media response, the country is ready to see more positive images of women and Latinos in military uniforms in service to this nation we love dearly. Thank you National Public Radio, CNN, Univision, Voz de America and the many others who amplified this message this fall.

I’m grateful to people like Irene Vilar, who have huge visions to do important things in the world and have the ability to make those things actually happen. 739993_10202480073182433_992632171_oI’m grateful for her vision to create the first annual Americas Latino Festival in Colorado and her ability to attract a global, environmentally-committed creative community of speakers, authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and for including me in this labor of love. Those four days in the state where I grew up, getting to spend more than one minute chatting with my fellow 1402225_10202482562124655_983747153_oauthor Rick Najera, presenting with Saachi & Saachi S marketing guru Nayelli Gonzalez, visiting my sister and returning to my home town of Evans and high school in Greeley – priceless.

I am extraordinarily grateful to my brother Ben who arrived ahead of my daughter’s surgery to help with business operations, housework, homework and entertaining my children as only an uncle can do. What a blessing! Thank you Ben.

Lastly, I am grateful that my parents are healthy, happy and were able to drive to California to be with us for the surgery day and recovery that followed during the holidays. 1479068_10202661525518628_130921414_nThey spent the entire day at the hospital with my husband so I could keep the other two children on their school routine and keep their experience as normal as possible. How do you express gratitude for parents who will be there for you under these circumstances? All I can do is try. Gracias Mami y Papi por estar con nosotros en este tiempo, como siempre han estado. And gracias too Mami, for making the bunelos with me on Christmas Eve! 1471344_10202696169904716_1089152586_n

I am truly blessed to have spent this holiday season with my parents and brother in our home, helping me nurse our daughter through her post-op recovery, for her healthy attitude through it all and for all the amazing adventures we have shared at area Mission lands, Las Posadas on John Muir’s property, the ocean, the dinner at the marina…..I’m truly, truly grateful to have survived this year, surrounded always in love.

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Ahead of LATINAS THINK BIG event Friday at Google HQ L.A., a Momtrepreneur Moment of Gratitude for Mi Mami’s Choices

I was reading a post from telecom engineer Eva Smith earlier this week. In it she mentioned that her mother made cakes at home to make extra money for the family. Mi mami also made birthday, quinceañera and even wedding cakes (!!) so I was smiling and recalling.

Suddenly, a memory from 4th grade popped into my head. My mother was sitting at our fishing pole guidekitchen table which was configured more like a factory station during the day while we were at school. She was wrapping fishing rods, which meant attaching the guides (the circles that hold fishing line for you non-fisherman –see photo at right) by applying colorful thread to hold them and then lacquer to shine them up. My sister and I, the two oldest children of four kids at the time, learned to use the pedal-operated thread-wrapping machine (essentially a giant sewing machine but the thread wraps around the rod instead of a needle into fabric) and helped my mom continue production as she made dinner. I didn’t know it then, but my mother was teaching me how to bring in revenue for the family while being home with her children.

From that production experience in my kitchen, I got the idea to apply the pretty colorful thread to my plain yellow #2 lead pencils. If you can’t quite imagine that, I’m realizing as I write this that those pencils I decorated looked a lot like the military ribbons on my Air Force uniform as seen here. military ribbons As soon as I took my jazzed-up pencils out of my school bag, immediately I heard, “Wow! Where did you get those cool pencils?” Yep, you guessed it. At the age of nine I replied with, “My mom has special equipment at home to do this.  I can wrap pencils for you for only $0.25 each. How many would you like me to decorate?”

As word spread of this unique pencil customization service throughout the school, I begin taking orders in my school notebook—number of pencils they provided, what color combinations they wanted, deposit collected, balance due, etc –all while applying my math skills. I also remember sitting down with my dad and creating a pricing table, offering volume discounts for wrapping pencils and special pricing for decorating entire packages of pencils. We even added a service where we would provide the pencils instead of my classmates having to provide them to me. I remember one Sunday while watching a Denver Bronco game on TV that I decided to start wrapping pencils in orange and blue sometime during halftime; I sold all 24 of those babies on Monday!

I learned many important business principles before school, after school, during recess and at lunch time. You can read the rest of the story here for those lessons, to learn how that first, fast-paced business ended, how that experience can inform your own children with life skills and more.

But today, I’m reflecting. After nearly a decade of military service and a decade of corporate marketing and always working globally, I want exactly what my mother wanted: to contribute to the family revenue stream, to teach my children life-long business skills and to be there to pick them up after school and help with homework as needed. It’s a heck of a thing to admit to myself because for so many years, I have believed I was trying my best to diverge away from how Mami did things. Suddenly, the wisdom of her choices is obvious to me. It’s humbling and gratifying to connect these dots…a lovely benefit of the mid-forties experience!

Although I’m going about it very differently in starting my own publishing and marketing company and creating unique and differentiated literature to put into a national and global distribution, I am realizing that I’ve always been prepared for this. And, like my mother, I love to involve my children in the family business. From inspiring a children’s book series to assisting in a piece of the order fulfillment process, all three of my kids are learning about creating value and serving customers at a young age. Instead of counting fishing hooks as I did, they count books that came out of Mommy’s brain (and imagine themselves as authors too.) Instead of packaging hooks in bags with a fishing equipment brand, they package books in boxes with OUR publishing firm’s brand. And instead of pencil design, they’re learning 21st century skills like blog, app and web design. And the all-important skills of communicating the unique value and asking for the business…if you’ve seen them with me at events, it’s obvious they’ve got that down pat!

tiscareno family circa 1982Thank you Mami, for the choices you made to do it differently, for having business aspirations (fishing poles, fishing hooks, Tupperware, Princess House, etc), to contribute substantially monetarily in partnership with Papi to bring in the revenue our family needed, for putting your children first and involving them in your business endeavors. Looks like I’m imitating you after all and I know I am blessed for it.

I’m heading down to Los Angeles tomorrow and on Friday when I gather with 150 Latinas in leadership at Google headquarters for the ELLA Leadership Institute LATINAS THINK BIG™ L.A. stop, all the ambitious-in-their-own-ways mamis who raised us will be there with us too. With the foundations of strength, resilience, creativity and constant teaching and giving upon which we were raised, we are launching ourselves into the future, thinking big and doing bigger, together as I was taught. I can’t wait to meet the members I’ve been so engaged with online for over a year now, and to support the ELLA Institute initiatives as a Twitter Ambassador.

ELLA Leadership Institute was created by Dr. Angelica Perez-Litwin and her team to Latinas_Think_Big_ELLA_Institute-500x373organize ambitious, professional, entrepreneurial and social-impact-minded Latinas determined to make a difference in our communities and across American society. Peer mentoring, resource sharing, support during product launches, discussions of the role of Hispanic and mainstream media in the 21st century and other tough topics are all part of the daily intellectual exchange among members. ELLA Leadership Institute recently launched the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour to showcase Latinas who are making a difference. The second stop of the tour is Friday, October 11th at Google headquarters in Venice, California.

I will enjoy the company of fascinating women, including professors, business owners, executives, researchers and non-profit leaders gathering from around the nation to recognize and celebrate innovative, influential Latinas. I’m looking forward to hearing the speakers and discussing innovation in all its forms.

Are you crafting a business plan? Do you need to see live examples of successful Latinas in entrepreneurship to take the leap? If so, the Friday evening LATINAS THINK BIG event is the ticket! The onsite event at Google HQ in Venice, CA has been sold out for weeks.  So please join the conversation online via Google hangouts and Twitter (links below) and be a part of the virtual part of the event.

The Los Angeles tour will be historical, one of the very first times a Fortune 100 corporation has hosted a Latina Leadership event at their headquarters, and one that will be live streamed to reach women and men wherever they may be.

We ten TWITTER AMBASSADORS will connect with you via Twitter, tweeting live highlights with the hashtag #LATINASTHINKBIG, expressing thoughts on events as they occur. Our Twitter handles are below; feel free to follow us in advance of the event.

We look forward to having you join us. This one will be one for the business history books!

LATINAS THINK BIG– LOS ANGELES

Register for your virtual pass HERE: 
https://latinasthinkbig-la.eventbrite.com/

EVENT HASHTAG: 
#LATINASTHINKBIG

EVENT AGENDA
4:00PM – 5:00PM New York Life Career Consulting Hour
5:00PM – 5:50PM Registration, Hors d’Oeuvres, Mingle & Live Band Music
6:00PM – 6:20PM Welcome Remarks
6:20PM – 7:40PM LATINAS THINK BIG™ Presentations
7:40PM – 8:00PM Monica Gil Interview
8:00PM – 8:25PM Awards Ceremony
8:25PM – 8:30PM Closing Remarks
8:30PM – 9:30PM Mingling with Presenters and Honorees

LATINAS-THINK-BIG-OFFICIAL-TWITTER-AMBASSADOR_300px TWITTER AMBASSADORS
Jacky Diaz | @amigapreneur
Monique Frausto | @BLOGSbyLATINAS
Deborah Deras | @DeborahDeras
Eva Smith | @Eva_Smith
Gina Linn Espinoza | @ginalinn
Graciela Tiscareno-Sato | @GraceTiscareno
Hilda Ramirez | @HildaRamirez1
LaLa Castro | @latinageeks
Nelly Cardinale | @nycrican2
Stephanie Bravo | @stephanierbravo

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Thank You Facebook

I was speaking to my brother recently, (a security professional, U.S. Navy chief on weekends, daddy of three), who’s never been on Facebook and refuses to join. Those of us who have been actively using social media for years can’t believe that somebody actually refuses to join Facebook, but understand it’s a personal choice. I hear him and others describe what they think Facebook is and chuckle. But, what very few of us do is stop and reflect on how this platform has impacted our lives and the lives of others.

So today I will stop and reflect on this for a moment.  It’s not about the number of friends you “collect” as I’ve heard it described – it’s about the quality of relationships you make, with extraordinary people you would have otherwise never have met and how you transcend that friendship into real life. Some new friendships made possible this past year because of Facebook are downright miraculous.  Here are just four powerful examples of how Facebook has impacted my life and allowed me to impact others.

1. Because of Facebook I met Dali Rivera, a fellow veteran and entrepreneur, on the opposite side of the country. She told me about the program at Syracuse University called V-WISE (Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship). V-WISE is operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. Dali introduced me to the V-WISE Executive Director, Tina Kapral and we had a series of phone conversations and signed a Memo of Understanding. Because of those connections made on Facebook, global sales of my new bilingual children’s book titled Good Night Captain Mama will share revenue with V-WISE for years to come; here’s the news release that details that relationship. Our unique literature will directly help military members leaving active duty (and those who are already veterans) learn entrepreneurship skills and match up with mentors and coaches. That way, instead of waiting ten years after leaving the military to start a business like I did, today’s V-WISE student veterans and conference attendees can start their businesses sooner, create economic activity in their communities and create jobs for others. I’m so happy to contribute to their important mission that perfectly aligns with my passions in this way.

Dali then invited me to speak at the Towson University where she works in the Student Veteran Services department. I led a “Personal Branding for Veterans” workshop and met more military veterans from different services enrolled as college students. I left there knowing those veterans, unlike most, will now go forward attacking graduate school applications or employment journeys, with a very different sense about how to tell their compelling stories. They will be able to differentiate themselves in the civilian marketplace.

In addition, I had the distinct honor of speaking with Dali’s 6 year-old daughter after she read my book. The inquisitive child had several questions for the author and asked her mother to please arrange a phone conversation. I cannot imagine ever having been able to do that as a child -how difficult would it have been to arrange a phone call with the author of a new, beloved book before social networks made these connections so possible? Thank you Facebook.

2. Through Facebook’s American Women Veterans page, I met Kerrin Torres- Meriwether, another military veteran. She wrote me an email after preordering some books. She touched my heart when she asked me to sign one of the books to the daughter of her twin sister, a Captain in the U.S. Marines, currently deployed to Afghanistan.

with Kerrin in MD

with fellow Latina and U.S. Navy veteran Kerrin

This email conversation continued and before I knew it, I was standing in her middle school in Maryland presenting to about 80 middle school students in the Cafeteria. I will always remember telling my story of how I became “The Unlikely Military Aviator,” the title of the presentation. I remember pretending to be an airplane as I talked about the STEM of aviation, about thrust, lift, drag, weight and described the aerial ballet that is KC-135 air refueling, all in English and Spanish. I will forever cherish the memories of the children of recent immigrants, all teenagers learning English as a second language, as they tried on my military flight suits and we took pictures remember the moment. Thank you Kerrin; thank you Facebook.

3. In the fall of August 2012, I was invited on Facebook to attend a party on Twitter. “Use the #LLN hash tag because we’re going to be discussing Latina Leadership,” I was told.

That Twitter party was attended by approximately 100 women. Someone suggested the organizer, Dr. Angelica Perez-Litwin, create a Facebook group so we could connect with each other after the Twitter chat ended. We had realized during the Twitter party that in the group we had Latina professors, authors, business owners, PhD candidates, leaders of non-profit organizations, business executives, attorneys and more. That Facebook group was created the next day and within a few weeks grew to over 2000 Latinas. Many of us met up in the Silicon Valley when Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to town in February; one of the women in the group, a fellow Air Force veteran named Pam Campos, drove from Portland to meet up with the LLN hermanas she’d met in the Facebook group. Amazing.

Francesca E and me

Fun with Francesca in California

Today, it’s a closed, secret group of nearly 3000 Latina Leaders and a group I interact with daily because we have so much to give to each other, so much wisdom to exchange. One of those women, Francesca Escoto-Zavala, reached out to me one day in June. She was coming to San Francisco to speak at a conference and said she’d love to meet in person. After months of sisterhood and online conversations in the LLN group, we were both comfortable enough to have her stay at my house. She met my three children who all loved her. Francesca helped us fulfill book preorders since her visit coincided with launch week for the children’s book; the whole thing felt like we had known each other for years. I now have a place to stay in Tampa and a friend and hermana in entrepreneurship. Thank you Facebook.

4. I first heard of Condor Book Tours on Facebook, a few weeks after launching my first book (Latinnovating) at Stanford in May of 2011. I wondered who the woman was that was helping promote authors and their books; they seemed to be present at so many blogs and I wondered how that happened. I reached out to Nilki the founder, but I got too busy with my keynote speeches and travel and didn’t get around to adding book blog tour to my marketing plan.

Bestsellers in Childrens Military Fiction CROPPED

#1 “Hot New Release” in children’s Latino books and only bilingual book in military category

Two years later in early 2013, as the time approached to launch my first bilingual children’s book, I connected with Nilki again. This time, I made the book blog tour that she creatively offered the cornerstone of my marketing and launch plan. Boy, am I happy I did that! Nilki introduced my work to bloggers and reviewers that I never would have connected with on my own. The reviews, the connection with one of her clients who offered to review, the buzz generated via the social media connections we made on both Facebook and Twitter, all that activity led to the children’s book debuting on three different Amazon.com bestseller lists, reaching number #10 and #21 in the categories of Hispanic/Latino books and military books, respectively. Bestseller rankings on Launch day

Plus, it also made the #1 spot on the Hot New Releases lists in both of those categories. Thank you Nilki and Condor Book Tours. Thank you Facebook.

I don’t know if my brother will ever join Facebook or how it could positively impact his life, but I do know this:  it’s likely that for the rest of my life, I will be part of Facebook groups that have real conversations about meaningful topics. I know that I will start and participate in conversations with like-minded people (and those that are the exact –opposite minded) around the country and globe that I otherwise never would’ve engaged with, ever. I will receive advice from experts that would’ve been otherwise unavailable to me; I will share and exchange expertise with others.

I call that miraculous. Facebook has give me the ability to connect with people whose lives can be enriched through the work that I do, to positively impact the communities they serve, to actually be able to find them and to be found. It has brought people into my life that have greatly enriched my life with wisdom, ideas, networking connections and life-long friendships that have transcended into physical, offline life. Again, thank you Facebook; now, about that stock price…..

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Inspired by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Social Media, Silicon Valley Latina Leaders Unite

The collective power of Latina Leadership in action is highlighted in this piece featured in The Huffington Post.

Please enjoy, comment and share.

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Are You Effectively Reaching Skeptical Latinos with Your Green Marketing?

In a recent Huffington Post article, I explored the implications of a Cone Communications study when marketing to various Latino market segments. I’d love to hear comments, especially from those actively marketing green products, services, organizations to different U.S. Latino market segments.

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Celebrating Latino Entrepreneurs in Global Elite Start-up Contest

As I reflected this past holiday weekend about the incredible year that 2011 has been for me and my family, I was struck by one thought: the most important gift resulting from my book launch, my speaking engagements and the many networking events I have attended around the nation, has been the opportunity to meet some tremendously interesting and accomplished people. Two of the most interesting are featured here, in an article I contributed to the Huffington Post. Titled “Latino Engineers Selected Among Global Elite Startups,” it celebrates a key accomplishment of the Martinez brothers of San Francisco. In a country spewing negative images of Latinos, these two engineers are shining bright. They, like so many others, are taking time to mentor high school students who need to see positive role models. They are an example for us all, plus they’re a couple of really fun people I am happy to call my friends. Enjoy!

 

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A Teaching Moment About the Green Economy

This post first appeared in the Huffington Post. I was inspired to write it by the hype and bad reporting that flooded the American media after the sudden bankruptcy of Solyndra, located just a few miles from my home in the San Francisco east bay. It’s intended to open eyes to the tremendous opportunities that exist, across many industry sectors, for those courageous change agents who will apply their talent and energy to improving on the status quo. Enjoy “A Teaching Moment About the Green Economy”!  Don’t forget to leave a comment there at HuffPost!

 

 

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The Buzz around Latinnovating is Building

I finally had a quiet day to reflect on achieving the milestone of publishing and launching my first book. The members of my publishing team at Thrive Publishing took me out to dinner recently to celebrate. One of them reminded me to “treat this project as a tasty meal, take time to slow down, savor the flavor and swallow.” So I finally am doing that.

Today I sat down to appreciate the great press that the book has gotten so far. The complete list of articles profiles and feature stories is here. Here are two highlights. Enjoy!

 

7-page feature story, Latino Leaders Magazine

7-page feature story, Latino Leaders Magazine


Latinnovating author profile, NSHMBA magazine

 

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