Random acts of kindness by Jenni Rivera

Jenni Rivera’s passing on Sunday has brought all sorts of tributes and appreciations, constant reports in Spanish television channels and radio stations, and an outpouring of messages from her fans and friends social media. It was sad news all over.

While I personally was not a fan of her banda music, I had grown to like her personality and her story. She was a Mexican American who was born and raised in Long Beach, California, who came from nothing to make herself one of the most successful women singers, Hispanic entrepreneurs and role models, in spite of all the drama and troubles that continually followed her.

Her death seems unfair because at 43 years of age, she was at the peak of her career, and she was expanding beyond the music and the reality TV shows. She also leaves behind a large family and 5 kids.

And yet there is another side of the artist coming out: the version of Jenni with generosity and kindness she showed to people, to her fans, to Latinos, to her fellow musicians. It’s as if she won you over just by getting to know her. Como dijo Miguel Bosé about meeting her for the first time, her fellow judge/coach on the Mexican version of “La Voz de México”: “Fue amor a primera vista.”  

Someone who knows firsthand about her generosity and kindness is Krystle Corral, who works at Telemundo in Los Angeles and who was kind to share this story and photos of her experience meeting Jenni Rivera just a few months ago.

Krystle is a cheerleading coach at Wilson High School in El Sereno, California (Los Angeles) where she coaches 20 kids (boys and girls) between the ages of 14- and 18. The WHS Cheerleaders were fundraising to attend and compete in the National Cheerleading Association’s High School competition in January 2013 and they needed money for the team and their chaperones. They reached out to famous people via social media and websites, and the first one to respond was Jenni Rivera’s assistant, to inquire and see how they could help.

As it turns out, Jenni Rivera herself surprised the team during one of their practices on August 15th. The kids did not know she was coming, and they literally did flips of joy when she showed up at their gym. Jenni spent about 40 minutes with them, watching their practice, posing for pictures with everyone, giving out hugs and words of wisdom. She also mentored them and asked them to do 4 things:

1. To listen to their coaches.

2. To stay in school and get good grades.

3. To compete in the Nationals and represent Los Angeles proudly.

4. To continue volunteering and give back to the community.

She told Krystle that a check would be coming in the mail for them. To their amazement, a few days later, they received a check for 15 THOUSAND DOLLARS for everyone to attend the Nationals. She paid for everything they needed to get to the event in Dallas on January 12 and 13, 2013. Imagine that!

On October 17th, the cheerleaders visited Jenni at the radio station where she recorded her weekly show. Again she posed for pictures with the team and wished them good luck and asked them to keep her posted on their progress.

On Sunday, the kids were volunteering at a Senior Citizen’s center in LA when Krystle had to break the sad news. As you can imagine, the kids were devastated and couldn’t understand why this happened. La verdad es que nadie lo entiende…

But their spirit to win is now stronger than ever. The kids have dedicated their performance and all their preparation to Jenni Rivera. Sirve de consuelo saber que ya están siguiendo los consejos, and that they are already volunteering and giving back. 

So thank you Jenni Rivera, for this and the countless other acts of generosity that mostly went unnoticed, like paying for a young child’s kidney transplant in my hometown of Mexicali, B.C.… like helping battered women get back on their feet after episodes of domestic violence… liking helping organizations that help a los indocumentados en Estados Unidos and standing up for them… And thank you for proving women can make it happen y que pueden salir adelante cuando son luchonas y le echan ganas a todo.

As her father Pedro Rivera said last night, “She never gave up and she was always good to people.” Descanse en Paz.

Back on August 15th, 2012 Jenni Rivera surprised the Wilson High School Cheerleaders in El Sereno, California. She later supoprted them with a check for 15 thousand dollars to attend a national cheerleading competition next January.

Back on August 15th, 2012 Jenni Rivera surprised the Wilson High School Cheerleaders in El Sereno, California. She later supoprted them with a check for 15 thousand dollars to attend a national cheerleading competition next January.

Jenni Rivera with 2 of the cheerleaders. She was in a leg brace that day and went to visit and wish them luck.

Krystle Corral wrote a letter and Jenni Rivera responded. Jenni was in a leg brace that day when she went to visit and wish them luck.

On October 17th the cheerleaders visited Jenni at the radio station.

On October 17th the cheerleaders visited Jenni at the radio station.

Thank you Nora Ephron. Rest in Peace

My heart is heavy with the news this evening about the passing of Nora Ephron. It’s hard to believe and with every tweet/obituary and remembrance I read, I just keep getting sadder.

Nora Ephron. Amazing writer, director, woman.

For ladies of a certain age, and we don’t have to say our age, but let’s just say we grew up in the 80’s, Nora Ephron’s movies and stories were a big deal. They made us believe in the fantasy of love in the movies (when the term chick-flicks was probably born) but somehow relatable to our lives. Nevermind that I was just in high school, the premise of When Harry Met Sally felt like it could be applied to me and all my friends. Todas eramos la “Sally”… (It also introduced us to Harry Connick Jr. who did the soundtrack of the movie.)

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” 1989. “I came here tonight because when you realize that you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible…”

Her writing was smart, funny, had memorable quotes which we can say verbatim, and still manages to hook us in everytime one of her movies is on television. I’ve  probably watched most of them a hundred times, and will see it again if I come across it. “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle” are my favorites, but then you look at “Julie and Julia” and you are blown away by the performances and the story. Nora Ephron was so massively talented, and so wise and funny, that it seems unfair she should go, when there were so many more stories to tell.

Late in 2010 I was going through a hard time with some personal stuff and happened to listen to an interview on NPR as I was driving. I had to stop the car and have one of those “driveway moments” where you can’t turn the radio off. She was promoting a new book of essays called “I Remember Nothing” but the interview was so fantastic, I had an Aha! moment on the spot. Looking back I wish I could’ve contacted her then to thank her personally for her wisdom and wit. It all seems so relevant today.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview “I Remember Nothing” by Renee Motaigne (All Things Considered)

My religion is ‘Get over it,'” says Ephron. “And I was raised in that religion. That was the religion of my home — my mother saying, ‘Everything is copy; everything is material; someday you will think this is funny.’ My parents never said, ‘Oh you poor thing.’ It was work through it, get to the other side, turn it into something. And it worked with me.”

She also credits her parents with teaching her to focus on the funny side of even the saddest things.

“My mother (taught) me a very fundamental lesson of humor, which is that if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but if you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your joke,” explains Ephron. “And you’re the hero of the joke because you’re telling the story.”

Despite all the I’m-getting-old jokes in Ephron’s new book, the last chapter, called “The O Word,” takes on a more elegiac and wistful tone as Ephron considers the serious implications of aging.

“You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can’t put things off thinking you’ll get to them someday,” she says. “If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.”

For Ephron, there was a moment that helped bring that realization vividly home. She was with friends, playing a round of “What would your last meal be?”

(Her pick, by the way: a Nate & Al’s hot dog.)

“But (my friend) Judy was dying of throat cancer, and she said, ‘I can’t even have my last meal.’ And that’s what you have to know is, if you’re serious about it, have it now,” Ephron says. “Have it tonight, have it all the time, so that when you’re lying on your deathbed you’re not thinking, ‘Oh I should have had more Nate & Al’s hot dogs.

So Thank You Nora Ephron! Godspeed to you and I’m sure you’ll be delighting the angels with your stories up in heaven.

A good amount of links have been popping up all over. Here are some notable ones:

NY Times: From Sharp Edges to Sugary Success

NY Times: Writer and Filmmaker with a Genius for Humor

LA Times: Nora Ephron: A Life in Pictures

Stars react to Nora Ephron’s death

Five Great Nora Ephron Movie Scenes

A Teacher, Oprah and the power of Twitter

Here’s a story that proves things can happen in an instant when you put your intention out there and have a little faith. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

Cen’Cere Cooks is a high school teacher in South Central Los Angeles who, like every year, was on a mission of helping her students get ready for their prom. She is also one smart lady who knows the power of Twitter. (You can follow her on Twitter @cencerecooks.)

Every year she helps girls in her class get their prom dress, but this year had been a little tough. So a few weeks ago in May she sent out tweets to very important people who could help her get 25 dresses for her girls. It was a very sincere and direct request trying to make something happen.

Little did she know that THE person who would respond to her almost immediately was the one and only Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) offering to help out…Can you imagine the excitement?!

Here are the tweets that tell the story:

Cen’Cere can be found on Twitter @CencereCooks. “High School educator in South Central Los Angeles, committed to changing this generation one student at a time!”

Here is one of the responses from Oprah! Good to go!

By then, things are in motion. Oprah made a call to her friends at Macy’s (you gotta love @Macy’s) and they got on board. Pretty soon they were confirming that they were donating 25 prom dresses for the girls in Ms. Cooks’ class! Isn’t this amazing? Sometimes all it takes is a call, or a tweet, and the goodwill of someone who makes things happen.

Fast forward to this week, when 25 lovely ladies, along with Ms. Cooks and chaperones Loretta, Misha, Sivonney and Gabrielle, went to Macy’s South Coast Plaza to choose a prom dress. There was an expert styling team to help them, and the girls enjoyed breakfast and lunch at the store as well.

Here are some pictures of the exciting day. Thank you Macy’s for the opportunity to photograph this event. There was so much joy all around, it was contagious!

These beautiful ladies are ready for their prom thanks to their teacher, Oprah and Macy’s.

Bravo Ms. Cooks! You made it happen.

The girls choose their prom dress from a selection at Macy’s.

So many to choose from, the girls had fun trying on all the dresses.

Susan Koziak and her fabulous styling team did a great job helping the girls choose their dress.

Team Effort: Loretta Cotton, Raegan Gall from Macy’s, Misha, Amanda Dobernic from Macy’s, and Cen’Cere Cooks.

Sivoney Gomez and Gabrielle Ramirez, chaperones on the field trip to Macy’s South Coast Plaza.

The girls and their prom dresses.

All the girls received a Macy’s goody bag.

And, if I may, on a personal note: tonight I saw on Twitter that Ms. Winfrey herself had seen the photos and tweeted one of the photos I took. Needless to say…This made my day and my year. Thank you Oprah!! Your generosity provides so much happiness. 

Cleopatra in Los Angeles

If you’re a history buff, culture nerd, or are interested in the history of the world, may I recommend a visit to “Cleopatra, In Search for the Last Queen of Egypt” exhibit, which has just arrived in Los Angeles.

The Science Center at Exposition Park (USC) is hosting the even until December 31st, 2012, so you have time to plan your visit.

I’ve always been intrigued by the mythical Cleopatra and her rule over Egypt, so this was a cool chance to see authentic artifacts and items of her day that have been around since 300 BC. That’s BEFORE Christ. (Yes, there was a prehistoric time before modern day and facebook.)

It’s almost mind boggling to  imagine her as the most powerful ruler in a world of ruthless men. She was a direct heiress, a  descendant of the Ptolemies, who became Queen of Egypt at 17.  She also spoke Greek, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Aramaic and Hebrew, had a lavish lifestyle, torrid romances and family dramas to spare. You think our telenovelas have wicked storylines, n’ombre no es nada!  Try betrayal, intra-family marriages, and outsmarting the Roman Empire while keeping your beauty intact.

On that note, there is no true image found- yet- of this famously beautiful woman. Los romanos se encargaron de acabar con todas las imagenes cuando pasó a la historia, they got rid of everything, so it’s up to us to try to build an image of her through the coins and artifacts recently found with her profile. Or we could just stick to la Liz Taylor circa 1963 in the film.

So go see it if you have a chance, and I recommend you get your tickets online and save yourself the waiting time at the ticket counter. Take the entire family. Lots of kids were really digging the history stuff.

Two giant granite statues resembling Cleopatra’s ancestors, the Ptolemies are shown at the exhibit.

“Head of Serapis” is a marble sculpture from 2c BC, which is a combination of Egyptian and Greek gods. “By combining Greek and religious figures, the Ptolemies gained people’s trust.”

Canopus is the city where Cleopatra and Marc Anthony went to have fun.  It was the Las Vegas/ “Sin City” of their day.

Recovered gold jewelry from Cleopatra’s time, which was found in recent expeditions under the sea in the area that used to be Alexandria, then capital of Egypt.

A magnifying glass lets you see the outline of Cleopatra’s profile from a gold coin.

It can’t be an Egyptian themed exhibit without a Sphinx in the mix. Here’s one found intact from 1st c BC. “With its human head signifying intelligence and its body of a lion, the sphinx illustrated the intellectual capacity and physical power of the pharaohs. Romans, obsessed with the exoticism of Egypt, imported the tradition to Rome.”

This cool hands on gadget illustrated how a desert sandstorm forms.

What did Cleopatra look like? We all want to know.

The love of Cleopatra’s life was Anthony, and he was also the father to 3 of his 4 children. Anthony also recognized her eldest son, born from her affair with Caesar.

The line of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra’s family tree.

Cleopatra’s image through the arts and film.

This TV week is making me sad… ah cómo he llorado!

Ay!! Me está costando trabajo ver la tele esta semana…

Después de ver el finale de  Oprah, I confess I cried a little bit. Did you see it? Even though it sounded like a commencement speech from college, you have to admit it was a great way to say goodbye and inspire us  “until we meet again.” Godspeed Oprah!

Ahora me queda otro final, el de La Reina del Sur. Es el próximo lunes por Telemundo. Este como que me llegó muy rápido. So many things happened to Teresa Mendoza that it seems like a lifetime of suffering since we started watching her back in February. She’s endured, she’s fought back, she’s survived…for now.

El capítulo de anoche también “moved me to tears” (van a decir que soy una llorona, which I am, no offense taken.) There was this scene on a cliff by the sea, Teresa was crying and suddenly I just felt immense compassion for her. So much sadness! But she’s a criminal (we keep reminding ourselves)… and yet there is a decent human being there, a woman with a big heart, con mucho valor. We don’t see enough of these women on t.v., you know. There should be more interesting characters like her. And it takes a wonderful actress to play one. Kate del Castillo, you rock! Never once did you play her as a victim, or as the “sufrida” we all know from all the novelas de Televisa. This was one amazing role you pulled off. Tienes todo mi respeto, Reina del Sur.

La Reina llora.. y nos conmovió mucho.

Mi Mamá Lilia rocks!

It’s taco night at the house and that only means one thing. Mi grandmother is making a beautiful mess in the kitchen and making us a delicious tacos dorados de pollo feast.

When I got home to see her, she greeted me with her latest creation/accomplishment: sus cebollines verdes freshly picked from the backyard! And these are not just any cebollín. Have you ever seen such a huge green onion? She was so proud, I just had to take a picture.

Mi abuela y su organic green onion. Ella es lo máximo!!

She is one amazing woman. Best all around. My all in one Top Chef meets Martha Stewart meets Mother Teresa. And she turns 92 this month. Que tal?

Now if we can only convince her to speak English in time for her citizenship exam!

30 Mujeres Destacadas, honored by La Opinión

“Honor a quien honor merece.”

On Wednesday, La Opinión, LA’s largest Spanish newspaper, held their 5th annual “Mujeres Destacadas” luncheon event, to honor thirty amazing women for their achievements and hard work. It was a happy event and a beautiful setting at the Biltmore hotel, a grand place to celebrate these ladies.

The stories of 30 women in different fields- education, arts and culture, health, business, community- were presented, with anecdotes that made you want to GET UP & DO IT. No hay excuses! They are Women (with a capital W) who face daily challenges just as everybody else, but still find ways to make it happen and make their life count.

The sponsors for each category were Macy’s (gotta love Macy’s, they’re always supportive of these causes, and again thank you for the invite) as well as Goya, Wells Fargo, Nielsen, and Metro PCS.  Remember these names and support them when you can. They are giving back.

I like these events where you get a chance to meet new people (network, que le llaman) and also be inspired. It was especially moving to hear Maria Elena Salinas, from Univision, who was the keynote speaker for the event.  She spoke of her mother’s example of love, ethics and hard work; of growing up in LA; of our unique and special bicultural experience as ______ (insert the adjective and demo you wish: latina, chicana, mexicoamericana, nica, tica, etc.); of the women who inspire her, and of the challenges women face and overcome. We can do it just as well, if not better, than  men do, “but we do it in high heels!”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:

¡Arriba Las Mujeres!

For more on the honored women and a video of the event click here:

www.laopinion.com/mujeresdestacadas

Video: http://www.impre.com/multimedia/impreplayer.php?pub=portal

30 Mujeres Destacadas 2011 pose for their yearbook picture.

Macy's recognized the category for Arts and Culture. Pictured from left to right: Monica Lozano- Editor in Chief of La Opinión, with honorees: Sonia Maria de Leon, Yolanda Cruz, Dianna Guerrero, Marlene Dermer, Melanie Rios, Patricia Navarro, and Liz Bacca-Lollman representing Macy's.

Ambience at the event.

Maria Elena Salinas from Univision was the keynote speaker. Loved her positive and inspirational energy.

One of the sponsors, the Macy’s Team, along with Monica Lozano from La Opinion.

A great group! Carol Jackson, Henny Marquez-Andress, Milinda Martin, Liz Bacca-Lollman, and Olivia Eng.

Amiguitas del alma: Martha Gildemontes (Macy's) and Yarel Ramos (mun2) at the event.