Immigrant Voices: Monica Herrera, Broadcast Journalist

The following is a guest post by broadcast journalist Monica Herrera, a Salvadoran by birth and New Yorker by choice. I hope you enjoy it.

“I saw many great journalists putting their lives in the line of fire to be able to inform, a TV channel closing down their broadcast because they were not allowed to tell the truth. I cannot talk about being a journalist without mentioning this sad period of time in my country because during those moments I learned the power of reporting the news, the power of freedom of speech and how information can impact and transform lives.” – Monica Herrera

Mirador  Cerro Las Pavas -Cojutepeque

By: Monica Herrera

When I was growing up in El Salvador, a small but beautiful country, I used to play in my backyard pretending to be a teacher. I remember all of my students were imaginary because neither my sister nor my brother wanted to play that game with me. That was the first sign of what I would end up doing with my life. No, I didn’t become a teacher, but looking back I realize that at that age, I discovered I am a storyteller and I wasn’t afraid to do things on my own when necessary. Skills like that are essential for a journalist.

Reporting- NYC

Growing up, I was part of a generation in which the civil war was part of our life. During that time, TV and radio were the only way to know what was happening. I saw many great journalists putting their lives in the line of fire to be able to inform, a TV channel closing down their broadcast because they were not allowed to tell the truth. I cannot talk about being a journalist without mentioning this sad period of time in my country because during those moments I learned the power of reporting the news, the power of freedom of speech and how information can impact and transform lives. All these moments and experiences are the reason why I am a journalist.

Covering- Serena WilliamsAfter a series of events that took me out of my comfort zone, I moved to New York. I earned a scholarship at the New York Film Academy to study Broadcast Journalism. I came to this country with hopes and dreams, I learned how to move around the city and I worked hard to find stories despite challenges. One day I found myself in the middle of thousands of people who were marching in one of the biggest demonstrations in NYC, and later in the middle of a conference room asking questions to Serena Williams, one of the best tennis players in the world, and since then I haven’t stopped.

I am who I am because of where I come from, a beautiful country full of breathtaking views, but also full of contrasts, warm and resilient people who always laugh even in their struggles. They inspired me to never give up. Everyone has a different path, and on my path which led to New York I found a community of people not only from my country, but from different places that needed their stories to be told. The multicultural exposure I gained over the years has given me the advantage of being able to reach more people; in that process I found my voice and my place in life. I don’t know where my path will take me from here, but what I know is that I love what I do.

Volcan de San Salvador

You can follow Monica Herrera on Twitter, Vimeo, and Instagram, or check out her blogs: Sports in High Heels, and Courage is my Name.

How to make: a Salvadoran-style wooden box

How to make a Salvadoran-style wooden box

As a member of Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network I received gift cards from Lowe’s in order to purchase supplies to complete projects. All opinions are my own.

If you’re Salvadoran or if you’ve ever been to El Salvador, you know that little wooden boxes are a common handicraft made and painted in the traditional style – I own several little “treasure box” style ones and at first I wanted to try to make one of those complete with a lid for this month’s woodworking challenge. Once I started planning it out though, I decided that for my first attempt I should try a more simple design, so with Carlos’s help I made a medium-sized wooden box without a lid. The supplies and method I used are below if you’d like to give it a try!

How to make: a Salvadoran-style wooden box

What you need:

jigsaw
utility square
pencil with eraser
paper
heavy duty bar clamp
2 pieces of craft board 3/8 x 4 x 24″ (to be cut for the 4 sides: Left, Right, Front, Back)
1 craft board 1/2 x 6 x 24″ (to be cut for the bottom)
newspaper
sandpaper
Elmer’s Carpenters wood glue (interior)
painters tape
Q-tips
paper towels
paint in various colors (I used Valspar samples I already had on hand)
small craft paint brushes
permanent marker (black)

Directions:

1. Measure and mark your wood for cutting using the utility square and pencil. Very important! Remember to include the width of the front and back pieces plus the bottom for the measurement you need for your two sides. These are the measurements I ended up with:

Bottom: 6″
Front: 6″
Back: 6″
Left side: 6 1/4″
Right side: 6 1/4″

Tip: Craft wood is sold with a UPC sticker on it. When you remove the sticker it might leave behind a sticky residue. This can be removed with a little dab of peanut butter on a paper towel. (Yes, peanut butter!)

2. Wearing eye protection, carefully use the jigsaw to cut our your pieces. You should have 5: bottom, front, back, left side, right side.

Carlos-cutting-1

Carlos-cutting-2

3. Make sure all pieces are the correct size by doing a dry assembly of the box to see that the corners line up properly with none of the pieces being too long or short.

4. Lightly sand any rough edges if necessary.

5. On top of a layer of newspaper, glue the front and back to the bottom. Use Q-tips to remove any excess glue before it dries. It’s really helpful to have a second person helping you at this stage. One person should glue and hold the pieces in place while the other lightly secures the clamp. Do not secure the clamp too tightly or they may lean in. To ensure the sides are at a 90 degree angle, you can use a triangle square. Leave the clamp on for at least an hour to ensure the glue has dried. Now repeat step 5 to attach the other two sides. Note: Really try to avoid using too much glue which will cause your box to stick to the newspaper. If this happen, the newspaper can be sanded off with sandpaper.

Glue-Box

6. Once the glue has dried you should have a completed wooden box ready to be painted. Gently tap the sides to make sure you’ve done a good job and the box will hold together.

7. Practice a design with pencil and paper. Once you know what you want to paint, draw your design directly onto the box with pencil.

box-sketch-design

8. On a layer of newspaper, paint your design. Tip: Painters tape is helpful for making clean lines.

Tape-box

Paint-box-halfway-done

9. Once the paint is dry your box is ready to display or use!

Salvadoran-box-4

Salvadoran-box-5

Want more creative ideas?

Holiday-14-Blogger-Badge_200x200

 

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Feliz Navidad 2014

chico-feliz-nav2

Hola people! It’s Christmas week so I’m going to be spending a few days away from the computer eating tamales, taking naps, and making sure our dog Chico doesn’t open gifts under the tree that don’t belong to him. This week you’ll be able to find fresh content on my Facebook, Twitter and possibly Instagram, but as most of you know I write for other places on the internet besides my blog, so here are a few recent holiday pieces I’ve written if you’d like to check those out too.

Wishing you all a Nochebuena and Navidad full of felicidad, familia, and muchos blessings!

10 Facts About Navidad in Latin America

If you think Christmas is celebrated in relatively the same way all over the world, you’ll be surprised by the variation in traditions found in Latin America alone. Here are 10 unique ways the holiday is recognized from Mexico all the way down to Paraguay, and many countries in between. [Read the rest here!]

10 Songs for Your Nochebuena Playlist

We all know and love the classic bilingual Jose Feliciano song, “Feliz Navidad,” but it’s time to play DJ and mix it up a bit for your Nochebuena fiesta. Here are 10 danceable Spanish-language Christmas songs from all over Latin America and the U.S. to get the party started. [Read the rest here!]

Nochebuena vs. Christmas Eve: Same holiday? Kind of — and not at all.

If you’re bilingual and bicultural, you may be saying “Wait a minute, aren’t Christmas Eve and Nochebuena the same thing?” The answer is yes… and no. It’s the same holiday but chances are… [Read the rest here!]

A Holiday Sampler of Treasured Memories on Latin@s in Kid Lit

I was included in this holiday story round-up on Latin@s in Kid Lit. Read my story and others here.

Tamales y Creencias

tamal-pollo-salsa-roja

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Ayer no tuve tiempo por escribir para Spanish Friday porque estaba haciendo tamales para una reunion que voy a tener con mi familia. Este año hice tamales de pollo en salsa roja y también tamales de rajas con queso. Yo estaba un poco nerviosa porque cambié muchas cosas este año. Para los vegetarianos en la familia en vez de usar manteca en la masa, usé aceite. Y en vez de caldo de pollo usé caldo de verduras. Déjame darte un consejo que aprendí: Cuando utilizas el aceite en tu masa, cocinar el aceite primero en una olla. Traer el aceite a hervir por un minuto y luego dejar que se enfríe. En este video, la señora dice que da un mejor sabor.

Este año también usé MASECA para tamales porque mi tienda no tenía MASECA normal (y en mi opinión, la textura fue mejor – es un poco más gruesa.)

Las proporciones aproximadas que utilicé para mi masa vegetariana (porque alguien pidió que la compartiera) fueron:

1 2/3 tazas de aceite de canola (“pre-cocinado”)
32 oz de caldo de verduras (marca Swanson)
4 a 6 tazas de MASECA Tamal (Lo que dice “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 a 2 cucharaditas de polvo para hornear de doble acción
1 a 2 cucharaditas de sal
1/4 a 1/2 taza de salsa roja (mi receta está aquí)

(¡Lo siento que estos son sólo aproximaciones, ya que no escribo esto mientras yo cocinaba!)

Primero mezclé la MASECA y polvo para hornear con la mano. Añadir sal al gusto. (Cuando puse una pizca de la masa seca en mi lengua, sabía sólo un poco salada.) Añadir el aceite y mezclar con la mano. Añadir la salsa y luego poco a poco el caldo de verduras. Mezclar con la mano hasta que la masa esté bien combinada. Dejé la masa a temperatura ambiente cubierta con plástico por una hora, no sé si eso hace diferencia o no. Esta cantidad de masa fue suficiente para hacer alrededor de 36 tamales de tamaño mediano.

Finalmente, usé el consejo que aprendí en el blog La Mija Chronicles de Lesley Tellez. Ella dice que en México hay una creencia de que si quieres que salgan bien tus tamales, tienes que tratar bien a tu olla. Algunas personas atan tiras de hoja de maíz a los mangos de la olla, cuenten chisme a la olla o cantan a ella. Según Lesley esto evita “mala onda”. Qué interesante, ¿verdad?

¿Cuāles consejos, secretos o creencias sobre como hacer tamales tienes tú?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Yesterday I didn’t have time to write for Spanish Friday because I was making tamales for a family get together. This year I made tamales de pollo en salsa roja and also tamales de rajas con queso. I was a little nervous because I changed a lot of things this year. For the vegetarians in the family I used oil instead of lard. And instead of chicken broth I used vegetable broth. Let me give you a tip I learned: When you use oil in your masa, “cook” the oil first in a pot. Bring the oil to a boil for a minute and then let it cool. In this video, the woman says it gives the oil a better flavor.

This year I also used MASECA for tamales because my store was out of the regular MASECA (and in my opinion the texture was better – it’s a little coarser.)

The approximate proportions I used for my vegetarian masa (because someone asked me to share) were:

1 2/3 cups “pre-cooked” canola oil
32 ounces vegetable broth (Swanson brand)
4 to 6 cups MASECA Tamal (the one that says “para hacer deliciosos TAMALES”)
1 to 2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup salsa roja (my recipe is here)

First mix the MASECA and baking powder by hand. Add salt to taste. (When I tasted a pinch on my tongue, it tasted just slightly salty.) Add the oil and mix in by hand. Add the salsa and then the vegetable broth little by little. Mix by hand until everything is well combined. I let the masa sit at room temperature covered in plastic wrap for an hour, I don’t know if that makes a difference or not. This amount of masa made about 36 medium-sized tamales.

Finally, I used the advice I learned on the blog La Mija Chronicles by Lesley Tellez. She says in Mexico there’s a belief that if you want the tamales to come out well, you have to treat the pot well. Some people tie strips of corn husk to the handles of the pot, tell the pot gossip, or sing to it. According to Lesley this helps avoid any “mala onda.” Interesting, right?

What advice, secrets or beliefs do you have about tamales?

Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

baby-coconut

Okay, “middle-of-nowhere” is an exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like when you’re so far away from everything that represents normalcy to you – And if you have a baby with you, multiply that times a hundred.

A friend of mine will soon experience this first hand as she’s traveling to a small pueblo in Mexico, so this post is for her. Although my experience traveling with babies is limited, I did learn a few things the hard way. Those hard learned lessons will have to suffice as advice – or as the Catherine Aird quote goes, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”

So, here we go. Ten pieces of advice for anyone traveling with a baby and staying at a location which may not have the modern amenities you’re accustomed to.

Disclaimer: This advice may or may not apply to you depending on where exactly you’re coming from and where exactly you’re going, but this is the advice I’m giving based on my own experiences. Just because this post focuses on the difficulties and less desirable circumstances I encountered does not mean one should assume all of Latin America is represented. Latin America is extremely diverse and just like the United States and anywhere else in the world, there are areas of great wealth, areas of great poverty and everything in between. This advice is meant for individuals coming from a lifestyle of modern conveniences who are visiting and staying in a place that does not have those same modern conveniences.

Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

passport_sign2

#1. Get yourself and your baby up to date on any necessary shots. Besides getting your passport and traveling documents in order, you should go to the doctor and pediatrician, tell them where you’re going and when, and ask their advice about any recommended vaccinations as they may advise you to get shots that aren’t on the regular schedule. Do your own research ahead of time too on the CDC website so you can ask your doctor any questions you might have. (Also make use of the advice on the State Department website regarding your passport, closest U.S. consulate and embassy locations to where you’ll be staying, and how to handle emergencies while abroad.)

By the way, it’s somewhat controversial but some doctors will recommend “sedating” your baby or young child for a long flight using a medicine such as Benadryl. If you decide to go this route, make sure you get the proper dosing for your child’s weight and give it a trial run before the flight as some children actually become hyper on the medicine instead of sleepy, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you want when you’re 30,000 feet in the air in a cramped space with a hundred irritable strangers.

#2. Don’t let the doctor freak you out. I almost starved in El Salvador the first time we went because my doctor told me about all the diseases I would get if I ate unwashed fruit or vegetables, or if I drank the water. And I was constantly stressed and vigilant in preventing well-meaning relatives from slipping my baby a bite of food from their plates. I’m not saying it isn’t possible to get sick from contaminated food, but don’t let this be something you’re constantly paranoid about to the point that it ruins your trip. On our second trip to El Salvador I ate with reckless abandon. I ate a torta from a market stall that didn’t even have a proper sink for the owner to wash their hands. I survived.

cocina

Instead of worrying about food poisoning and other food borne illnesses, focus on trying to prevent more likely and dangerous possibilities – such as your child wandering off. This may be overboard, but I had dog tags made with our local address in El Salvador in case they became lost. If your child doesn’t know the language well or the address of where you’re staying, knowing they have the address on them at all times will ease some of your anxiety.

dogtags

#3. Packaged foods are a lifesaver. Even if you and your child happily eat from vendors, markets, and the kitchens of your in-laws, it’s possible that at some point your child is going to want the comfort that only familiar packaged food can provide. If you can find the room in your luggage, pack a few favorites – a jar of peanut butter, a box of Cheerios, granola bars, etc. For a baby, consider packing baby food (avoid glass jars) and their formula in case you can’t find them at your destination.

Local authentically prepared meals are sure to be delicious, but don’t be ashamed if you feel the need to visit a local fast food place once in awhile. (Thank you Pollo Campero and Biggest for keeping me sane.)

pollo-campero-hat

#4. It’s okay to be over-prepared. It’s better to be a little over-prepared than under-prepared. Think of all the things you use at home for your baby throughout the day, realize that some of them may not be easy to find at your destination, and pack accordingly. (Bottles, extra nipples, bottle liners, a specific brand of lotion or baby shampoo, diaper or wipe that you prefer, etc.) … If your child has a favorite blanket or toy, see if you can buy a duplicate to keep stowed away in case one gets lost during your travels.

Keep a sufficient amount of these items in your carry-on luggage in case of unexpected delays. (Wipes are especially useful for all kinds of messes so keep tons on you at all times.)

Don’t forget any prescriptions and all your preferred medicines for everything from pain/headaches, cramps, stomachache, itchiness, diarrhea, and allergies to motion sickness, (for yourself and for your child.)

If there’s any possibility of menstruating on your trip, bring your preferred feminine products as well.

Oh, and sunscreen. Bring the sunscreen and use it. If you think you stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll stick out even more if your skin is lobster red.

#5. Prepare for takeoff. For babies and young children, the worst part of the flight is takeoff and landing because of the pressure changes in their little ears. If your child is old enough, give them gum to chew. If the child is too young for gum, have them suck on a pacifier or bottle.

There’s no shame in using electronics to keep little ones quiet and occupied at the airport and on the airplane. Let them play apps on your smartphone the entire flight if it helps.

If you have an older child who has been wanting a specific toy for awhile, buy it and let him know he’s going to receive it on the flight. (Don’t let him play with it before then or it will lose its charm.) Keep a “fun bag” of random things to entertain your child – preferably new things they’ve never played with before. Cracker Barrel’s store is a great place to buy things like that. Some suggestions: Sticker books, coloring and activity books with crayons, a mini Etch-a-sketch, Rubick’s cube, Wooly Willy, slide puzzles – (The classics work best!)

#6. Mosquitoes are nothing to play with. Depending on where exactly you’re going and the time of year, chances are you and your baby or small child will come into contact with more mosquitoes than you knew ever existed on this planet. Not only will they make you itch, but some transmit diseases such as Chikungunya in El Salvador. Before you travel, ask your relatives if they have mosquito netting to cover the area you’ll be sleeping – if not, bring some. Also bring along mosquito repellent to put on your bodies as well. If your hosts offer to burn a mosquito coil (it looks like a green spiral), ask them not to. These coils are popular in some parts of Latin America but research has shown that they’re extremely toxic to breathe.

mosquito-bites

(By the way, I’m convinced mosquitoes prefer gringa blood because no one was ever getting bit up as much as I was.)

#7. The hammock is your friend. Most babies love to be rocked but you most likely won’t have access to any fancy contraptions like you have back home. Make use of any available hammocks to rock babies to sleep, (but don’t leave them unattended.)

hammock-baby

#8. Stay hydrated. This seems like a no-brainer but when you’re busy, overwhelmed, stressed, in hot weather, and have to seek out bottled water since the tap water is off limits (or turned off completely), you’d be surprised how quickly you and your child could become dehydrated. Avoid caffeine the day you travel and drink water on your flight and at the airport as soon as you get off the plane. Grab some bottles to take with you to your destination and find out as soon as possible where you’ll be able to buy more when needed.

latinaish-waterbag

(You can tell by his eyes, my younger son was getting a little dehydrated on an outing during our most recent trip to El Salvador so we stopped at the first place we found selling water.)

#9. Expect the unexpected no matter how much you prepare. Ask others who have visited the area what it’s like and have them tell you in as much detail as possible. Even after the most thorough research though, you may find that you were woefully unprepared to face such a different lifestyle even for a short period of time. Take some deep breaths (Inhala…Exhala…), and try to go with the flow.

bath-tub

#10. Take plenty of photos. This is an incredibly special moment in your child’s life, and if they’re very young, they may not remember it well or at all. Take photos of your child with all their relatives and keep a little journal of what you do each day while there. These will make a cherished keepsake for your child later. Before you know it your return flight will be departing to take you home, and while half of you will be relieved that you can come back to familiar food, hot showers, drinkable tap water, modern appliances, child-safe locks, and air conditioning – the other half of you is going to wish you could have stayed a little longer now that you were finally getting the hang of things.

latinaish_carlosbus

Latinaish Gift Guide 2015

gift-guide-2015

The holidays are here and there’s still time to buy the perfect gift for amigos y familia. Here are a few of my suggestions! (Disclosure: I did not receive any compensation or samples of any of the gift ideas featured – I just love them and think you will too!)

chileanpig

Chilean Good Luck Pig from Hungersite.com, $6.95

spanish-word-a-day

365 Spanish Words a Year 2015 Desk Calendar from Calendars.com, $13.99

mexico-book

Mexico: The Cookbook from Amazon.com, $29.21

socks

Tapatío socks from TapatioHotSauce.com, $15

cuban-food-print

Cuban food poster from Marta Darby / My Big Fat Cuban Family, $38

hot-sauce-gift

Hot Sauce Lovers Gift Pack from MexGrocer.com, $15.95

directo-cafe

Coffee from El Salvador from Directo Caffe, $11-19

hammock

Hammock made in Mexico from NOVICA, $68.99
(If that one has sold out, NOVICA has many other beautiful hammocks.)

travel-bag

Antiqued Leather Travel Bag made in Mexico from NOVICA, $259.99

pandulce

Pan dulce coin purse from VivaMexico.com, $3.96

spanglishkids

Se Habla Spanglish shirt from DosBorreguitas.com, $20 (kid and adult sizes)

MusicAndes

Putumayo Music of the Andes from Putumayo, $14.98 (or any of the Latin American Putumayo CD’s really.)

chavo

Chavo Del 8: Coleccion Inedita from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, prices vary (around $20)

turtles

Guatemalan plush turtle toys from Mayanft.com, $5.35

frida-prints

4 Frida Kahlo prints from Etsy / KarenHaringArt, $12.95

chuao

Chuao (Venezuelan chocolatier) chocolate from Chuao (all the chocolate bar flavors are amazing), prices vary

El Baile del Cuchumbo

randu

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Después de ver en las noticias de El Salvador, Carlos me enseño este video que se llama “El Baile del Cuchumbo” por un nuevo talento salvadoreño que se llama Randu. Por la mayor parte me gustó pero no sé mucho sobre el cantante. La única cosa que queda claro es que la canción es muy pegadiza y este muchacho sí sabe bailar. Me encanta verlo y aprender nueva coreografía. Aquí está la canción. ¿Qué opinan?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

After seeing it on the Salvadoran news, Carlos showed me this video that’s called “El Baile del Cuchumbo” by a new Salvadoran talent named Randu. For the most part I liked it but I don’t know much about the singer. The only thing that’s clear to me is the song is catchy and this young man definitely knows how to dance. I love to watch him and learn new choreography. Here’s the song. What do you think?