Top 5 Moments & Lessons at Top Blogueras Retreat 2013: UNited & UNdefeated


Laurita's Lumia_20130918_055

Above photo courtesy of Myrna Calderón.



I’m not going to lie to you. (You should know that by now!) The past few weeks for me have involved stress, tears, joy, excitement, more tears, and fears of developing a hernia. That’s usually what happens when I get sandwiched between conferences.

But I did it. I managed to attend the LATISM ’13 conference exactly a week after experiencing my first Hispana Leadership Summit in Orlando– and I also was honored to be invited to attend the second annual LATISM Top Blogueras Retreat in-between!

When it comes to attending conferences, my philosophy has evolved over time. I used to engage in the practice of grabbing an agenda first-thing, then circling and highlighting all of the sessions I wanted to attend.

I have long since abandoned that practice, because the idea of planning ahead for anything just seems ludicrous to me now. There’s the plan, and then there’s reality. 

The reality, I’ve learned, is the far better plan! 

Such was the recurring theme of my five nights in New York City. So, without further ado, I’m sharing some experiences and lessons I acquired during the first part of my adventure, The Top Blogueras Retreat and visit to the United Nations.



1. Eating out in New York with 100 of your hermanas is, in fact, material for a sit-com. 

During our first night together after all the Top Blogueras arrived, we headed over to Havana Central in Times Square– I think. Because I don’t think any of us knew for sure where we were going, LOL! We had to take taxis in very small groups, obviously, so when I got to the restaurant, I thought, “this isn’t too crowded. Maybe not everyone is here.”

About a half-hour later, our posse was still arriving– in droves. We took over the entire back section of the restaurant. It was awesome. 

Everyone is cramped at these long tables, everyone is talking at once, and it’s doubtful that any of us were actually listening to each other. We were just way too excited to all be together, and in one of Manhattan’s hottest restaurants, no less! 

That night, in my mind, was the perfect way to herald our arrival in New York City– Cuban food, drinks, girlfriends, and chatter. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.



2. Whether you attend the official conference sessions or not, you will get advice, you will get schooled, and you will get “tough love.” 

I barely had time, between stopping in the hallways to chat and catch up with amigas, to attend every session during the retreat. But, no worries! This event is all about Latina empowerment– and all about putting yourself and your needs first. For me, I needed those one-on-one chats, where the person I need to speak with has my full attention, and I can ask questions and we’re engaging each other. 

I got some sound, personalized advice from a financial guru right out in the hall (thanks, Francesca, for pulling me aside for that invaluable opportunity!), and he turned out to be an amazing man who is, himself, using his social power to effect positive change in the world. I’ll never forget my conversation with him.

During the retreat, one of my fellow health blogueras, Laura Termini, pulled me aside (that happened to me a lot last week!) and gave me some hard advice that I really needed to hear. She encouraged me to seize my potential and truly put it to use for the good of my mission. I can never thank her enough for lighting a fire under my feet! 😉



3. The United Nations is a global force for good that we all should be connecting and engaging with. They are awesome. 

When I heard we were getting an exclusive tour of the United Nations headquarters, I thought for sure it would be a stuffy, uninspired building with official seals stamped everywhere.

I could never have imagined it would be so beautiful, like visiting a museum or art gallery. The works of art that adorn these halls and majestic meeting rooms are an amazing testimony to the multicultural, multi-national mission that the U.N. promotes. Many works– ranging from paintings to murals, from tapestries to sculptures– have been donated by member nations. 

During an increasingly-hostile political climate in the U.S., which is seeing escalating vitriol towards people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it was so reassuring to see firsthand how the U.N. embraces and promotes diversity, even in its décor.


4. International organizations, including the U.N., not only need to hear from us– they want to hear from us! 

During our briefing with officials that work with the U.N. at the Ford Foundation headquarters, we listened to speakers discuss the diverse issues that the U.N. is particularly concerned about– access to food, water, health care for all; education; sustainability, etc.

They repeatedly encouraged us to Tweet the U.N., especially during this week, which is the Social Good Summit and the U.N. is convening in New York City. The hashtag is #2030NOW, and the U.N. wants to motivate users to Tweet what they’d like to see happen by the year 2030.

I’m using my voice and my platform to make the public aware of how many Ob-Gyns are pressuring expectant parents of child with spina bifida or another condition, to abortThis is WRONG. When a parent makes an informed decision based on the perceived best interest of his/her family, that is one thing; but when a medical doctor entrusted with the care of mother and baby is insensitive to the vulnerable position that family is in, that is pure, unadulterated manipulation. Parents have the right to get impartial, objective but compassionate information from their health care providers about spina bifida, and all of their options. 

The fact that many medical doctors (Ob-Gyns, specifically, who will only deliver a baby and not go on to “treat” him/her) still push an aggressive agenda of eugenic abortion is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy, not from a pro-life or pro-choice perspective, but rather because the family is being deprived of knowing what’s possible for this child. 

So, if you agree that doctors coercing a family to abort is wrong, please join me in Tweeting and using the hashtag #2030Now to try to bring an end to eugenic abortions (in the U.S., too!) 


5. When you’re with familia, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing! You’ll have fun doing it. 

The Top Blogueras and the LATISM Sports Tennis Team were invited to the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center (home of the U.S. Open!) to meet and play with a group of kids with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Unfortunately, due to several buses breaking down, the children weren’t able to meet with us. 🙁

We were devastated that we all missed out on the opportunity to get together for some fun, but we did have some undisputed fun on the train ride over to the tennis center! 😉

Check out this short instagram video to see what I mean.




Well, that’s all for now in this edition of Holdin’ Out for a Hero. Please stay tuned as I’ll be working on another recap on the conference itself! Thanks a million, LATISM, for believing in me and choosing me to be among so many ladies that I admire and respect!



Laurita ♥

Day 256- Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D, Wisconsin)

Baldwin staunchly supports stem cell research, and authored a groundbreaking piece of legislation, advancing paralysis research.

Behold: This is the last member of the Congressional Spina Bifida Caucus that I will be profiling– for now, at least. If you’re as politically illiterate as I once was, say, before the last presidential election, then you will probably join me in breathing a sigh of relief.

That being said, I am not close to being through with Washington. I have a lot to say to these politicians– a lot to ask of them, and also a lot to thank them for. But I do feel that it’s time to devote a little attention to other equally worthy heroes who are not in the political circuit. (Did I hear someone say “circus?”)

Yes, often, it is a circus. But everyone is passionate about something, and an individual’s passion is undoubtedly what triggers the idea of running for office in the first place.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is exactly the kind of person who ran for office to fight for what she believes in. She is a passionate advocate for civil rights for people with disabilities, and fully supports the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She’s also contributed, and in no small part, to advancing research into paralysis and its potential treatments. On March 30, 2009, President Obama signed a piece of legislation Congresswoman Baldwin sponsored into law– the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act.

Rep. Baldwin has been a leader in getting Congress to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, as she recognizes the potential benefits it may have for people living and struggling with many disease and conditions, including paralysis.

She is a vocal activist for women’s rights and has spoken out against domestic violence through her backing of the Violence Against Women Act.

Congresswoman Baldwin is a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus, the Human Rights Caucus, and is on the Women’s Caucus, for which she serves as Vice Chair of the Health Care Task Force. She’s also a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

With all her astounding accomplishments thus far, it would be very easy to overlook the fact that she is “the first woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of Wisconsin”– and “the first, non-incumbent, openly gay person to serve in Congress.” Both are equally impressive achievements. Taken together in context, they make for a powerhouse woman! And boy, do I love profiling these powerhouses. I can’t wait to send her a letter! (I will be sending out the last batch of letters to Congress soon.)

Thank you all so much for putting up with my self-doubts about whether or not I could be a political reporter of sorts! Everyone has been truly supportive, and so far, no one has called me out saying that I should keep my day job– whatever that is. I really have enjoyed learning more about the political system, and delving deeply into what constitutes a typical workload for a member of Congress. It seems like a daunting job, to say the least, and I am very proud of all of the people who are smart enough and thick-skinned enough to take on the challenge in our name.

I realize now that the mild heat I have taken for my efforts with “Holdin’ Out for a Hero” is nothing compared to being constantly under fire while serving in public office. I have a new-found appreciation and respect for the men and women who are doing all the really hard work for us, and making a big difference in many areas.

There is one more lesson I have learned on this “sub-journey,” if you will (because it is only part of this bigger journey!). I used to see politics as very straightforward, and black-and-white. There was good or bad, there was no “average” politician. There was right or wrong. I now see that, on the vast spectrum from Conservatism to Liberalism, there are issues that many members of the same party will disagree on, and others that perhaps we could all agree on.

I hope you will notice that I have objectively criticized members of both parties for accepting such a cumbersome workload, instead of really focusing their efforts on two or three issues of great importance. My concern has always been, and will always be, that spina bifida is on the back-burner of the policy-making stove, when it is such a pressing issue in society that demands the attention and support of everyone.

Yes, I firmly believe that Congress members will initially choose two or three caucuses to be a part of because they are passionate about the issues that lie at the core of those committees. I’d say more than ten is far too much! And not having found a significant piece of the puzzle from any of our Congress members, it is my opinion that there is still very much to be desired in the area of making legislators care about the issues that genuinely affect all of us with spina bifida, and our families.

That, in and of itself, is the bottom line. We have to make them care.

Good Night, & Good Luck,

Laurita ♥

P.S. Please don’t take this to mean this is the end of “Holdin’ Out!” We’ve only just begun. Tune back in tomorrow– it seems I have some research to do.

Day 246- Sen. Chris Dodd (D, Connecticut)

Dodd is a concerned and impassioned advocate for patients' rights.

It’s time for another new beginning here at “Holdin’ Out.” In light of the fact that the Spina Bifida Assocation recently published the 2010 roster for the Congressional Spina Bifida Caucus, I anticipate that I will still be focusing on a few more members of Congress.

One change I did not foresee is that I will be writing to a member of the Senate, and not just members of the House of Representatives. Surprise, surprise. Tonight we will be looking at Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Sen. Dodd is both Founder and Chair of the Senate After School Caucus. As a member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, he is on the Subcommittee on Children and Families.

During the late 1960s, Sen. Dodd was a volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He’s also a staunch advocate for patient’s rights, and “has worked to support community health centers and initiatives aimed at child nutrition, autism, under-aged drinking prevention, maternal and child health, and infant mortality prevention.”

Sen. Dodd has additionally fought for the rights of the mentally ill, writing legislation that would protect them from abusive treatments and restraints in psychiatric hospitals.

That’s it for tonight. I’m sincerely looking forward to some new developments in the near future. I have a lot of hope and faith in our supporters, and I appreciate everything you guys do to help! Please keep sharing our Fan page on Facebook with everyone!

May God Bless you all,

Laurita 🙂

Day 214- Rep. Vic Snyder (D, Arkansas)

The former family physician is committed to supporting health-related initiatives.

For the next 36 days (from March 28 to May 2),  I will be contacting and writing about 36 extraordinary members of the House of Representatives. They are all extraordinary in that they form the bipartisan Congressional Spina Bifida Caucus, and so they strive to address the unique needs of the spina bifida community in the U.S. My “mission” is to write to them, and urge them to make quality of life, and not solely prevention, a priority on their agenda in Congress. It has come to my attention that education about spina bifida is critical during all the stages of development– from planning to prevent spina bifida through the consumption of folic acid, to comprehensive education about spina bifida once it is diagnosed. We need to educate, starting with the physicians and other healthcare providers, so that they will be made aware of the potential that each child with spina bifida possesses.

I see this Congressional Caucus as a great starting point, as they have already committed to educating their colleagues in Congress about spina bifida.

If there’s one thing people can sense right now about the current political climate, it’s that Americans are about as jaded as can be when it comes to politicians. Even I grow weary of them from time to time, which is why I am continually surprised to read that today’s congresspeople weren’t always politicians.

As a matter of fact, Congressman Vic Snyder of Arkansas was, of all things, a practicing family doctor! During his fifteen years as a physician, he volunteered his medical services on missions to refugee camps in Thailand, Honduras, and Sudan.

While in the House of Representatives, he has served on: the 21st Century Health Care Caucus, the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, the Diabetes Caucus, the Oral Health Caucus, the COPD Caucus, the Vision Caucus, the Kidney Caucus, the Medicare Fairness Caucus, and the Omigosh-I-can’t-think-of-what-the-heck-else-to-name-another-caucus Caucus.

Alright, consider that last one your April Fool’s joke! But *AHEM* in all seriousness, it is clear that Rep. Snyder has devoted a huge part of his life to serving his people, whether patients or constituents, in matters of health quality.

Unfortunately, this paragon is retiring from Congress this year. But, it’s not too late for me– and for you— to send the Congressman one final message that will encourage him to make his last days in the House matter to the spina bifida and hydrocephalus community.

By the way, in case any of you are having trouble finding a way to contact our congresspeople, please visit the House of Representatives’ official Web site at There, you can find an alphabetical listing of representatives, and when you click an individual’s hyperlinked name, you will be redirected to that representative’s official site.

All of them have addresses listed for their district offices, as well as an address at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

It is my understanding that you can only use E-mail for congresspeople in your district, but you can send snail mail to any representative.

Before I go, there’s just one update I’d like to share with you! You may recall that I profiled musician/songwriter Spencer Day on “Day 209.” Well, I may have been a little overwhelmed yesterday in telling you about my interview with “One Voice Radio,” but Spencer replied to my posting on his Facebook fan page yesterday afternoon! He replied, “Hi Laurita! Thank you so much for posting this. I must confess, prior to reading your link I wasn’t aware of Spina Bifida or how many people it affects. Please keep me posted as you continue to raise awareness for Spina Bifida and how I might be of assistance. Sending you peace and love, SLD.”

I honestly didn’t expect such a candid response. What’s more he seems interested in this cause! OMG!!! Okay, now that I got the inner-13-year-old out of my system, I can tell you that I am really optimistic about the near future. I think this humble initiative is on its way, and I hope we will see a great many positive changes very soon!

“Sending you peace and love,” (because that’s what Spencer likes!)

Laurita ♥