The Laurita Spina Bifida Project to launch at Hispanicize 2016

Why, yes. It has indeed been a while.

Mea culpa. I may not have been fully “present” on Holdin’ Out for a Hero, but please rest assured…incredible things have been happening behind the scenes– miracles, actually!

Today, after 19 years of wishing, learning, waiting, and hoping, after years of prayers, all answered, not all in the way I anticipated, after much hard work and informal advocacy, it’s happening.

My non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, is launching today during Hispanicize 2016– in Miami, no less.

Don’t pinch me, please. I don’t want to wake up!

It’s been a long time coming. I mean, really. I remember growing up thinking that starting any kind of organization– for-profit or non-profit– required wealth, and lots of it.

I remember wondering why I wasn’t rich and able to fulfill my dream.

I remember writing my first letter to Oprah Winfrey, and pouring my heart into it, asking her to shoot an episode about spina bifida. And I remember very clearly the polite “no, thank you” letter I received from The Oprah Winfrey Show– at age eleven.

Sometimes I wonder why I just didn’t give up and pursue a different path. I believe anyone with spina bifida can be just about anything within some reason. I could have done anything.

Instead, I chose the road less traveled. The one that hadn’t been trodden before– the one I had to pave myself.

But I haven’t walked it alone. Oh, no. There have been angels. Dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. And they carried me on their wings whenever I was too exhausted, too angry, too bitter from the failed efforts to keep flying.

It is now that I realize it. My “failures” weren’t failures at all– they were practice; my boot camp. With teachers, mentors, trainers, fellow advocates, cheerleaders, I worked through these failures and got up again.

My initial vision was to host a launch event at a restaurant in Orlando, close to where I live. Instead, I am in the heart of Downtown Miami, surrounded by fellow bloggers, journalists, entertainers, photographers, marketers, and seasoned non-profit industry veterans. Many of these are people I call very close friends.

In retrospect, I cannot imagine launching my precious childhood dream anywhere else, surrounded by so many of the people who are actually helping to make it happen!

Today, as I prepare to meet friends, family, and colleagues for Happy Hour at Toro Toro Miami and our extended community on Twitter at 5:00 p.m., I’m sure we’ll have a lot of last-minute details to think of.

As for me, I’ll also be reflecting on everyone, everything, every incredible moment that has brought me– us– here.

Today, I finally know it was all for good.

Please join us today on Twitter using the hashtags #TheLSBProject and #SpinaBifida (#EspinaBífida para español, también). Be sure to RSVP here to be eligible to win some awesome prizes!

And if you’d like to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign, that’s here.

To see the fabulous press release that my friends and colleagues at Hispanicize Wire published about our launch, please click here.

 

Till tonight! And…thank you. 

Love,

Laurita

Social Good at Hispanicize 2014: Be the Change

Hispanicize 2014 took place in Miami from April 1st through 4th, and this year, the organizers stepped it up by demonstrating that philanthropy is alive and well within the Latino community and beyond.

On March 31st, I attended Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-Profits Serving Latino & Multicultural Communities, a half-day, pre-conference event, sponsored by Florida Blue and open to professionals involved with nonprofit organizations.

 

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The presenters were Alex de Carvalho, founder of Social Media Club of South Florida, as well as Regional Development Director at Constant Contact; Katherine Doble, publisher of Los Tweens and Teens and president of Siren Marketing; and Maricela Cueva, vice president of VPE PR.

The topics covered ranged from strategies for E-mail marketing to the most effective platforms and methods for engaging potential cause supporters using social media.

I personally found the training interesting and engaging, and it was packed with lots of resources for nonprofits and individuals alike.

 

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For this cause blogger, one of the most awesome moments of the conference was witnessing Cuban bloguera Yoani Sánchez receive a Latinovator award for her courage and relentlessness in informing the global public on what is going on in Cuba.

The writer and activist has been arrested several times, even beaten, for speaking up.

I was honored and privileged to have the opportunity to meet her last year, when she came to Orlando to speak at my alma mater, Valencia College. After she was interviewed at the Latinovator Luncheon, I got to attend the press conference and ask her a question! What an amazing opportunity. I was thrilled. :)

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I couldn’t believe that Yoani Sánchez remembered me from the Valencia event! I imagine she meets hundreds of new people every week. 

Attending the Positive Impact Awards was yet another amazing opportunity to see social good up, close, and personal. It was also a wonderful time to pay tribute to many awesome Latinos who are making a huge difference in our communities– and in the world.

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I’m very proud to know Hispanicize Founder & CEO Manny Ruiz, and call him mi hermano. Congrats, Manny, on being given the key to the city of Miami!

By far, one of the most emotional moments during the Positive Impact Awards was seeing Hispanicize’s own Founder & CEO, Manny Ruiz, be surprised onstage by being presented with the key to the city of Miami by none other than the Mayor of the City of Miami, Tomás P. Regalado.

I actually had tears in my eyes, watching Manny choke up as he thanked everyone for their support. 😉

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Manny Ruiz gets emotional upon being awarded the key to the City of Miami. Love it!

Even early on in the evening, on the red carpet, I was able to say hello to a few familiar faces…including this one:

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Oh, you know, just hanging out with my friend Edward James Olmos! 

I was so thrilled that actor Edward James Olmos remembered me from last year, when I attended the premiere of “Filly Brown” during Hispanicize! Eeek!

But that wasn’t my only “geek-out” moment of the night. For reals. Yolanda Pagán, whose late husband Louis Pagán inspired the Positive Impact Awards, and I sort of improvised and tag-teamed that evening during the red carpet. It was a really sweet moment as I watched her glide gracefully from interview to interview and from photo op to photo op! Yoli and I have become very close friends ever since we met during Hispanicize last year, and I felt Blessed and honored to witness this shining moment for her.

Well, Yoli came over to me during the red carpet madness, and straight-up told me:

Maria Hinojosa wants to meet you.”

Jaw. Drops. On. Floor. 

“What!?” I gasped. 

“Maria Hinojosa,” Yoli repeated. “She wants to meet you.”

“Why?” I muttered breathlessly. 

“Are you seriously asking that question?” Yoli countered. 

Well…yes I am!  But, no matter. When veteran, award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa asks to meet you, you ask when and where! 

So, I dashed over to where Maria Hinojosa was being photographed and fawned over. Then, she notices me.

Then, she addresses me.

She said she really wanted to meet me, and that I was an amazing blogger or something like that, but, truth be told, as is the cruel irony in most situations that you should have been taping– I remember very little of what was actually said because of how shocked I was. Understandably. 

But I do recall the million-dollar-moment, as I was basking in my 30 seconds of glory, Yoli watching me the entire time with a huge grin on her face. 

Manny walked over to us (to formally introduce me to Maria, I imagine) and puts his hand on my shoulder and says to Maria (I mean, are we on first-name-basis now!?):

“Laurita is one of the best bloggers in the country.” By this point, I’m fighting back the tears. 

And then Maria totally says, pointedly, to Manny: 

“I know! That’s why I wanted to meet her!” 

By then, whether I was still breathing was questionable. I think I had a pulse, though, because my heart was racing.

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Maria and me. New besties? Here’s hoping! 😉 

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George Torres, founder of the Positive Impact Awards, Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, wife of Louis Pagán, and Manny Ruiz pay tribute to Louis’ legacy. (Doesn’t she look stunning?)

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Some of the Positive Impact Awards honorees share their moment of triumph onstage. 

I fear I’ve already made this post too long, but I have to share about the panel I spoke on, on Friday! My dear friend and hermano, George Torres, a.k.a., “Urban Jíbaro,” asked me to speak on a panel titled “Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.”

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(From left to right): Stephen Chávez, founder of Latino Foodie, moderated the #SocialGood panel, which featured George “Urban Jíbaro” Torres, founder of Sofrito Media Group, and Sofrifo for Your Soul, Steven Sánchez, Global Corporate Communications Manager for 3M, Sonia Díaz of Balsera Communications, and me. 

I have been fortunate to be a part of several dynamic panel discussions these past few years, and this one was no exception! Despite being the last day of the conference, and people showing up– *ahem*– at “Latino time” (there were parties every night!), I feel we had an amazing chemistry among our group, and we were able to engage with our audience members.

The best part was being able to tell my story, and hearing everyone else’s personal journeys through social good! I’ll be honest– I came away from this panel learning a lot! 

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With Yolanda “Yoli” Pagán, who is now one of BFFs! I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your support, encouragement, and many pep talks before and during Hispanicize! 😉


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With my longtime amiga, Alsy Acevedo of Catholic Relief Services, Anadel Alberti of Lanugo, and Yoli. Thanks so much, ladies, for supporting me and attending my panel! 😉

Later that day, after I recovered my nerves from speaking, I ran into Matt Wallaert, a behavioral scientist who works with Bing. He wanted to talk to me and introduce me to a group of young students with ASPIRA of Florida that he brought to Hispanicize, so that I could encourage them. Needless to say, I was at a total loss as to what to say to these kids! I have no idea how to foster and nurture young minds; I don’t know what you’re supposed to say to encourage them!

Well, when I saw Matt and a young friend of his, Chantal, they told me that they had attended my panel and that it was great! Matt had walked in with his group of students to watch/hear us! I was so incredibly moved by their show of support, and I realized that, when it comes to the next generation, all you have to really do is be there for them.

The week of Hispanicize was both too long and too fast. There were so many things I would have liked to do but didn’t have the time or energy to do. There’s just so much! That’s why I’m dedicating several posts, here, on Espresso con Leche, and on my hypeorlando blog, to covering everything I can.

By far, the most inspiring and uplifting moments of Hispanicize this year were the ones related to social good. Of course, it feels great to give, and it also feels wonderful to connect with others who are passionate about philanthropy within the social media space.

The best part of using social media for social good is that “the buck doesn’t stop here.” The donation or Tweet that you make, the photo you instagram, the blog post you publish about a cause can have so many impressions and can be shared so many times. Social media knows no boundaries or limits. Social media exists so that we can push our stories out beyond the natural, physical scope of older media channels.

And this week, I got to connect and reconnect with so many others who feel passionate about doing just that!

A hearty shout-out to the following sponsors:

  • Florida Blue, who sponsored the Social Media for Social Good Training for Non-profits Serving Latino and Multicultural Communities training
  • 3M, who sponsored the Positive Impact Awards, this year’s signature event, in addition to sponsoring and participating on our panel, Hispanic Social Media for Social Good: Corporate Best Practices.
  • Toyota Latino for being my sponsor during Hispanicize, and for inviting me to sit at their table during the Positive Impact Awards! I have so much more content to share about you guys, but for now I’ll say that you have truly demonstrated your commitment to social good in every initiative and program you design for consumers. Thanks for taking me under your wings! 😉

 

 

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

–Mahatma Gandhi

–Laurita ♥

Hispanicize 2013 Part 2: My Top 12 #ToyotaLatino

Whenever I return from a conference, I suffer from Chronic Recap Deficit Syndrome (CRDS). Yep. That’s in addition to spina bifida! 

What is CRDS? It is usually characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:

 

(1) Panic or anxiety when logging into my blog dashboard

(2) Feelings of inadequacy when reading other bloggers’ recap posts

(3) Frustration (maybe even cursing) while uploading photos

(4) General unease or distress at not being able to summarize events adequately

 

I’ll admit– here and now– that I live with CRDS. And while there is certainly no cure, I’ve come up with a way to make my life (and yours as the reader) easier: make a list. So, without further ado, here’s my list of the Top 12 Hispanicize 2013 Moments (in no particular order of preference)! 

 

1. The Sherwin-Williams #SWpintura Downtown Miami Design District Tour 

 

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At the Grand Opening of a new Sherwin-Williams store in Miami! #SWpintura 

Yes, I know I recapped this already, but I can’t help but mention again how awesome this tour of Miami was. We got to see the part of Miami most people don’t think of when they think of this beautifully diverse, energetic city. So at the risk of sounding repetitive– it rocked. 

 

2. Dinner with #ToyotaLatino representatives, bloggers, and communicators in the automotive industry 
Javier Moreno has been a great friend since 2011. I was absolutely thrilled when he put his faith in me and asked me to be the official correspondent at Hispanicize for Toyota Latino!

To me, it was just an incredible honor to be invited to be a correspondent, so I hardly imagined what Toyota had waiting for me– a multi-course dinner at  OLA Miami, one of the trendiest spots in Miami Beach! The restaurant is located inside Sanctuary Hotel, and in it, you can enjoy the Latin American flavors created by renowned Chef Horacio Rivadero. 

 

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Oh là là! 

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Clockwise from top left: Marlin tacos made a very tasty appetizer; Toyota pulled out all the stops by presenting us each with a goody bag; we also get to each take home a coaster; the Chocolate Cigar, very popular at OLA, was the perfect ending to a delicious, sophisticated meal; dinner kicked off with an assortment of tantalizing and upscale Latin appetizers.

 

DSC06143Goodies!! Ah, yes, please note: the scarf I’m wearing is part of my “welcome gift” from Toyota Latino! #Spoiled 😉

 

 

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My very dear friend, Javier Moreno, Assistant Manager of Corporate Communications at Toyota Motor North America, Inc. He’s the one who made this experience possible for me! Thank you sooo much! I owe you a few. 😉

 

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I’m so happy I got to connect with Heather López, a.k.a. The Social Commerce Mom of Bloggin Mamas and Happy and Healthy Mom on a more personal level! She rocks!

 

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The very first Latina blogger I ever met– and to this day, one of my absolute favorites! Jeannette Kaplun  is a beloved friend and “big sister.” 

 

 

Besides, the amazing food, drinks, and atmosphere at OLA, my favorite aspect of the evening was being able to engage in candid, casual, unscripted conversation with people I normally would not dine with!

I was completely taken by surprise when I found out I’d be sitting next to Jorge Bernal, Entertainment Anchor on “Al Rojo Vivo” on Telemundo, and host of “Tu Mañana LIVE!” on Sirius XM. I’ve been wanting to meet him for quite some time– and here he was, inches away from me! 😉 

 

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 Sharing a special moment with Jorge Bernal of Telemundo’s “Al Rojo Vivo” during the Toyota dinner. Thanks, Toyota! 

Over dinner, we were able to learn about some Toyota’s social initiatives. Toyota is currently focusing on growing programs in the following areas: education, environment, and safety. (To learn more about all of these programs, please visit the Toyota In Action blog.)

The bloggers and communicators were able to express our own ideas and opinions on a variety of topics, and basically outline what matters to us. The stories we shared ran the entire gamut of hilarious, moving, compelling, and informative.

There was definitely an underlying current at the dinner table– a desire to effect social change. I will always be grateful to my friends at Toyota for making this all possible!

 

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(From left to right: Javier Moreno, Álvaro Castillo, Heather López (seated), me (seated), Javier Mota, Jorge Bernal (seated), Jeannette Kaplun, and Janice Lusky-Greenspan. Photo courtesy of Jeannette Kaplun of Hispana Global

 

There are more photos to come on Espresso con Leche, plus an interview with Javier Mota of “Autos 0-60” on Sirius XM Radio Channel 146! Thank you so much, Javier, for interviewing Javier Moreno and myself! 

3. Attending a private screening of “Filly Brown” and chatting with the cast during an exclusive Q&A session, followed by an after-party at The Stage! 

 

Yep. This actually happened. 

 

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And yep. He really is that awesome.  What a classy, fun guy! 

 

 

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Earlier in the day, I had a *totally chance encounter* with Lou Diamond Phillips in the lobby! We weren’t even at the screening yet! Of course, I never miss an opportunity to talk to celebs about The Cause. 

 

 

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The stars of “Filly Brown” and the Director/Writer/Producer, Youssef Delara, held a Q&A session immediately following the film screening. 

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With Gina Rodríguez, star of “Filly Brown,” during the after-party at The Stage. She is super sweet– and crazy talented! 

 

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Lou Diamond Phillips tore it up with “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”                   Oh, yes, he did!

4.  The Adelante Movement 

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One of my absolute favorite moments was meeting longtime online friend Dan Pérez— blogger, filmmaker, philanthropist, and “all-around nice guy.” Words can’t express what finally meeting him meant to me! Love you, hermano! 

 

 

I know many people will think the Adelante Movement is just for women, but I know at least several guys who were “man enough” to stick around for this spectacular experience! One of them is my very good longtime friend Dan Pérez, who I got to meet (finally!) for the first time during Hispanicize. That moment was priceless to me! Getting to share it with our mutual hermano, Juan Alanis of Juan of Words, made it all the more special.

 

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Familia. I love these boys so much! 

 

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Clockwise from top right: With NHLI founder Maria Elena Toraño; with Rita Moreno of “West Side Story” fame; with Charo, the “Cuchi Cuchi” girl; Nely Galán interviews Charo onstage; with Nely Galán.

5. Hanging out with and interviewing Los Tweens! 

What can I say about Los Tweens? Founders Cristy Clavijo-Kish and Katherine Doble are doing such a fabulous job of raising kids who are at once socially conscious and aware of their own potential. They are now “paying it forward” with their work for Los Tweens, where they share advice, tips, and stories with other multicultural parents of children ages 7-12.

Of course, being raised by blogger parents, the youngsters want to get in on the fun, too! That’s why Cristy and Katherine have created My.LosTweens.com, a safe place where tweens can interact and share their own experiences, traditions, interests, etc.

Here’s a really cool video that I did with Maddy, Sophia, and Olivia!

Thanks so much, Los Tweens! I hope to someday host your Girl Scouts troop in Orlando. :)

 

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Maddy, Olivia, Sophia, and Cristy (the twins’ mom) from Los Tweens(Where’s Katherine?

 

6. Connecting with Sonia Velasquez.

Oftentimes, I’ll attend a conference, anticipating to run into a friend, and we’ll always miss each other, or only see each other once, in passing.

I met Sonia Velasquez on Monday, when my family arrived in Miami, and she was the guest of honor during the Sherwin-Williams #SWpintura event. I feel blessed to say I saw her every day until I left on Sunday! We were able to have real, honest conversations, soul-to-soul. There are a lot of people I’ve known for several years. Few people actually talk to me on  a soul level like Sonia did– within hours of us knowing each other.

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Sonia Velasquez and me. This woman has a heart of gold.                                                    So Blessed to now call her a friend! 

 

Her advocacy work for AIDS and domestic violence causes, in addition to her job as host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Latin America, make her one of the people I was most looking forward to meeting! And…it was just icing on the cake that she joined my “Blogs with a Cause” panel.” :)

I want to be just like Sonia when I grow up! 😉

 

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Sonia and me by the pool, catching some rays of sunshine– just minutes before I caught a few too many! 

7. Emilio Estefan. 

I remember maybe about four or five years ago, being in Miami on vacation with Papi and Mami, taking one of those cliché boat tours where they point out all the mansions of the city’s hottest celebs.

We saw Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s house. I bet the extent of my thoughts was, “Must be nice.” 😉

 

And then, years later, this happened…

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Emilio and me. Gloria was right– eventually the rhythm IS going to get you! 

 

OMG. I’m in the Target #SeHablaMúsica Lounge and Emilio Estefan is hugging me. As Mami takes our picture, he says, “You’re small, just like Gloria.” 

OMG. Emilio just drew a comparison between his wife and me. He’s comparing me to Gloria, the  Gloria! 

What a friendly, classy, awesome gentleman. I will never forget this moment!

8. The McDonald’s “Me Encanta” Yacht Party! 


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What happens on the boat, stays on the boat– and on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Foursquare, on Tumblr– and if you hit the photo booths, they give you a copy to take home! 😉

The McDonald’s #MeEncanta Yacht Party for Bloggers and Journalists, celebrating the Chicken McWrap, was, hands-down, the most fun one can have on the water!

We were treated to drinks, hors d’oeuvres, the best party music, and a floating dance floor (you know, ’cause it’s a boat)   for several hours!

9. Carlos Ponce

Let me say that again. Carlos. Ponce. Man, it felt good saying that! 😉

Right before Carlos took the stage to accept his Latinovator award and be interviewed onstage, my friends Vanessa Smith and Janice Lusky Greenspan intercepted him and I got to meet him!

 

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I just handed Carlos Ponce my business card. Carlos has my card. Heck– he has my number. Call me, maybe? 😉

 

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Okay, so I gave him my elevator pitch about The Cause. This was really when I was supposed to sing a few bars of one of his songs and persuade him to let me be a back-up singer for him! 

10. The “Blogs with a Cause” panel. 

There’s nothing I can say about the panel I moderated without practically bursting into tears. Um, not practically. Actually. Because organizing this session, coordinating with the girls, and actually connecting with them in person was one of the most spiritually enriching experiences of my life! I can honestly say I went to Miami barely knowing these women, and I left with four new best friends.

Denisse, Debbie, Teresa and Sonia– I owe you an overwhelming debt of gratitude for your commitment and your enthusiasm in joining the panel. When Manny asked me to “put together a panel” for Hispanicize, I thought it would be easier to master underwater basket-weaving rather than find a group of at least three people who not only were passionate about a cause, but were fluent in distributing their message across social platforms. Together, Manny and I found four. 

 

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(From left to right): Debbie Bookstaber, Denisse Montalván, Teresa Correa,                    and Sonia Velasquez

 

As they each elaborated on their respective causes and initiatives, and as I asked them questions, I couldn’t help but be in humble awe at the magic that was unfolding. Here were four women from different corners of the U.S. with very different projects, coming together for a common purpose: to educate the public about very urgent, pressing issues in our diverse society.

We also got some wonderful questions from the audience. They went straight to the point– they each wanted to know how they, in turn, could effect change in the world using social media. We discussed how some of them are balancing their “day jobs” with their labor of love, and how we can make money while advocating for a worthy cause, too.

I think the best compliment we received after our panel was from people who friended us on Facebook immediately following our session! We were very grateful to meet people who wanted to connect with us right away.

 

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What we need is a name for this group! Unfortunately, The A-Team,  the Powerpuff Girls and Charlie’s Angels are all taken. 

 

Those who attended the session enjoyed the wisdom of these four dynamos for about an hour. But the bond that was formed among the five of us will last a lifetime.

 I love you ladies. ♥

11. Meeting Janice. 

You know when you have one of those moments of clarity when you just met someone, and realize that you were meant to meet all along? I had one of those moments during Hispanicize, and it wasn’t when I met Carlos, Emilio, Edward, or any of those other celebrities.

It was when I met Janice Lusky Greenspan of PRecise Communications. To call her friendly, sisterly, or even motherly at times (because I definitely needed that!), all seems inadequate. Although I’ve attended plenty of conferences in the past, in different capacities, I had never been treated quite like the rock star I felt like during Hispanicize. 

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Janice and me. I feel so blessed to know her! 

Janice looked out for me on behalf of Toyota Latino, and was such a fabulous facilitator of opportunities. Whenever or wherever there was someone to meet, or an event or session I absolutely needed to attend, there was Janice, making sure I didn’t miss out. I feel incredibly humbled and honored to have connected with you on such a personal level. The mofongo is on me when you come visit me! 😉

12. Honorary Mention: The Sunburn 

By now, most of my friends have seen on Facebook The Epic Sunburn that literally handicapped me from doing anything other than surfing the Internet in my pajamas for about four days after returning from Miami!

Vanessa Smith and I don’t always use the best judgment when we hang out together, and we spent a long time in direct sunlight on the pool deck after the conference was over.

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Great times with one of my besties! It was totally worth it, hermana. 😉

 

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Ouch. Consider this an unofficial PSA for protecting your skin against the sun!

Mercifully, as soon as I posted a photo of my badly-burned back and shoulders (although the arms and legs were burned, too), I immediately received comments from friends, with tips and homemade remedies I could use. Literally, all of these products lived in our kitchen!

Mami had just a little too much fun mixing a potato salad on my shoulders!

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The Human Salad Bar. On my shoulders: orange blossom honey, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, redskin potato peels. Yum. 

More to come on Espresso con Leche!

 

Laurita 😉

Hispanicize 2013: When Sleep is Overrated #ToyotaLatino (Part 1)

On Sunday, I returned from one of the most awesome conferences– no, experiences–  I’ve ever had. I’d been at Hispanicize 2013 all week!

When I was first asked to moderate a panel at Hispanicize, my first thought was “Thanks for the invite, but how will I get there?

What I discovered, however, as I’ve said before on this blog, is that the journey is often just as important as the destination. 

What happened next is kind of a blur, but I know it involved contacting my good friend Javier Moreno of Toyota Latino, and asking him if sponsoring me would be possible, in exchange for promoting their brand in every which way.

After a few back-and-forth calls and E-mails, Javier made a proposal I’ll never forget– he asked me to be the official correspondent for Toyota Latino at Hispanicize! :)

So, all I had to do was prepare for a week of learning, Tweeting, Facebooking, interviewing and photographing some of the biggest stars in the Latino community. Oh yeah– I also had to overpack. I can never travel light! 

 

 With Donna and David of Central Florida Toyota. They were kind enough to drop off the 2013 Toyota Sienna LE we used this past week. My family enjoyed great conversation with them! 

 

The Sienna had great trunk space for all our luggage, plus my wheelchair! 

 

 My very good friend Alberto Saldamando, of El Mundo Tech, rode with us to Miami. What a fun road trip! 

 

 Papi is an awesome driver. Very focused. Don’t try to small-talk him when he’s scanning the roads for the exit. 😉
 

I’m so perfectly content riding in the backseat. Plenty of room to relax, open up my laptop and monitor my social media outlets. No time for napping! Too excited. :)

 

View of the console from the backseat. Very nice! Thanks for including a GPS, too, although the family that gets lost together, stays together. :) 
As comfortable as I was in the Sienna during our four-hour drive (only one stop, thank God!), I was eager to arrive in Miami for my first event. Sherwin-Williams invited several bloggers and journalists to go on a tour of the Downtown Miami Art District

The #SWpintura tour not only offered our group a night out on the town of food, drinks, and seeing Downtown Miami– we got to see a side of Miami that I, personally had never seen before. 

The Miami Design District is the kind of area that, as they say, “blink and you’ll miss it.” At first glance, the graffiti-covered walls and industrial buildings seem to belie the pure genius that is contained in its parameters. But, a closer look reveals gorgeous, elaborate murals painted by upstanding artists, many of whom are Latino.

The Tour also allowed me to meet Sonia Velasquez and Teresa Correa for the first time.

Sonia Velasquez is the host of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America, a model, and has produced and been host of many other TV programs. She is also a staunch activist for HIV/AIDS and domestic violence-related causes. In short– she is a force for good and a true agent of positive change. 

 

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Photo Courtesy of SoniaVelasquez.com
 

When I met Sonia, I honestly didn’t expect her to be so disarming and down-to-earth.  I was standing (okay, sitting in my wheelchair) near her with my Mami as she chatted with my good friend Pili Montilla (*AHEM* another star with a huge heart!). I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, but suddenly, Sonia glances toward me and yells…

 

LAURITA!!!”

 

I. Kid. You. Not.

 

Here I was, freaking out because on Saturday, a woman who I thought did not know me from Eve was going to speak on my “Blogs with a Cause” panel, and I thought, “no way we will have a chance to really connect by then.”

Here she was, totally blurting out my name and running over to hug and kiss me like we’ve known each other for ages. EPIC. 

 

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

With Sonia Velasquez of Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Latin America. This woman has captured my heart with her love for serving others!

 

 Sonia, me, and the fabulous Pili Montilla. Don’t mess with us! 😉

 

Soon, we left for the tour on a charter bus. I really didn’t expect to learn so much about the history– the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty– of Miami on this tour. But our tour guide, artist and radio personality Susana Baker, provided us with a vast wealth of information that most of us– even born and bred Miamians– didn’t know about!

The Downtown Miami Design District is very “blink-and-you-miss-it,” and you will miss out on some stunning, cutting-edge sights if you don’t have your camera ready during the ride.

 

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I actually met Teresa during the tour, on our first art gallery stop. Meeting one of my panelists for Saturday was priceless. She and I had only recently connected on social media, but it felt like meeting a family member for the first time.

 

With Teresa Correa, Founder of La Femme Latina and Head of Ambassadors Program for Red Shoe Movement 

 

During this amazing, very-thorough tour of the art galleries, we got to see works of art created by Latino masterminds that were fun, poignant, and political. We saw social commentaries embodied in a pile of clothes or created in clay. We saw photographs that epitomized the history of the Cuban people of Miami.

 

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“Follow the Leader” by artist Guerra de la Paz. 

After visiting several awesome art galleries with mind-blowing installations, The Sherwin-Williams group treated us to dinner at the chic, bohemian Mexican Restaurant, “Mercadito.”

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 One of the coolest people I met this past week– Joe Ramírez, President of Attenta Group,  who represented Sherwin-Williams. 

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I must give a *lot* of credit to Lillian Ayala of Vanguard Comm, who took great care of all the guests. She actually called me up when I was still in Orlando and we had a great conversation!

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This should be a work of art itself! My beautiful family– and forever my “plus-ones.” 😉  

 


I will be posting plenty of photos on my Holdin’ Out for a Hero and Espresso con Leche pages. I’ll also be posting more details on here, and on Espresso con Leche. Stay tuned! 

I’m Catching a Ride to #Hispz13 with #ToyotaLatino!

 

Yes, it’s true. Once again, I’m heading to the Hispanicize conference in Miami! Only this time, *I’m shifting gears* and “catching a ride” with my friends over at Toyota.

Although this will be my very first time partnering with Toyota for anything, I daresay we’re both entering uncharted territory here. As their first blogger sponsoree, I’ll be setting a precedent for future bloguer@s interested in partnering with this amazing automotive brand.

 

 

My assignment: to be the official correspondent for Toyota during Hispanicize! Oh em gee!  

I’m unbelievably excited about this opportunity, and my mission is to meet and interact with as many people as I can during the week, to find out what they’re up to, and also to share with attendees my experience traveling to the event in a Toyota vehicle (which will be announced later!).

Of course, the second part of my mission is to absorb as much Miami culture as I can, because I love that city. I wish I could live much closer to a town with such a flair for all things Latino. So, I will be doing my part to share with you as much as I can of the sights, smells, sounds, and flavors of Miami! To get the full experience, please be sure to stop by my other blog, Espresso con Leche, where I’ll be elaborating on my culinary, musical, and all-things-cultural perspective of Miami!

Also, during the conference, I’ll be Tweeting from two Twitter accounts: @Laurita86 and @EspressoYLeche, and I’ll be using the hashtags #Hispz13 and #ToyotaLatino. And…don’t forget to follow my friends over at @ToyotaLatino on Twitter, and to “like” them on Facebook

I want to give a very special shout-out and gracias to Janice Lusky Greenspan of PRecise Communications, and to my dear, longtime amigo, Javier Moreno, for making this all possible. 

I also owe an overwhelming amount of gratitude to Hispanicize founder and CEO Manny Ruiz, who invited me to moderate a session called: “Blogs with a Cause: Meet the Bloggers Devoted to Social Good” panel on Saturday!

I’ll have the honor of introducing some amazing movers and shakers in the social media sphere:

I simply cannot say enough about these women to actually do justice to their labors of love. You’ll just have to wait until Saturday. 😉

Above all, I need to thank Godseriously. You have Blessed me so richly and abundantly, more than I could ever possibly deserve or imagine!

To all of my friends looking forward to learning more about entertainment, technology, social media, and marketing– ¡nos vemos in Miami!

 

😉  Laurita

An Awesome Surprise from Katherine Johnson!

I will keep this short and sweet today, as I have lots to do. But I couldn’t resist sharing this special gift Katherine Johnson of Hispanicize was able to “get” for me. She is currently in Las Vegas for the AdColor Conference, which has a lineup including Soledad O’Brien and Harry Shum from Glee.

But there was one speaker in particular who Kat knew I was interested in. Please watch the video below for a very special message! 

 

 

Thank you so much, Katherine, for taking the time and effort to surprise me like this! You are amazing.

Love,

Laurita ♥

Awareness: The End, Not the Means

When I set out to be captain of my own team again for the SBACFL Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida, I never imagined just how many people my humble efforts would reach– in Central Florida, as well as beyond.

On Wednesday night, Chantilly Patiño of Multicultural Familia and Bicultural Mom moderated our very first Walk-N-Roll Twitter Party for Spina Bifida.

An unprecedented online event meant to raise both funds and awareness, we managed to raise $120 for the Spina Bifida Association of Central Florida. More importantly–we did raise awareness. During this Twitter party, the hashtag #SpinaBifida had nearly 2 million impressions! This is a huge leap forward for the spina bifida cause.

I could never thank Chantilly and all the sponsors and co-hosts enough for all their hard work and dedication to this cause. I’m truly moved by everyone’s show of support. I was also amazed by how many joined the conversation– both people who had been touched by spina bifida, and people who knew nothing of spina bifida before this event. Both groups alike joined forces for this effort, and I will always be grateful to all of them.

On Thursday evening, I hosted another event– in person, at Bravo! Cucina Italiana, here in Orlando. Proceeds from ticket sales benefited the SBACFL Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida.

An intimate crowd joined us in support of The Cause, including two families who are part of the SBACFL. A special thanks to Amanda Kern, who took some beautiful photos of the event.

 

 

 Why, oh why did I have my eyes closed for this one? An otherwise beautiful family portrait, taken by the ever-attentive Bravo staff.

 

Bravo! Cucina Italiana General Manager Michael Monahan was the one who made it all happen that evening. Thank you so much for caring about the Spina Bifida community! :)


*SIGH* At every event I attend or host, I have to put up with another of Mami’s gratuitous photo shoots. #Mamarazzi

 


Our friend Giancarlo came to support our event!

 

My good friends Brett and Krystal also came out to support me! Love them.

I’m always grateful for Vionet-Edith’s support. She’s a true friend…part of the family. :)

Attendees were greeted by an assortment of appetizers and enjoyed drinks on the terrace. We couldn’t have prayed for better weather!

Speaking of prayers…my beloved priest, Father Bassam, was there to support me and my family.

 

 

I was able to share special moments with other people, including a camera crew from the UCF Cornerstone program. These college students from my alma mater are volunteering for New Hope for Kids, another one of my favorite organizations, and they showed up to interview me about my experience as a wish recipient!

 

 (There’s more photos where that came from! Stay tuned. :)  )

 

Another priceless moment that evening was reuniting with Amanda’s son Chance. Now 20 months old, this incredible little guy has touched so many lives already. Ever since the first time I met him over a year ago, I’ve felt a very strong connection to him. He is definitely very special to me. I love Super Chance! :)

(Note: All the following photos are courtesy of AmandaKern.com.)

 

 

My wonderful family is always so incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do any of it without them!

 

 

It’s true– Amanda went on a *photo* shooting rampage during the event– expect to see some photos of all the Walk-N-Roll team captains as part of the Walk-N-Roll for Spina Bifida publicity campaign!

Other attendees included Shannon Celentano’s family, Dede Mischel. Thank you so much for your support!

When all was said and done, we made $120 for the Walk-N-Roll. Hmmm…I guess that’s my number. Maybe I should play the lottery…?

I feel remarkably blessed to have so many people supporting me. Whether it’s online or off, in person or from afar, there are so many ways that people can impact a life, support a good cause.

So, thanks to each and every one of you who attended and/or promoted either the Twitter party and/or the Bravo! event. I’m amazed and humbled by your love and support.

As if these events weren’t enough to send me into “awareness overload,” a truly remarkable meeting took place on the Saturday following the Bravo event which some of you heard about on Facebook. Yes, I actually met Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour for the first time in person, while she was in Orlando covering the campaigns.

 

During our meeting, Judy eagerly agreed to an interview! Below is our chat.

 

And when all is said and done…whether you have given a donation or spread the word, you are helping! Awareness isn’t just a means to an end– it is the end we’re searching for.

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

Parent & Down Syndrome Activist Eliana Tardio Shines Brightly

Sure, many people are skeptical about “love at first sight,” but have you ever thought of the validity of “friendship at first sight“? I’m not sure if it exists, but if it does, my relationship with Eliana Tardío of ElianaTardio.com is a classic example. Like many people I have met in the last few years, she and I didn’t meet conventionally; rather, we met online and our friendship blossomed.

Eliana and I are both blogueras, Latina bloggers with a cause, a mission, a purpose. While  neither of us can fully understand what life is like for the other, we come pretty darn close. While I have spina bifida, Eliana has two children (not one, but two), and both were born with Down Syndrome.

 

Above photo courtesy of ElianaTardio.com

 

If there’s anyone who I imagine doing more to remove the stigma from life with a disability, it’s Eliana. Whether it’s relating a funny story about her children’s wittiness, or posting a beautiful photo on Facebook for all to see of a tender moment between the two siblings, Eliana is constantly showing the world that her life while raising two kids with Down Syndrome, while at times challenging, is wonderful. 

Her compelling words of love, hope, true beauty, wisdom, and universal compassion challenge her readers to view “disability” in a different way– a positive way.

While I am becoming more and more honest with my own readers, I’m a lifelong cynic when it comes to “letting people in.” But with Eliana, I can’t help but always have my guard down, because to me, she reminds me of my own Mami– beautiful, compassionate, and funny, and fiercely devoted to the well-being of her children.

An incredibly gifted and bilingual writer, Eliana is a contributor for various online publications and Web sites, including BabbleMamiverse, Voxxi, About.com and Blogs de Mamás. She has also worked for the Early Steps program, and for Healthy Start Southwest Florida as an Educational Outreach Liaison.

Lisa and I admiring Eliana's passion and conviction as she speaks during the Blogging for a Cause panel at Hispanicize 2012.

 

As is hopefully the case with most unsung heroes, her community has indeed taken notice of her work. Eliana has been interviewed for several news publications, TV news outlets, and blogs, such as Mamás Latinas, Al Rojo Vivo con María Celeste, Univision’s Viva la Familia, and for Telemundo’s Madres Triunfadoras, to name just a few accolades. And this past May, I was honored to stand alongside her and our mutual friend, Lisa Quiñones-Fontánez of AutismWonderland.com, as together, we spoke up during the White House briefing that was the highlight of LATISM’s Top Blogueras Retreat. It was truly one of the most inspiring moments of my life! This was one of just a few times we’ve met in person, but when I do see her in person, it’s like picking up right where I left off…like meeting with a sister!

 

Eliana speaking passionately about special education at the White House, while Lisa and I (again!) look on in amazement!

 

For these and many other reasons, I have chosen to nominate Eliana for the Yahoo! Women Who Shine campaign. I can’t imagine a better nominee for this campaign, and I was so honored and humbled when she accepted my nomination.

The Yahoo! Women Who Shine campaign aims to “celebrate the women out there who are blazing new trails, touching lives or are just being amazing every single day.” That sounds exactly like Eliana to me, so please be sure to vote for her, and she might have the chance to win $10,000 to help kids like her beloved Emir and Ayelén continue to shine on. Please vote for Eliana here! 

To find out more about Yahoo! Women Who Shine, please visit this link.

Please “like” the Yahoo! Shine Facebook page here to stay up-to-date with great content.

 

 

Also, don’t forget to Tweet using the #womenwhoshine hashtag and visit the site to nominate other fabulous women who rock!

 

Disclosure:  I was compensated for this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own. To read more posts on this topic, click here.

Hispanicize 2012 Recap Part 2 – Cruisin’, Cubans, Cronies & Croquetas with #ChevyHispz!

As my body and mind seeks to recover from all the fun and excitement of Hispanicize 2012, and I work to keep up with the connections I’ve made, I’m finding a lot of merit in my idea of compartmentalizing my experiences into separate posts. The truth is, I honestly couldn’t consolidate it all into one blog post if I tried.

So alas, here’s the second installment of my Hispanicize 2012 series!

On the first official day of the conference, Tuesday, April 10th, it was very exciting to begin seeing friends from all over the country pouring into the JW Marriott Marquis. I reconnected with many old friends from LATISM, NAHJ, and also from many local organizations I’m familiar with.

 

I started off the day at the Non-Profit Case Study: Using Social Media to Deliver Health Messages to Engage Latina Moms and Families" presentation, with Carla Briceño of Bixal and Lilliam Acosta-Sánchez of March of Dimes' nacersano.org.

 

One especially interesting session I started the day off with was with Carla Briceño of Bixal and Lillam Acosta Sánchez of nacersano.org, the Latino outreach branch of March of Dimes. I had the honor of being a co-panelist with Lilliam at LATISM 2011 in November. The information they gave during the session really highlighted key ways that organizations, whether non-profit or not, can engage with the Latino community and get their message across effectively using online channels.

During the panel, Lilliam actually called on me to explain folic acid’s role in helping to prevent spina bifida! It caught me completely off-guard. Fortunately for me, I can talk about this, even in my sleep. 😉

 

An amazing, Caprese-style appetizer at lunch!

A great turkey wrap. Because ALL good food deserves to be photographed!

 

Right after lunch, I ran into one of my good friends, who until that moment, had been online-only– Eva Smith, legendary co-founder of Latina Mom Bloggers!

With Eva Smith of Latina Mom Bloggers. What an awesome moment! :)

 

Then I was distracted by coming across even more of my cronies– Cristy Clavijo-KishLibby Juliá-Vázquez, Lynn Ponder, Fernando Rodríguez, Andy Checo, and a new acquaintance, Albert Collazo (Albert and I became fast friends, though!).

 

(From L to R): Me, Cristy, Libby, Albert, Lynn, Fernando and Andy. Priceless pic! :)

 

Getting my badge always makes it more official!! :D

 

Perhaps one of the most invaluable things for me was being able to personally thank the people who made it possible for me to attend Hispanicize. I loved meeting Katherine Johnson!

With Katherine Johnson, one of Hispanicize 2012's organizers. She's so awesome!!

 

Ever since we met during BlogHer ’10 in New York City, Blanca Stella Mejía and I have been like blogger besties! To say that she has been an inspiration, a mentor and like a sister to me would be a vast understatement. She has been one of the most supportive people for me in the social media world, and offline, she’s the best!

Blanca was one of the first blogueras to interview me for her own blog, MiCaminar.com. She, Jeannette Kaplun of Todobebé, and Maria De Los Angeles of Sex and the Beach are no doubt my best friends in South Florida!

 

With Blanca. I can't imagine what my life would be like without knowing her! :)

 

The next part of my day was spent cruisin’ around in a Chevy Volt, which is an electric-powered car. It will use electric power for the first 40 miles, then the battery takes over. The Chevy Landmark Tour was one of the most clever features of Hispanicize 2012, as it took attendees on not only a scenic tour of Downtown Miami, but it also engaged all the senses.

 

With Arturo Villar, Publisher of Hispanic Market Weekly, just before we each loaded into vehicles for the Chevy Landmark Tour!

 

From the moment my parents and I jumped into the Chevy Volt, it was a pretty smooth ride!

The Car. A brand-new Chevy Volt.

Juan, our driver/tour guide, was great! He's from Colombia-- I love that Latin America really represented.

 

I was quite fascinated by some of the Chevy Volt’s high-tech features.

 

This. Is. Awesome.

 

The tour took us to the Little Havana area to see the Cuban Memorial Plaza, where cubanos who had been exiled from Cuba and who fought in the Bay of Pigs invasion are remembered with reverence.

In Cuban Memorial Plaza. :)

 

During my excursion in Little Havana, I got to meet a group of Cubans who are protesting the the incarceration of political prisoners in their native land.

Even if my interaction with them was very brief, I felt the energy of their cause, and it certainly ignited a fire in my activist’s heart. :)

 

My new amigos. May God keep them safe and guide their efforts in the name of justice.

 

But visiting Little Havana wasn’t all politics and patriotism. I saw a few more great sights and grabbed a bite at the famous Café Versailles.

 

At a very famous intersection: Tamiami Trail ("Calle Ocho") with Cuban Memorial Boulevard.

 

They really roll out the welcome mat for visitors!
Love this architecture!

 

I really identified with Miami's rich heritage of revolutionaries and activists.

 

No visit to the most famous Cuban neighborhood in Miami would be complete without a little Latino flavor! The tour stopped at Café Versailles– where tour participants were treated to coladas (tiny shots of espresso) and croquetas– both staples in the Miami diet!

 

:)

 

How exciting!!

 

I'm oh-so-excited about trying one of these croquetas!

 

Okay, maybe MORE than one...try five or six!?

 

I need something to wash down the fried food explosion in my mouth...how about a coladita?

 

Okay, I'm sold! Can I get something dulce to go?

 

Too. Many. Choices. But I went with my usual, a quesito, a sweet, creamy cheese-filled pastry. Never fails!

 

I had sooo much fun cruisin' in this Chevy Volt. Here I am, between Juans-- the one on the left dropped our Chevy Traverse off at home to use for the week, and the one on the right was our tour driver!

 

Still need to explore more of this beautiful, diverse city!

 

Thanks so much, Chevy, for the awesome! memories!

 

There’s much, much more to come soon on Holdin’ Out for a Hero about Hispanicize, including a review of my panel discussion, Blogging for a Cause, with Lisa Quiñones Fontánez, Eliana Tardío Hurtado, and Chantilly Patiño. Keep checking back for updates, and don’t forget to also visit Espresso con Leche for bilingual content and more photos!

 

–Laurita 😉

Hispanicize 2012 Recap Part 1: Mojitos, Cortaditos, & Connections

“A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.”

–John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 

 

To put last week’s experiences at Hispanicize 2012 into words would be impossible. But, with the help of pictures, some videos my friends made, and some serious link love, I hope to do this fabulous event some justice!

**NOTE:  If you’ve posted a recap of Hispanicize 2012 on your own blog(s), please be sure to link to it (them) at the end of this post! Yes, if you have more than one post on different blogs, you can share them all! :)

 

On early Monday afternoon, my family, along with fellow bloguera Myrah Duque, set off on a road trip to Miami in the brand-new, 2012 Chevy Traverse that Chevrolet was so gracious to let us borrow for the week!

 

Look closely...Papi simply couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of this brand-new 2012 Chevy Traverse! :D

 

I couldn't wait to crawl into the backseat!

 

Downtown Miami lookin' good from the backseat of a Chevy!

 

I had barely made it through the doors of the JW Marriott Marquis, when the goodies started pouring in! (¡Gracias, Chevy!)

Upon my check-in at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, I was handed my Welcome Bag from Chevy!!

 

I was really grateful to José Martino, who made my stay even more fun with our random conversations in the lobby.

 

This is José. José is awesome. Thank you, José. :)

 

This hotel was on a totally different playing field from other hotels. Everything at the JW Marriott Marquis was orchestrated to ensure the most enjoyable experience possible.

 

These gentlemen didn't just bring up our luggage. You'll see why I liked them so much in a second!

 

The bellhops gave me a full demonstration on how to use the Illy espresso machine that comes with each room!

 

I'm in love! Check out the hashtag I came up with: #coffeeporn

 

Best. Cup. Ever.

 

I'm seriously so happy. Or high. Maybe both.

 

THIS is what I loved most about our room-- the killer view!

 

After spending a few hours gawking at the view from my room, it was time to get ready for the Welcome Dinner with Chevy, where I would meet representatives of GM Chevy, as well as finally meet two other blogueras I’ve been in touch with for a while, Joscelyn Ramos Campbell of Mami of Multiples, and Jennifer Hutcheson of Mami 2 Mommy!

 

Ready for a lovely evening with the Chevy ladies!

 

Needless to say, my fellow blogueras and I felt VERY welcome from the get-go!

 

The #ChevyHispz (Chevy at Hispanicize) familia (clockwise from left): Stephanie Camargo-Ruiz, Jennifer Hutcheson, Alma Guajardo-Crossley, Ashli Bobo, Carolina Rincon-Sato, Joscelyn Ramos-Campbell, Araba Dowell, and me. :)

 

My first night at Miami could not kick off without a mojito! ;)

 

We were treated to some fancy appetizers before the main course.

 

Even MORE appetizers...

And, la piece de resistance...steak! :D

 

And finally...the dessert. It was to die for! :)

 

The best part of the night wasn’t even the food and drinks– it was the fact that I was able to talk to the Chevy ladies about just how important the spina bifida cause is. I look forward to the possibility of partnering with them on future health-related initiatives, especially those related to the Latino community.

There are more Hispanicize 2012 updates coming, but I really have to work on recovering from the cold I caught in Miami. Argh.

Stick around– the best is yet to come. 😉

In the meantime, please link to your recap posts below!

 

–Laurita