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Tito Munoz: Rising young conductor leads Omaha Symphony Chamber concert

July 22, 2012 1 comment

Here’s a mini-profile of the highly regarded symphony orchestra conductor Tito Munoz I did a couple years ago for El Perico newspaper.  The piece appeared on the eve of an Omaha Symphony Chamber concert he led.  I interviewed Munoz by phone.  He couldn’t have been nicer.

 

 

 

 

 

Tito Munoz:

Rising young conductor leads Omaha Symphony Chamber concert

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico

 

At 27 Tito Munoz is riding a fast track in the classical music world’s conducting ranks.

This guest conductor for a Jan. 8 Omaha Symphony Chamber strings showcase recently completed a three-year gig as Cleveland Orchestra assistant conductor. He’s just been named music director of the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy in Lorraine, France. In addition to performing its own season, the symphony accompanies the Opera national de Lorraine.

Speaking by phone, Munoz, a New York City native of Colombian and Ecuadorian heritage, acknowledges he’s come far in a short time.

“Things have moved very fast, yes,” he says. “I think it’s like anything, it’s a combination of perseverance and mind set.  And a big part of it is luck actually — of having the right opportunities presented at the right time and having the right experience level to really get the most out of them.”

Growing up he was not exposed to classical music until middle school. When an older cousin began violin lessons, Tito studied too.

“Something felt really right. I really took to it, and the teacher really saw that right away and he was the one that recommended me to this Juilliard music advancement program,” says Munoz.

By the time Tito saw his first live orchestra concert, he was hooked.

“It was very memorable for me. All of a sudden I was seeing what that really is, and I was able to latch onto something. Before I had started the violin I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as I did then.”

The free Saturday Juilliard program targeted Latino and African-American students.

“I really appreciate it without a doubt because it was the beginning of everything for me. It gave me these really wonderful opportunities. It is about exposure, it is about giving access. ”

He borrowed the full orchestra score of West Side Story from the Juilliard library to help inform a production of the play at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

“I was concert master of the orchestra. The conductor of the show saw that I was taking initiative and that I was interested. He gave me some opportunities to do rehearsals and then eventually he let me conduct one of the shows.”

Munoz continued showing initiative at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, and summers at the French Woods Festival in upstate New York.

“I wanted to learn more, I wanted to know more, I wanted to be more prepared, and I loved it, it was just something I enjoyed doing.”

Conducting became his niche.

“For me that actually has more to do with leadership then anything else. Being in charge and taking the responsibility and being that person, that one sort of pillar, I enjoy that. I knew that’s where my passion was.”

He says he made the most of the flexibility and freedom Queens College offered: “I made it my own and took as much I could from it.”

Advanced training came at the prestigious American Academy of Conducting in Aspen, Colo. and the National Conducting Institute in Washington D.C., where he studied with masters like Leonard Slatkin. He made his professional conducting debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2006. That same year he became assistant conductor of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

Today, he guest conducts across America and Europe.

His Spanish surname brings offers of conducting Latin concerts, and he says while “there’s certainly lots of Latin music I love doing and I certainly come from a Hispanic family, that doesn’t mean I do Latin music better than anybody else. I like to think I just do music well, whatever it is.” He doesn’t want “to be pigeonholed into that kind of genre and only be called for those sorts of things.”

The Omaha Symphony concert he’s conducting does include music by a Spaniard, Manuel de Falla, along with works by Riegger, Dvorak and Haydn.

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Justice for Our Neighbors: Treating the immigrant as neighbor


 

As long as immigrants are viewed as The Other and thus seen as apart from rather than as a part of there will be a need for programs like Justice for Our Neighbors, a faith-based response to the extra challenges immigrants face in a nation that’s not always immigrant-friendly despite being built by immigrants.  This is a story about some of the efforts of the Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska office led by Emiliano Lerda.

 

 

©tulipanagroup.com

 

 

Justice for Our Neighbors: Treating the immigrant as neighbor

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published iin El Perico

 

Welcoming the stranger in our midst is the mandate of Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska, a small nonprofit that holds monthly clinics for low income immigrants in need of legal counsel. The organization’s largely new staff held a March 25 open house.

The clinics, offered in both Omaha and Columbus Neb., provide a friendly, safe haven for individuals, couples and families stressed by uncertain legal status. For some, it may be their only recourse to try and avoid deportation. Potential complications are many. Cases can drag on for years.

Situations in which there’s abuse, illness, or poverty present, for example, make the need for action more urgent.

JFON staff offer free legal services, education and advocacy to help guide clients through the complex immigration maze. Its in-house attorney and legal assistants provide consultation. Referrals are made to community service providers as needed to address health care or employment or economic issues, for example.

Volunteers facilitate the clinics and extend the welcome mat by variously conducting the intake process, acting as interpreters, supervising children and serving food.

The agency’s part of the national Justice for Our Neighbors network the United Methodist Church on Relief Committee launched in 1999 in response to ever more complicated and stringent immigration laws. JFON clinics operate cooperatively with local churches. The Omaha clinic’s held at Grace United Methodist Church, 2418 E St., next door to the JFON-Nebraska office, 2414 E St.

The Nebraska chapter’s recently undergone a major turnover. Emiliano Lerda came on as JFON-Nebraska executive director in January. Charles “Shane” Ellison joined as lead attorney in February. The other two full-time staffers are also relatively new — office manager/legal assistant Darling Handlos and paralegal Shaun Downey.

Originally from Argentina, Lerda, 30, knows the immigrant experience first-hand. Now a U.S, citizen, he was drawn to America’s Midwest because its agricultural environment reminded him of his native Cordoba province. At the University of Northern Iowa he became the first international student elected student body president. After obtaining his law degree from Drake Law School he worked as government relations manager for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

“When I got here what really grabbed me is the fact this community here has very similar values to the community I grew up in,” he says. “I love working with farmers and I hope at some point in the future I will have the chance again to work with farmers.”

He says JFON-Nebraska allows him to remain in the Midwest while serving the community of newcomers he feels a deep connection to.

“I’m an immigrant myself. I went through the process. I know how difficult it is. I received a lot in life through people that helped me without any self-interest. For years now I have been passionate about giving back to the community. I could not ignore the needs of people that are here in similar shoes that I wore, that are new to this community, that are far away from their family and friends.

“God gave me the talents and skills and the background, and so I thought it was a great fit for me to continue to make a difference by helping people that want to be a part of this community, that want to contribute to this community but cannot because their illegal status is stopping them.”

 

 

 

Lerda

Emiliano Lerda

 

 

 

At its core the JFON-Nebraska mission is to help undocumented immigrants comply with the law and become legal residents, says Lerda.

“Some people may be living in constant fear because their status is not legal,” he says.

Many are separated from family members.

Not everyone has a case though, Lerda stresses.

“Immigration provides very few doors for people to come through, and if you don’t fit within those doors, I don’t care how hard a worker you are or how much you want to do the right thing, you’re just not going to be able to.”

Limited staffing restricts the number of clients served per clinic to 10. Clients are seen on an appointment-only basis.

Lerda’s frustrated that the demand for immigration legal services far outstrips JFON resources. However, JFON does refer to two sister agencies — Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services — that provide similar services at a nominal fee.

He says his agency is currently cleaning out a large backlog of old cases to better focus on new cases. JFON annually handles 300 cases. By year’s end he hopes to pass the bar or receive accreditation as an immigration law attorney.

The polarizing issue of immigration, he says, is best addressed by education, including JFON-Nebraska workshops for service providers and others in the community. To him, educating people about the benefits of being legal is both practical and neighborly.

“If we don’t help people that can be helped to be here legally, so they can go to school and they can make a contribution economically or civically, then I think I’m failing to do my part. That’s why I feel like God gave me this opportunity and I have to do it.”

For a clinic appointment, call 402-898-1349 the first day of the month.

 

El Puente: Attempting to bridge divide between grassroots community and the system

July 22, 2012 5 comments

When people refer to “the grassroots” in communities they are generally describing average men women busy living their lives, working jobs, raising families, and thus mostly disconnected from the official city apparatus, such as law enforcement, in place to protect and serve them.  This is especially true of inner city neighborhoods with a high proportion of residents for whom English is a second language.  There’s often a built-in distrust of The System.  One attempt to bridge he divide in South Omaha’s barrios is El Puente, a joint effort by a local minister, Rev. Alberto Silva, and a local journalist, Ben Salazar, with deep ties to the Latino community there.  This is their story.

 

 

 

photo
Grace United Methodist Church, ©photo by The Bouncing Czech

 

 

El Puente: Attempting to bridge dvide between grassroots community and the system

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico

 

Experience has taught two longtime South Omaha community activists that a gulf exists between some residents and those assigned to protect and serve them.

Nuestro Mundo publisher Ben Salazar and Grace United Methodist Church pastor Alberto Silva recognize the need for a confidential, community-based advisory service that operates independently of police or government.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out there is this fear on the part of many immigrants and Spanish speakers to come forward and speak to the police when an issue arises, so we know there’s a void there that we hope to bridge,” said Salazar.

That reality led Salazar and Rev. Silva to form El Puente or The Bridge as a conduit that links community members with professionals. A March 29 press conference at Grace announced the nonprofit, a companion project to the church’s Latino empowerment outreach program, La Casa Del Pueblo. Both are based at the church, 2418 E Street.

The men say many things explain why individuals remain silent rather than contact officials: a person’s illegal or undocumented status; fear/distrust of authority; language barriers; and unfamiliarity with the social service, law enforcement, justice systems.

Salazar and Silva say they and other volunteers staffing El Puente can directly assist inquirers or refer them to experts.

Already, Silva said El Puente’s fielded complaints of racial profiling, discrimination and domestic violence. Tips about criminal activity are welcome. Whenever possible, a person’s identity is kept private. As necessary, information is passed onto authorities or agencies. In many cases El Puente connects people to social and/or legal services.

 

 

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Rev. Alberto Silva

 

 

 

Journalists and ministers don’t often work together, but this newsman and preacher saw they could do more together than apart.

“Since we both worked almost exclusively with the Latino community in different ways we knew that if we merged our experiences together in this effort it would be beneficial to the community because we know the void exists,” said Salazar.

Both want the community and police to view each other as allies, not adversaries.

“The whole thing for me is I want to see collaboration between the police and the Latino community,” said Silva. “The domestic violence issue is very prevalent right now, but there’s such a fear.”

As illustration, he said a young Latina at the press conference testified she did not report her former partner’s domestic violence against her because he was a U.S. citizen and she was not. Rather than jeopardize her residency status, her abuse went unspoken. Silva said the woman went on to say she and others in such predicaments would welcome a resource like El Puente.

Silva has a sense there’s a big problem out there. “I have been dealing with a lot of domestic violence cases. People keep calling with these types of issues, especially immigrant women,” he said. Ideally, he said, El Puente can link men or women or families to counseling or shelters or other assistance they need.

The need for a discreet sounding board may be greater than ever because the anti-immigrant climate imposes a chilling effect on people volunteering or reporting things, say Salazar and Silva. They feel the recent “green card” incident targeting South High athletes and fans was a symptom of racist fervor that “gives license” to prejudice.

“My opinion is that discrimination has been holding on fast like Jim Crow for years, maybe just not as blatantly as now,” said Salazar.

“It just went underground for a little bit,” said Silva. “It wasn’t socially acceptable to display it or talk about it like it is now again.”

Silva said soon after El Puente’s launch, several people reported loved ones being detained after traffic stops. Those kinds of incidents, he and Salazar say, diminish trust and discourage some Latinos from expressing their concerns or asserting their rights.

“How are they going to have that trust to come forward when they hear that people are getting stopped on the Interstate and being taken directly to the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) office and held for deportation?” Silva asked. “People are disgusted with the graffiti problem. They would love to come forward but how are they going to go to the police when you have this immigration enforcement mentality permeating the thought of the immigrant community?”

The absence of an Omaha police auditor office is a barrier to people reporting possible law enforcement misconduct, say El Puente leaders.

Southeast precinct captain Kathy Gonzalez acknowledges that “sometimes people don’t feel comfortable coming directly to the police department.” She endorses El Puente, terming its bridge or mediator role “a huge asset” and “a working partnership between the police and the community. She added, “Sometimes people don’t know where to turn…so it’s just one more step that can assist us with community outreach and it’s one more place they can go to get connected to resources.”

Retired Omaha Police Department officer Virgil Patlan sees El Puente, which he volunteers with, as “an extension” of the community policing efforts of the Nebraska Latino Peace Officers Association he headed up. “We can work with people in ways the police can’t,” he said. “It’s just better to have someone not in uniform that the community may feel more comfortable with. He frees up the police also.”

Patlan, Silva and Salazar say they have ample street credibility but “building trust” is an ongoing process. Silva said it’s critical people know what they say will be held in strictest confidence. Patlan said he and his El Puente compadres each bring something unique to the task: “We’re not from the same mold and yet we all complement each other in certain ways. We just love the community, there’s no doubt about that.” Each boasts extensive community connections.

Despite not being immigrants themselves, Salazar said they don’t feel “completely removed” “because our parents and grandparents were a part of that experience. And it’s not purely an immigrant experience per se we’re responding to. It is a Latino experience of living in this country. Discrimination is not limited to legal status. Often times even Latinos who are second-third generation born here are treated as outsiders, as immigrants, as not fully a part of the Anglo society.”

El Puente contact numbers are: (Silva) 650-0848, (Salazar) 731-6210 and (La Casa) 614-2820.

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