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Perez finds home away from home in York


Perez finds home away from home in York

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in March 2018 issue of El Perico (el-perico.com)

 

It seems like destiny now to Brianna Perez, the ex-York (Neb.) College softball standout and recent Nebraska Greats Foundation recipient. She dreamed of playing on a national stage. Instead, she eded up 1,500 miles from home at tiny, private York in southeast Neb., where she overcame injury to become a diamond legend. Then, when more hard times hit, she discovered an entire community, even some strangers, had her back.

Perez was a star high school competitor in her native Madera, California. She suffered an ACL tear as a junior when, covering second base, her cleats got stuck in the dirt and her left knee torqued. She came back strong her senior year. But missing time didn’t net the exposure she needed to land a major college athletic scholarship.

York entered the picture because her aunt Roni (Arellano) Miller played there – graduating in 2001. She’d been a Madera softball star herself. She, too, dreamed of Division I glory before finding her destiny at York. She took Perez on her campus visit and was happy when her niece enrolled on scholarship there. But the homesick Perez lasted only one semester.

“I was closed-minded and not open to the culture of York College. It was different from what I was used to,” Perez said.

She returned home to be near family and friends. She attended Reedley Junior College, where she played ball two years. But leaving York the way she did never felt right. She pined to get back. An unexpected opportunity to do that arose when Miller took the York head coaching job and called to recruit her niece. who had two years eligibility left, to come play for her.

“I was given the opportunity continue my education and softball career, so, I took a leap of faith and decided to go back,” Perez said. “That was the best decision I ever made in my life. I got more involved and made friends I will cherish the rest of my life.

I’m really happy with the way things worked out. I definitely think  everything happens for a reason. The relationships you build at a small school like York College are things you can’t really replace or get anywhere else. I think everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Having her aunt as her coach helped.

“What I learned from her was not only how to be a better player but how to be a better person. I really appreciate that because I use it now in my everyday life.”

Miller’s husband, Kenny Miller, assists coaching the team and Brianna helps out, too.

“Roni and Kenny are two of the biggest influences in my life. I live with them and help coach with them. They’ve been huge mentors. They’ve helped me grow as a person. If I have questions about life and need advice, I know i can always go to them.”

Perez needed support when, as a York junior, she had the same ACL injury she endured in high school. This time, she made a shoestring catch and as she came up to throw the runner out at home, she stepped in a hole and the same ligament twisted and tore.

“Having already been through it once, I knew what to expect. I learned it was just a set-back to reaching my goals and that I had to work twice as hard. I also learned to be mentally tough because there were many days when the pain was too much and I didn’t think I could do it. But with the help of family, friends, teammates and coaches, I was able to push through.

“I think it has made me more mentally tough for difficult situations in life.”

Just as before, she came back strong. For her 2016 senior campaign she played outfield and batted .433 with an .803 slugging percentage. Her 68 hits included 22 doubles and 12 home runs. She drove in 55 runs. She became the Panthers’ first softball All-American.

Then she got tested again when she fell behind paying medical bills from the knee surgery she underwent. A collection agency threatened legal action.

“It was scary and embarrassing. I didn’t really know what to do.”

She depleted her few resources traveling home to be with her mother, who was fighting pancreatic cancer. “I worked three jobs just so I could afford to go home.”

Then her car broke down. “It was a pretty tough year.”

That’s when she learned about the nonprofit Nebraska Greats Foundation that helps ex-athletes in need.

“It’s been such a blessing in my life,” Perez said of the foundation, which paid off her debts.

Her mother has made a full recovery.

Perez views everything that’s happened as a gift.

“It was completely worth it. It’s made me into the person I am today.”

She left after graduating only to return for her master’s in Organizational and Global Leadership. She compiled a 4.0 GPA. She hopes for a human services career.

“I’m passionate about helping the less fortunate and homeless. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with that.”

She works in admissions at York, where one day her younger sisters, also softball phenoms, may follow her.

“I tell them all the time, ‘Don’t let anything hold you back.’ I showed them that it can be done. They’re capable of doing that and so much more. They might have offers to play softball at bigger schools but,” Perez said, it’s possible” they could continue the family legacy there. “They’ve come out to visit and they like it a lot. I’ll support them in whatever they want to do.”

Perez is enjoying coaching.

“It’s really cool to see players accomplish something they didn’t think they were capable of. When that happens, you see their confidence go up and carry over into everything else they do. That’s satisfying.”

Though she may not stay in York, she said, “It will always be a little home away from home for me. I’ve been given so many opportunities through York College.”

Lea más del trabajo de Leo Adam Biga en leoadambiga.com.

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KM3 reporter Maya Saenz living her dream

May 6, 2018 1 comment

KM3 reporter Maya Saenz living her dream

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico (el-perico.com)

KMTV Channel 3 news reporter Maya Saenz is living a dream that started as a girl in rural Colorado watching Telemundo Denver and KUSA NBC Channel 9.

Saenz ended up working at both stations before joining KM3 in 2016.

This youngest of three sisters is the only one not born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where the girls made tradition-rich  summer immersions.

Spurred by her immigrant parents’ (her father’s an entrepreneur and her mother’s a teacher) emphasis on education, Maya and her older sisters, Dulce and Nora, graduated from the University of Denver to pursue professional careers.

The family endured a life-changing event when Maya’s undocumented father got deported when she was 12. They moved to El Paso-Juarez to be near the border.

Saenz said, “We had a place in El Paso, but we spent 80 percent of the time in Juarez (on the Mexican side). I crossed the border every single day to go to school in the U.S. because I was too Americanized to go to Mexican schools.”

“My mother was too Americanized to teach in Mexico.”

Saenz didn’t let her unsettled status limit her from student activities.

“As inconvenient as this border barrier was I still had to prepare myself for college.”

When the move first occurred, she said, “I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to us. Looking back, i think it’s one of the best things. Our parents didn’t want us to lose those Mexican values. They wanted us to see them daily and the life we could have had had we stayed in Mexico.”

Having a father barred from the U.S. personally informs the immigration separation stories she covers today.

“l’ve lived it. I feel I can definitely relate when I interview people. That experience made me understanding of situations and circumstances that people from all paths of life face. It made me conscious that we have no idea what people are going through at home.”

Her father’s “restarted life in Mexico,” where he has his own business.

“It’s definitely been hard not having him here. You want your parents there for everything you accomplish.”

The Saenzes do stay connected.

“We’re a very close family. We’re on group text every day. I call my parents every single night on my way home from work. My father knows my day to day life, he knows what stories I do, he’s able to watch me on the evening news. He knows what makes me happy. Just the other day, he texted me, my sisters and my mom, saying, ‘I love you all and I live proudly for you four.'”

She finds relief talking to family after filing emotionally wrenching stories in which someone’s lost a loved one.

“You don’t want to go home and stay in that state of mind. Communicating with family helps to kind of shake it off.”

Though she’s clearly found her calling, in college Saenz needed assurance TV was the right path.

“I knew I had the desire and the drive,” she said, “but I didn’t know realistically if a young Mexican-American girl was going to be able to make it. I had this professor, Laressa Watlington, who had been an anchor for Univision. I grabbed onto her and bugged her about how do I get this and how do I do that. She opened doors for me.

“We actually ended up working together at Telemundo Denver after I graduated. I’m still very close with her.  She’s definitely a mentor in my life.”

The University of Denver made sense since her sisters preceded her there.

“Being Mexican-American, family is everything. Having to move away from my parents in El Paso, it was very important I be surrounded by my sisters during this culture shock experience. Having my sisters there really helped me get assimilated. I really needed that family support, leadership and guidance.”

Internships and jobs prepared her for her fast-track rise.

“I knew I just had to hustle and graduate and become successful like my sisters did.”

Moving forward, she said, “I definitely want to stay in news and to tell people’s stories. I just hope my platform gets bigger.”

Her career began in Spanish-language television. She set her sights on the English-speaking market in order to present Hispanic stories not being told there.

Upon finding she was “the only brown person in the newsroom” at KM3, she said, “I was like, wow. what a scary challenge but also what a great opportunity.”

She doesn’t like being the obligatory brown girl striking a blow for inclusivisty.

“Sometimes people don’t even pay attention to what you’re saying or the story – they just see you.”

On the other hand, her skin color and Spanish fluency allow her to get stories others can’t.

“I’m able to talk to people who may even know English but don’t trust other reporters. They trust me because of my background. As much as I’d like people to recognize me just for my work, I own being the Hispanic reporter.”

“Coming to Nebraska, I did not honestly think I was going to cover as many Latinos as I have. I feel like I’ve contributed to covering positive stories from the Hispanic community to where they feel they have someone they can count on.”

Her community outreach sees her emcee Latino Center of the Midlands, Women on a Mission for Change and Cinco de Mayo events, among others.

She knows young Latinos watch her with admiration the same way she did her TV news idols.

“I’m very conscious of the role I’m playing. In public, I make a point talking to Latino youth to them know, yeah, I’m a Latino reporting the news, and you can, too.”

Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/MayaSaenzNew.

Gabriela Martinez: A heart for humanity and justice for all

March 8, 2018 2 comments

Gabriela Martinez: A heart for humanity and justice for all

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in a February 2018 issue of El Perico ( http://el-perico.com/ )

 

Like many young Omaha professionals, Gabriela Martinez is torn between staying and spreading her wings elsewhere.

The 2015 Creighton University social work graduate recently left her position at Inclusive Communities to embark on an as yet undefined new path. This daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants once considered becoming an immigration lawyer and crafting new immigration policy. She still might pursue that ambition, but for now she’s looking to continue the diversity and inclusion work she’s already devoted much of her life to.

Unlike most 24-year-olds. Martinez has been a social justice advocate and activist since childhood. She grew up watching her parents assist the Salvadoran community, first in New York, where her family lived, and for the last two decades in Omaha.

Her parents escaped their native country’s repressive regime for the promise of America. They were inspired by the liberation theology of archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed for speaking out against injustice. Once her folks settled in America, she said, they saw a need to help Salvadoran emigres and refugees,

“That’s why they got involved. They wanted to make some changes, to try to make it easier for future generations and to make it easier for new immigrants coming into this country.”

She recalls attending marches and helping out at information fairs.

In Omaha, her folks founded Asociación Cívica Salvadoreña de Nebraska, which works with Salvadoran consulates and partners with the Legal immigrant Center (formerly Justice for Our Neighbors). A recent workshop covered preparing for TPS (Temporary Protected Status) ending in 2019.

“They work on getting people passports, putting people in communication with Salvadoran officials. If someone is incarcerated, they make sure they know their rights and they’re getting access to who they need to talk to.”

Martinez still helps with her parents’ efforts, which align closely with her own heart.

“I’m very proud of my roots,” she said. “My parents opened so many doors for me. They got me involved. They instilled some values in me that stuck with me. Seeing how hard they work makes me think I’m not doing enough. so I’m always striving to do more and to be the best version of myself that I can be because that’s what they’ve worked their entire lives for.”

Martinez has visited family in El Salvador, where living conditions and cultural norms are in stark contrast to the States.

She attended an Inclusive Communities camp at 15, then became a delegate and an intern, before being hired as a facilitator for the nonprofit’s Table Talk series around issues of racism and inequity. She enjoyed “planting seeds for future conversations” and “giving a voice to people who think they don’t have one.”

Inclusive Communities fostered personal growth.

“People I went to camp with are now on their way to becoming doctors and lawyers and now they’re giving back to the community. I’m most proud of the youth I got to work with because they taught me as much as I taught them and now I see them out doing the work and doing it a thousand times better than I do.

“I love seeing how far they’ve come. Individuals who were quiet when I first met them are now letting their voices be heard.”

Martinez feels she’s made a difference.

“I love seeing the impact I left on the community – how many individuals I got to facilitate in front of and programs I got to develop.”

She’s worked on Native American reservations, participated in social justice immersion trips and conferences and supported rallies.

“I’m most proud when I see other Latinos doing the work and how passionate they are in being true to themselves and what’s important to them. There’s a lot of strong women who have taken the time to invest in me. Someone I really look up to for her work in politics is Marta Nieves (Nebraska Democratic Party Latino Caucus Chair). I really appreciate Marta’s history working in this arena.”

Martinez is encouraged that Omaha-transplant Tony Vargas has made political inroads, first on the Omaha School Board, and now in the Nebraska Legislature.

As for her own plans, she said, “I’m being very intentional about making sure my next step is a good fit and that i’m wanting to do the work not because of the money but because it’s for a greater good.”

Though her immediate family is in Omaha, friends have pursued opportunities outside Nebraska and she may one day leave to do the same.

“I’d like to see what I can accomplish in Omaha, but I need a bigger city and I need to be around more diversity and people from different backgrounds and cultures that I can learn from. I think Omaha is too segregated.”

Like many millennials, she feels there are too many barriers to advancement for people of color here.

“This community is still heavily dominated by non-people of color.”

Wherever she resides, she said “empowering and advocating” for underserved people “to be heard in different spaces”.will be core to her work.

Despite gains made in diversity and inclusion, she feels America still has a long way to go. She’s seen too many workplaces let racism-sexism slide and too many environments where individuals reporting discrimination  are told they’re “overreacting” or “too ‘PC.'” That kind of dismissive attitude, she said, cannot stand and she intends to be a voice for those would be silenced.

Filmmaker explores a Latina whose story defies all conventions; Maria Agui Carter to speak after El Museo Latino screening of her film “Rebel”

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

A hybrid documentary employing dramatic elements explores the fascinatiing story of Loreta Valezquez, a Cuban immigrant who posed as a man to fight and spy for both sides in the American Civil War.  Noted filmmaker Maria Agui Carter will discuss her film Rebel after a 7 p.m. screening at El Museo Latino in Omaha on Sept. 25.  This is my Reader (http://www.thereader.com/) story about what drew Carter to the project and what she’s discoverd and surmised about Loreta, a woman she greatly admires.  The film has been airing on PBS.

NOTE: Filmmaker Maria Agui Carter is pictured in the second photogaph below.

 


 

 

 

Filmmaker explores a Latina whose story defies all conventions; Maria Agui Carter to speak after El Museo Latino screening of her film “Rebel”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in The Reader (http://www.thereader.com/)

 

Award-winning filmmaker Maria Agui Carter has much to say about her new film Rebel, the story of a Latina who posed as a man to fight and spy in the American Civil War. Agui Carter will discuss the film, which recently aired as a PBS special, and its protagonist, Cuban immigrant Loreta Velazquez, following a 7 p.m. screening on September 25 at El Museo Latino, 4701 South 25th Street.

An immigrant herself, Agui Carter is an independent filmmaker based in Mass. and founder of Iguana Films, a film and new media company making Spanish and English language works. She’s a graduate of Harvard University, where she’s been a visiting artist-scholar.

In a director’s statement and answers provided via email, she details what led her to do the 12-years-in-the-making project.

“I’m a history buff, I look for interesting characters, especially women and Latinos, in American history,” she says. “I came across an original copy of Loreta’s 1876 memoir in Widener Library (Harvard).”

Agui Carter found powerful themes in those accounts that speak to her experience as a Latina storyteller, immigrant to the U.S. and feminist.

“I felt uniquely qualified to tell the story. I’m fascinated by the question of citizenship and national identity, having been brought here as a child undocumented and raised ‘underground’ by my mother. I felt growing up I was deeply American, but I did not have the citizenship status.”

Loreta’s story touches on issues of gender, race and self-determination Agui Carter identifies with.

“I identify with Loreta and sympathize with her painful struggle to find acceptance within her community. Loreta presents a Latina’s and a woman’s perspective on a time period and a war we usually think of as exclusively black and white. But this is less a story about the Civil War and more the story of a complex woman who reinvented herself to survive the impossible circumstances in which she found herself. And that reinvention of self is a quintessentially American experience that resonates with so many Americans – that idea we are not what we are born, but what we make of ourselves.”

Agui Carter’s fllm answers and asks questions prompted by the memoir. “My film is a detective story trying to understand the woman, the myth and the politics of how we understand our own past.”

From the time Loreta published her memoir until now, her story’s been marginalized and contested, even called a hoax.

“She was attacked as a liar and a fraud by an unreconstructed Ex-Confederate general. Jubal Early, who read her memoir and thought her story preposterous. He was quite powerful and publicly dismissed her story. Subsequent generations generally followed his lead.”

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To unravel the mystery, Agui Carter consulted historians, who informed her some 1,000 women disguised as men fought in the Civil War. They confirm Loreta fought under the name Harry T. Buford at First Bull Run and was wounded at Shiloh. At some point Loreta became a spy, first for the Confederacy, then for the Union. She went by many aliases, including Laura Williams and Loretea DeCaulp. Agui Carter’s hybrid documentary uses actors to dramatize certain scenes.

“We don’t know all the exact details of her service, nor that of the other documented women who fought disguised as men because they were hiding their tracks and identities,” she says.

As for why Loreta did what she did, Agui Carter says, “She had just lost her family and as a young girl she had dreamed of being a hero. it’s a complicated and deliciously twisted plot. ”

The filmmaker admires what Loreta did in carving out an unexpected, emancipated life and sharing her journey with the world.

“Her book popularized her story of a woman who broke the rules and social boundaries that, post-war, so many were trying to reconstruct. By writing her memoirs, she allowed others to imagine that they, too, might choose their own fates and go against the grain. This was considered dangerous at a time when men were returning from war and expecting the women to go back to their old roles.

“She refused to be bounded by the strictures of her time. She imagined a world for herself and went out and created it, regardless of what people told her she couldn’t do. She made the impossible possible for herself.”

Agui Carter has authored a new play, 14 Freight Trains, about the first American soldier to die in Iraq – an undocumented Latino. It has reverberations with Rebel and her own family’s experience.

“My mother married a Vietnam veteran who applied for citizenship for my mother and myself. War is a terrible, painful, transformative thing and yet people believe in this country enough to put their lives on the line for it, including generation after generation of immigrants. This is a profound experience and I am drawn to these stories of people who would believe in something so much they would risk their lives for it.”

She’s working on turning Loreta’s story into a narrative action feature..

See Rebel free with museum admission. Due to limited space, reservations are advised. Call 402-731-1137.

For more about the film and Loreta’s story, visit http://rebeldocumentary.com.

Featured Great Plains Theatre Conference playwright Caridad Svich explores bicultural themes

May 29, 2011 9 comments

UPDATE: I attended a production of playwright Caridad Svich’s Alchemy of Desire/Dead Man’s Blues at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Theater as part of the ongoing Great Plains Theatre Conference, and the performance did what any good  theater should do – it transported me to another place emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.  It’s a strong work with deeply resonant themes of loss, grief, war, dislocation, transformation, community, and many more touchstones. Because it is so rich on the page, it would be hard not to mount a production that engages and moves audiences, but I thought director Cindy Melby Phaneuf and her UNO production team, combined with a dynamic cast of actors-singers and two excellent musicians, conceived and executed a visually and aurally stirring dramatic experience that would have captured any audience, anywhere.  It was the kind of night out at the theater that makes me hunger for more live theater.  I will definitely see Svich’s Twelve Ophelias when UNO produces it in the fall, eager to experience more of her multi-layered work. I will definitely catch at least one more play in the Great Plains conference, which runs through June 4. And, who knows, this just might be the motivational or inspirational spark I needed to tackle a serious rewrite of the play I wrote a few years ago and that I’ve left languishing in the proverbial drawer despite some helpful notes and encouraging words from a local theater professional whose opinion I respect.

Continuing my posts in celebration of the Great Plains Theater Conference, here is a very recent piece I wrote for El Perico, a dual English-Spanish language newspaper published in South Omaha, about Caridad Svich, a featured playwright at the 2011 conference. I did a very long phone interview with Svich and had enough material for a full blown feature profile of her, but my assignment called for a short  700-word piece and that’s what I delivered.  I still think I managed to get some sense for who she is and how she views things in the article, though I would have preferred to have more space in order to flesh some points out and to include other elements of her life and story.

 

 

Caridad Svich

 

Featured Great Plains Theatre Conference playwright Caridad Svich explores bicultural themes 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico

 

Caridad Svich, a leading figure of the American stage, is a featured playwright at the May 28-June 4 Great Plains Theatre Conference hosted by Metropolitan Community College.

As a playwright, songwriter, editor and translator, Svich explores themes of wanderlust, biculturalism and dislocation. Her experience as the American-born child of an itinerant Argentine father and Cuban mother informs her work.

Her journey as an artist has paralleled her identification with “being a first generation American, trying to sort that out, and living bilingually,” she said by phone from her home in New York City.

“It took me a long time to come to terms with any sense of Latinidad. I think that’s something that came rather late for me, especially as an artist. I really didn’t write my first play that had anything remotely to do with Latino or Latina characters until my last year of graduate school.”

It was only then, she says, she acknowledged “I need to start figuring this out for myself.” Where before she viewed it as something to wrestle with privately, she realized it was permissible, even necessary to explore her identity crisis on the page and the stage. Nudging her in this direction were plays she read by Hispanics. It’s then, she says, she recognized “this is a world I’m attracted to and is a part of me…and I feel a kinship with.”

Participating in the first Latino playwriting workshop of the formidable Maria Irene Fornes (Saritia) became a turning point.

“I wanted to be part of a community of writing that could help me sort that out,” Svich says, adding it helped being around bilingual writers with their own hybrid identities.

Fornes became her “primary mentor.”

Though Svich doesn’t go out of her way to write Latino plays, those cultural themes are inescapably part of her.

“Ultimately I’m a writer, and when I look at the page I don’t prescribe what’s going to happen. I feel like a landscape, a story, a voice, a character will come to me and I’ll follow it wherever it leads, and whether the characters are Latino or not I sort of just take the story where it goes.

“But I feel the fact I am Latino. I am a first generation American that lives with the memories my parents brought with them from their home countries.”

Her work is known, among other things, for its critique of the American Dream.

“Because I am a child of immigrants I’ve always had this double point of view — I see what my parents went through not being from here, subtle levels of discrimination. Even though I was born here, I was treated sometimes as an immigrant myself.

“I feel like there’s always embedded in the work what is the promise that America as a concept holds and what is the reality. I have a couple plays that deal specifically with immigrant characters, but I also have plays that deal with characters who are elsewhere, in unnamed countries outside the U.S., who are thinking about what their America is and the image of America that’s exported to them.”

 

 

 

 

Svich says her critiques are meant to be constructive. Besides, she says, critical examination is “part of the job,” adding, “Part of the position of being an artist is to stand outside — it’s your duty to be able to reflect back.”

She also takes seriously her role as an established playwright. At the Great Plains conference she’ll be lending her expertise to emerging playwrights at panel discussions and workshops.

One of her plays, Alchemy of Desire/Dead Man’s Blues, will be performed May 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Weber Fine Arts Building on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s main campus.

She describes this early, bluesy work as “still a touchstone play for me.” Set in the bayou, it’s about a woman mourning the loss of her military husband in a desert war. Haunted by the ghost of her man, the young widow is befriended by a community of women who try helping her through this passage of life.

It’s a love story with songs, influenced by the blues and call-and-response traditions.

A later Svich play, Twelve Ophelias, will be performed in the fall by UNO Theater. She calls this bluegrass oratorio an elemental play set in a primal landscape with the resurrected Ophelia visiting the ghosts of her past for some reckoning.

“I wanted to free her from her destiny in the original Shakespeare and give her new life by like getting over a really bad love affair and moving on.”

For conference schedule, artist and ticket information, call 402-457-2618 or visit theatreconference@mccneb.edu.

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