Give Back to La Comunidad This Season

The holiday season offers many opportunities to give back to la comunidad in meaningful ways. Here’s how tres Latinas are helping in their areas.

Helping the Homeless

As a decades-long New Yorker, shop owner Bianca Moreno has endured many crises, from 9/11 to blackouts to subway strikes. But when Hurricane Sandy flooded the Red Hook neighborhood just blocks from Moreno’s Brooklyn apartment, the catastrophe struck close to home.

"I went shopping at a grocery store to prepare for Sandy," says Moreno. “After the storm hit, there was no grocery store. It’s surreal."

Stirred by seeing neighborhood haunts flooded or closed -- and their owners out of money, jobs and homes -- Moreno cooked meals for the newly homeless and displaced. Then she brought them supplies, such as bottled water, batteries and toiletries.

Moreno still contributes by raising money at her vintage store, A Little Wicked. Fifteen percent of all sales go to help storm victims. "I'm committed to volunteer through the holidays. These people need help long-term, especially after the camera crews are gone. I don't want to forget about them."

Galvanizing Volunteers

Elvia Rodriguez, a government agency worker in D.C., doesn't wait for the holidays to lend a helping hand. "What I love about this season is that I can inspire others to volunteer because they tend to be more generous.” 

Rodriguez jumps at the opportunity to educate friends and strangers alike about organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other Latino charities she works with.

Her favorite non-profit? St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. From ice-skating fundraisers to gift giving, the benefits of working with the hospital are a two-way street for Rodriguez. "Helping out helps me, too,” she explains. “Supporting my community makes me feel like I'm part of it."

Comforting Single Moms

Being a single mom is the catalyst for Yvette Castillo's big Christmas spirit. Every year, she volunteers at a battered women’s shelter in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

In addition to a big heart, Yvette brings the kids and moms toys and gifts. "I know what it’s like to want things for your kids and not have the resources to get them,” says the native Tejana. “I promised myself if I was ever in a position to help a mom, I would." And so she does.

Looking for more ways to give back this holiday season? Our sponsor, Orgullosa™, is working with the League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC) to donate toys to Latino kids in need. For every new “Like” on the Orgullosa™ Facebook page, they will donate $1 to LULAC so they can provide toys for kids in need. To learn more about LULAC visit


Like the Orgullosa™ page today to help kids in need!

Growing up Bilingual, Bicultural, and Bi-happy

For parents who are raising kids in a bicultural household, teaching them to speak Ingles y Español is something of a passion. That’s why developing habits that incorporate both cultures into kids’ daily routines, says John Baugh -- chair of the Public Relations Committee at the Linguistic Society of America and professor emeritus of education and linguistics at Stanford University -- will bring bicultural happiness to la familia.

Engage them in activities from both culturas.
“Watch television in both languages, particularly the one that is not dominant in your speech community. Sing songs and nursery rhymes from both cultures. This will instill respect and familiarity with both,” says Baugh, the Margaret Bush Wilson professor in arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

Give both cultures equal importance.
“Depending upon the context in which people live, circumstances may imply that one culture may be devalued in comparison to the dominant culture and language,” adds Baugh. “If this impression exists, family members should do everything possible to maintain and value their family heritage, language and culture, while doing what’s necessary to gain fluency in the dominant language and culture.”

Baugh offers this final note: “The benefits of bilingualism and biculturalism are tremendous. Chinese, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese are growing in global influence. People who are familiar with more than one language, and more than one culture, will be better equipped to participate more fully in the future global economy. This familiarity with languages and cultures besides English is an underutilized asset in a global economy that demands linguistic and cultural dexterity.”

Photo: Corbis Images

Latinas in Business

Trying to follow your dreams? We took a look at the accomplishments of four entrepreneurs who are using their culture to change their field.

Sisters Claudia and Silvia Ortiz loved baking as young girls in Chicago. As adults in 2010, they turned their passion into Casa Girl Cupcakes, a much-frequented cupcake store. From horchata, to churro, to arroz con leche, you won’t find these typical Latin flavors in cupcakes anywhere else in Chi-Town or beyond.


As a working mom with three young boys, Tanya Diaz had little time to exercise. But when she met personal trainer and makeup artist Maria Barrerra, the pair wanted to help other busy women stay in shape. In 2010, they started Knockout Fitness and Beauty, a women-only beauty and fitness regime in Chicago. They offer many packages, including a 10-week boot camp with hair and beauty makeovers.


While writing an article about online wedding-planning for Latinos, Lilian de la Torre-Jiménez realized little was offered in Spanish. In 2008, she began publishing Bodas La Revista USA, the first Spanish-language bridal magazine in the country. The California-based glossy has since won several prestigious awards.


As a teen mom in Tularosa, N.M., Tina Cordova knew early on that she’d have to work twice as hard to succeed. After learning about an opportunity in the construction business, Cordova took $5,000 -- her life savings -- and started Queston Construction Inc. Despite the recession, in 2012 Cordova will celebrate 20 years of constructing and repairing roofs. A tireless advocate for Hispanic business owners, Cordova is also the president of the New Mexico Minority Business Association.

Latina Resilience

In her groundbreaking memoir, When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago wrote of her journey from the barrios of Puerto Rico to the halls of Harvard University. The book, published in 1994, opened up a dialogue on cultural identity, immigration and assimilation. Her recent novel, Conquistadora, continues the conversation, exploring class, survival and romance in untamed Puerto Rico.

Las Fabulosas: During your research for your novel, you read about the history of Puerto Rico in the face of so much adversity -- slave insurrections, a cholera epidemic and hurricanes. What was the universal response to each of these catastrophes, as a people?
Esmeralda Santiago:
People picked themselves up and started over with an unbelievable optimism. As I read, I was thinking, “My God, I cannot imagine going through all these things and having the strength to go on.” But that is very much a part of our people. There’s an attitude of, “Well that happened, and I’m alive, and I’m just going to do what I have to do. Fix things and keep going.” And it’s not like they just fixed their own house. They helped one another. There was this willingness to give the next person the shirt off of your back, literally.

LF: What is the best advice you ever heard from your relatives about making do when money is tight?
My mom raised 11 children as a single mother, and the thing she is very proud of is that we always ate well. And she did it by being creative. If there was no milk, she made almond milk. If there were no almonds, she made rice milk. If there was no rice, she made oat milk. I remember her saying, “So long as I’m upright, I will work to make sure that I will take care of my family.” When she wasn’t able to work as a seamstress, she worked as a maid or she made alterations at the laundry, or she cooked for men who didn’t have families. This attitude is ingrained in my family.

LF: What is the best advice your mother gave you about finding true love?
My mother’s attitude about true love is, “It’s great to fall in love, but if he doesn’t treat you right, there are plenty of men.” She had five husbands, and at 81, she still tells this to her granddaughters and great-granddaughters.

LF: What has your family taught you about what makes life meaningful?
I think for us, it is the sense of closeness and unity. We are not physically close, because we live scattered over the United States and Puerto Rico, but we are close in the sense that if any one member needs help, the whole family goes into action. The sense of unity is very, very important to us. I always know that if I need them, my sisters and brothers will be there. And that is an incredible comfort.

The Inspirational Art of Andrea Arroyo

When looking at her art, award-winning artist Andrea Arroyo wants you to see something new glowing from within about the women she names her work after: A love for the poder of mujeres.

Ten years ago, Arroyo started painting on canvas for her “Flor de Vida” series, which elevates mythological women -- ranging from classic bad girls like La Malinche and Cleopatra to goddesses like Athena -- to sacred status.

Arroyo never wondered whether she could be successful: She just started making work. As a professional dancer who moved to New York from Mexico City in 1983, she decided one day that she wanted to be an artist. “I started with a series of small-scale painted sculptures of unique NYC characters that caught my attention, including street scenes featuring a shopping-bag lady, a punk kid, a break dancer,” says Arroyo. “They were done in clay, wood, plaster and other mixed media. As a dancer, I felt very comfortable and familiar with the human form in 3-D.” Buyers immediately responded to her familiar, relatable style and haven’t stopped since.

Four years ago, she started creating the simple white drawings on black paper for her “Flor de Tierra, Homage to the Women of Juarez” project. “I wanted to underline the concept that the life of all women is equally precious, and especially to remember a life cut short by violence could have been one of a brilliant poet, visionary or Queen.”

Select paintings from “Flor de Vida” and drawings “Flor de Tierra” are on display at the Treasure Room Gallery in New York City, as part of her “Eternal” exhibit, through Sept. 2, 2011.