Wendy Carrillo

Observations on culture, politics, travel, lifestyle, dating and anything Latino. @wendycarrillo

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A Salvadoran Immigrant Story

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Via my post on: The Huffington Post

Countless demonstrations have taken place in a national effort to bring attention to the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as The Dream Act. In solidarity with the Dream Act, and the countless students who would benefit from this legislation, I share with you my own journey from a small country in Central America to the vast urban jungle of Los Angeles.

2010-05-21-dreamactbutton.jpgFrom 1980 – 1992, my country of origin, El Salvador, was deeply entangled in a civil war. Financially supported by the U.S. government under President Carter and President Regan, the Salvadoran government was able to wage war against its citizens in the final stages of the Cold War.

I lost my father because of this war. He died trying to protect the basic human rights of farmers, mothers and children.

In 1983, when I was just three years old, my mother, just in her early 20’s, made a decision that would change our destiny. She would go to the U.S., work and to find a way to send money back home so that I could join her. The irony of relocating to a country that enabled the Salvadoran government to propel thousands of its citizens to leave doesn’t escape me.

Within a few years, working as a nanny despite having a bachelor’s degree, my mother had saved enough money and sent for me. I was five years old. She had remarried and I had a new family. Life was wonderful and the American dream was within reach. I was the oldest of five daughters, and went on to be the first in my family to graduate from an American high school. I receive my undergraduate degree from Cal State Los Angeles and just last year, a Masters from the University of Southern California, where I was the student speaker at the Chicano/Latino graduation ceremony. I took out loans and worked countless jobs from selling TV’s at Circuit City to walking dogs to answering phones – my parents had taught me to value of hard work and setting goals.

A few weeks ago, my state senator, Gloria Romero, recognized me as “Woman of the Year” for my work as a broadcaster and for my community service.

As I read the headlines of students risking deportation in acts that are nothing short of true American patriotism in efforts to increase the dialogue on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, I cant help but wonder about my own journey.

You see, I was thirteen years old when I learned I was undocumented – that I was “illegal.” Turns out I had crossed the Mexico and U.S. border with a Mickey Mouse shirt in the backseat of a coyote. Me, the girl who played violin, loved the Dodgers, received straight A’s and always sat in front of the class. How could I be illegal?

Turns out that despite living in a country where people were being murdered, women raped and children going missing, the U.S. government refused us political asylum. We were faced with the option of 1) risking death through war or 2) being in the U.S. without proper paperwork.

The choice was a simple one of survival.

For most teenagers, turning 13 is a right of passage, high school looms ahead with dreams of prom, boys and football rallies. For me, I learned the truth of my status and began to see the world through a different lens. We didn’t leave El Salvador because we wanted to; we left because we had to.

The choices that followed that decision have been a trickle-down effect that occurred the moment President Regan agreed to increase funding for the Salvadoran civil war.

This issue – American involvement in international affairs – is often missing in discussions on immigration. I would wager that most Americans don’t know where El Salvador is or know how much money was pumped into its civil war.

I was fortunate enough to become a resident of the U.S. in my teen years, and in 2004, I proudly cast my first vote as an American citizen during the presidential election. I love this country because of the opportunities it has offered me through my own hard work and dedication. I look at its history and know that its future is bright and solid, and one that I am helping shape.

My story isn’t anything special, extraordinary or unique. There are countless young people just like me who have overcome incredible obstacles.

As a supporter of the Dream Act, I look at the young students risking everything they have ever known and wonder about their talents, contributions and passions.

As a country, we have invested in their education, their successes, and their dreams and now, they are in limbo, unable to work with degrees they have paid for. They are unable to contribute to our economy, our tax system, our military or our research institutions.

I have received countless honors, accolades and recognitions. People say I am a role model and someone young people in the inner city can look up to.

Me, the girl who at 13 learned she was illegal. What would my life be like if I hadn’t been able to legalize my status? Would I have been able to contribute to the extent that I have?

The Dream Act is not about giving a hand out to undocumented students, it is about our ability to recognize talent, drive, and look to the future of our nation.

We owe it to ourselves, our country and our future to pass legislation that would enable a pathway to citizenship for young people willing to serve in our military or go to college.

Our society is no longer sustained within our borders; we live in a global economy where a country’s success is measured by the resiliency, strength and courage of its people – all qualities exemplified in these students.

Written by wc

May 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mexican-Salvadoran-American Girl in Downtown Los Angeles

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My sister Beatriz is one of the most gorgeous women I know.  She’s breathtakingly beautiful with glowing sun kissed skin and a joyous full of life way about her. When we are together, we laugh and laugh in a secret way that only sisters can. When I was browsing through her pictures on Facebook, I noticed one in particular that caught my eye.

The image below, taken by her photographer friend, Brenda Bravo, strikes a similar resemblance to one of my favorite photographs of all time, “American Girl in Italy” by Ruth Orkin.

St. Patricks Day Los Angeles, by Brenda Bravo, 2010

"American Girl in Italy" by Ruth Orkin, 1951

Ruth Orkin was a rebel rousing independent woman who traveled the world and captured the essence of what it was like to be a woman in 1951. Her most famous photograph, “American Girl in Italy” demonstrates a very simple, and very real relationship between a woman walking down a street and the men who look at her.

The status of women in the 1950’s was certainly different than what it is today. It had been just about six years after WWII when Orkin snapped her picture. Women in America were straddling the thin line of  leaving their Rosie the Rivetor jobs and becoming a typical 1950’s housewife, just as young high school girls were being taught “How to be Good Wife” in home economics. I can only imagine what it must have been like for women in Italy, with a country still building itself from the ruins of war.

What Orkin portrays with “American Girl in Italy” is a scurrying young woman clutching her chest, with a pained look on her face as she tries to get past the long line of cat calling leering men.

Fast forward 59 years later, and we can see a similar image captured by Bravo. Yet, something is different. My sister walks with confidence, aware of the looks, incredulous to the stares, head held high, arms at ease, gliding with her step. She confronts the tension in the air with her own power and radiant feminine sexuality. She knows where she is going and she makes her way without regard as to what anyone may think, do or say.

How times have changed. As women, we have come a long way in freeing ourselves from bullet bras and Mad Men husbands. We are independent free thinking women who laugh, love, drink, eat, etc., etc.!

As a photographer myself, I love seeing one of my favorite pictures captured so candidly in present day. 2 kudos to Brenda Bravo!

I smile wondering what Orkin (1921 – 1985) would say of this comparison… if only she could see what I see…

Written by wc

May 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm

“Woman of the Year”

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Senator Gloria Romero and I, the updated picture.

When I was a little girl growing up in East Los Angeles, I had many dreams. I would stay up late at night dreaming up my dream life, wondering how I would get there. Last Friday, as I stood amongst the distinguished women being honored by Senator Romero, and as I received the recognition of “Woman of the Year” for Senate District 24, I felt a moment of “wow, how did I get here?”

A beautiful Resolution from the state of California on behalf of the Senator bears my name, and with such honors, comes great responsibility. I hope to be able to carry on this title with the honor it deserves. It was truly an amazing moment to share with my friends, family and the many invited guests. To receive this honor for my work with Power 106 and our “Knowledge is Power” program is simply the icing on the cake. I am so lucky to be able to use the radio airways to promote education, college access, civic engagement and talk to all of our awesome listeners – all of whom make my job so easy!

This is the last year that Senator Romero will honor women in her district, as she is set to leave the Senate later this year. I am very privileged to be her last honoree for “Woman of the Year.” We have come a long way since we met! Thank you to everyone who made this day extra special!

Wendy's Posse, Represent!

Written by wc

April 16, 2010 at 12:28 am

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Writing Recommendation Letters

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It doesn’t seem like too long ago, I was the one asking for recommendation letters. In fact, just two years ago, I was finishing my last-minute application to USC and I was nervous about my entire packet. Wondering if I would finish it in time, if I would have my rec letters in order and simply wondering, “am I really applying to Grad school?”

Well, long story short, I got in, I tried (sometimes not as hard as I should have), wrote my thesis, and graduated just this past December. I realized throughout my time at USC that it was my rec letters that made a huge impact on my acceptance.

And now, that I am asked to write letters for other student journalists seeking scholarships from organizations that are established to help young talent, I look at my experience in bewilderment. When did I become the professional? There are so many moments in my every day life where  I wonder when I grew up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great. I love being allegedly older and wiser. And to think that now, my recommendation merits a sence of power of persuassion, its like WOW. How cool is that?

Written by wc

March 24, 2010 at 12:21 am

‘Manifest Equality': A Call to Action

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Thugs Eating Ice Cream
“Thugs Eat Ice Cream Too” by Patrick Martinez, Photo by: Wendy Carrillo

My article from The Huffington Post.

As the fight for LGBT equality rails on in Washington with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and in California with its Prop 8 trial, a group of artists and activists in Los Angeles have taken it into their own hands to move the California agenda forward. Taking the lead from the Manifest Hope campaign, which was largely spearheaded by the work of Shepard Fairy and his self described art-pusher Yosi Sergant, the Manifest Equality art exhibit is a much anticipated “welcome home” for Sergant.

After his very public separation from the National Endowment of the Arts, Sergant only recently confessed that while his work on the campaign left him rejoicing, it also left him feeling like he hadn’t done enough to help the No on Prop 8 campaign in California.

The Manifest Equality Gallery in Hollywood, set to run from Wednesday March 3 to Sunday March 7, certainly marks a shift. In what used to be an old abandoned Big Lots, Sergant, along with his partners in art-pushing Jennifer Gross and Apple Via, unveiled to the public an array of art focused on a call-to-action aimed at changing public perception towards political reform on a local, state and national level.

Steve Alfaro, a Los Angeles artist whose piece sold before opening night and who also showcased work in DC for Manifest Hope, was compelled to submit a piece because of a female friend who once confessed she didn’t feel she belonged because of her sexual orientation.

“No one should be made to feel that way,” Alfaro stated as he made the comparison that the Latino community is facing similar struggles in efforts to obtain comprehensive immigration reform, “There are people out there, and in DC that want to make us feel different, when we are not – we are all humans, we are all created equal.”

If Los Angeles is to set the stage for change, perhaps LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, who attended as a guest and private citizen, summed it up best, “I’ve been married for 33 years, if a couple of guys or a couple of girls want to get married, how does that in any way affect me? Asking simply to be treated like everyone else – how can anyone argue against that?”

Cleve Jones, a human rights activist who was recently portrayed in the movie Milk by Emile Hirsch, was amongst the speakers and invited guests of event sponsors, the Courage Campaign for the special Tuesday private viewing.

“There was a time in my life when I felt I could not go further” Jones began telling the crowd of hundreds, “It was 1987 and almost everyone that I knew was either dead or dying from HIV. My heart was filled with hatred and fear and despair. Hatred for the straight world and the politicians who were allowing HIV to kill relentlessly without responding, fear for what was going to happen to me, and despair that the world would never wake up in time to do anything about it all.”

Amongst those thoughts, Jones created the Aids Memorial Quilt, to celebrate, honor and remember the life of those who died of Aids.

As he recalled, in the late 1970’s, he was young, white, and gay in the Castro District of San Francisco, but through this art, the quilt reached people all over the nation who longed to be connected as they mourned their loved ones.

Filled with the exhilaration, passion and stage presence only a true organizer possesses, Jones told the moving story of an African American woman in her late 70’s who cared for her son until his death from AIDS, and who alone, with her grief, took a Greyhound bus from Kentucky to San Francisco to add a piece of cloth to the quilt.

“This is my son,” she said as she gripped a piece of cloth in her hands.

At Manifest Equality, these stories hang at every wall and every corner. Art spins in the music, it’s performed by artists, and it’s retold through activating the human memory and remembering the struggles for justice and the lives it’s claimed. From freedom rides, to sit-ins, to twitter and facebook, organizing community is at the core.

This call-to-action is perhaps what the Obama Generation needs to reactivate a base that Sergant was very much a part of.

“Those who were excited by the Obama campaign will get involved again; make calls, knock on doors, register to vote, hold elected officials accountable” reads a Facebook message from Unai Montes-Irueste, a community organizer and friend of Sergant’s.

“HOPE and CHANGE was not about one man, it was about our causes, our passions, and our belief that the American Dream is not dead. This nation is as much mine as yours, and my name, my skin color, my gender, my religion, my accent, my sexuality cannot subtract from this fact. Either there is equal protection under the law, and consenting adults can marry one another, serve openly in the military, visit one another in the hospital, and leave their worldly possessions to one another, or the Constitution is worth no more than it was when some were counted as three-fifths human.”

Manifest Equality is not just about art. It’s about being civically engaged Americans who have a direct say in the policy that affects our lives. It’s about accountability, progress and believing that America’s future is brighter than its past.

As Jones so eloquently stated, “We are gay and straight together, we are fighting for LGBT equality – but we stand as part of a broader, deeper, larger struggle across this planet…for all of us.”


Written by wc

March 5, 2010 at 11:32 am

Education in War Zones, Tyre, Lebanon

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Tyre, Lebanon Photograph by Jeroen Oerlemans. A boy saves a few books from the rubble of his home, a six story apartment building which was bombed by the Israeli air force. The building was in the middle of a densely populated area in the city of Tyre. Three casualties were reported.

I saw this picture and was very moved.

The photograph is part of “The Shooting War: An exclusive collection of work by the world’s most acclaimed conflict photographers,” by Foreign Policy.

The ability to obtain an education is taken for granted in the United States. I would implore all of my readers/listeners to really take a good look at this picture. Realize that bombs are not going off here in the U.S. and get yourself on a plan. If you don’t have a car, get on the bus, if you don’t have money for the bus, walk, ride a bike, do whatever it is that you need to do to get yourself an education.  Some people aren’t as fortunate to live in a system that offers so much financial aid and resources.  All you need to do is seek them out. So get off your ass and do the damn thang.

No excuses.

“The future belongs to those that prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X

From the site:

Things He Carried: Dutch photojournalist Oerlemans took this photograph while reporting from Tyre, in southern Lebanon, during the 34-day summer war with Israel. “I was just returning from shooting the arrival of some humanitarian aid to the besieged town,” he recalls, “when, right in front of me, a five- or six-story building went up in smoke.” Oerlemans ran toward the wrecked building, where, he says, “I witnessed the first casualties being carried away from the scene. In the smoldering ruins, dazed people were stumbling around, some trying to get themselves together, others frantically pulling others from underneath the rubble.” An air alarm went off, indicating the Israeli bombers might return. “Everyone fled,” Oerlemans says. But this boy remained, “stoically” wandering through the smoke. “We never spoke,” the photographer recalls. “I’m not sure why he was picking up those books.”


Written by wc

February 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Podcast: Los Angeles Gang Tour w/ Alfred Lomas

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From the Knowledge is Power Blog on Power106.com
by: Wendy Carrillo

Alfred Lomas, a former gang member dressed in his Sunday best showed up at Power 106 this weekend for an interview on Knowledge is Power. Lomas, who is the mastermind and spokesperson for the controversial www.lagangtours.com took questions from our listeners and addressed concerns over his project.

I met Alfred earlier this month when I jumped on a big bus with tinted windows and took the tour. We made our way from The Dream Center in Echo Park to the LA River, to the Downtown Jails, to Skid Row, to South LA, to Pico Union and back.

Having lived in East LA and South LA myself, I was curious to see what he would do or say. How would he address the issue? What are the correlations of gangs, prison and youth?

The community of South Los Angeles is no stranger to gang violence he noted. Notorious gangs like Florencia 13, Bloods and Crips, amongst others, have been a staple in the community and have severely impacted the lives of residents.

Alfred Lomas from LAGangTours.com

Alfred Lomas speaks at Pico Union's Graff Lab, the last top on tour. Photo by: Wendy Carrillo

“It’s a civil war right in our own backyard,” Alfred said.

While the community is plagued with low performing schools, littered with liquor stores, riddled with drugs, alcohol, poverty and prostitution, gang life is no longer something that you’re jumped into, it’s something you’re born into.

It’s generational.

Some have said that what Alfred is doing is wrong, that he has created a safari-like tour exploiting low income blacks and Latinos.

From what I noted, Alfred, along with his team of former gang members turned interventionists, are taking the issue into their own hands. Alfred has negotiated a “cease-fire” agreement with the gangs and this tour he hopes, will raise awareness on a real level. There is no photography or video taping allowed on the tour, no one gets off to talk to “locals.” The educational experience is on the bus, as Alfred and his crew explain the social and economical conditions that have historically plagued South LA. and allowed for gangs to flourish.

Per the website:

The mission of LA GANG TOURS is to provide an unforgettable historical experience for our customers with a customized high-end specialty tour. We will provide customers with a true first-hand encounter of the history and origin of high profile gang areas and the top crime scene locations in South Central, Los Angeles. Each tour bus for LA GANG TOURS will have a guide from the South Central areas who has gained hands-on knowledge and experience of the inner city lifestyle.

The objective is to create jobs for the residents of South Central, Los Angeles; to give profits from the tours back to these areas for economic growth and development, provide job/entrepreneur training, micro-financing opportunities and to specialize in educating people from around the world about the Los Angeles inner city lifestyle, gang involvement and solutions. This project will create opportunities to contribute to the economic health of South Central and the tools needed to access the American market.

So what do you think?

Listen to the interview and weigh in!


Written by wc

January 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm


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