Category Archives: Birmingham

Honoring Volunteers in Birmingham through Ignite

“Volunteers are not paid…not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

This quote has been around for some time and I’ve heard it spoken over the years.  I’ve even used it myself when thanking volunteers for the work they’ve done to help at an event, nonprofit or other special occasion I’ve headed up or lead.  When people step up to help, they may not think it at the time, but they are making a difference that can be felt and seen in our communities.

Inaugural Ignite Volunteer Awards Ceremony on April 25, 2017 at The Club in Birmingham, AL.

Last year, Hands on Birmingham, United Way’s volunteer arm, created an event they named Ignite, to recognize and celebrate outstanding volunteer service.  Because it was a brand new event, I hadn’t heard much about it until my sweet friend Vanessa Vargas mentioned she had been asked to be on the host committee by the executive director, Benga Harrison.  Now, Benga is a powerhouse in our community and a great friend to me.  She is someone with so much passion that when she speaks to you, your own passion is ignited!  I kid you not!  When I heard the name of the event I thought it was a perfect reflection of her!  So, when I found out she was the driving force behind this event, I knew it would be a hit!

What I didn’t know at the time was that Vanessa was going to nominate me in the corporate/company category for this awards ceremony.  There were quite a number of people nominated in this category.  I surely wasn’t expecting anything to come of the nomination but to my surprise, I was one of two finalists!  The two finalists in each category received a special medal to wear at the brunch so they could be recognized to attendees, which was really a nice touch.  The other categories included Hands on Birmingham volunteer, government/community volunteer, nonprofit volunteer, student volunteer, small business volunteer, and faith based volunteer.

It was thrilling to be in a room filled with such wonderful community servants.  It was even more wonderful to actually know so many of these people who give so much.  Another reason for my excitement was due to the number of Hispanics nominees!  Hispanics were definitely represented at this event and of the six, three were finalists (me, Theresa Deleon, and Jairo Vargas) with one going on to win his category!  I was so pleased when Jairo Vargas, Publisher of Latino News, was announced as the winner in the small business category!  I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving and it was great being able to celebrate this honor with Jairo, his wife Lucero and of course, his daughter Vanessa!

For a first time event, the turnout was tremendous and the number of nominees in each category was so diverse.  I know Benga and the organizers were thrilled and ready to jump into year two of Ignite!  And on that note, Benga recently asked me to serve as the Chair of the Host Committee this year and I said yes!  I can’t think of a better way to give back to our community than to help nominate those who do so much to make it a better place for us all.

If you are in the Birmingham area and want to nominate a dedicated volunteer who has made a significant difference in Central Alabama, you have until November 30, 2017 to do so!  Click here for more information on how to submit your deserving community volunteer!  Then mark your calendar for the 2nd Annual Ignite Awards on April 17, 2018 at The Club Birmingham!

Alabama Dia de los Muertos Celebrates Quince Años!

 

Dia de los Muertos celebrates Quince años!

Dia de los Muertos Alabama, presented by Bare Hands Gallery, celebrated 15 years this year!  I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again…after my beloved Fiesta, this is my second favorite festival of the year.  Fiesta board members have always felt a kinship with DOD Alabama going back to our fifth year in existence.  That was the year we “discovered” one another as each of our festivals grew and that was the year we decided to support one another.

This festival has been looking for a forever home since it lost its original location last year due to the changes in the Birmingham landscape.  The Rotary Trail was completed and it just wasn’t possible to use the same area for a festival this big.  Last year, the festival temporarily moved to Cahaba Brewery and it was packed.  After the crowd that showed up, they knew they needed more space so this year they secured Pepper Place for the event.

Papel Picado lines 2nd Avenue South between the main altar area and the main stage at DOD 2017

The entrance was at 3rd Avenue South with sponsors lining the left hand side.  A portion of 2nd Avenue South was closed off to house the main stage on one side and the food court on the other.  The main altar site was in the middle between the two in a large parking area.  It was so beautiful and reminiscent of the original location.  Two large brick walls surrounded the space and were used to hang murals and other décor.  Chairs were set up around the site with fire pits as was done in the old location.  I can remember years when it was so cold that those fire pits were a God-send!  Lights were strung between the walls and papel picado was everywhere!  The Mercado was in the parking lot of Pepper Place and there were so many vendors with beautiful hand crafted items for sale!  I wanted one of everything!

This year, the set up allowed for more space and a better flow to all the event components.  The event was crowded but there was more space to walk around and not feel like you were being walked on or constantly running into someone.

I arrived at 3 p.m. to photograph some of the set up yesterday.  I always like to get there early to do this and then I stay until after sunset to take photos by candlelight and enjoy catching up with friends.  This year I had a meeting to attend from 4 to 7 so  when I got back to the site, the line to enter was down the block!  Luckily, I had pre-purchased my ticket so walked directly up to the entrance and was given my wrist band!  (Lesson to you folks who didn’t plan ahead!)

People watching at DOD is always entertaining and I love the way more and more are painting their faces as sugar skulls and dressing up.  They embrace this event and seem to take the time to understand the reason behind it…why it is important and why it exists.  It’s not just a costume party, it’s a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on and a way to keep their memories alive for ourselves and a way to tell others about them.

There is also such artistic talent in our city and so much of this talent is displayed at this event in the costumes, the unique vendor items and of course, the altar creations.  I am always inspired when I see what is created and moved to tears by at least one thing I see.  This year, there was an altar created to honor the people who have perished in the many natural disasters experienced in 2017.  It was both haunting and moving…

Here are some of my photos from last night…sometimes it’s just easier to tell the story with photographs.  Meanwhile, happy Quince to DOD Alabama…it was a fabulous event! Viva la Vida!

Fiesta 2017 – A Celebration of Generations!

Fiesta Co-Presidents, Teresa Zuniga Odom and Vanessa Vargas pose with the newly unveiled Fiesta 15th Anniversary – Quince – logo!

A Celebration of Generations…that’s what Fiesta 2017, the Quinceañera, was billed as and it definitely delivered!

Planning Fiesta has turned into a year-round job for our board of directors and our incredible event manager, Denise Koch.  In recent years, we’ve begun the planning process in November instead of waiting until February.  As the festival grows, this is a must in order to stay ahead of the game and also make sure we are offering our patrons new and exciting additions to the event each year.  We are a working board but everyone also has a day job too so…

Our Fiesta t-shirts this year – Fiesta…then Siesta!

During our anniversary years in the past, the board had a new logo created in celebration and we’ve looked for significant ways to make Fiesta more exciting.  Our 15th anniversary – Quinceañera – was quite a milestone so we really wanted to ramp thing up!  It was a coming of age of our festival!  Last November, the board decided that during our anniversary years, it would be beneficial to have co-presidents at the helm in order to share the work load.  Board member, Vanessa Vargas and I were voted in as co-Presidents which lent itself nicely to our theme – with Vanessa representing the younger generation – the daughter, and me representing the older generation – the mother.   The next month, over lunch with board member Lui Fernandez, the Fiesta theme was born which cemented our charge for Fiesta 2017 – “a celebration of generations!”  I remember getting goose bumps when Lui explained his ideas for the year and threw out the tagline!  Vanessa and I were so excited and ready to assume our roles as “Fiesta Mother and Daughter!”

Looking back on Fiesta 2017 and our path to Quince…I have to say…it was our best festival to date!  Every quadrant of Linn Park was filled and we had well over 100 tents in the park – a record for us.  Park Place, the road running on one side of the park, was also filled with the presence of the McDonalds Fiesta Tour which had rebranded and looked amazing!  McDonalds, our Title Sponsor, was also handing out slushie samples and I heard they ran out!  That’s a lot of people drinking slushies!!!

The weather was gorgeous all day long and I once again loved going from booth to booth to photograph friends – old and new –  and thank them for being a part of Fiesta’s Quince!  This year I had Vanessa with me for most of the visits and loved having that experience with her.  I also really can’t remember a time when we had as much pre-publicity for our event!  Vanessa and I were booked on every station and one radio station leading up to the event.  At one point during the festival, Vanessa and I had “dueling TV interviews” going on in the VIP section!  Vane was talking to CBS and I was talking to NBC.   We always had a great time with Claire Per-Lee of Style Advertising (Fiesta’s Advertising Agency) at each interview and she always photographed and videoed so we could have that memory.  She made each appearance so easy for us complete with talking points and props needed for the interview.  Claire, Vanessa and I were in such constant contact in the weeks leading up to Fiesta that it’s a little weird not getting several text messages a day from each other now!

Everywhere I looked at this year, sponsors and nonprofits were doing a great job of reaching patrons and drawing them in.  Swag from these booths was over the top!  There was just SO much activity all over the park that it was hard to catch it all.  That’s when I know we’ve hit a home run!   We always throw sponsor items from the stage, but this year we really ramped it up and the crowd loved it!  We’ve done this before but not to this level.

Throwing swag from the stage!

Volunteers…I can’t say enough about volunteers in general.  They can make or break your event. It you’ve been involved with events, you know this.  For Fiesta though, we’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who have the spirit of the event at heart.  This year I wasn’t able to secure a volunteer coordinator for this festival so I took on the task myself.  And I was a little worried, I have to admit…especially with all the other responsibilities I had leading into Fiesta.  That is…until I got a message from a Spanish teacher Charity Jackson at Parker High School.  She said she had about 15-20 students who wanted to volunteer!  I was ecstatic!!!  And then she contacted me and said she had more students who wanted to volunteer!  By the time I had the volunteer schedule pulled together two days before the event, she had 35 students committed to working at Fiesta!  Ms. Jackson kept thanking me for having them at Fiesta but I told her several time that she really saved “me” by having her students there.  They were incredible…and so was she!

Spanish Teacher Charity Jackson with her students from Park High School – these kids were the best volunteers!

There are so many more stories about Fiesta 2017 that I could tell…but as I have done in the past, I think it’s best shown in photos.  If you came out to Fiesta, thank you…from the bottom of my heart for sharing our Quince with us!  If you weren’t able to be there…for whatever reason, I hope you enjoy a walk through our Quince in these photos!

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2003 to 2006

NOTE;  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003. 

Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage is 15 years old this year!  I’ve been spending a lot of time going through old files and photos and reliving the early years of this festival.  Getting a festival like this started was a lot of work and yet those of us who were there at the beginning really didn’t know how big this event would become – or how long it would last!  These photos and document revealed so much history and so many people involved for all these years.  As I was reliving moment through photos, I was also recalling stories and my personal thoughts.  So as we get closer to our 15th anniversary this year, I decided to begin posting a photo each Friday with a little story – I’m calling these “Fiesta Friday” photos on Facebook and Instagram.  It occurred to me though that there is more to tell about some of these photos and the people involved and the best way to do this is on my blog.

So this post will be about the photos I’ve already posted from 2003 to 2006.  There are so many photos to choose from too!  I started taking the photos at Fiesta the first year never imagining that I would become the official “unofficial” photographer of the event.  I was using film and switched to digital a few years later but these are the photos that really stick out to me of the thousands that I’ve taken.

Fiesta 2003 – My friends Lui Fernandez and Jasmine Reyes dance next to the Main Stage while Susan Daywood, Rei Ramos and Hernan Prado watch and enjoy the music!

2003 – Fiesta’s first year…  I was at the main stage – the Coca Cola main stage and found a group of friends from the Hispanic Business Council (HBC) on the side of the stage dancing and having a great time.  It was getting close to the final acts and everyone was so happy about the success of our first ever event!  We had expected about 2,000 people to come through but when the numbers were finally counted, we had about 7,000 attendees our very first year!  Overwhelming would be an appropriate word to describe our feelings that day.  I snapped this photo of Jasmine Reyes dancing with a young man.  Behind her are Susan Daywood with the City of Birmingham and a member of the HBC, Rei Ramos with the HBC and Hernan Prado, also with the HBC.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that the young man Jasmine was dancing with would become a huge part of Fiesta.  Luis “Lui” Fernandez is a current board member and has been instrumental in creating the “heart” of Fiesta – the Cultural Village.  He took it from a few posters to a group of community members excited about portraying their respective countries and sharing this information with Fiesta guests each year.  When he is in charge of something, I never worry about how it will turn out because Lui has a special talent in creating something to remember!

Fiesta 2003 – Salsa dancers on the main stage

2004 -Fiesta’s second year – This photo was taken from the Coca Cola Main Stage and is of two dancers.  They drew quite the crowd early in the day that year.  Their dancing was on point along with the DJ playing salsa music.  I was taken by the pure joy of the dance that they shared with Fiesta guests that day.  This photo was used in many of the early marketing and advertising we used of Fiesta to potential sponsors and on our website.

Entrance to the Cultural Village created by Lui Fernandez – Fiesta 2004

2004 – Another photo from Fiesta’s second year is of the entrance to the Cultural Village.  You’ve already read how much I admire and respect Lui Fernandez’s talent and this particular year, he decided to create an actual entrance to the village!  I like to say that this was the year the Cultural Village really came to life!  It was the year that music broke out all over the village and people were dancing on the sidewalk and there was always a steady crowd of people walking through to experience this community driven village.  Lui created the entrance with the logo and before the event opened, he added flags from all the Hispanic countries to the white posts which made the entrance even more colorful.  It was such a beautiful sight!

Fiesta board member – Mike Suco – helps his parents, Teresa and Ramon Suco – set up the Cuba booth in the Cultural Village in 2005.

2005 – Fiesta’s 3rd year – This is such a favorite photo of mine because it features Fiesta board member, Mike Suco with his parents – Teresa and Ramon Suco.  Mike’s mother, Teresa, found out that Cuba was NOT represented the year before in the cultural village and she was not going to let that happen that particular year!  She took it upon herself to create a beautiful Cuba booth along with her husband and as you can see in this photo – her son, Mike too!  Teresa and Ramon Suco fled Cuba under the Castro regime in 1962, shortly after they were married and came to the US not knowing the language or anyone and made a great life for themselves and their children.  Mr.Suco worked his way to District Supervisor at Big B Drugs while Teresa Suco became a Professor of Spanish at Jacksonville State University.  I remember the first year I was President of Fiesta, Mike told me his mother asked about me and wanted to make sure I was doing all right and he was helping me enough!  I always felt we had a special bond because we shared the same name.  Such lovely people…

2006 – Fiesta’s 4th year – I had been photographing Fiesta all day and was trying to head over to the VIP area to grab a quick bite to eat when I saw Cultural Village (CV) Chair, Lui Fernandez rush over to me.  He excitedly told me I needed to get to the CV stage right away and get some pictures!  Of course, I followed him right over and there on the stage were the cutest children dressed in traditional Mexican costumes dancing traditional Mexican dances!  Their faces were so sweet too!  I remember thinking they seemed so shy and yet they were smiling and dancing their little hearts out for the crowd that had gathered.  This was the year we added the CV stage and I remember there was quite a bit of activity with other dance performances and even a short play in Spanish!  I’m just so grateful that Lui saw me when he did and told me to get to the stage or I would have missed this performance.  This became one of my favorite memories of Fiesta in 2006 – seeing the sweet faces of these children and seeing my friend, Lui’s face, beaming from a distance as he watched this take place…

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017!

Fiesta 2016 – Some of my Favorite Photos

img_1912

Drummer for Los Canarios on the Fiesta Coca Cola Main Stage

We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day!  The sky was blue and the temperature reached the low 80s and the sun made itself known throughout the day.  After the constant drizzle of the previous year, this was so welcomed to the Fiesta board, volunteers and especially the patrons!

Approximately 14,000 people made their way to Linn Park in downtown Birmingham for the 14th annual Fiesta event on Saturday, September 24.  My favorite things to do every single year is to walk the park, visiting all the booths and meeting and greeting all the nonprofits, businesses and vendors who come to be a part of this incredible event.  I take their photos, welcome the new folks and catch up with old friends along the way.

img_1911

A little girl wearing a traditional Mexican dress gets her nails painted in the Family Village.

One of the highlights of this years event was the competition between countries in the Cultural Village – the heart of Fiesta.  A group of judges went through – anonymously – and voted on the best country booth based on presentation and creativity.   This year the Mexico won the competition and took home $500!  Next year, the stakes will be even higher as the best country booth will walk away with $1,000!

img_1910

A collage of photos from past Fiestas adorned the Mexico booth in the Cultural Village. The Mexico booth won the first ever competition of Cultural Village country booths!

By the way…next year will be Fiesta’s 15th year anniversary – our quinceanera…and we have big things planned for this milestone!  Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 30, 2017, for Fiesta 2017 and stay tuned for an event packed year leading up to this great event!

img_1576

Mark your calendar for Fiesta 2017!!!!!

Meanwhile…please enjoy some of my favorite photos from this year’s Fiesta!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sojourns Fair Trade Store

IMG_0007This afternoon I stopped by Sojourns Fair Trade Store in downtown Birmingham.  This place is such a treasure!  I mean,  I seriously never leave this store without dropping a chunk of change but I just can’t resist all the beautiful things!  From jewelry and clothing to lovely pieces of art from all over the world…if you are looking for unique gifts, this is the place!

When I arrived, Melissa Kendrick, my friend and owner, was busy getting new clothing merchandise ready to display for sale.  She greeted me with a big hug and began telling me about the clothing and a pop-up shop she is preparing to open in Montgomery.  I still remember the first time I met Melissa.  It was at her first location just down the street from her current location – 2017 Third Avenue North.  I went in at the recommendation of two friends who worked nearby and immediately fell in love with the place!  I remember having the nicest conversation with Melissa and thinking how wonderful to have a store like this in Birmingham!

IMG_0002

Sojourns was the first wholly fair trade store in Alabama.  They offer unique items produced under fair trade standards from 57 countries.  For more about what fair trade is, visit the Fair Trade Federation website.  A sign in the store shares that fair trade wages are designed to provide fair compensation based on the true cost of production and are not based on any developed world wage standards.  Fair wages are determined by a number of factors including the amount of time, skill and effort involved in production, living wages where products are made, the purchasing power in a community or area and other costs of living in the local context.

IMG_0001

Over the years I’ve purchased quite a number of items for my home and as gifts.  A few years ago, I took my daughters with me and I was oohing and aahing over a wooden salad bowl set and they surprised me with it for Christmas!  I was recently in the store with my mother and bought quite a few Day of the Dead items to add to my growing collection.  I have a collection nativity retablos too.  Today I was looking for a few more nativities and there were quite a few from all over the world.  It was hard to decide!

One of the Day of the Dead items I bought recently at Sojourns.

One of the Day of the Dead items I bought recently at Sojourns.

Melissa told me today that she wants to maintain a Day of the Dead section in her store as well as a Christmas section too.  She is expecting quite a few large shipments just in time for Christmas.  If you are looking for something different and something that you can feel good about purchasing, stop by Sojourns and take a look around.  I guarantee that you won’t leave the store without an item or two!  Here are a few photos of the store from my recent visits in a slide show.  Seriously…go visit Melissa at Sojourns soon!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

A Look Back at Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Every year I look forward to Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival.  This was year 13 for the festival and while it was a rainy day, the rain stopped right before the event was set to start and people made their way downtown.  As I’ve always said, DOD is a photographer’s mecca!  For a week after the event, it’s fun to see all the social media posts and photos of everyone dressed out in sugar skulls.  Photographers J. C. Bravo and Larry O.Gay are always on hand and capture incredible shots of the people .  In my opinion, their photos are breathtaking and really showcase the beauty of Day of the Dead.  Check J.C. and Larry out on Facebook when you get a chance and you’ll see what I mean…

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

At one point early in the evening, Larry grabbed my camera and took a photo of me with my husband, and my friend Theresa Deleon and her daughter.  So I now have an “original” Larry Gay photo on my very own camera!  Thanks Larry!

Meanwhile, instead of talking about the event, I’ll just let my own photos tell the story…

IMG_9361

IMG_9362

This slideshow requires JavaScript.