Tag Archives: Fiesta Scholarship

The Ripple Effect and Fiesta Scholarship

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples. – Mother Teresa

When I think of the Fiesta Scholarship Fund, I’ve always thought of ripples.  How many scholarship awards have we made and how many lives have we possibly impacted?  It’s hard to know the ripple effect of these past 18 years but sometimes we get a glimpse into this and that makes me so grateful that Fiesta got started 18 years ago. 

This year, Fiesta was able to award $10,000 in scholarships to 8 Hispanic students.  And this was during a global pandemic!  It was great to be able to make these awards and to meet these students this past weekend at a special dinner.  For me, this is the best part of why we have Fiesta every year.  My friend and fellow Fiesta board member, Lui Fernandez, also gets so excited about these awards.  I love that he is on the scholarship committee and shares his passion at these events. 

After we had our #30 Days of Fiesta celebration in September and October, in lieu of a live event in Linn Park in Birmingham, we ended with the announcement of the Fiesta scholarship recipients.  Our committee chairs, Lui and Phil Sandoval were to make that announcement on October 15th during a Facebook Live event.  We were scheduled to go live at 6 p.m. but Phil had a last-minute conflict and couldn’t make it so it ended up being me and Lui making the announcement.  We also had a problem getting the Fiesta logo to pop up on a large television screen where we had planned to make the announcement.  What a struggle!  We ended up moving from a conference room at GoPro Events to one of their offices.  I watched as Lui, our event Manager Denise Koch, and board members, Silvia Espinosa Laxson and Vanessa Vargas pulled together a backdrop for me and Lui to present in front of in a matter of minutes! 

We ended up going live at 6:30 that night and alternated announcing the scholarship recipients along with their major, school and a quote from their applications.  It was so exciting to be a part of that and I loved watching Lui during this presentation.  He was clearly on cloud 9!  Later we looked at the comments from the Facebook live and it was so sweet and exciting to see how many people tuned in and how many parents commented saying things like “that’s my daughter.”  It makes all the work and effort we put into Fiesta worth every minute of it. 

On Sunday, November 15th, the Fiesta board was able to meet the students and make the check presentations to each of them.  Once again, Lui and I worked together and made the awards presentation and reveled in meeting the students and hearing their stories.  In fact, we asked each of the students to share a little bit about themselves as we waited for our dinner to arrive.  Their stories had me on the brink of tears.  So much gratitude to parents who had worked so hard to get them to this place and so much gratitude to Fiesta for making the awards.  One of the students had been encouraged by her teacher to apply and she was adamant about her filling out the application.  This teacher turned out to be Charity Jackson, former Carver High School Spanish teacher who also served as the Fiesta volunteer coordinator for two years!  I honestly did not know that so it was such a full circle moment for me.  Two of the students have a HICA connection.  One volunteered there and another is currently employed there and was encourage by a staff member to apply. When I sat down to speak to her she said to me – “you look familiar to me.”  That’s when I found out more about her story and told her she probably saw me at some point during last year’s tamale sale!  Another recipient spoke of the sacrifices of his father who came to this country from Venezuela and learned English at the University of Alabama.  He paved the way for his son to have a better life in the US and this young man recognized that, announced it to everyone gathered at the dinner and said, “I’m going to go you one better.”  Loved so much how he recognized his father’s sacrifices for him. 

The final full circle moment came from one of the scholarship recipients that I know.  A young lady who has volunteered for Fiesta over the years and volunteers in the Latino community.  She was the one who made the comment that “I believe in the ripple effect…to be kind and helpful, especially in my Latino community.”  To hear one of the scholarship winners talk about the ripple effect brought everything full circle for me this year.  It was the best way to end our Fiesta celebration until we can do this all over again next year.  I so look forward to adding more ripples to our scholarship story.

The Power of a Photograph

Photo taken of Abe and Frank Francisco at a Linn Park rally for immigrants in July 2010.

Facebook memories can provide wonderful surprises some days.  It’s a wonderful way for me to check in and see how far things have come, and in some cases, it’s a new discovery.  Like this past Monday…I quickly looked through Facebook memories when I saw a photo I took 7 years ago (2013).  I was tagged in it by my friend and community activist, Helen Rivas.  The photo was of a gentleman by the name of Abe Francisco who had been the victim of a home invasion and was severely injured.  Helen tagged me in her post because I had taken the photo at a Celebration of the Immigrant Community rally in July 2010 in Linn Park and she was sharing Abe’s story of resilience.

And then, as I looked closer at this photo, I realized I knew the other young man in the photo…it was Abe’s brother Frank!  Frank Francisco had been a Fiesta Scholarship recipient in 2008 when he was attending University of Alabama at Birmingham and studying optometry.  I remember him to well because he had the best smile and was always so humble.  In the photo, Frank is holding a small American flag and looking at his brother Abe, who is holding a sign that said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

This photo just made me smile.  I especially remembered Frank from a 2008 scholarship reception we had at the Birmingham Public Library with Storyteller Antonio Sacre.  It was such a wonderful event and I got to introduce him to those gathered, give him a little hug and then he went on to speak about the scholarship and what it meant to receive it.  Frank is the youngest of five children of Indigenous Mayan Guatemalan immigrants who moved to Albertville, Alabama in 1994.  He speaks both Spanish and Qanjobal and he volunteered at HICA – the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – an organization that I have been involved with since 2001.  Everyone at the reception loved talking to him.

The following year, Fiesta made posters of all the recipients to display at the festival.  We also got quotes from each of the scholarship recipients and Frank’s quote was “My dream of becoming a Doctor of Optometry has been made possible by the financial support of the Fiesta Scholarship.”  The Fiesta board loved being able to show the faces of the Hispanic students receiving scholarship awards and sharing their stories.  I mean, this is why we have Fiesta…so we can award scholarships to deserving Hispanic students!

Frank’s photo and bio at Albertville High School in 2019

In January 2019, I was at Albertville High School to photograph a show choir competition.  My daughter is the show choir director for Boaz middle school and high school and her students were performing that particular weekend.  As we walked to the classroom where the kids had changed into their costumes, we passed photographs all along the hallway.  The photos were honorees of Albertville High School’s Hall of Fame featuring graduates from the school who had gone on to wonderful achievements.  I was surprised to recognize several people and then I spotted Frank.  I had no idea he was a graduate of Albertville High School!  I had only known that he attended UAB in Birmingham.  It was also exciting to see what he had accomplished since his 2008 Fiesta scholarship award.  I excitedly showed my daughter and some of her students Frank’s photo and when I went to my next Fiesta board meeting, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone!

One of the other photos I took of Frank and his brother Abe in 2010.

Now, back to that photo that my friend Helen posted seven years ago…  I clicked on to Abe’s Facebook page on Monday and scrolled a bit.  That’s when I saw the video of his brother Frank’s induction into the Albertville High School Hall of Fame.  I watched the video and listened to his story up to 2018.  He graduated in 2014 and in addition to his work, he mentors other Hispanic students to help them reach their scholastic goals.  I heard that and said to myself…” of course he does!”  Then I saw it…the photo that I took in 2013 as part of the slide show about Frank’s life and achievements.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.  It’s amazing how far a single photo can take you with its story, isn’t it?

NOTE:  November is National Scholarship Month, established in 1998 by Scholarship America.  It was created to build awareness of scholarships.  This month, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural festival awarded $10,000 in scholarships to eight Hispanic students in Alabama. 

#30 Days of Fiesta – Part 2

This is the second of a two-part post about #30 Days of Fiesta 2020 and how the Fiesta Board was able to create memorable virtual events for our community.

 As July approached, the Fiesta Board was off and running with our 2020 plans.  The main task was to create content for 30 full days from September 15 through October 15.  In addition to to that, we also had to decide which social mediums to use and how to introduce and promote each segment, create Facebook invitations to attract viewers, and make sure we were posting at the appropriate times based on our Facebook interactions.  Whew!

One of our many zoom meetings to prepare for #30daysofFiesta

In order to give our 30 days a good flow, we created a theme for each day of the week.  This made it easier to create content and helped us include our sponsors and get them actively involved.  Our themes were reflective of our Fiesta villages during a normal festival in Linn Park and made it feel more like we were actually having the event.

Our 30 Days of Fiesta daily themes and sponsors.

Our week began with Wellness Mondays presented by Jefferson County Department of Health, Children’s of Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.  Information about services and resources available to help keep you healthy and safe were provided.  For instance, videos and live information about car seat safety, Covid-19 information, proper way to wash your hands and other great facts were shared.

Taco Tuesdays, Tito’s and More, presented by Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Mi Pueblo Supermarket, we showcased Latin cooking and cocktails with recipes, culinary demonstrations and mixology classes all through Facebook live.  Fiesta friend, Comedienne Joy was joined by Fiesta board member, Phil Sandoval during the cocktail demonstrations and they were a hoot to watch!  The restaurants selected for the cooking demonstrations were incredible.  The foods presented seriously made me want to lick my computer screen because the food looked so good!  (just kidding about the computer screen…)

Cultural Wednesdays, presented by Regions Bank showcased the people, history, culture and traditions of the Latin American countries.  It was the perfect way to show beautifully colorful videos about Latino countries and what they have to offer.  This was our way to share the cultural village with viewers.  For fun, there was also a trivia contest each Wednesday.

Throwback Thursdays, presented by Rubio Law Firm was my baby.  I say that because we used many of the photos I’ve taken of Fiesta since the first event 18 years ago.  I was able to go through so many of the photos and relive those years by creating a slideshow and share a little history behind them.  I loved doing this for Fiesta and I’m constantly amazed at the people I discover in my photos who I photographed and didn’t know then but who are now friends of mine!  We like to say that Fiesta has made a huge impact in our community and I think if you look through these videos you can see that.

Financial Fridays, presented by Wells Fargo provided “fiscal fitness” in the areas of establishing and building credit, home buying, savings, budgeting and more great tidbits.  The Financial Village was a wonderful addition to Fiesta last year thanks to board member, Phil Sandoval.  We held a separate event that brought together financial experts for the Hispanic community.  This year, Wells Fargo produced videos for each week and we also joined forces with HICA, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and Bancorp South for two virtual seminars.  Very informative!

Celebration Saturdays, presented by Alabama Power Company helped us celebrate the best of Hispanic art, music, film, food, dance and more!  This is “the line” we use when we speak about Fiesta in a normal year.  And seeing the content we pulled together made it feel like a normal year being in Linn Park.  We had Zumba classes, dance classes by DJ Ivan Correa who is a mainstay at Fiesta each year, craft videos like how to make tissue paper flowers and so much more.

And finally, on Fiesta Family Sundays, presented by City of Birmingham and Bham Now, we observed the importance of family and community.  With the help of LaJefa radio station, we had a weekly talk show spot covering various topics.  We also reserved this time for our area non-profits that are always a part of Fiesta to have a voice.  The last two Sundays we promoted two films in Spanish at the Grand River Drive-in.  More on that in a minute…

See what I mean about content?!  Besides all of this, we also created something called “Fiesta in a Box.”  This box let our supporters have their own Fiesta in the safety of their homes.  We filled it full of fun items from our sponsors, information about our the Hispanic community, candy, craft instructions, fun little toys…and goodness!  The list of items was endless!  Several boxes contained a golden maraca or golden piñata which gave the box holder a special prize too!  The actual box was created by our board member, Cristina Almanza, who is a graphic artist.  She took such time and care to create something very unique to Hispanic culture. This keepsake box sold for $18 and we used it as a fundraiser for our Fiesta Scholarship Fund.

Our grand finale happened our last two Sundays when we partnered with Sidewalk Film Festival and Grand River Drive-in to show two movies in Spanish – Instructions Not Included and Disney’s Coco en español.  Several board members dressed in Day of the Dead costumes for Coco which made that last night of Fiesta all the more fun.  Of course, what’s a drive-in movie without popcorn or food?  We worked with Scott Cohen and Mi Pueblo Supermarket to create a wonderful taco menu for each movie night.  And popcorn with Valentina sauce was available for purchase.  If you haven’t tried Valentina sauce on your popcorn, you are missing out!  It gives it just the right amount of kick!

The best part of all this?  We were able to award $10,000 in Fiesta Scholarships this year to 8 deserving Hispanic students on our last day of #30 days of Fiesta!  After all, this is why Fiesta was created all those years ago.  My friend and fellow board member, Lui Fernandez, and I made the announcement during a Facebook live on October 15th.  It was an exhilarating feeling being able to do that and also reading the comments later…some from parents of the students who received awards.  It made my heart swell.  The check presentation to these students will be this November 2020 and I will share more about it later this month.

I’m so glad we did #30 days of Fiesta.  We learned a lot through the process and I think there are some elements that we added that we want to keep for the future.  This pandemic forced us to change how Fiesta functioned this year and helped us give the event a critical look.  It helped us see what we need to change in the future and what needs to remain the way it is.  I have loved this event since we began creating it over 18 years ago.  I never thought I would be a part of something this big for this long and I do cherish the moments, memories, craziness and friendships I’ve made along the way.  Here’s to 18 more wonderful years of celebrating Hispanic culture and heritage in the heart of Birmingham, Alabama!  Que Viva Fiesta!

Here are a few more photos from our very unusual year…

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2009

Some of the Fiesta team all bundled up for a group photo – Fiesta 2009 – the coldest event in our then 7 year history! (Lto R – Stacy Kimbrough, Phil Sandoval, Mike Suco, Me, Jamika Kirk and Denise Lovoy Koch)

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

Back when the Fiesta board was getting the festival started, we were always told the best time of year to have an event was late September through mid-October.  We loved hearing this because having the event during Hispanic Heritage Month – which falls between September 15 and October 15 each year – was our plan.  We were fortunate to have wonderful weather for six years in a row…and then we got to 2009…and the tables turned on us.  It was SO COLD!!!

To me this was a true test of our event.  Would people come out to our event in the cold?  Better yet, would they come out and STAY?  The answer was yes and YES!  You’ve heard of “fair weather friends,” – well, that year we discovered we had “all weather friends!”  We had many new patrons come through, but when I look back on the photos from this particular year, I see so many friends who threw on coats, hats and gloves and came out to Fiesta despite the cold!

These are some of my favorite friend photos of that cold day…

This was also the year we highlighted some of the Fiesta scholarship winners by creating posters to display at the event.  We really wanted to put a face on scholarships for Fiesta patrons.  The posters contained the recipient’s photo and name, along with their major and a sentence or two about what it meant to win the Fiesta scholarship.  While most people who attend our event know they are coming to a Hispanic cultural festival, many don’t know about the reason Fiesta was created in the first place – to award scholarships to deserving Hispanic students who have a need in our community.  The money is raised each year through the event sponsorships, donations and the admission tickets.

In 2008, we awarded $5K each to Samford University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Miles College to create a Fiesta scholarship at each school.  That was the largest award we had ever made in one year due to the success of Fiesta the previous years.    I remember how excited the board members were to do this and we really felt as though Fiesta had arrived and reached the potential we had all hoped for in the early years.  The students featured on the posters were the ones who received the 2008 awards.  Many participated in Fiesta in some way and that made the awards even more special to us.

 

 

More to come so please come back every other Friday through September 30, 2017, for more behind the scenes stories of Fiesta!

 

 

Fiesta Night with Los Barons – Part 1

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Regions Field and the Birmingham Barons partnered with Fiesta to have Fiesta Night with Los Barons last year. We are gearing up for another fun event this week!

Last year, Fiesta was fortunate to partner with the Birmingham Barons for a night of baseball with a Latin flair!  Fiesta Night with Los Barons was the perfect prelude to Fiesta 2014 and was so much fun to pull together and attend!

Ronald McDonald posed for pictures with fans and The Home Depot mascot made an appearance too!

Ronald McDonald posed for pictures with fans and The Home Depot mascot made an appearance too!

Fiesta board members and volunteers arrived early that evening to fill the drink cups with flyers about that year’s event.  Later, they staffed a table to pre-sell tickets to Fiesta and answer any questions about the festival.  Our presenting sponsor, McDonalds was on hand to participate in that night and brought along Ronald McDonald who joked with the crowd and posed for pictures with everyone.

Samford Students participated in the Parade of Latino Country Flags before the beginning of the game.

Samford Students participated in the Parade of Latino Country Flags before the beginning of the game.

Before the first pitch was thrown out, we arranged to have students from Samford University walk onto the field in a parade of flags representing about 15 Latino countries.  So colorful!  The students were later on hand for a check presentation photo when Fiesta awarded $5,000 to Samford University for Hispanic student scholarships.  Carlos Aleman, Professor of History accepted the check along with students from the newly formed Samford University Latino Student Organization.  It was so exciting to see the students and have them participate!  And I have to say that just a few short months later, the Fiesta board asked Carlos to become a board member and he graciously accepted!  We are fortunate to have him on board with us!

McDonald's Owner and Fiesta Title Sponsor, Santiago Negre did the honors by throwing out the first pitch at the game.

McDonald’s Owner and Fiesta Title Sponsor, Santiago Negre did the honors by throwing out the first pitch at the game.

After the parade of flags, it was time for the first pitch.  Fiesta asked Santiago Negre, local McDonalds store owner and Title Sponsor of Fiesta, to do the honors.  Santiago and his brother, Russell, have been wonderful to Fiesta and they are back this year (2015) as Title Sponsor once again!  We are so fortunate to have them in Birmingham, not only for their Fiesta sponsorship but also for all the wonderful things they are doing for our community and city and always with such enthusiasm.

Santiago joked about his form and how he would throw the baseball as he went to the mound and then proceeded to throw out the most perfect pitch!  It was great to be on the field when this was happening and feel the excitement around us.  Santiago definitely made us proud with that pitch and we certainly let him know!  The traditional race of the mascots was interesting too.  From what I hear, the Hot Dog always wins and the Taco is left in the dusk.  Well, this year we had Ronald McDonald running a little interference for the Taco and it won!!!  That was quite a thrill for us, believe it or not!

Later we all grabbed a beverage – it was Thirsty Thursday after all – and enjoyed the game.  The weather was beautiful that night and the crowd was great.  Hopefully, we were able to reach some people who didn’t know about Fiesta and encourage them to attend last year.

If you are in town this week, come on out to Fiesta Night with Los Barons THIS Thursday, August 27 –  Regions Field at 6 p.m.  Fiesta tickets will be on sale and you won’t want to miss the Parade of Flags again.  We also have a special guest who will be throwing out the first pitch!  More on all this in my next post – Part 2 of Fiesta Night with Los Barons!  Hope to see you there!

Fiesta Board and Volunteer Shirts for 2014 - the color definitely made us all stand out in crowds!

Fiesta Board and Volunteer Shirts for 2014 – the color definitely made us all stand out in crowds!

Carlos and the students get ready to show off the flags of Latin countries.

Carlos and the students get ready to show off the flags of Latin countries.

Photo opp with Santiago Negre and Fiesta Board Chair - Matt Ennis!

Photo opp with Santiago Negre and Fiesta Board Chair – Matt Ennis!

Fiesta Board Members are ready to have a blast at Fiesta Night with Los Barons!

Fiesta Board Members are ready to have a blast at Fiesta Night with Los Barons! From left to right: Vanessa Vargas, Cristina Almanza, Teresa Zuniga Odom, Chris Miller, Matt Ennis and Orlando Rosa. (Missing from the photo: Ashlee Jones and Freddy Rubio)

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Fiesta Event Manager, Denise Koch (far right), gives last minute instructions as the gates open.

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