Cover Story

Boss Mother: Robin Barnes Casey

Boss Mother: Robin Barnes Casey

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Boss Mother: Robin Barnes Casey

Name: Robin Barnes Casey
As Robin got older and mainstream music began to take hold, she began to marry the old and the new to create her own unique blend of funky jazz, soul and R&B. By captivating audiences with her renditions of popular songs and contemporary classics, she makes each song her own.
She’s appeared on ESPN, BET, NCIS and more. She has also been featured in publications like Forbes, Southwest Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Marie Claire and Southern Living. In addition to being an award winning music artist, she’s also one of the city of New Orleans’ biggest ambassadors and influencers, and has been featured in the press for the fitness movement she founded, Move Ya Brass. She proudly carries the official distinction of the “Songbird of New Orleans.” “Songbird of New Orleans.”

Tell me about your experience with motherhood?
Motherhood has been such a new experience in love. I thought that music was my only love until I became a mother, and now every day I wake up and there is like this little person smiling at me. It just gives me a whole new meaning of love and happiness.

How is being a mom with a career like yours that demands non-traditional work schedules?
Balancing being a mother and being a musician full-time is difficult because I work at night and my baby sleeps at night, so I must make sure that everything is in order before I go to work. At the same time when she’s a new-born, she’s going through her new sleeping patterns and that requires like all-day, all-night, so it is exhausting to be a mommy and be attentive all-day-long, and then gig from 9 PM until 1 AM.

So how do you find that balance?
Honestly, I’m learning how to nap. I never napped before this. I was a go-getter, hustler, all-day, 24 hours, 7 days a week…. Now I nap. But at the same time scheduling is so important. You have to make sure that you take time for yourself and take care of yourself.

What are your thoughts about being a boss mom?
I will say being a working mom is a challenge, but I have so much more respect for all the moms who have 9-to-5 jobs, and those who are working as single mothers. Anyone who is a single mom, or a single dad, who is doing it by themselves… I don’t know how you do it! I am so grateful for my husband because our baby is a balancing act, but as a mom, I feel there is so much more responsibility on our plate. We just need to remember that we don’t have to be perfect. It’s a learning experience the entire time. The main thing I’ve learned is to be humbler and to enjoy more the moment.
You are dealing with being a new mom during an unprecedented time. A time when musicians and many gig workers are struggling. What are your thoughts on this?
As a musician, going through this pandemic has been extremely stressful because I have lost my entire income and my entire livelihood. I did everything right. I made sure I had savings, I have a Master’s in business, so I kept my business organized, but you couldn’t really prepare for what is happening now, so now it’s a balancing of what do you do? How do you survive? Because if you can’t work, yet your bills are continuously coming, how do you make that happen? I have started Monday night streaming and I’m so grateful because my fans are able to tip and donate, and even though it’s not much, it helps pay the bills and helps pay for groceries, and it helps pay the light bill. During this time, human love and generosity have not only been surprising to me, but it shows that we are all in this together because everyone is connected. It’s really about the connection more than anything else.

Have you found anything positive during these difficult times?
There is some positive to all this. I am very fortunate because now I have more time to be with my baby and my husband. I’m not able to see my parents because we want to keep them safe, but I really do cherish this precious time. I know that this is something special. Not every parent gets to have this one-on-one time, all-day-long watching those first few months of your baby grow. It’s about the littlest things, like today, she rolled over. I did not know that would be the coolest thing ever! Every day is something new and it’s something great. Now when she says “mama,” I will be so happy, but I have a feeling she might say “dada” first.

What do you say to all those who are struggling right now?
First, there is such a range of people that are affected by this virus, like the people you know who have lost someone. Currently, I have a relative who is sick, and his kidneys are failing. He is on a ventilator and he’s only 43 years old. From people being ill to not being able to see our family, to people who are struggling financially, to those who are struggling emotionally and mentally. I say this in all my shows on Monday: You’re not alone, you are special, we will get through this together. If you need someone, reach out. The people who are doing OK, reach out to your friends, check in on people. We are going to be fine; we are going to be stronger from this as mankind. I hope that we are more compassionate and empathetic after going through this, and I think that is the best thing in life. As we see things happen, we know it can only get better, so let’s be together in a sense of love and support.

What message do you have for other mothers?
To all mommies in the world: You are amazing, you are strong, you are fearless. I appreciate you. We are awesome, and our babies are better human beings for us in their lives!

Boss Mother:Teresa Lawrence

Teresa Lawrence

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Boss Mother:Teresa Lawrence

Name: Teresa Lawrence
Occupation: President, Delta Personnel | CEO, Delta Administrative Services
Biography: Teresa Lawrence is a Cuban-born entrepreneur who came to the United States in 1973 under President Nixon’s “Freedom Flight.” It was this pursuit of freedom, mingled with sheer uncertainty, that inspired Teresa to dedicate her life to helping people find jobs, obtain financial stability, and support their families. Under her ownership, family-owned business, Delta Personnel has gained national recognition in the staffing industry. Teresa currently serves on the following Board of Directors: WBEC South’s Board of Directors as Regional Director for New Orleans, Jefferson Economic Development Board Vice-Chair, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, New Orleans Chamber and Jefferson Parish Workforce Development Council.
Tell me about your work, schedule, some of the responsibilities.
Delta Personnel was founded by my father-in-law, Victor Lawrence, in 1968. My husband, David Lawrence, and I took over this business about 30 years ago, developing our offerings across several industry sectors including: administrative & clerical, healthcare, hospitality, professional, and skilled labor. This year, I also became the majority owner and CEO of Delta Administrative Services, LLC, a PEO firm founded by my husband in 2001. As valuable community partners, our work involves helping our clients meet HR demands and mitigate some of the risks that surround labor management. Furthermore, partnering with more minority businesses and advocating for diversity and acceptance will be a major part of our companies’ growth plans.
Mother of # of children, names, gender, ages:  Two Daughters: Francesca (28) and Alexandra (26) + One Son: David (24)

What is the best thing about being a mom?
I became a mom in 1992. The first day I held Francesca in my arms was a true testament that God does not call the qualified…He qualifies those He calls. This role has so many twists and turns – like that of a business owner. There are no right or wrong decisions when there is no road map or instructions, however if you have a great support system like I did, then you will have the confidence to have two more! Apart from the laughs and friendship with my kids, the best thing about being a mom is watching them transform before your very eyes to make their marks on the world in their own unique ways.

How long did you take before getting back to work?
I was blessed to have my mother and grandmother, who eventually moved in with us (I married a good man!), to help me create a routine with Francesca so that I could quickly get back to work in just a few weeks. Alexandra had some health issues as a baby, which led me to make the decision to step back for two years, which turned into three after my son was born.

What was your biggest fear about becoming a mother and the ability to continue to thrive in your career?
My biggest fear about becoming a mother was the world that my children were entering, and I had faith and trust in my family to face any obstacle we would encounter both at home and work. Coming from a matriarch household, it was not hard to follow suit. My mother said: “Teresa sigue con el negocio que aquí estamos nosotros – nunca dejes de echar pa’ lante.  Ahora más que nunca tienes que luchar por ti, por ellos, y por todos los empleados que dependen de ti.”

How did your work dynamic change, or did it?
Being an owner of a company at the same time as I became a mother gave me the freedom to be there for my children when they needed me. My work dynamic with my husband at my side changed between the years I took off to raise my babies, however his expertise in finances allowed the company to improve profitability, and I was able to focus on sales efforts to drive the business further.

What is the hardest thing about being a working boss mom?
Being a working mom, I missed many of my daughter’s basketball games (she went on to play in college), especially when it involved travel as my husband would go with her and I’d stay behind to manage while he was gone. It was hardest when the kids were young, and I would call to check in with my mom and would hear them crying for me in the background. 

What can women do to find that mom/boss balance?
There is no magic formula for balance, so doing your best to be there when it counts. Having a support system with family and friends as well as a trusting relationship with my husband helped me to prioritize what was important to me, while dedicating time to learn as much as I can to help my business.

Are there biases against mothers in the workplace in general?
Motherhood has helped me to empathize more with working mothers, and I try to accommodate my staff as much as possible when life’s precious moments require their presence. I have never given them the opportunity to choose work over children – they know children come first, no matter what, and they are the reason they spend 8 plus hours a day with me. My staff is 95 percent women, and some are single moms, so in the same sense, they are empowered to make decisions when I need to be there for my family. 

What would you tell a career woman who is conflicted about starting a family because of fear of jeopardizing her career?
To have enough emotional energy for your career and your family you need to make sure you have some personal time to do what you love without feeling guilty.  This will help you change your life battery and keep you focused.  When your mind is in the right place your decisions are clear and concise both for your personal life and work. At the end, life is about how many lives you’ve touched, so following your heart will reap in benefits.

What should the government do to create a better environment for working mothers?
I employ many non-salaried workers, and I feel for them when they cannot afford to return to work so quickly. While I'm not one to talk politics, I would advocate for some of the rights of these staffers, especially essential workers as outlined by the government these days.

What does your support system look like?
What would I do without my family? My blood relatives are mostly in New Orleans and Miami, and I am lucky to have such great in-laws spread across the south, as well. In addition, I have a wonderful work family with staff that sincerely care for one another.

How does motherhood make one a better professional?
Mothers are equipped to handle anything life throws at them.

How have you handled the COVI19 pandemic regarding work and family?
As an HR partner, we have shown commitment to our clients and employees, working longer hours, and responding to questions while advising them on the government policies that affect their ability to put food on the table for their families.

How has this situation affected you personally, and as a mother?
Personally, I’m being reminded of Katrina, and thankful that we had measures in place to get through another hurricane, although this pandemic of course affects more than just where we operate. I’ve learned to take things one day at a time and pray for a new tomorrow.

What are your feelings towards New Orleans’ current situation, specifically to festivals, and live performances?
New Orleans is better equipped to handle a rebirth than most cities in the US. We are the epidemic of resilience!

Boss Mother: Alejandra Guzman


By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Boss Mother: Alejandra Guzmán

Economic Developer, VP of Real Estate and Capital Investments
Alejandra Guzman is an internationally recognized expert in economic and community development, social responsibility, and new business development. With leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, Alejandra creates and analyzes inter-sectoral initiatives that maximize the resources of non-government organizations (NGOs), government agencies, and private sector companies to solve international community and economic development challenges.
Tell me about your work, your schedule and some of your responsibilities.
My focus is on developing and executing real estate, policy, and partnership strategies to promote the development of communities that have been handicapped by disinvestment.  This takes many different forms, from organizing networking and educational opportunities with the Real Estate community to designing key programs to support the industry. Most recently I have been working on developing a strategy that leverages the Federal Program Opportunity Zones.


How many children do you have?
Mother-to-be of a baby girl, Sophia G. Cooper, expected for July 12, 2020.

What is the best thing about being a mom?
There are several things that excite me about becoming a parent. I am looking forward to the joy of discovering a shared sense of purpose with my partner. Starting from pregnancy, it is really fascinating to see and feel how quickly a baby grows. Once Sophia is born, I’m going to cherish all her developmental milestones from discovering her own hands to walking and first words. This is going to be a life-changing experience that I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.
Are there biases against mothers in the workplace in general? If so, how can they be tackled?
There are still a lot of biases that affect expecting mothers. Motherhood triggers false assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers.  This maternal bias is a major problem for women’s career advancement. Because of this, mothers and pregnant women are often given fewer opportunities and are submitted to higher standards. Mothers might not be considered for promotions, new hires, or big projects. A landmark study published in 2007 “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”, demonstrates that in an interview process, women who didn’t have children were two times more likely to be called for an interview as compared to similarly qualified mothers. The study also found that mothers were rated less competent and committed, and recommendations were made for lower starting salaries. The study also looked for this same discrimination towards fathers but did not find any evidence.  This study can be found here.

It is an unfortunate reality that women, regardless if they are mothers or not, still face other biases and challenges in the work environment including obtaining equal pay, harassment, and career opportunities. Although to tackle these issues one must advocate for societal and policy change, I believe there are personal tactics that one can take to navigate through this harsh environment. I would advise first to invest in your professional development and understand what skills are needed for a career move. Finding an executive coach can be very helpful in addressing skill gaps and preparing you for salary negotiations. I also recommend that women find a sponsor. Someone who is an influential leader who advocates on your behalf and opens the door to new career opportunities, promotions, and great assignments. To find your sponsor, go above and beyond at your job and make yourself visible by taking on projects that provide exposure.  
What would you tell a career woman who is conflicted about starting a family because of fear of jeopardizing her career?
I can’t deny that one of my fears about becoming a mother is how this could affect my career. I still have to discover a way to balance motherhood with professional life. Some of the things I considered that helped my choice to become a mother were, first, to count on a partner who is committed to raising a family and investing time into parenthood so that we can both continue to thrive in our careers. Secondly, having a network ready to step in to help, and lastly, knowing that we will figure things out as we go. There is no such thing as a perfect life, so I’m very intentional about being flexible and adaptable.
What can companies do to be more accommodating to working mothers?
Organizations must prioritize having women in decision-making roles. We can't expect to create a better environment for women without us being involved in the decision-making process. Companies should increase diversity and specify a target number of female candidates for each leadership position or have programs that encourage women to apply for leadership roles. A woman who has gone through pregnancy and parenting will understand the importance of lactating rooms, good health insurance, adequate and affordable day-care, paid family leave, and family flex time and will find ways to provide better accommodations to fit these needs.
What should the government do to create a better environment for working mothers?
Our country needs a system to support all working families through paid parental leave, affordable healthcare, and childcare to all our residents. There is no federal legislation to protect working families. 
How have you handled the COVID-19 pandemic regarding work and family?
As my husband and I continue to work from home, we agreed to stick to a routine and designate working spaces for each one of us.  We are treating our day just as we would at the office, minus the commute. We are taking care of our health by including daily exercise and healthy food.  We have limited news consumption to once per day and made sure to curate the news outlets that we listen to. Most importantly, we stay in touch with our loved ones while practicing social distancing, as this time has made it clearer that family is our priority.
What is a lesson that you have learned through this challenging time?
I have learned that I’m more vulnerable and stronger than I realized. I could have never foreseen being pregnant during a global pandemic! In this context, my motherhood journey has already tested me in many ways. There are different protocols for doctors’ appointments. Hospitals have limited entrance to patients only, which has been disappointing during routine visits, especially during ultrasounds. Going to a hospital is also scary. Being a first-time mother comes with a lot of unknowns, but this crisis brings it to a whole different level. In all, we have found other ways to celebrate the arrival of this baby and keep the joy. My friends and family have organized a virtual baby shower! I’ve learned the importance of being flexible, adapting to uncertainty, and that even in the hardest of times, there is always something to be grateful about.

Boss Mother: Amy Landry

Amy Landry

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Boss Mother: Amy Landry

Tell us about your work.

I wear multiple hats. I am co-Founder and partner of Diapers to Desk, LLC, owner of Landry Corporate Training, LLC, and part-time employee for Loyola University’s Women’s Leadership Academy.
I created the training program ‘Diapers to Desk,’ which was successfully launched at Shell Oil in 2017, where I spent time one-to-one coaching new mothers returning to work. The need for the program grew to where I eventually partnered with licensed therapist Elyse Shull to create the online version and company Diapers to Desk, LLC in 2019.

How many children do you have?
I have one daughter Ava Elizabeth, who is six.

When did you first become a mother?
My daughter’s birthday is December 31, 2013! My husband and I dealt with infertility for MANY years before we were finally blessed to be expecting. However, whenever I would tell people my due date at the end of December, they would express pity and tell me, “what a terrible time to have a baby.” This infuriated me. I went into labor on December 30th, but I held out as long as I could so Ava could have a “memorable” birthday; thus, Ava was born shortly after midnight on December 31st. Cue the fireworks!

What is the best thing about being a mom?
LOVE! It’s the best thing in the world to fully experience the unconditional love that mothers have for their children. When my daughter tells me that she loves me with her whole heart, I can’t even begin to describe how my heart literally bursts with my love for her!

How long did you take before getting back to work?
Twelve weeks off, the full amount of FMLA that was offered to me at the time. I do remember a co-worker asked me one day how long I would take off and I said twelve weeks. She replied, “must be nice.” The comment struck me, and I remember feeling guilty and worried if I should not take the full 12 weeks.

What was your biggest fear about returning to work?
I had a million thoughts and fears! I was breastfeeding at the time, so I worried about pumping and keeping my supply up. I was also worried because I was so exhausted, and I did not feel like myself. At 12 weeks, I was still reeling from the shock of being a new mother and worried about how to manage my former high-achieving, professional self with a NEW full-time job as a mother. In the past five years, I have coached countless new mothers on maternity leave and have found that regardless of age, profession, race, ethnicity, and other factors, most mothers all feel the same gut-wrenching fears of leaving our babies and returning to work. It is a difficult transition to say the least and a transition that most of us are ill-prepared for and receive little to no support.

How did your dynamic at work change?
I was an HR director serving on an all-male executive team and I was the youngest by more than 15 years. It was hard to relate to each other. I had also discussed flexible work options and the ability to work from home, which did not end up happening. It was a struggle for me because I was not prepared for the shock and trying to adjust back to work. My entire career had been built on giving resources to employees and helping in times of need, but as a new professional working mother, I felt like my world had flipped upside down and I did not have a resource to turn to for help. This was an isolating and overwhelming experience for me.

What can women do to find that mom/boss balance?
In Diapers to Desk, LLC., we have a training support course called BALANCE, and we break this down over seven courses because there’s no secret recipe or easy fix for work-life balance. It’s a mindset. One must learn to prioritize your values and yourself. It’s coming to terms with unrealistic expectations, managing and learning to release guilt, establishing boundaries, and even gaining communication skills on how to speak up for yourself in an assertive manner. Mothers can be so good at taking care of everyone else, but usually at the expense of ourselves. In order to have balance, mothers must begin by taking care of themselves.

Are there biases against mothers in the workplace in general?
Yes, there are biases that exist for mothers in the workplace. I remember when I told my boss that I was expecting. His immediate response was, “Are you going to come back?”. I hadn’t even considered NOT coming back. Many people react this way and this is a hidden bias, which when left unchecked can even lead to discrimination.
Diapers to Desk, LLC has a companywide course called ‘Babies, Bias, & Burnout’ that uncovers the hidden bias and educates on what we call ‘benevolent discrimination,’ which regardless of your intentions, it is still illegal.

What can companies do to be more accommodating to working mothers?
Diapers to Desk was created out of a desire to improve the experience for working mothers, and the plan started with empowering the individual mother. Over time, our mission has evolved into partnering with companies to offer support and training for their entire team because it must start with the company wanting to create inclusive, supportive environments.

What makes you proud of being a working mother?
I think being a mother makes you a working mother. I know many mothers that do not work outside of their home, but they work so hard and put all their efforts into their children without pay, so all mothers should be proud of the work they do! I am personally proud that I can inspire my daughter and get to nurture her ambitions by showing her to work with passion. My ultimate goal is to make the world better for her.

How does motherhood make one a better professional?
I believe that motherhood helps put things in perspective, and your sense of urgency increases., You also learn not to sweat the small stuff, and how to better manage emotions. I felt a level of confidence that I had NEVER felt after having my daughter that I was indeed a superhero capable of anything.

How have you handled the COVID-19 pandemic regarding work and family?
Well, …we have had good hours and bad hours, and every day feels like Groundhog Day. But it boils down to that I am doing the best I can, focusing on the things that I can control, having clear communication with my spouse on how to work around each other, and being grateful that we are safe at home and still working. But I’m not going to lie...We are making time for daily ice cream AND LOTS OF NETFLIX.

Brandan “BMike” Odums

Brandan “BMike” Odums

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Brandan “BMike” Odums

‘Brandan is out painting” is what I heard upon arriving at Studio Be in the Bywater area of New Orleans for an interview with the artist himself. I checked my email, and, in fact, I had missed the update that instructed me to meet Brandan at 401 N. Roman street. We headed his way during school rush hour, hoping not to be too late for the 4 p.m. appointment. In my mind, I imagined arriving at the location and pulling Odums away from his entourage during the painting session. As I got out of the traffic jam, I arrived at the quiet street and saw the huge mural with sketches of various people, and only about 5% of the wall was fully done. Brandan “BMike” Odums was by himself, propped on a lift, iPad in one hand, spray can in the other, music is playing. It was a beautiful spring day, but a feeling of uncertainty swept through the community as the news about the spread of COVID-19 in our city was breaking. At this point, it was business as usual and Odums’ office for the day felt pleasant with perfect warm weather and even light. He was hoping to make progress on an already overdue project. This was the third of my brief encounters with the artist. However, this was the only time I actually got to see him in his element creating art.

Odums got down from the lift to greet the photographer and I. Just then, a black jeep drove by, blew the horn, only to slow down and park. The driver was Charlie Vaughn, Odums’s friend and an art teacher from a nearby school who came by to analyze his technique and ask him some questions. While we were getting ready to take Odums’ pictures, we talked briefly about his trajectory, about some of the press I’ve read about him, and how much coverage his work has received. We discussed the “illegality” of his initial works at the Florida projects when Odums’ art was considered defiant and forbidden. We mentioned we had been previously introduced by a friend in common during his massive Exhibit Be, an incredible display he had done in Algiers some years ago. He immediately started praising our mutual friend Perez, telling us how he made an impact on his life, saying, “he was one of the first video professionals that reached out to me about 2 Cent and told me what we were doing was dope.”

Odums explained he was working on the last mural that needed to be completed for the commission of the city of New Orleans during its tricentennial celebrated from February 2018 for the whole year. He laughed, explaining he had been traveling a lot, and that when he is in town he is pulled in many directions, including the school tours at his Studio Be on Royal Street. While we talked about the mural, cars passed by and beeped at him. A couple of girls in one car giggled, waved at him, and even looked a bit starstruck. People greeted him, yelled praising words, stopped and admired the mural before moving on. “This is part of the process,” he says. This is another reason why it takes him longer to paint in New Orleans. It’s quite different when he goes out of town to paint because he can fully dedicate himself to that creation free of many distractions. Of course, there are a few interruptions but he can remain focused on his masterpiece. At home, he is a staple of the community and has to take care of business matters while people stop by to greet him and talk to him. Naturally, he doesn’t mind these interactions with the people and the neighborhood as it provides him an opportunity to explain all the layers of the final piece. Educating the public is very much part of his mission, and, as he puts it, “that relationship between audience is needed for sustainability.” For this mural, the city bestowed upon him a complete artistic license, from choosing the location to creating the piece.

There is a lot of research that goes behind the work. It is a very collaborative process. One location he scouted turned out to be the perfect setting when he learned this location was an important gathering spot known as The Coliseum Arena. Here, boxing matches and other types of gatherings took place, including Civil Rights reunions with important figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ella Fitzgerald, among many others. “Friends have found newspaper articles, pictures, and all kinds of information about this place,” says Odums, indicating that the process involves community members who develop an interest in researching the history, which makes the artwork very relevant. Friends also contribute by finding people and sending their photographs so that he can portray real people on the walls. “There are lots of sports being played in this park, so they are also supposed to look like they’re the audience for the people playing sports,” Odums explains. These everyday people and some historical characters will be painted to represent different eras. The process starts with a request, and moves through from location scouting, historical research, finding the subjects, creating a digital illustrated composition, gathering materials and equipment, scheduling time, prepping the walls in some areas with a foam roller and paint, and then sketching the shapes with blue spray paint.

This quiet afternoon outdoors, during a work in progress, was much different than our last time together during his first tour at the Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University. “Not Supposed to BE Here” was his first solo exhibition in a museum, which opened January 18, 2020, and was to be on view through May 23rd. A free tour on Saturday, March 7th attracted quite a diverse crowd that filled the small gallery. I could see the excitement of his followers from being in the presence of the artist himself. Many were familiar with his work, but for a few others, it seemed like they were crossing a cultural barrier. I could hear them debating whether all the pieces were, in fact, made of only spray paint because “they looked like fine art.” Another group had to ask others if the meaning of the word “dope,” used constantly by Odums while explaining some of his accomplishments, had a positive or a negative meaning. His art, initially considered vandalism, as it happened with graffiti in general, is now part of a gallery exhibit in a museum of a prestigious university. 

Throughout the rooms, the quest for belonging is depicted in different forms. We appreciate art ranging from a young Odums learning history and painting historical and cultural heroes on T-shirts to a young professional questioning his place as a production crew member in a local television studio, a bold creator exploring cultural storylines through filmmaking, an artist putting everyday black people on the cover of a comic book, to a person defining his genealogy and being lifted by the stories of his ancestors, to an artist paying homage to cultural heroes, to even art alluding to the fact that the city of New Orleans, isn’t supposed to still be here. Odums reminded the audience that it was his first time hosting the gallery tour. But even while being unclear of the flow and how to take the audience through each art piece, listening to the thought process and learning all the backstory behind each piece was such a valuable insight for those of us in attendance. Nothing on those walls seemed coincidental or fortuitous. Odums’s artistry is masterful. There is a meaning to each subject, with deep layers in the process that convey a carefully crafted message.

His spray-painted works of art become a layered masterpiece that comprises multiple dimensions. We see the large scale characters who may be historical figures, civil rights leaders, musicians, or sportsmen, but also see the greatness of regular people who become relevant, with art that seeks to remind us there is value in the day-to-day.

Knowing that the NOCCA graduate dove deep into videography as his profession, creating a name for himself as a filmmaker in the 2 Cent collective, makes sense when you analyze his visual storytelling technique. Somehow, Odums has created a unique form of art, where still images can somehow move you through layers that become storylines, and colors that enhance character development. Odums sees the stories that are already in place and infuses them with a feeling of “if these walls could talk”. During the tour, he refers to that adage when a young audience member asks about the writing in the background of his pieces.

Odums thinks about the stories that are implied, whether on a wall, or what is contained within a painting, so he recreates that feeling of a wall on a blank canvas. He includes the surface and the texture, the messages that could have been there with words or numbers and allow his characters to show that back story through transparencies within the work. We are so drawn into his paintings because beyond the scale and the skillful management of aerosol paint, his images can tell multidimensional stories.

His work starts with lengthy research, and the characters are developed by the essence of the very location, the buildings, the neighborhood, the people, and its audience, all giving such deep meaning to his work. His “fine art graffiti” conveys strong messages and high relevance. His subjects do not provide testimonials or soundbites, but he still incorporates phrases and quotes that enhance the messages and develop the characters. He is aware of the need to honor graffiti art, stating he honors “spray paint as an art of communicating through words and staying true to the messages. I see large scale painting as a process of glorification of the people I paint.” Odums enjoys creating art on big canvases and for him, in many instances, it’s also important that he gets to glorify and value everyday people. He learned by listening to some of his mentors that there is no need for superhuman powers to highlight people. He instructs us, “let’s value them for who they are.”

His artwork also challenges us. Odums asks us to evaluate and review our attitudes towards people. “Systemic racism can be tackled through artwork,” he explains while pointing to a painting of a young black man holding a horn and asks if we react differently to that same man when we see him on the street and he is not holding his instrument. His art is a powerful statement against prejudice and the way society sees or unsees people, particularly everyday people of color.

A simple art lesson by Odums came at the end of his gallery tour when a young person asked him if he was ever afraid of the outcome of his final piece. Quite genuinely, he answered, “not really. For me, the process is the most exciting part of creating.” I was a witness to this during the brief time I stayed watching paint after our encounter on N. Roman street, all by himself, favorite tunes playing, spray can in one hand, iPad on the other, painting until sunset. Watching him passionately immerse himself in his art, you wouldn’t think the world around was collapsing through a pandemic. The city came to a halt, but the painting continued. Through all uncertainty, his “BMike” work of art will remain to retell history, to be a witness, and to color our hope. As for the title of his solo show at Tulane University, Odums’s conclusion could serve to foreshadow what we would be dealing with within the next few days. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to be here, but I’m already here and I’m not going anywhere.”

Lani Ramos Rock & Rouge Women’s Festival

Lani Ramos' Rock & Rouge Women’s Festival

By AnaMaria Bech


Click aqui para español- >The Rock & Rouge Festival de mujeres creado por Lani Ramos

Opportunity. That is precisely what has been lacking in the world for women. The workplace can be tough terrain for women who often lack access to leadership positions and are denied fair pay. The situation can be even more complicated for self-employed women who work in male-dominated industries. Women have often been forced to find a solution to inclusion, and for creatives all around the world the answer has been creating their own spaces where they can showcase their talents and, hopefully, make a decent living out of it.

The music scene in New Orleans is no different. With so many talented artists, women continue to be underrepresented in festivals and music venues. Lani Ramos, a talented musician, producer, and lead singer of Big Pearl and the Fugitives of Funk, is no stranger to this reality. The California native has resided in New Orleans for almost two decades and has been an active performer in town. She has once again taken the role of producer to create The Rock & Rouge Women’s Music & Food Festival & Beyond, a woman-headlined music festival that will debut its second edition on March 21st, 2020, at Lafayette Square in downtown New Orleans.

After falling in love with New Orleans during a short birthday trip (during which she brazenly knocked on the door of music legend Fats Domino), Ramos knew she had found a special place with a character like no other. The day she decided to find Domino, she was armed with cookies made from her great-grandmother’s recipe, and that was what convinced the artist to open the door for her. The rare encounter left Ramos with a precious birthday gift and a story to tell for generations. She walked away having met a Rock ‘n’ Roll legend that was kind enough to give the young Californian tourist an autographed photo.

She returned to Los Angeles to try one last time at a breakthrough in the entertainment industry as an actress. Ramos continued to work in production for a big movie studio, but New Orleans kept calling her. In the summer of 2000, she moved to the city where she could live her dream of fully becoming the creative artist she is. “Moving to New Orleans was a dream come true because New Orleans let me be who I wanted to be from the inside out, without judgement, without scrutiny,” says Ramos.

Within a few weeks, Ramos was living her plan A dream as an artist, and to top it off, she also got to live her plan B of being a producer. Her first gig ever on Frenchmen Street was for the Music Maker Foundation where Ramos got to open for Earl King. She also got to record with the guitar player of British band The Alarm. The venues welcomed her energy, her mezzo soprano voice, and regularly booked Ramos for gigs on Frenchmen and Bourbon streets for many years.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Ramos went into full producer mode and worked with various musicians in New Orleans to create “In Loving Tribute, 9.11.01,” a compilation CD for first responders in New York City. Ramos traveled to the Big Apple to distribute the CD’s to fire and police stations. While in New York, she watched the play “Love Janis” and was inspired to create a dinner theatre style version of the show back in New Orleans. “I didn’t want to be her, I just wanted to sing her music, have fun, make some money.” People seem to remember Ramos mostly for that show. She used that platform to release her second album during the Janis Joplin Birthday Bash in Port Arthur, Texas in 2004. She performed her tribute to Janis and debuted her original music with Scoot Boogie Baby.

Playing Janis Joplin gave Ramos recognition, but it also created a stigma for her that was hard to break out of. Even when tribute shows became popular for other local artists long after she was done with her show, people didn’t seem to let go of the fact that Ramos performed Janis’s songs. When booking some of the big festivals in town, she was passed over many times. Although the reasons were unclear, it may have had to do with the fact that she had done the Janis show and Ramos’ original work was overlooked by festival producers.

That was just one of the many obstacles Ramos had to overcome in the music scene. Hurricane Katrina changed many things in the city, and the aftermath took its toll on Ramos as well. She stayed during the hurricane and has detailed stories of the days after the hurricane that could easily be made into a vivid movie. She left momentarily to San Francisco, where she booked some gigs before returning to New Orleans shortly thereafter to deal with a precarious housing situation, health issues related to black mold for which she became an advocate, and a city in recovery in the music industry as well.

Through resilience, she was able to regain her footing. Ramos continued to perform across town and recorded her third album “Big Pearl Double Faces” in 2012. Big Pearl and the Fugitives of Funk released “Live on Frenchmen Street” in 2014. This album was a live recording of their performance that included various influences and allowed New Orleans’ essence to come through with audience reactions, improvisation, and collaboration.

Ramos has kept busy and active, playing, recording, and even producing the Yeah You Right! television series. But Ramos recognizes the difficulties women in the industry face. She has been vocal about health issues and has lent her voice to speak against gender inequality in the industry. Just as she had to create opportunities for herself, it is important for Ramos to do the same for other female artists. After getting involved with the Women’s March a couple of years ago, she realized the need for a female-driven festival in the city of New Orleans. “In 2017 I was so fed up with the oppression in this town of the female artist. When the Women’s March came up, I wanted to join because we wanted to make statements.” Ramos created The Rock and Rouge Women’s Festival in 2018 with the intention of giving an opportunity to women-led bands and women-owned businesses to showcase their artistry through music, crafts and food.

The second edition of The Rock and Rouge festival takes place March 21st from 10am until 8pm in the CBD in Lafayette Square Park. “The Rock & Rouge is not a man-bashing event, but quite the contrary. It is instead inviting men to come see women as powerful role models and as equals in the playing field of male-dominated careers and as beautiful and educated women.” Launching the festival has allowed for the creation of the Rock & Rouge Foundation, which aims to support young women with a future in STEAM college courses and careers.

The Women Who Rock stage will include great artists like headliner Lena Prima, The Vettes, Lynn Drury, Big Pearl & The Fugitives of Funk, Muevelo, Shawn Williams, Sandra Love and the Reason, The Dirty Rain Revelers, and Sole Gaze.

Women will also feel inspired at The Women’s Empowerment Panels that will cover topics like local politics, business ownership, navigating the music industry, combating social and economic oppression, along with other diverse panelists and themes. The Rock & Rouge Foundation, in conjunction with the local Microsoft branch, will host the S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) Tent for girls, featuring interactive workshops in all these fields to inspire and educate the next generation of independent, creative women. Additional local organizations and individuals invested in educational programs, focusing on ages 8 – 14, will help cultivate these activities.

The festival is free to the public to enjoy great performances along with delicious food provided by women-owned restaurants. This year, the festival is offering the option to purchase reserved seating tickets that include a wonderfully prepared picnic from Carmo, spearheaded by Chefs Christina and Dana Honn.

Ramos’ vision is getting the support of organizations who believe in the importance of creating equal opportunities for women. All are invited to come out on March 21st to support our local women artists and to enjoy a spring day of great music for a great cause.

Son of a Saint

Son of a Saint

The Mission of Bivian "Sonny" Lee

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- > Son of a Saint

Passion for the mission. That’s what you can get from Bivian “Sonny” Lee when he talks about Son of a Saint, the charity he founded in 2009. Currently, Son of a Saint is welcoming 30 boys who will be added to the growing family of 120 mentees served by the organization.

Growing up without a father is a challenge that thousands of children face, and it is one that is too familiar for Lee. Bivian Lewis Lee, Jr. was a professional football player who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1971, and who passed away at the young age of 34 from an enlarged heart. His son, “Sonny,” had just turned three, yet he remembers the day vividly. “I remember a loud noise, walking down the stairs, my father gasping for air, and the chaos... [Son of a Saint] is all about helping the next generation, but it is also therapy for myself.”

Unlike Lee, the boys at Son of a Saint have lost their father to violence or due to incarceration. That is the criteria he had to establish to select a small group from the many children in New Orleans who are in need of guidance and of a father figure in their lives.

Lee grew up in a better environment than many who grow up without a father. He had a family who could provide a good education, access to extracurricular activities, a safe environment, a nice house, and a home family made up of mostly women. But even though he had more than many, losing his father left a big void in his life. “I didn’t go fishing growing up, I didn’t talk sports with my dad…Now I’m doing these things with the boys that probably would have had the same experience that I have had.”

From his mother he learned volunteerism. When he was young, he wanted to be a veterinarian and often volunteered at animal hospitals. He played baseball and tennis growing up, but never pursued a professional career in sports. His mother discouraged him because she knew that his father did not want him to experience the things he had as a black athlete back in the ‘70s. 

However, Lee had a chance to work in sports. First for AAA baseball team, the New Orleans Zephyrs, and later as chief aide to Tom Benson, the owner of the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans. He had access to many opportunities working closely with one of Louisiana’s most powerful men. Yet, he steered back to creating something that allowed him to help people and make a difference where it is truly needed. His foundation gives mentees opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, designed to open their eyes to experiences and possibilities they once believed out of their reach.

Son of a Saint has developed a holistic approach to address the needs of every one of their boys. Besides the support and 24/7 dedication of their mentors, mentees have access to behavioral health services, recreational activities, group and one-on-one mentorship, tutoring, and tuition assistance.

After covering the basic needs for mentees through Son of a Saint, Lee has found ways to partner with organizations that provide funding and life changing experiences for the mentees that allow them to explore an entire world of possibility. Their program offers travel abroad and service missions, a time for reflection for the boys. “Visiting other countries like Ghana last year and Costa Rica previously, allows them to see their privilege and to experience other things.” For these boys, flying for the first time is a way to understand there are people who do that on a regular basis, and Lee knows having that experience may encourage them to get a job that allows them to travel. “We don’t want to just help that boy a little bit. We want to help him, make him into a leader who helps others.”

Because the mentees have dealt with traumatic experiences, the counseling part of the program is essential. Lee’s mother made sure he saw a therapist every week to help him deal with anger and frustration as a teenager. He understands these issues were present in him because of the loss of his father. When talking about news and crime committed by young boys, his frustration is evident. “I can tell you that 99% of these boys don’t have fathers, or a good father figure at home. If I could have gotten to him when he was 10…I really feel that that would not happen to a boy, or the chances that it wouldn’t, would be greater.”

After the staff and volunteers at Son of a Saint, Lee believes the strongest asset is the logic model they have developed. This model demonstrates how each element of the program leads to specific outcomes that are identified in each stage of their lives. The boys start the program at 10 years of age and stay in the program until they are 21, making the program preventative. A connection remains while the boys are in college, and the hope is that most of them would return to volunteer and mentor.

As a father himself, Lee defines the success of the program through experiencing the positive development of the mentees and watching the boys grow in the right direction. Getting messages from the mentees like “Mr. Sonny. I don’t know where I’d be without you, without this program” means a lot. “They see Son of a Saint as family, as a support for them,” Lee proudly tells us, and the most rewarding thing for him is to see the boys smiling, even though he knows they are struggling with big problems at home. He shares the stories of Jahiem and Alejandro. “Jahiem lost his mother and was living with a family friend who had a drug problem. His two older brothers were in jail for life. We intercepted him at 9 years old, before he would head in the same direction. His father was killed in jail. He is a Junior in high school, looking at colleges right now. He will probably get a full-ride scholarship. He had nowhere to live and is now living with our project manager. The project manager and his wife are going to adopt him. We also have Alejandro. He struggled being the older boy to four siblings, his father was in jail. He went to UNO and is going to the Culinary Institute of New York. We identified that he liked to cook early on, and he is attending one of the best culinary schools in the country, if not the world. He is coming back to New Orleans and we are looking into the possibility of opening his restaurant.”

The growth of the organization is focused on reaching out and serving approximately 200 mentees at a time, to have all the resources needed to fill their unique needs. “To support a boy holistically is a 24-hour job. You are raising a child. At Son of a Saint we are almost adopting a kid.”

One of their short-term goals as an organization is to find an office space of their own. Lee would like to acquire a building that can host Son of a Saint and all its activities. Lee would also like to increase the diversity of his mentee base as well as that of the mentors. Mentors are males 21 and older who want to provide guidance. They must go through a background check and a training that lasts around four hours. After that they participate for three months in group mentor sessions, which serves as additional training, but it also allows the mentors to develop a rapport with the mentees and organically identify a good pairing.

Son of a Saint is always looking for support. Whether it is through mentorship, financial contributions, hosting training sessions, providing food donations for their activities, or buying their branded merch, support is always needed and welcomed. There are many ways men and women can get involved. You can always lend a helping hand, by contacting them directly and checking out sonofasaint.org


Photography: CBass Studios

Nicole Caridad Beyond Off the Eaten Path

Nicole Caridad

Beyond Off the Eaten Path

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Nicole Caridad Más allá de su Instagram Off the Eaten Path

Nicole Caridad Ralston is fashionable, creative, and charming. That’s what you can easily tell from looking at her successful Instagram account, Off the Eaten Path NOLA, a profile dedicated to showcasing the most amazing food New Orleans has to offer. Her aesthetically appealing feed has acquired more than 15,000 followers and has gotten the attention of New Orleans tourism agency New Orleans and Co., which named Ralston as one of New Orleans’ Top Ten Hispanics to know in 2018.

Nicole Caridad takes part in the most exciting food-related events in town and she gets hired for marketing/influencer campaigns by many local restaurants to promote their menus.

It is hard to believe the food blog isn’t her full-time job. Behind the foodie extraordinaire is a very committed Higher Education Administration professional. Dr. Nicole Caridad Ralston is an educator in leadership, intercultural development, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Those who know Nicole personally describe her as “the real deal.”

In a world so dazzled by the superficial, finding out about someone like Nicole Caridad is a breath of fresh air. Sure, she looks like she is always Instagram-ready with stylish clothes, perfectly done manicures, and flawless make-up, but her style goes beyond the superficial. Nicole Caridad is highly educated. She cherishes her doctorate degree because she was the first person in her family to go to college straight out of high school. She says higher education was a powerful experience for her, an experience she feels many people should be able to attain.

Nicole deliberately moved to New Orleans in 2012 after completing her master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from NC State University. Enticed by the rich history of the Crescent City, the cultural traditions, the food scene, and the similarities to the Caribbean, New Orleans became Ralston’s clear choice for relocating with her then-boyfriend, now-husband. “I really deep down felt called to New Orleans... I really could not imagine life anywhere else. The food is amazing, the culture is amazing, everything about it I just love, and I feel very honored to live and be in this place and to call it home.”

Her father, an American of Irish descent, met her Cuban immigrant mother in Los Angeles, where Ralston was born. The family moved to South Florida when Nicole was a child. That’s where Nicole grew up, surrounded by her Cuban family and enjoying weekends at a farm in Homestead where she learned to love her roots. “I have beautiful memories about being on the farm and picking food and eating fresh meat that grew in the farm... Rabbits, chickens, goats, pigs… Being in the kitchen with my abuelo and mom, cooking.”

Her bicultural upbringing has given Nicole a high awareness of the social inequities people experience. Growing up having to navigate two very different cultures, languages, food, and customs instilled in Nicole a sense of empathy and a deep understanding of cross-cultural communication, finding validity in how individuals from other cultures value different things.

Her higher education journey was also one of finding herself and understanding who she really was. In many moments of her life, having different cultural influences made her feel as if she did not fully belong anywhere. “As a mixed-race woman, coming from Cuban refugee immigrants on one side of the family, and the other side being a white, working-class family, I was a free/reduced-lunch kid. A lot of my marginalized identities, as well as privileged identities of [passing as] white, having lighter skin than other members of the Cuban side of my family, all these experiences kind of blend together and have given me a lot of empathy into what folks are experiencing.”

All these experiences and the knowledge acquired during her professional development have been put to great use in Nicole’s work. As the Associate Director of Education & Programming at Beloved Community, a non-profit consulting firm focused on implementing regional, sustainable solutions for diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Ralston, as she is known professionally, finds it important to evaluate organizations through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. She believes it is essential to push people to think deeply about racial equity, which permeates the education system, businesses and everything in this country. Guiding organizations through the process of understanding who they serve, who they hire, how they involve the community, and what inclusion looks like in their organization, contributes to an intentional economic development. “I want to leave a society where folks feel included, where policies and practices are equitable across identity markets like race, gender, class, etcetera, and [I want] us to treat each other better and get back to centering humanity and who [we] are as people. [I] want us to collectively work together to uplift each other.”

Whether it is through her food blog at influencer events, or at professional speaking conferences, Nicole Caridad strives to live her values. She keeps busy with promoting restaurants in the city, serving on the board of the ACLU, being a publicity co-chair of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s annual Azúcar Ball, consulting for organizations, and even dancing in some of the city’s parades with the Latinx dance group, Ritmeaux Krewe.

Nicole Caridad Ralston is certainly an inspiring individual, a proud Latina, and a passionate New Orleanian who consciously contributes to the betterment of our community and our society. She uses her platforms to promote and uplift businesses in New Orleans, discuss issues people are afraid to talk about, and to promote the politics and values she believes in. Nicole embraces her bicultural roots, is a declared feminist, and couldn’t do without her food blogging or her consulting work. Through both identities she has found the perfect balance to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. She stays connected to her community, simply by doing what she loves and sharing it with those around her.


Photography: CBass Studios

The New Louisiana Children’s Museum

The New Louisiana Children’s Museum

By Luis Rodrigalvarez and Marcella Escarfuller

Click aqui para español- >El Nuevo Museo de los Niños

When the phone rang and the Louisiana Children’s Museum number was displayed, I thought it would be about the renewal of my membership. However, on the other end was Allison Stouse, the project manager for the new museum, asking me to translate the signs in the new exhibits to Spanish. So, it was then that I began to witness first-hand the final steps of the museum’s transformation from a brick building downtown to the new facilities in New Orleans’ City Park.

For almost a year and a half, I received snippets of information about the new museum and its revitalized exhibits. They all had a taste of Louisiana and the colors of New Orleans.


Shortly after the grand opening, Julia Bland, CEO of the Louisiana Children’s Museum (LCM), sat down with me and VIVA NOLA Magazine to talk about the newly minted museum. Bland’s corner office, wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows, is perched just above the outdoor patio overlooking the lagoon and herb garden. Bland, who has served as LCM’s CEO for over twenty years, reveals that the museum’s revitalization has been in the works for over thirteen years.

“After Katrina, everyone had great ideas and wanted to change the previously established education system, health system, the neighborhoods, the water resource management. We also decided to think differently and turn the museum into something beautiful that would help children develop from their earliest stage. We now collaborate with other organizations that are dedicated to the well-being of young children. For example, Tulane Pediatrics, Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Children’s Hospital, and the Policy Institute for Children that shares this space with us.”

The museum is very different from the place it used to be on Julia Street. There are entirely new exhibits to look forward to, of course, but there are some updated classics to look forward to, as well. “Everyone loves the sand table and the water, the kinetic ball machine, the recording studio, and of course, the grocery store and the bubbles that were also very popular in the previous location. What’s really new is being able to offer outdoor activities. We have a large area with sand for the little ones, the orchard to grow and teach, to be able to take walks to explore the surrounding nature and even a floating classroom to teach lessons in the middle of the lagoon.”

Bland’s vision for the museum is not simply to educate and entertain, but to create a lasting impact in the greater community. “If we invest differently in our young people, then we will have very different results in our community. And after the new facilities are opened, that’s when our real work begins.”

LCM is committed not only to early childhood education, but also to the environment and sustainability. The building is LEED Silver Certified (a certification in sustainable construction), houses a basin for rainwater collection, and home to Café Acorn, a restaurant that uses all organic waste for composting.

With the opening of its new facility, the museum has named four main areas of focus for its educational programs: emphasis on early literacy, sustainability and environmental impact, health and wellness, and arts and culture.

LCM’s exhibits and programs highlight the importance of the first years of childhood development, literacy being paramount to that development. LCM also chose to focus on the city’s location on the Mississippi River Delta, between swamps and wetlands, to teach children and the community about the importance of our environment and the need to preserve and protect it, highlighting the importance of sustainability of ecosystems through water management. Also, part of its mission, the museum has implemented programs that educate on the importance of nutrition and the benefits of a local and sustainable diet. And finally, in keeping with New Orleans culture, the museum celebrates the great cultural heritage we hold in New Orleans and Louisiana, and with great musical and culinary richness.

By providing signage in an additional language (in this case, Spanish) the museum demonstrates its intention to include diverse families, and to make it possible for parents and educators to fully explore each activity it offers in an alternative language. It is important for the Louisiana Children’s Museum to educate and support the whole family. The museum goes beyond being an experience only for the little ones. Adults also enjoy participating with the children, exploring and learning together.

The museum’s new facility and renewed mission have undeniably revitalized the organization as a whole. Since opening its doors on August 31st, 2019, the Louisiana Children’s Museum receives an average of 900 visits per day, each visit lasting an average of four hours. Memberships have tripled since the new facility’s inauguration, a true testament to the value of LCM’s educational programs and family-integrated learning.

Visit www.lcm.org to find information on the many programs and activities LCM offers.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. General admission is $14 per person for adults and children 12 months and older.

Cristy Cali

Cristy Cali

Written by Marcella Escarfuller

Click aqui para español- >Cristy Cali

There’s purple everywhere. That’s the first thing you’ll notice when you walk into the new Cristy Cali store on Magazine street. The second thing you’ll notice is that you feel instantly at ease. Karen, the store manager, will always greet you with a welcoming smile and a friendly face. On occasion, you will even be greeted by the store’s unofficial mascot, Mocha. Even the store itself seems to welcome you. There are notes of jasmine and lavender in the air, and a steady stream of alternative music filters gently through the speakers. You are made to feel at home, which is exactly how the owner intended it.

“I want people to feel special when they come into my store,” says Cali. The tableau at the front of the store was made with just that – and social media – in mind: a curtain of artificial greenery graces a section of wall, adorned with giant white roses splattered with purple paint; a large black leather throne sits atop a plush purple rug. The sign overhead reads “we’re all mad here” in neon lights. “I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan,” she says of the scene’s inspiration. “The song ‘Painting the Roses Red’ is why we splattered purple on the roses, to paint the roses purple.”

Why so much purple, you ask? Purple is the brand’s official color, a decision Cali made very consciously. “Purple is a high-vibe, high-energy color,” she says. “It’s also known as the color for forgiveness, so it’s a very healing color.”

“The choice of the phrase “We’re all mad here” was deliberate as well. “I want everyone to feel welcome in my shop,” says Cali. “I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated or like they can’t afford [the jewelry]. Inclusivity is very important to me.” Every customer is made to feel welcome. “That’s why I got the throne chair instead of a loveseat. I want every single person to feel like they’re someone special.” Every detail of the store was lovingly curated by Cali. The pride that shines through in her voice and her face is evident as she takes me on a mini tour.

But a storefront was not in her plans when she started her company on October 1, 2012. She had already decided then that she would never open a physical shop. “Growing up in the retail industry, I felt that it wasn’t for me, because I had a certain impression of it based on my family’s history. And because of that impression, I developed this belief that having a brick-and-mortar store and being in retail was not what I wanted.

Instead, Cali built her brand online and only offered certain pieces through third-party retailers. It wasn’t until late last year that she felt a shift in her point of view. “Around August or September of 2018, I was starting to feel burnt out,” says Cali. “I was working so hard and I wasn’t seeing the results that I wanted… I was feeling isolated from the world and I really missed the personal engagement, being able to meet my customers. And I was getting complaints about the customer service at some of my retailers, which frustrated me because there was nothing I could do about it. So, I started to ask myself, ‘What can I do?  What is within my control?’… I decided to give it a try so that I could live my life and look back and say that I really did do my best to try to take this business as far as it could go.”

Born in Guatemala, Cali was raised between Central America and New Orleans because of her parents’ exporting business, based out of the French Quarter. They ran a stand selling handcrafted Guatemalan goods at the French Market for 15 years before finally opening a store in the French Quarter. It wasn’t until her mother began traveling to Mexico that they started to sell jewelry in earnest, before transitioning to jewelry entirely.

Jewelry quickly became a subject of contention for a young Cali, who struggled with the frequent travel that was a necessity to sustain the business. “I grew up not wanting to be involved at all with my family’s business,” muses Cali. “I resented the business because they were gone so much, and I didn’t want to be involved in something that took them away from me.”

It wasn’t until hurricane Katrina that things began to shift for Cali. The business, like many others in the city, suffered significant losses. Cali’s parents had sent her away to live with close friends while they attempted to rebuild.

“I was 15 at the time,” remembers Cali. “I was so unhappy being so far away from them, I wanted to help with the rebuilding process after Katrina. I essentially begged them to let me come back. I would do anything to help. So, they let me come back and they put me to work.”

She started working at the store by sweeping and doing entry-level tasks. Then her mother started teaching her to make jewelry. “It was at that point that I realized the creative aspect of the business. [Working at the store] went from being an obligation to appreciating and understanding how I could contribute creatively to the business.”

Cali still remembers her first experience watching one of her designs come to life. “When I was in high school, I entered an art competition and created a design of a fleur de lis with a heart in the middle held together by two hands, one black and one white. After Katrina, I really felt a sense of community, and this piece represented that for me… My parents had it made into jewelry and I didn’t know until I walked into the store one day and saw it.” Cali shares that the piece will be added to her own collection in the store this December, in honor of the store opening.

Seeing people buy that piece and watching their reaction to something she created made a lasting impression on Cali. “That just completely changed my whole life.” Cali developed a vision of what she could do with jewelry made from her own designs, a vision that her parents did not agree with for their business. She branched out on her own shortly thereafter.

Today, the very thing she resented as a child has become one of the things she is most passionate about. “When you’re wearing a piece of jewelry, I want it to remind you of why you’re wearing it,” she says. “I don’t see it as an accessory, I see it as an expression of who you are or something that means something to you.” Cali doesn’t limit herself to jewelry, though. She’s constantly looking for ways to grow the brand, whether through community partnerships like her breast cancer awareness campaign with Casting For Recovery, or through new product development. “I’m starting to explore other areas outside of jewelry. I have a new line of voodoo dolls and I want to start making handbags, wallets, jewelry cases, and some other things.”

“I’m just in a really good place whenever I make jewelry. You have to be, because I believe in energy healing. Someone is going to be wearing this, so I need to be in a good place [spiritually] when I’m making it.”

Her passion for community won’t take a back seat, either. “[One day, I would like to] start offering entrepreneurship classes to women in villages in Latin America to help them learn to use social media to sell their goods and help grow their business. I want to educate and empower.”

Emotional and spiritual healing are priorities for Cali, especially when it came to building her store. She credits much of the project’s success to the help she received from her parents. “Them helping me with all of this really made up for all of the baggage that I felt occurred as a result of them not understanding my vision. All of those nights crying because I felt so misunderstood by my parents. This project literally helped my family heal. Business is what created the clash, but this business also helped us heal.”

Her favorite piece in the store? She couldn’t possibly choose one. She points to a necklace she made herself with watermelon tourmaline stones and her Queen of Hearts pendant. --A one of a kind piece, something she’s never going to make again--. She says these are the pieces she treasures the most. “I go in my studio. I have my music on. I do my meditation before I start. I have my diffuser on, and I have the dogs next to me, by my feet. And I’m just in a really good place whenever I make jewelry. You have to be, because I believe in energy healing. Someone is going to be wearing this, so I need to be in a good place [spiritually] when I’m making it.”

As she hugs me goodbye, I realize that she doesn’t give herself enough credit. She takes the same approach in life as much as in jewelry.

Photography by José García

Connecting in Colombia

Connecting in Colombia

An International Business Exchange by Greater New Orleans, Inc.

By AnaMaría Bech

Click aqui para español- >Conexiones en Colombia

Exploring new economic opportunities for Louisiana’s stakeholders and learning other ways of conducting business and dealing with social, economic and political issues are some of the ways in which Greater New Orleans, Inc. fulfill their strategic missions of business development and business environment.

In the past, GNO, Inc. has explored economic opportunities with recent missions to England and Panama. This year’s mission was to Colombia – perhaps an unexpected destination to most, but a relevant one, due to its renaissance in different fields after the many years of conflict and inflation after the drug wars that the country has suffered.

There were some reservations among the group of 75-plus business executives and government officials that were part of the delegation that visited the capital city of Bogotá. But the excitement of discovering Colombia’s current economic climate first-hand was greater than the safety concerns that may have arisen with recent news of the FARC abandonment of the peace treaty with the government.

During the 5-day visit to Bogotá, the delegation of New Orleanians was able to understand the economic climate of diverse industries that included tech, tourism, culture, gaming, education, trade, transportation and social reform, among others.

Innovation in these fields was what caught most of the attendees’ attention, including New Orleans Councilmember Cindy Nguyen. The engagement of at-risk communities within different initiatives in Bogotá was of particular interest to Nguyen. “Seeing the community engagement and opportunity is what I’m taking back to New Orleans. We can create a space for everyone to be at the table for impactful projects in the city of New Orleans.”

One of the most memorable experiences of the excursion was learning about TransMiCable, a mobility and urban development initiative that is improving the quality of life of the residents of Ciudad Bolivar. The delegation learned about the multimillion-dollar investment and its operation and got to ride through 3 of its 4 stations. Ciudad Bolivar, a neighborhood to the south of Bogota, has been perceived as a source of violence and, in some ways, had been forgotten by the city’s government. The area had become a squatter’s neighborhood and was isolated for many years. Getting in and out of Ciudad Bolivar was an hourlong ordeal for residents traveling via bus. It was an even longer trip for those who had to travel by foot because they lacked access to transportation. Added to the hectic traffic of Bogotá, average daily commutes could easily take over 3 hours, which further limited opportunity for better employment and upward social mobility.

With TransMiCable, which takes residents down to the Tunal Transmilenio bus station from the highest station in 13 minutes during rush hour, quality of life saw an immediate improvement. The fact that the government invested in the district also impacted residents’ sense of self-worth and sense of belonging.

The economic impact of this investment is evident, but the social impact goes well beyond the tangible. This forgotten neighborhood is now being visited by residents of other parts of the city that would have never dared the venture. At the same time, the new transportation system is attracting tourism to the area. Social development and communications agent Jeffrey Gómez explains that as a social initiative, TransMiCable has offered many educational programs, as well as job training programs. “We have tried to include residents as workers, which not only creates access to jobs, but also creates a sense of belonging in the community members and ensures that users develop a love for the system and take care of it.”

The mission’s immersion into community revitalization, global competitiveness, entrepreneurship, software development, crime and social reforms, and free trade zones, offered numerous insights for the participants, which represented diverse business fields. Michael Hetch, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., thought Bogotá was a good example to follow in New Orleans. “From managing to transform itself, bringing everyone along from infrastructure, transportation education…You can see an entire population of millions of people working together to create a better future, so it’s very inspiring.” Of course, the trip included some leisure opportunities that began with the welcome reception provided by Copa Airlines, a visit to Andres DC – one of Bogota’s most famous restaurants – and a reception at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador. These events gave the delegation the opportunity to get a taste of the local food and culture, and to network and enjoy a wonderful experience.

“Connecting in Colombia,” as the international business exchange was named, offered great perspective for economic development in New Orleans. Rachel Shields, who worked tirelessly on all logistics of the trip, offered her final remarks: “Colombia is a country that has done in the last decade what other regions have taken over 30 years to do, so it’s really fascinating for us from New Orleans and Louisiana to see some of the progress, touch it, feel it, for ourselves. We have a lot to learn from our Colombian friends and we are going to take all this back home and to use it in our own economic development strategies as we move forward ourselves.”

Margarita Bergen, Social Butterfly

Margarita Bergen, Social Butterfly

By Anamaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Margarita Bergen, Social Butterfly

It is hard to prove there was a party if Margarita Bergen was not there. Her life and personality have turned her people-loving skills into an occupation with an exquisite title – Social Butterfly.

The title is only too apropos. Like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, the ever-colorful Margarita flits around the city attending the most lavish parties and social soirées, always with one of her signature hats gracing the crown of her head. And at every single event, her presence is known. “People tell me the party doesn’t start until I show up,” she proudly proclaims.

Margarita has met every mover and shaker in town since the 80’s. One is easily impressed by the display of pictures on her shelves: her smiling face alongside King Phillip of Spain, George Rodrigue, Pete Fountain, Celia Cruz, Tony Bennett, Sean Payton, Hillary Clinton, and Irma Thomas, to name a few. She never tires of telling the stories of her encounters with world-renowned celebrities like Andy Warhol, Rita Moreno, and Derek Hough. Every encounter has a picture, and every picture has its own story, but her most cherished one is having met artist and designer Erté.

The camera changed her life, and not just because it captured unforgettable moments with notable people from around the world. Although she is known for her impeccable style and whimsical hats, her most prized accessory is her camera. “I love taking pictures of people at the events. People are so happy to pose for my camera. They know those pictures will instantly be shared online as I check-in [to the event], so they just love it!” Those same photos are also featured in her social editing work for local magazines and her “A Toast to New Orleans” blog.

Born in the Dominican Republic to a Cuban father of Norwegian heritage (hence her decidedly European surname) and a Dominican mother, Margarita was praised from a young age for her beautiful mixed complexion. Her mother sparked Margarita’s eye for fashion and loved to dress her in the latest trends. Inspired by Coco Chanel and Jackie Kennedy, she also made sure Margarita was the center of attention with the iconic Shirley Temple look. Her love for the arts was also instilled in her at a young age. “I remember sitting on my daddy’s lap on Sundays in La Romana in the Dominican Republic and listening to the opera on the Cuban radio station.”

Margarita moved to New York City in the seventies. She worked in bilingual education and government, while regularly attending the opera, the theatre, the ballet, and the symphony. She then began meeting numerous celebrities, politicians and artists who passed through the Big Apple. “I was the token minority. There wasn’t a party I wasn’t invited to. I had to leave my jobs in education and government because my co-workers were jealous that I was the one who got the invitations.”

After breaking up with her then-boyfriend, she decided to leave New York and move down to New Orleans. She helped her brother, artist Lorenzo Bergen, open a fine art gallery in the French Quarter. They built up Bergen Galleries and worked together until she became the sole proprietor in the early 80’s. Owning the gallery was the key to fully becoming the socialite she was meant to be. “People often came to ask for art donations from the gallery for their fundraisers and they gave me tickets to the most fabulous parties in town!”

Her mother’s fashion influence lead Margarita to develop her own style and add her signature flair. Her collection of dresses, costumes, and wigs is extensive, but her collection of hats takes the cake. Over three hundred hats and fascinators make for a dazzling display that gets the spotlight at every event. In fact, each outfit begins with the selection of a hat and ends with her essential accessories: her camera and her dog, Lolita (preceded by the famous Chiquita), who is also dressed for the occasion.

As a cultural advocate, Margarita has participated in several delegations, boards and committees. During the administration of Mayor Barthelemy in New Orleans, she partook in cultural missions and traveled to 17 countries, including Mexico, Japan, and Brazil. She was also appointed to the boards of the French Market Corporation and the French Quarter Festival.

A philanthropist at heart, Margarita participates in many local fundraisers to benefit multiple causes, including cancer awareness, Catholic Charities and the arts. Margarita’s love of causes and people lead to the founding of her famous Roundtable events 14 years ago. These luncheons, held at the Bourbon Orleans, attract all the who’s who in Louisiana, giving attendees a perfect opportunity to mingle, network and make important connections. Margarita’s buoyant style makes these luncheons the events that they are, with a fabulous 3-course meal, live entertainment, and of course champagne.

Margarita shines especially bright during the city’s favorite time of year – Mardi Gras. She dedicates an entire section of her closet specifically for her Mardi Gras costumes, and has been named queen of many krewes in past years, including the Krewe of Cork and the Mystic Krewe of Shangri-LA. Even Lolita became Grand Marshall of Barkus last year. The social editor reveals she will be queen again next year, though she won’t reveal of which krewe just yet.

Margarita’s love for New Orleans drives her to attend as many events as possible, though she is a bit more selective nowadays.  “I’m so lucky to know that when my name is mentioned, people immediately smile. Maybe it’s because of my bubbliness.” Her final farewell is already planned and, of course, includes a champagne-themed party. “I want people to say, ‘that lady knew how to live, shared everything she had, and above everything, she loved the arts.’” No one who has ever met the fabulous and darling Margarita Bergen could ever doubt that.

Oscar Chimal El Jefe of Fat City

Oscar Chimal El Jefe of Fat City

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- > Oscar Chimal El Jefe de Fat City

Oscar Chimal is a hardworking 27-year-old and el jefe (the owner) of Los Jefes Authentic Mexican Cuisine in Metairie. After working in the service industry, he took on the challenge of opening his own venue in Fat City in Metairie. Today, Los Jefes is attracting people from all over town.

Fat City has not been a hip place for a while, but the popularity of Taco Tuesdays at Los Jefes has really changed the perception of the area and has made this authentic Mexican food venue one of the hippest destinations in the once upon a time nightlife area of Metairie.

We spoke to Oscar Chimal about his life and business to find out how he’s made Los Jefes so successful.

Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Mexico and moved to Kenner in 2002 when I was 11 years old.

How did you get started in the restaurant business?

I had to make a living for myself. There wasn’t a career that I loved. I started in the restaurant business when I was 15 bussing tables at Andrea’s Restaurant, and then at 17 went to work in the French Quarter. I worked at Oceana Grill and moved into management two years later. I helped open Bobby Hebert’s place and started on my own when I was 24.

How did you start Los Jefes?

My friend Terry had the building here. We worked together to get it ready, but he never got to open his Po Boy shop due to personal circumstances. Seeing all the work I had put into the business he hinted I should take over the lease. I wasn’t looking to be on my own, or wasn’t in the position financially, but I still called the landlord and I got a decent deal, so I took the chance. I had to borrow money from my parents and friends. I had a partner who ended up going elsewhere soon after. After he did, we really gave it our all. My brother and my sister got behind the business and they really helped me get it going strong.

Why did you take the risk to start a business with little money?

I always liked to gamble with businesses. Even before the restaurant work, I bought and sold cars on my own. Sometimes I made money, but many times I lost. I liked to try different avenues, got involved with MLM companies and invested money in those. I failed at so many different things, in so many ways, but it did not faze me because my will was a lot stronger than the failures I faced.

So even after your ‘failures’ people still backed you financially?

People trusted me with their money and supported my vision. I had my parents lend their savings, a former boss also gave me some cash, my siblings added up. They believed in me because they saw my drive. Within the first month they saw that I was going to be able to make the money to pay back and to make something out of the business.

Where did you get that all or nothing attitude?

When we came from Mexico, my family did not have proper documentation. Throughout high school, I knew what was happening. My classmates were studying hard to get a career or training hard to get a sports scholarship, but those were not options for me at the time. I knew my parents had gone through so much for us. I couldn’t live with the thought of my parents having to sacrifice their entire life to have us here, so that I wouldn’t do anything with myself. I wanted to make something of myself for them, and to be an example for my siblings.

How did you decide on a Mexican restaurant?

My mom always cooked at home and I grew up eating homemade meals. A lot of the Mexican restaurants around here are Tex Mex food, but I knew if we introduced something authentic, made from scratch every day, it would work. The food is delicious, it’s made with love, and that’s what the people pay for when they come here.

What’s your competitive advantage?

Besides the quality of food, I really learned about customer service. My siblings also had worked with me wherever I worked and knew how we like to treat customers. We teach our staff how to treat everybody with respect. We are big on paying attention to the small details, that’s what gets us further and separates us from everyone else.

How did you thrive in Fat City?

Tommy Cvitanovich from Drago’s started coming around and wanted to know how I was making it work in this location after he couldn’t make his burger joint succeed. I opened with a very affordable menu and big portions, I passed out flyer’s in the apartment complexes and businesses around. In the beginning there was no profit, but then I started gaining volume and it got the word out in Fat City. With the little money we made, I started advertising out of Fat City and we got people from everywhere. The same dish I was selling at $10 in the beginning is worth way more now. It took hard work to build the reputation and to build value in the place and the business.

How are you helping the area improve?

Just like Tommy, we are investing in the area. We have acquired leases for six properties around the restaurant, offices and parking spaces, and now we have the corner building with the new dining area. We are investing in the area and raising its value.

With being so young and with so much going on, how do you keep focused?

My brother is always my brake. I’m always trying to do too many things and he questions me. Last year, I invested in a restaurant in New Orleans and a bar. I ended up selling them because it was too much. My brother brought me back and reminded me that I needed to focus on Los Jefes and fill the new dining room. I always want to do too many things and have so many ideas, but my brother and sister keep me grounded. I may have become the face of Los Jefes, but the credit of what we have accomplished is because of my family and my mentors. I’m here because of the employees and because of my brother and my sister.

What does it take to succeed?

I have been burnt so many times, but it is worth it to make all those mistakes. You are always learning. To succeed it takes seeing what nobody else sees, which is faith. Having a vision where there is no vision. I’d always see myself being successful. Because I believed in this vision of success, I strived for it every day. I put a lot of pressure on myself, my circumstances put a lot of pressure on me, but my vision was always very clear to me only. It takes believing in yourself.

What was that vision?

To be somebody that my parents were proud of and to be in a position in which I could support them financially. The restaurant has been my platform to get there, I felt comfortable stepping in this industry, it’s what I knew, and I felt confident I could be successful. But the restaurant was an avenue that allowed me to provide a future for my parents, and for my brother and sister.


Transplanting Hope

Transplanting Hope

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >Trasplantando la esperanza

Did you know the leading liver transplant unit in the U.S. is located along the Mississippi River in the state of Louisiana?  More than 150 health professionals are dedicated every day to protecting the integrity and lives of patients who are hoping for a rebirth through an organ transplant, or who have already been fortunate enough to have received one at Ochsner. 

The Multi-Organ Transplant Institute at Ochsner is the busiest and most experienced center in the Gulf of Mexico region. Since its establishment in 1984, this unit has performed more than 7,000 liver, kidney, pancreas, heart and lung transplants, which have saved the lives of children and adults from 37 states and 10 different countries.Currently, Louisiana is receiving great recognition at the national level thanks to the positioning of the Institute.

The hospital does not decide the order of the transplants, and there are organ procurement organizations that set the parameters which are different for each organ. There are many variables in these guidelines, such as blood group, size, medical emergency, geographic location, and waiting times, primarily. The intention is to use the largest number of organs from a single donor, what is known as a multi-organ donor.

Within the exceptional team at the Institute, we highlight the participation of three Latin American professionals who have brought their experience and

passion to the project. Venezuelan doctor Ana Milena Hands and Colombian doctors Jorge Garcés and Humberto Bohórquez stand out in the team, where the camaraderie and trust between colleagues is key to exceptional performance.

Ana Milena Hands

Dr. Hands earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Monterrey in Mexico and received her medical degree with honors from the University of Zulia in Venezuela. She then completed her training in Adult and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. In 2009, Dr. Hands received the New Orleans City Business Health Care Hero award for her work on integrating Hispanic immigrants with optimal patient care in post-Katrina New Orleans. She serves as the Administrative Director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Institute and serves as vice-president of the International Department at Ochsner.

After practicing psychiatry for more than 20 years, Hands found a new mission in Ochsner that has fulfilled her life. Despite initially not knowing the process of transplants, Hands has developed a great passion for the subject, and has worked together with her colleague and Medical Director Dr. George Loss, to turn the institute of organ transplants into one of the leading transplant centers in the U.S. “For me, working in transplants has been a pleasant surprise; it is a fascinating world from many points of view.”

Something that fills her with pride is to have a very close team of professionals that feels like a great family. “From the professional point of view, in the capacity of each individual, they are exceptional,” says Hands, noting that these doctors are also quality human beings, judging from the way they connect with the families and patients. “Participating in various seminars and international conferences, I realize that we count with a superior level and knowledge in our exceptional team.”

Jorge Garcés

Doctor Garcés is one of the four nephrologists in the kidney transplant team. He studied medicine at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia. He completed his internship and residency at Hahnemann University and Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital and completed his transplant fellowship at the Albert Einstein Medical Center, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and then at the University of California at Los Angeles. With the support of his brother, he obtained an American residency, which made his process easier to achieve his goal of practicing in the United States. 

He arrived in New Orleans in 2002 to join the transplant team at Ochsner. His role is mainly a clinical role, where he takes care of patients from the moment they arrive to go through the eligibility evaluation for a transplant, through their illness, and during the recovery after receiving a kidney transplant. Ten years ago, he established an education component in the institute and directed the fellowship program for transplant nephrologists.

Garcés got interested in transplant work during his fellowship. “I had very good mentors at Einstein Medical Center. One of my mentors was instrumental in the creation of transplants in Philadelphia in the 60s and was someone who instilled a passion in the subject in me,” he says.

Garcés carries 80% of the process from the transplant referrals. The only thing he does not do is the surgery itself. He speaks with great pride in his work. “It is a job of great personal satisfaction because patients arrive in very bad shape with physical and emotional problems, and when they receive a transplant it is as if they go through a purifying filter and they get better physically and emotionally in an incredible way,” he says.

In the institution there are four transplant nephrologists in total, who integrate a highly educated and professional team, as well as multicultural, with members from the Dominican Republic, Chicago, and Iran. They are fortunate to be able to practice their profession and utilize great resources to do the best job possible.

Despite ethical debates, Dr. Garcés believes that everyone should consider being an organ donor.

Humberto Bohórquez

Dr. Bohórquez studied medicine at the Universidad Pontificia Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, completed his studies in abdominal transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and completed his fellowship at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. He worked in liver and kidney transplants in Colombia 

before becoming part of the Ochsner Health System team in 2007. 

Dr. Bohórquez never intended to practice in the US. After leading the transplants in Colombia with the Hospital Fundación Cardioinfantil, an achievement he feels very proud of, the opportunity to practice at Ochsner was presented to him. After going through a difficult period of adaptation, he has found a family in his Ochsner colleagues.

As an abdominal transplant surgeon, Dr. Bohórquez is involved in all phases of the transplants. Even, sometimes he has to travel and be present in the extraction of the organ to implant. He also serves as the director of pancreatic surgery. In this role, he conducts research and mentors fellows, something else he is very passionate about.

Thanks to the combined experience of the professionals of the transplant institute team and the synchronization established in the team, Louisiana accepts a larger number of organs to be transplanted and has a shorter waiting time than other transplant units.

Bohórquez explains that the coordination around the transplant is impeccable. Once the availability of an organ is notified, different equipment is put into operation. The receiver’s surgery team is enrolled, and simultaneously, either locally, or remotely, the surgeons on duty come to review the organ and perform the extraction with the donor. This synchronization allows to shorten the time and protect the integrity of the organ that is being transplanted. “Most of the transplants we do are around five hours. Those three hours make the difference and that is why we can use organs that other people do not use, because the faster they are placed, the better the chance that these organs work,” Bohórquez states.

As Bohorquez points out, Ochsner is currently performing over two hundred liver transplants per year, which makes Ochsner the liver transplant leader in the nation.


One of the great downfalls in organ donation is the lack of awareness and education on what it takes to be an organ donor. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, and some people imagine that if they declare themselves as donors, they would be left to die in case of a medical emergency. In addition, when people declare themselves donors, often times their relatives, who have the last word, do not know about the wishes of the person to donate their organs, and decide not to continue with the donation.

Doctors Hands, Bohórquez and Garcés advise that the people who decide to be donors should clearly express their intention to their families, so that, in case the situation arises, their relatives can grant the donor’s wish to offer a chance to live to those who are in the transplant waiting lists.

Fortunately, Louisiana has a high percentage of donors, but the biggest battle is to bring education at all levels, to destroy myths, and above all, to educate minority communities that typically have low percentages of donors.

These three health professionals have in common the passion with which they perform their work. Their goal of providing a quality of life to their patients is what inspires them to continue learning, and in the case of Dr. Bohórquez and Garcés, to share their knowledge with fellows who will follow in their footsteps.

The work performed by each one of them within the transplant process is essential, but they put aside their merits to shine the light on the brave ones who decide to become organ donors.

The biggest sacrifice comes from anonymous living donors who dare to undergo surgery and donate a kidney or a part of their liver to give a second chance to someone else and provide a second chance to life. It is also admirable that families, during a very difficult situation such as the loss of a loved one, allow to grant the wishes of an organ donor to save the lives of others.

“They, the donors, are the real heroes,” emphasizes Dr. Hands.

Amanda Shaw

Amanda Shaw

Story by Claudia Vallejo. Photography Thomas Hunt

Click aqui para español- > Amanda Shaw

If you are from Louisiana, you have listened to American singer Amanda Shaw playing her fiddle to the sounds and beats of Cajun music. Perhaps little is known that Amanda Christian Amaya-Shaw is of Hispanic descent. Her grandfather and grandmother are both from Guatemala. “My mom is from Guatemala as well.” 

Amanda’s childhood memories are filled by the sweet smell of her grandmother’s cooking, the different types of music blasting from the radio, the loudest screams of “goal” coming from the tv during a soccer world cup match, and a strong sense of family.

Amanda can easily talk about the French Acadian culture, but can also instinctively explain how to make a traditional dish from the Mayans’ land: “Steam the green beans, take some eggs, leave the yellow out, beat the white until it is nice and fluffy like a merengue, put some of the yellows back, and fry the green beans with the eggs’ mixture to form almost a patty.” Have you also heard “Chirmolito,” one of Amanda Shaw’s songs? She knows how to prepare the Guatemalan chirmol sauce too. “I grew up with a lot of the Latin-American food.  I am pretty sure that black beans were about 75% of my diet when I was a kid.  Black beans with rice, with tortillas, with eggs…lots of black beans, and I love it.” 

It is not hard to understand why Amanda was attracted to Cajun music since she was a little girl.  As she explains, “I identify with it because I grew up in a very Latina household. A lot of the songs in Cajun French music are about the Acadian people who came from Canada and settled in Louisiana.  They were the only people speaking their language, living their culture at that time, so they banded together to celebrate their culture.  They would work very hard during the week and on the weekends, the Cajun people would have their do-dos and dance, sing, laugh and enjoy their time together as a community. I identify with that growing up in Louisiana. I grew up in a house with a culture that also celebrates itself, the food, the music and who we are.”

Amanda is a 28-year-old musician with a long artistic career.  When she fell in love with the violin at 4 years old, her mom took her to get lessons at Southeastern Louisiana University. At age 7, she had a solo with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and made the front page of the paper in Hammond.  Her mom cut the newspaper out, mailed the clipping to the Rosie O’Donnell show, and within a year she was in New York City performing in this show.  “It was amazing to be able to live this dream that I had. It was very lucky for me that my career started because I began to play festivals locally and around the state.  Since then, I have been working on playing music.”

Amanda’s latest album, Please, Call Me Miss Shaw, was released in 2018.  Her discography includes four more albums and several EPs.  She also had a prominent role in the IMAX film “Hurricane on the Bayou,” and she has shared the stage with icons such as Carlos Santana and Steve Windwood. She tours nationally and internationally.  She is in the lineup of the French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and other festivals across Louisiana every year.

Wearing a sparkling costume, Amanda Shaw dances on high heels up and down the stage playing the strings and singing Cajun with a blend of country, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.  “I love putting on my make-up.  I celebrate being a girl. I look at the positive things about being a young woman in the industry.” 

Where does she get inspiration to write her songs? “I just kind of write what I feel comes from my heart, things that make me feel good, happy, and make me laugh. I like silly ideas, too.  I have one song on my current record, “Dirty Blond,” that I wrote because I met this girl in the street, and I told her, ‘you have pretty blond hair.’  She said, ‘It is dirty blond.’ I thought, ‘OK, I can probably write a song about it.’  It is a little funny song; it is kind of a play on words.”

Who does Amanda look up to as an artist? Dolly Parton.  “She is wonderful and beautiful.  Her songs are so pretty.  She is great at always being herself and never sacrificing that, and yet she is well respected.  She came on at a time in the country music scene when there were not women doing what she was doing, trying to branch out and making it out. I relate to that as I was a young person coming up in the New Orleans music scene and trying to make my way.”

Catch one of Amanda’s shows with her band Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys, and you will see couples on the floor spinning around holding each other, kids dancing on top of their parents’ feet, and an entire community being held together by a fiddler and her band.

With her love for the French Acadian culture and a Hispanic heritage, Amanda brings a true flair of what it means to preserve one’s history and culture in an ever-changing world.

Family Friendly El Paso

Family Friendly El Paso

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >El Paso Familiar

Jorge Oseguera and his family represent one of the many examples of perseverant immigrants, who, through their commitment to work, have managed to achieve their dreams.

After working for several years in the restaurant industry, Oseguera entered El Paso restaurant with the intention of becoming a partner. Born in Michoacan, Mexico, he moved to Florida, where he lived for several years and worked in various restaurants. He met his wife Maria from Venezuela while working at one of the restaurants and together they moved to their new home in Louisiana 11 years ago.

Both understood that Oseguera had a very clear dream of owning a business. That goal has been achieved with a partnership at El Paso, a chain of restaurants that has branches in six states in the U.S. “Everything in this life is like that. You put in your mind what you want, and you find what you need to accomplish it. In this case, what you need is to work hard, to save your money, so that you can offer money to invest as a partner in the business,” says Oseguera.

The El Paso Mandeville branch has a special meaning for Oseguera because his biggest investment is there - his family. His brother Jose and his sister-in-law Sugey run the restaurant, which opened its doors two years ago.

For many, working with the family may be difficult, but for Jorge, relying on their support is very helpful because he knows that they know what they are doing and because “they are good people.” The family philosophy works great at El Paso. “We respect the roles of each person, we support their decisions and autonomy as administrators,” comments Oseguera.

The other branches of El Paso do not have a brother in place to run it, but Oseguera prefers to treat all employees as if they were members of his own family. Despite being the boss, a word that he does not accept, Oseguera works long days and takes very few days off. His family understands that is sacrifice is for their own good, and although they try to spend time together, it is not something that happens every day. Maria works in the business and accompanies her husband on his long drives to branches throughout several states, which serves as a way to share some time together. “If we did not work together, I would barely see him,” Maria says.

El Paso Mandeville is growing quickly because the community has a very familiar atmosphere. The restaurant has a very loyal clientele, and some of the customers visit several times a week.

For Jose Oseguera, the brother who manages the restaurant, it is very special to get to know his customers. “We have generations of a family who come here together. You see the mom, the grandmother and the children. We have couples who meet religiously here on Friday afternoons and they already know their waiter. We love that people come here to celebrate their birthdays and we move our tables around to accommodate for large group celebrations,” Jose adds.

Supporting the communities surrounding the restaurants is very important for the owners of El Paso. They make donations to schools and support different community initiatives. “Just as we value the workers, we know that we cannot exist without the community,” reflects Oseguera.

The menu at El Paso offers a wide variety of Texmex dishes and typical dishes from various regions of Mexico, such as the Carne Asada and the seafood dishes. They have gained the Northshore’s clientele little by little, due to the quality of the food and their service. “Everything here is made from scratch. We have very good quality. All our meat, including our ground beef, is Black Angus and we use quality alcohol for our drinks,” adds Oseguera.

The meal recommended by the proud owner is the chilaquiles accompanied by a house organic margarita, but he makes sure to mention that they carry a great selection of red wines for the wine lovers. Daily specials such as Monday 2x1, Taco Tuesday and Happy Hour give you even more reasons to try the variety of the menu and the delicious Margaritas at El Paso, Mandeville.

Pedrito Martinez and The World's Music at Jazzfest

Pedrito Martinez and The World's Music at Jazzfest

By Jorge L. Fuentes

Click aqui para español- >Pedrito Martínez y la música mundial de Jazzfest

Cuban percussionist and vocalist Pedrito Martinez is returning to New Orleans this April for his fourth appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and acknowledges how significant it is to appear at an event that attracts thousands of people each year.

“You get exposure to an audience that maybe doesn’t know you yet and serves as a springboard to meet other musicians. A lot of promoters show up, more work comes your way, you sell a lot of CD’s, it’s always good,” he says.

Born in Havana, Pedrito has an incredible musical career: he was a founding member of the afrobeat band Yerba Buena and began his own band in 2005. His first album was nominated for a Grammy award, and he’s still performing tours all over the world. His show at the 2017 Jazz Fest was one of the most anticipated sets that year, and now he’s back as part of his tour with pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, in support of their record Dualogue.

The record includes originals and standards, and was produced by Quincy Jones, which he calls “a dream come true. Everything was flowing with great energy,” he said. “Also, Alfredo is an impeccable human being, he’s wholesome and noble. We started recognizing emotions and sharing our passion and respect for the music we were making,” he says.

“Afro-Cuban music is at the backbone of this record,” says Pedrito, “and it was a learning experience for me. We are musicians of the world. New Orleans is definitely the city that is closest in culture to the music of Cuba, that’s a proven fact. It reminds me a lot of Havana and Matanzas (another city in Cuba), and two of the best drummers I know, Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell, are from here,” he says.

He’s going to be in good company in this year’s festival - known to all as just Jazz Fest - which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.

Artists such as The Rolling Stones*, Herbie Hancock, Santana, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, and Taj Mahal were booked to be part of the lineup, which also includes Katy Perry, Pitbull, Alanis Morissette, J Balvin, and many more. The music variety is really world-class, and the audience can enjoy different genres, not just jazz. You can hear rock, blues, African bands, as well as country, gospel, and ra.

The festival usually runs for seven days, always the last weekend of April and the first weekend in May, but an eighth day is being added this year to commemorate its anniversary. Ever since 1972, barely two years into its existence, the festival moved to the Fair Grounds Race Course in the Gentilly neighborhood, where it has taken place since then, bringing a sense of celebration to all neighbors and businesses in the area.

As far as Latin music is concerned, there are 20 local and international acts that will be performing during the eight days of this immense cultural and musical festivity. One of those acts in particular, Julio & Cesar, has performed almost without fail every year since they started. “I’m not sure if they began playing around 1972 or thereabouts,” says Andrew Herrera, Cesar’s son and the band’s bass player. “I started playing with them around 2001,” he remembers. “We just love it every time they call us, and they call us every year,” he says, “but I remember that I’ve been going since I was a kid.”

Last year’s attendance is estimated at 450 thousand people, and the festival attracts many more people to the city. Local radio station, WWOZ 90.7 FM, broadcasts live from the site every day, bringing the sounds and the music of the festival to all who stream it online.

Pedrito probably speaks for a lot of the artists that perform at Jazz Fest when he says, “This is a great opportunity, it’s one of the most important festivals in the world.”

*The Rolling Stones cancelled due to Mick Jagger undergoing heart surgery. They were subsequently replaced by Fleetwood Mac which also cancelled due to illness. The band Widespread Panic will headline the festival on the second Thursday.

Photo credit Danielle Moire, Richard Holstein

Top Taco & Agave Week

Top Taco & Agave Week

By AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- > Top Taco y la Semana del Agave

You don’t have to know Spanish, or cite the capital of Bolivia, or point to a Latin American country on the map. If you have eaten a taco, which you most certainly have, you have tasted the simplicity and the richness of Latin culture.

Tacos are a versatile food that can be enjoyed anywhere and everywhere. They are enjoyed in little towns for as low as 19 cents, and they get served at the most glamorous parties.

Tacos are an ancient food that traces back to the Olmecs, but they can be considered a progressive food because they are eco-friendly and a balanced type of nutritious meal. They can be made as a vegan guacamole stuffed tortilla or they can be prepped with fancy caviar. Tacos don’t discriminate.

The quintessential Mexican staple, tacos have conquered the food scene of the U.S. and the world. Just a taste of this simple, yet delicious, food can spark a quest for new flavors and create a need to find out more about the diverse traditions of Mexican culture.

New Orleans isn’t new to Latin influence or flavors, but after Hurricane Katrina, the influx of Latino immigrants working outdoors created the need to cater to their eating habits. Taco trucks came along and more New Orleanians began to recognize the great variety of ways in which tacos could be served.

Two years ago, a festival centered on the king of Latin food was created, and it was an instant success. The man behind it, Shane Finkelstein, is a self-proclaimed Mexican culture lover and is the owner of Nacho Mama’s restaurant in Elmwood. After recognizing a great event in Denver, Finkelstein knew New Orleans was lacking a major Latin food festival, and he knew a New Orleans version of the Denver Top Taco had the potential of becoming an instant success. “First of all, people love tacos. The Latin community has been growing tremendously, and I thought getting restaurants together to do an event like it was cool. I own Nacho Mama’s, so that was a good tie in…Getting the whole margarita and tequila component into it made it more special,” explains Finkelstein.

Top Taco quickly gained recognition as one of New Orleans’ top events. Even the more skeptical, such as Hugo Montero, owner of Casa Borrega in Central City, realized the positive impact Top Taco had on Latin American culture and Mexican and Latin restaurant owners in the city.

“Ironically, I did not participate in the first Top Taco, being snobbish about it,” recognized Montero. A big advocate for preserving Latin American culture, Montero felt there could be some issues of cultural appropriation with a Latin festival organized by non-Latino folks. It was his son Yves who was the first one to call Montero out on his choice not to participate. “My son has an American mind about business that I don’t have. I was very strong culturally about the event and decided not to do it, but when Chilango’s [restaurant] won Top Taco in the ‘Best traditional taco’ category, I understood what the event was doing for the community.”

Montero became a witness of what was taking place. He saw how Finkelstein was able to convince more than 30 restaurants, small and big, to participate the first year. The second year, Montero jumped on board and was surprised to see all the enthusiasm by the restaurants to participate, to bring their infrastructure out to the river, and to contribute for a great cause, while at the same time, getting the great PR of being voted by people and getting the title of restaurant with the Top Taco’s award for best traditional taco, best creative taco, best traditional margarita, and best creative tequila cocktail in town.

“I would have never thought 10 years ago that we could have an event in New Orleans like this. This is an event that is sponsoring and promoting the culture. As an event producer, I understand and praise the effort and the way the event has been put together by Finkelstein. He has his heart in the right place,” added Montero.

Now Montero works closely with Finkelstein and he has become a sort of cultural adviser for Top Taco. As Montero points out, the event has changed the mindset and has brought a solidarity among Latin places. “Instead of trying to kill the competition, we are working together and on the same page.”

Top Taco’s charitable component has been devoted to Foster Nola which continues the work started by One Heart NOLA, which grew from a $20,000 operating budget a year to $100,000 because of the contribution of Top Taco. Through their foundation Foster Nola, Top Taco has teamed up with local organizations who serve foster care youth. “We are passionate about the kids that age out of the foster system,” explains Finkelstein, adding that for them it is important to help youngsters who could end up in homelessness when they reach majority age. “The state of Louisiana cuts services for foster youth as soon as they reach age 18, which in most cases, leaves high school students out in the street.”

Top Taco has grown to more than 40 participating restaurants and over 40 spirit brands. The event has evolved in its third year and has expanded its program to include a four-day educational component from March 10th to March 14th. Top tequila and mezcal competitions, a whole day of mezcal seminars accompanied by a burlesque show, an El Tesoro Spice Bar activation, and lucha libre outdoors are some of the events that combine fun with information. Patron is sponsoring a CRT certification for around 200 local bartenders to become certified tequiliers.

“We are excited to have a lot more people to be knowledgeable about tequila in town,” added Finkelstein. These fun-filled events are open to the general public and will be held at the beautiful ACE Hotel preceding the final event, Top Taco, that will take place again this year at an expanded section of Woldenberg Park on March 14th with a VIP experience that begins at 6PM and general admission set for 7PM.

To purchase tickets for both, Agave Week and Top Taco, visit toptaconola.com. 

RISAS RIZOS A Natural Influencer

RISAS RIZOS A Natural Influencer

by AnaMaria Bech

Click aqui para español- >RISAS RIZOS Una influenciadora natural

Rocio Mora is a bilingual vlogger and a master at teaching people how to take care of natural hair. With Risas Rizos, her YouTube channel that started in 2014, she has close to 150,000 subscribers. The channel, named as a Spanish wordplay for "laughs" and "curls," focuses mainly on the natural care of curly hair, and it also offers product reviews, make-up tutorials and general beauty tips.

Mora was born in Baltimore and moved to New Orleans as a toddler, where she grew up surrounded by her Honduran and Mexican families. This tall and lean Latina beauty models from time to time and has dabbled into TV hosting.

She started making video blogs to save time, instead of repeating the story over and over to relatives and friends about what she had done to revive her curls that were lost due to heat damage. Mora followed her cousin’s advice to make a video and she uploaded it to YouTube.

The natural hair movement was trending in the African American community, but Latinas were not into it yet. Risas Rizos vlogs targeted a niche market that was perfect for companies to extend their customer base to U.S. Latinas and to Spanish-speaking women in Latin America. Risas Rizos gained subscribers almost immediately and viewers were asking questions that prompted to more and more videos. Soon after, brands reached out and Mora’s side job was born.

In her “real” job, she worked as a pipeline drafter at an engineering firm. She was laid off during the oil industry recession that hit Louisiana in 2015, just a couple of days after returning from the “We All Grow Summit,” the first bloggers conference she ever attended. Mora found herself with virtually no options in her career and was forced to take a leap of faith and turn her YouTube hobby into her next career.

Her mother, Juana Mora, encouraged her to go to the Hispanicize conference taking place in Miami the week after Mora was laid off. Not knowing how long she would be without a job, Mora was hesitant to go, but her mother gave her Southwest Airlines points for her flight and encouraged her to go. “Attending this conference was a game-changer because I gained lots of information, made great connections, and was able to meet the Univision Connectors Network,” recalls Mora.

Upon return, she chose to stop the job hunt and devote all her time into growing her digital footprint and her Risas Rizos brand making videos day after day without knowing if she would get any return.

She had to keep a strong mindset to ignore friends and family who were advising her to go back to school and find other jobs. But she saw the potential, although she admits it was tough in the beginning. “The hardest part was not knowing what was going to happen next. I had never NOT worked for anyone else and was used to knowing what was coming ahead. Being an entrepreneur, you can hope, you can plan, but you just never know…”

 The first brand that reached out to Risas Rizos was DevaCurl. “They were thanking me for my honest review of their products and gifting me more products to potentially review,” said Mora. Then, the sponsorships started coming. The first brand that paid Mora for a post was Shea Moisture. Risas Rizos still works with them and since then, Mora has done campaigns for beauty brands such as Neutrogena, Proctor & Gamble’s various product lines, Ulta Beauty, and Dove, to name just a few.

Although the job of an influencer seems glamorous and easy, there is a lot that takes place to create sponsored posts. Mora spends her days creating the concepts and she records and edits her vlogs. She also books photographers and video crews from certain jobs, handles the administrative aspects of her company and goes back and forth with clients during the campaign approval process. A simple one-minute video can take hours to shoot and days to edit. “There are many sleepless editing nights and a lot of the time you have no one to help you,” Mora says.

Mora is very proud of having successfully pitched a campaign for a brand that had nothing to do with beauty. Last year, she went on a tour called Rizos On the Road Presented by Kia Motors, which was a series of events in Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The events celebrated being Latina and Afro-Latina in the natural hair space and community. “I presented the idea to Kia Motors of America and found an organic angle to create the tour and was able to bring additional hair brand sponsors that all believed in the message behind our project.”

To Mora, the fact that a national brand like Kia would help facilitate a dialogue and conversations about diversity and inclusion for Latinos and the struggles many Latinos had embracing their own history and roots, is a great accomplishment that goes beyond marketing and validates what being an influencer is really about.

Last September, Mora was chosen by the New Orleans Marketing and Tourism Corporation as the face of their biggest Hispanic Heritage Month marketing campaign. Mora was featured in blogs and videos on the GoNOLA website and told locals and tourists alike about Hispanic heritage in the city, where they could find all things Latin and gave an itinerary of her favorite things to do. “I’ve always had a love for my Latino community here and New Orleans has always been my favorite city in the world so to work on a campaign that had to do with both of my loves was an honor,” said Mora about working on her first local campaign.

The evolution of her brand and the expertise she has acquired during her years as a digital influencer have awakened a need for new goals. Mora would like to “act as a bridge of sorts to reconnect Latinos to the soul of New Orleans and to show the rest of the city the many contributions Latinos have made to amplify the beauty and culture of New Orleans.” Her local influence is growing, and she was recently working on her second local campaign for Mignon Faget.

Working long hours, believing in her vision, and finding her niche have taken Rocio Mora beyond what she could ever have imagined when she began making videos for fun.

Mora’s advice to any entrepreneur is to always make good connections. “You just never know where that introduction will lead you,’’ she firmly says. Rocio is focused on doing more local things that could transcend the digital realm, so stay tuned to see what this natural influencer will do soon.


Tribute to the Latin American Workers

Tribute to the Latin American Workers

By Memo Perez Lara

Click aqui para español- >Tributo a los trabajadores latinos

After Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans had to reinvent itself. The reconstruction seemed a titanic task, difficult and far away. And so, summoned by misfortune, the Latino workers began to arrive.

For the most part, it was Latino construction experts who came to rebuild this city and accelerated the process with their imagination and dedication. The current aspect of New Orleans cannot be explained without the labor of hundreds of Latinos who took double and triple shifts to recover the majesty of one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. Many of them stayed. They joined a multicolored society and made it their own. They loved the city from the first moment, because they saw her being born again.

Thirteen years later, in the heart of Crescent Park near the entrance of Piety street, now stands a majestic 18-foot tall statue of bronze and marble, with the figures of Latin men and women repairing the roof of one of the thousands of houses that they rebuilt, and that made New Orleans flourish again. This statue is an act of love and gratitude; a recognition of all those anonymous workers who answered the call in the darkest moments of the city.

The Initiative

Everything started in a classroom with high school youth. Dr. Juan Jorge Gershanik ultimately the leader of the initiative and the making and placement of the statue, says that young Latinos felt a bit of shame when talking about the occupation of their parents, who worked mostly in the construction and cleanup after Katrina.

Dr. Gershanik says he felt the need to appreciate those students and their families. "They need to be proud...Their parents, their family, they gave us back this city!" he exclaimed.

The Process

Gershanik returned home with the idea fixed in his mind, and after discussing the new project with his wife Ana, they immediately got to work. Many of their artist friends wanted to get involved in the project and began to give Gershanik their ideas and sketches, but these were very abstract and far from the main objective of presenting a work of art that children and generations to come could identify with.

Italian American artist Franco Alessandrini was selected to be the creator of the piece. His original sketches were changed about 25 times. At the beginning, the monument did not include the woman, but thanks to Ana's insistence, the contribution of the Latina women in the reconstruction of New Orleans is now depicted in this homage. The very European features of the men’s faces were changed, as well as the first model of the lady, which was the typical Sophia Loren look. The project took shape and became a true representation of the workers. ‘

The Big Day

After years of hard work, and logistical setbacks for the installation and transport of the monument made in Alessandrini’s studio in Italy, came at last the cool afternoon of Saturday, November 10, 2018. In front of a large group of people, the statue was unveiled.

Dr. Gershanik, proud of his Latin roots, saw his dream and his task fulfilled, and saw his materialized gift to the city of New Orleans: "What the monument symbolizes is the great contribution that Latinos made through their labor in the reconstruction," he stated. Latinos helped bring New Orleans back, and perhaps one of the things that was not appreciated then was the harsh conditions in which they performed this work. "They had an incredible work ethic. 10, 12, 14 hours...While there was light, it did not matter the sun was harsh in August or September, they continued to do their work," Gershanik recalls.

During the unveiling ceremony, Arnie Fielkow, former president of the City Council, commented "Thirteen years ago, we all know it was a very interesting time. It was a city that not only went under water, but it was a city that needed revitalization and new energy. We did not know what the city of New Orleans would be like. And we were planning what the city would be, and we did not know how the plan was going to be executed.” He continued, “And in 2005 and 2006, we saw our Latino workers come to our community and help us rebuild our homes, businesses and really give an uplift to our community. And the culture also changed in this community. You saw new and enhanced culture come into this community.”

Dr. Gershanik says that he was very happy to see the excitement of the Latino community regarding the project, based on the group of workers who helped with the installation of the monument. Ana Gershanik, tireless promoter of the project, commented, "I’m just so moved that we were able to do this...I just love our Latino community, they are hard-working people. I hope their children will be as proud as we are to have them in our community.

Many workers after Katrina have stayed and have become very productive in our community, and I hope we will all render tribute to them.”

Thank You, Dr, Gershanik

Dr. Gershanik is known for his altruistic work in favor of the city of New Orleans. In the middle of Katrina's emergency, he rescued premature babies from Baptist Hospital, which was flooded; He made helicopter trips to Baton Rouge while manually providing oxygen to babies in critical condition. This, along with other invaluable exploits through his career in medicine, have saved the lives of the most vulnerable.

The monument will be here as a legacy to honor the Latin American workers who helped in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, thanks to Dr. Gershanik’s recognition of the need to render tribute and give credit where credit is due.

Click here to see inaugural ceremony and picture gallery


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