Virtual Dance Class: Travel from Colombia To Mexico through Cumbia

It’s Fall season, when spirits are said to come back to roam our realm. In honor of the Mexican holiday of “Dia de los Muertos“, our founder Ale will be offering a virtual Rumbaterapia dance class on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021 at 8pm EST / 5pm PST to commemorate our ancestors through dancing Cumbia. This begins “Travel through Dance”, a new virtual dance class series where we explore different cultures in this unique way.

She will lead a 1.5 hour session beginning with a trip that starts in Colombia during colonial times when folkloric Cumbia was born on the Caribbean coast. Join her as she travels to land in Mexico to see the progression of the dance & music of Cumbia throughout Latin America. Of course, no such event can go without honoring La Santa Selena, Techno-Cumbia Queen.

Participants will be encouraged to prepare an altar honoring their ancestors (and/or Selena) before the dance class begins, and close to where they will be dancing. We will start with an introduction to the theme of the class, stretching, music & dance progression from old school Cumbia to modern Cumbia, and then we will end with a ritual to honor our ancestors, a breathing exercise, and then close out with a meditation. Feel free to dress in folklórico outfits, Selena impersonation costumes, and/or overall get as creative as possible to celebrate the dead through dance. It’s suggested to load up on incense, candles, sage, palo santo, or anything that you would like to incorporate into this dance therapy ritual.

There is a minimum $10 donation required for this class since all funds raised will go towards the Mochila Fundraiser to help us monetize our website. Send your payment with your email, and we will send you the virtual class link. Accepted forms of payment are: 1) Venmo @Travel_Latina, 2) Paypal aletracy4@gmail.com, or 3) Zelle aletracy4@gmail.com.

Conectando con Raíces Ancestrales en México: Las Queer Enamoradas

On April 19th, a photo of one of my favorite influencers, Brown Badass Bonita’s Kim Guerra wearing a vibrant red dress with the backdrop of a turquoise blue ocean, grabbed my attention because it was tagged as located in Mexico City, Mexico. BBB usually commands my attention with her colorful graphics and empowering poetry, but this was different. I was confused because I knew that there weren’t any beaches in DF, but I also know that many of us women don’t always like to immediately disclose our current location for safety concerns, especially for someone with such growing recognition like Kim. It suddenly hit me when I quickly remembered some of her recent posts in the past few months, “¡Kim está viviendo en México!” So of course I perused all of her recent posts, none of which I had realized where she actually was, or that she announced or explained outright what she was doing in Mexico with her partner Ana Sheila, the co-creator of Tamarindo Podcast. I was instantly determined to find out their story, as I felt it in my soul that they were living and traveling there to connect with their ancestral roots. And as a queer couple, how must that be for them? I had so many questions already! I can spot the radiating glow of not only empowered mujeres like them, but ones who further this empowerment by making the decision to go back to live in their motherland. Their story is a perfect addition to our “Conectando con Raíces Ancestrales” series, as we share inspiring stories of Latinxs who connect to their land in their own deeply personal way.

Kim’s Artesania Necklace

I had the distinct opportunity to interview Kim Guerra and Ana Sheila via Zoom while they were in their comfortable apartment in Coyoacán. Las Queer Enamoradas, their new joint IG account, provides a space to celebrate queer mujeres in love, the epitome of this perfect pair. I had to calm my fan-girl squeaking right off the bat. Down-to-Earth, free spirits, chingonas. I already knew I wanted to talk to them for hours about their experience in Mexico. Kim was wearing a gorgeous indigenous bright yellow beaded necklace sprinkled with other colors, reminding me of the Indigenous Colombian Embera Chami necklaces from my motherland. They sat comfortably next to each other, embracing with such burgeoning love for one another.

Kim and Ana are from the Los Angeles, California area, and met during the pandemic on a socially distant Zoom call. By January 2021, after dating 8 months, they both agreed that they wanted to live and explore México lindo y querido, something that was possible because of their ability to complete their work remotely. They took their dog Chanchito, and arrived in Mexico City (aka Distrito Federal, aka DF) with their adventurous yet COVID-conscious spirits ready to explore. Ana was actually born in DF, so going back was like a coming home to her roots to connect with her ancestors like her Dad who was raised there but unfortunately passed away just 2 years ago. She still has family in the Mexico City area, a tremendous resource to help navigate the city and travel outside of DF. Kim has family in Guadalajara, Jalisco who they plan to try to visit. Since arriving, they’ve explored 6 remarkable locations thus far: Tepoztlán, La Condesa, Coyoacán, Mazunte, Zipolite, and San Agustinillo.

Tepoztlán
Kim and Ana first visited a pueblo 1 hour outside of Mexico City, Tepoztlán, Morelos considered a Pueblo Mágico or Magical Town, awarded the label in Mexico for maintaining their original architecture, traditions, history and culture. These pueblos normally hold great relevance to the country’s history, and many times hold remarkable symbolism and legends. Tepoztlán is best known for the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec feathered serpent god. The town is also known for its weekly artesania market, and a hiking trail that leads to the Aztec Tepozteco pyramid.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many of the public sites were closed, including the Pyramid,  but it was still possible to do and see many things out in nature and from afar. Kim and Ana spent the greater part of their short trip hiking. Kim describes this location as a perfect spiritual getaway to exercise on the trails, self care with massages, experience an indigenous Temazcal sweat lodge, and to learn about herbal practices via a tea cleanse. Ana described that she felt she connected spiritually with her deceased Abuela and Dad during the Temazcal experience, physically feeling their presence.

La Condesa
At this point, Kim and Ana were ready to figure out their long term living arrangement in the Mexico City area. They chose La Condesa, a colonial borough in DF just 4 km south of Zona Rosa. They booked an Airbnb only for a month to try it out. Although the area had its own charm, Kim and Ana felt that it catered towards the extranjero or tourist, and felt culturally disconnected. After one month living and working there, they decided they were interested in an area where they would be able to interact more closely with locals. This led them to the bohemian burrough of Coyoacán.

Coyoacán
I was not surprised that las Queer Enamoradas fell in love with the area that once was inhabited by Queer Diosa, Frida Kahlo. In Nahuatl, Coyoacán means ‘the place of coyotes’, known for its bohemian colonial style, open artesania market, and La Casa Azul – Museo Frida Kahlo. The burrough is located about 12 kms south of downtown Mexico City. They found an apartment, met with the landlords, and decided to secure 3 months up front. The place has a charming patio shared with neighboring apartments, and it provided a perfect comfortable space for both of them to work remotely. 

Anasheila and Kim at the Frida Kahlo Mural in front of the Mercado Artesanal de Coyoacán

They both reflected that they acknowledge their privilege in living there, expressed their gratitude, and explained that they saved money on rent and food alone by living there instead of expensive California. Even their black labrador, Chanchito, demonstrated having a higher quality of life as they enrolled him in incredibly affordable “doggy day care” every day during the week. As a dog mami myself, I was pleased to find out that Kim had also seen a psychiatrist to certify Chanchito as an “Emotional Support Animal”. She had to prepare to travel to Mexico with him by making sure he had his paperwork in order: a travel certificate, a health certificate with all his vaccines up-to-date, and the Psychiatrist’s note.

Kim explained how she purchased her gorgeous artisanal necklace at the local open market. I was in awe with some of the activities she already had planned, like that of posing as a muse for a circle of artists in the area. How much more of an experiencia Frida Kahlo can you get!? What was clear to me was that both Ana and Kim were interested in making deep connections in the area. They highlighted their desire to contribute to the economy there in a meaningful way, and these statements and intentions gave me escalofríos from the good vibrations. 

Mazunte, Zipolite & San Agustinillo
After a couple of months living the city life, Kim and Ana decided to plan a trip to the beaches of Oaxaca for 4 days. The flight was about 1 hour and 20 minutes from DF. Apart from relaxing in paradise, the most majestic part of the trip was whale-watching – so powerful for them, that both teared up at the sighting. Notably, they visited Zipolite as an LGBTQ-friendly nudist beach they felt welcomed to explore and be themselves. However, they observed that the area was overrun by White Hippies who have lived there long term but barely interact with the local population. 

Living and Traveling in Mexico as LGBTQ
Kim and Ana smiled bright as they explained to me how they loved taking up space as a couple. They walk around often holding hands, and they never feel unsafe. Furthermore, they did note that people do stop to stare often, including people who stop their conversation to stare, and people who nudge “mira” to point them out. Overall they feel proud to take up space as queer enamoradas, unapologetically queer and in love.

Living and Traveling Mexico during Pandemic Times
They made sure to get tested anytime before getting on a flight, wore masks when indoors and around place with people around, and followed the strict regulations enforced in Mexico. They avoided crowded places and destinations like Cancun, Cabo, Tulum, etc and made sure to stay at small, private boutique hotels to avoid having to deal with too many people.

I can’t wait to see where else this lovely pareja will travel to in their motherland. The opportunities are boundless, and I feel that they will make unforgettable connections, catalyze collaborations, and have life-changing experiences enough to write a book about. Let’s hope that in a couple of years we get the opportunity to interview them again to debrief. Who knows, maybe they will live in Mexico for the rest of their lives! May their story inspire you to connect with your native motherland in this unique and unforgettable way. ¡Que viva el amor, y que viva la oportunidad de conectar con tus raíces ancestrales!

The Latinx Traveler – A Latinx Heritage Month Virtual Presentation to TCS World Travel

I’ve never been invited to present anything like this before, which makes it exciting to witness in real time the way companies are taking issues of Diversity & Inclusion increasingly more serious. A representative from TCS World Travel located in Seattle, WA invited me to speak virtually to the company to commemorate Latinx Heritage Month on September 22nd, 2021. The part that I found most incredible was that she wanted me to present on the ideas from my article “Travel is Political.” Growing up Latina and as a WOC, especially during my college years, I was constantly told by mostly White Midwestern people I knew that I was being “too political” and “why do I always have to bring up race” when I brought up serious issues that impacted the most marginalized populations in our society, of diversity & inclusion, and/or of race & ethnicity. Usually they would say it in a way hinting at my moral inferiority, and/or to get me to drop the ‘taboo’ subject immediately. Never in a million years would I have thought someone non-BIPOC would be interested to hear my take on why travel is ‘political.’

The presentation started with an intro to the Latinx/Hispanic identity, data on the Latinx Wage gap, and market research on the Latinx Traveler. Unfortunately, the “Travel is Political” section was at the very end, and because of time constraints, I was forced to speed through. Nonetheless, I would love it if you would watch my presentation in the video below and give me some constructive feedback to improve.

I’m excited for and hoping for more opportunities like this in the future!

La Hermandad of the Traveling Mochila fundraiser

They are finally here and ready to sell! 3 years in the making to get to this point: to save, to heal, to organize, and finally to procure. Travel Latina began in 2015 as an idea that has grown into an international community of amazing viajerxs. As we grow we’re always trying to take things to the next level, which means so many different creative options. We are working on hiring someone to help us to configure the sustainable monetization of the website since BIPOC deserve to be paid fairly for their labor, because our travel bloggers and contributors deserve to be compensated for the tremendous work they have put into TL. Even better if we can create full time job opportunities for Latinx. If you believe in our mission, and love the progression of TL and the Mochila Viajerx through the years, please buy one of our products listed below to support our fundraiser. Our goal is to fundraise $2,000 USD from selling these products to cover the cost of the materials, and to hire someone to work with.

Making the Mochila: A 3-Year Passion Project

Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez (second to the right) and her friends with their Sisterhood of the Thotty Red Suit

After seeing Prisca Dorca Mojica Rodríguez’s IG post back in April 2018, “Sisterhood of the Traveling Red Thotty Bodysuit”, it gave me another inspiration. What can TL create in order to more strongly bring us together through an ‘hermandad‘, but also to collectively help us move forward not only in our own lives, but with TL too? From 2016 to 2018, I was living in La Guajira, Colombia, a Caribbean coastal department/state known for it’s Wayuu indigenous population and cultural influence. It hit me that I could design a Wayuu mochila in order to create the first prototype for the “Hermandad of the Traveling Mochila”.

Ale, the founder of TL with the mochila in Palomino, La Guajira, Colombia

The orginal mochila was made by a Wayuu woman, Genny, in the Mercado Nuevo in Riohacha, La Guajira for the price that was asked without bartering. I decided to include a journal, local Colombian sage, and 5 locally made cloth bracelets in the bag to share with the hermandad. The Wayuu have one of the last matriarchal societies known on Earth, where the people do not settle in villages, rather matrilineal clans where the woman is the center of the organization. They are spread out between parts of Colombia and Venezuela, many holding dual citizenship in both countries. These resilient people managed to keep their culture and traditions mostly unscathed despite Spanish conquest, and are the largest Indigenous group in Colombia. The Wayuu women have become recognized worldwide for their handmade knit mochilas, hammocks, and more. I am gracious and continuously thank the Wayuu for allowing me to connect with my Indigenous Colombian roots, although my roots are more particularly Chibcha roots from the interior of the country. Furthermore, we experimented with the pilot mochila, as a group of us TL contributors took it all over the world, from Colombia, to Ghana, Guatemala, Spain, and Italy.

The Fundraiser

After two years spent healing and saving back in the US, I finally started to save up for and procure more mochilas starting about a year ago. I sent the initial payment to Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia on December 24th, 2020 during a global pandemic. I had no idea what to expect with the constant and extremely strict lockdowns in Colombia, but the mochilas finally arrived to my house 7 months later after many delays.

Edermira worked on the mochilas this time

At the same time, I was working with Ashley Garcia from Brown Girl Travels to order some zines and stickers from her to include in the mochilas. In addition, I wanted to include small coin pouches from El Salvador to represent our social media manager Cindy Medina’s huge contribution to Travel Latina as a Salvadoreña. This pouch also makes it easier to share trinkets, souvenirs, consumables, dried herbs, and more with the hermandad. Finally, I decided to include a branded eco-friendly mini notebook, as well as stickers of our brand.

Mochila package – 17 mochilas in total, each for a minimum $100 donation:

We have 17 mochilas in total to sell, 5 of them green, 6 of them blue, and 6 of them magenta. Each mochila includes:
-1 mochila Wayuu from Colombia (green, blue, or magenta)
-1 Brown Girl Travel mini zine
-1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador
-1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook
-1 Brown Girl Travel sticker
-5 TL stickers (not pictured in above photos)

We are also selling several other smaller packages for those of you who want to contribute to our fundraiser, but don’t have so much to spend:

Brown Girl Travel Zine package – 3 in total, each for a minimum $50 donation:

This package includes:
-1 Brown Girl Travel mini zine
-1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador
-1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook
-1 Brown Girl Travel sticker (not pictured in above photo)
-5 TL stickers

Artisanal Coin Pouch & Mini Notebook package – 4 in total, each for a minimum $25 donation:

This includes:
-1 artisanal coin pouch from El Salvador
-1 eco-friendly TL mini notebook
-5 TL stickers

TL sticker package – 20 in total, each for a minimum $10 donation:

This includes:
-10 TL stickers

Payment Process
If you’d like to make sure a product color or package type is available before donating, please check with us via our TL Instagram DM, this blog’s “Contact Us”, and/or our email info@travellatina.org.

We will be taking donations via Venmo @travel_latina, Paypal aletracy4@gmail.com, or Zelle aletracy4@gmail.com.

Your full name, last name, address, and email are needed in order to complete the shipment. The minimum donation requested for each item includes shipping & handling.

Travel is Political

I’m getting tired of people telling us to keep politics out of our page. Newsflash people, travel is political. Most things in life are inherently political, whether you want to accept it or not. Communities, schools, work, religious groups, sports, and even families all have some sort of political occurrences in their structures, interpersonal interactions, and more. Yes, it’s annoying and greatly concerning how much division and anger the uncomfortable topic of “politics” can create. We despise when people take sides, like sports teams, instead of seeing the need to help the most vulnerable or marginalized people.

So how is Travel Political? Let’s dive in:

1) Access to Resources: if a group has generational wealth or greater access to resources than other groups, they have greater access to leisure time to relax and more privilege and liberty to plan and pay for leisure like travel. Policies and laws established by politicians have historically impacted who has greater access to resources over others.

2) Immigration Status: people have traveled across oceans, mountains, and rivers to seek a better and/or safer life since the dawn of humanity. Animals do this to survive. It’s unfair to label someone as “illegal” and “criminal” when they may have had to uproot their whole family and life from one country due to war, poverty, environmental collapse, discrimination, disease, etc. The USA was founded by the colonization of European immigrant settlers who rampaged Native American communities and benefited financially from forced enslavement and migration of Africans. The USA has also created issues by meddling in other countries’ politics, like in Central America, or Palestine-Israel, of which has caused the huge waves of migration of refugees from those regions. People’s movement will never end so long as there are incentives and freedom to do so, whether it is for survival, or whether it’s for leisure. Topics of migration, immigration, refugees are travel-related and significantly impacted by policies and laws.

3) Saviour Complex: The idea of “saving poor unfortunate souls” is nothing new. Christianity wiped out indigenous tribes, their culture, and spiritual practices worldwide because they were deemed savage, inferior, and evil. European monarchies were closely allied with the Catholic and Protestant churches because together, they held greater power and wealth. Therefore, religion in those times was highly political. Nowadays, when most prefer to see a separation of Church and State, we still observe that people like to travel to feel better about themselves and get the feeling they are making a difference. Some examples of this can be seen by trips planned to convert Africans to Christianity or clean up trash with a non-religious organization. But how much are their efforts hurting versus helping and centering the more privileged person’s experience? Shouldn’t their wealth and efforts be used in political power to help sway policies that have a much more significant impact on people abroad? There are also highly political non-religious organizations that perpetuate the Saviour Complex, like the US government’s Peace Corps or the US Department Agency International Development (USAID). This mindset not only shapes a culture of what is seen as charitable giving through travel, but it also shapes foreign policy and laws abroad.

4) Passport Privilege: This one almost goes hand in hand with immigration status and access to resources. Are you a citizen who can afford to buy a passport and use it? Do you have legal status that allows you to receive a passport? Does your country passport allow entry into all countries? Or does your country’s standing in the world only grant you and your passport access to a select few countries? The citizens of Japan and Singapore have the most passport privileges as they are able to visit 189 countries each. In comparison, Afghanis have the worst passport privilege as they are only able to visit 25 countries. Politics shape the policies and laws that shape our passport privilege in the world.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that travel is political. We stand for ethical, sustainable, educational, and conscious traveling. We cannot stay silent about injustices, especially if they negatively impact our communities, vulnerable communities like BIPOC/ LGBTQ+ / low-income/ disabled, the environment, and ultimately ANY travel experience (whether forced immigration or for leisure). Many of us have a voice and ability to sway our political representatives, boycott unethical products or companies, and more. We remain a non-party affiliated platform with a strong desire to encourage holding our politicians accountable no matter which party – and even if one side needs accountability A LOT more often.

Did we miss any important subtopics to this topic? Please add your take on this subject in the comments below.

Inspiration to Organize Your Finances

Let’s uplift each other and help our community build wealth, not only for traveling but for a healthy sustainable financial future.

I’m usually a frugal, organized, budget-obsessed type of person, but two years living on a volunteer stipend while ending my 20s and going into my 30s sent me into one of the most stressful whirlwinds of my life. It’s taken over a year to get “back in the black” since completing my service (excluding student loans of course), and get back to my happy state of savings. This article is a culmination of me finding inspiration while I work on gaining back financial stability, but also wanting to further help other Latinxs take charge of their finances. The following is a compiled list of expert women budget-ers, savings gurus, and financial advisors to follow or reach out to.

Eva Macias
Her Instagram profile description states “✨Teaching women they’re worthy of having it all & how to master their finances to get it”, which is crystal clear thanks to her carefully curated coral-hued feed. Her website offers a free e-book “A Latina’s Guide to Money“, a financial bootcamp, appointments with her, and all of her services are offered in Spanish or English.

 

Natalie Torres-Haddad – Financially Savvy Latina
If “2TEDx Speaker 🔴, International Award winning author📗, Financial/Mental Health/higher Ed advocate” doesn’t inspire you enough, I’m not sure what will. Purchase her book “Financially Savvy in 20 Minutes“. Check out her website to see all of this inspiring Latina’s accomplishments in all things budgeting and finance.

 

Bernadette Anat – Hey Berna
“Budgetin’ dreams & money memes” is an accurate description with Berna’s curated memes that will have you both scrolling entertained for hours and educating yourself. On her website, she describes herself as a “financial hype woman” and “Fin-fluencer.” She explains that she is “dedicated to making financial literacy more funny, more accessible, and more Brown for young people everywhere.” Make sure to check out her Budget Camp: A BadA$$ Mini E-course which includes an exclusive video, digital worksheets, access to a chat community, and a 30-minute 1:1 call with Berna herself.

 

Yanely Espinal – Miss Be Helpful
Self-described as a “Financial Educator & YouTuber 🤑”, she has over 37k+ subscribers on her Youtube Channel. With over 147 videos uploaded, Miss Be Helpful is dedicated to educating on anything that has to do with being smart with your money.

 

Clever Girl Finance
“Personal finance courses & 1-on-1 mentorship when you need it. Empowering women to achieve real financial success!” Their website offers courses, a free financial road map, and a look into their Clever Girl Finance book – ditch debt, save money, and build real wealth.

 

Jessie Susannah – Money Witch
Jessie’s Instagram account “Money Witch” is everything you would want from an Intuitive Financial Coach. The tag line “Heal Your Finances” on her website invokes more than just brujería, it’s clear Jessie wants to educate and uplift women. Make sure to read her article “What your horoscope says about your spending,” published on Refinery 29. Jessie sells her own Money Magic Shop products, offers intuitive financial coaching sessions, and even an online workshop called “Business Basics for Not-So-Basic Business Babes.

 

We Bravely Go
They describe themselves as “Events, Tools, + Community at the intersection of finance and feminism. We help you get better with money.” They offer investing webinars, a Small Business & Freelance Starter Guide, money coaching sessions, and the Bravely Values Based Budgeting Workbook.

 

Money and Flow Podcast
This podcast coins “making financial planning 💸 relevant and accessible for #WOC.” Listen to their podcast on Itunes, check out their informative blog, or sign up to talk to a Modern Money Advisor.

 

Tiffany Aliche – The Budgetnista
America’s favorite financial educator explains that she is “dedicated to making life-changing financial education accessible to women worldwide.” Through her website, you can access free online resources, as well as join her exclusive Facebook group community.

My Ultimate Travel Inspiration: Abuela

A note from the author: This is a tribute to my abuela who recently passed away on Friday the 13th, September, 2019. This article was made possible thanks to my family who shared their oral history, where I was able to match up parts of her story with photos and documents. She often would explain, “yo crucé montañas, rios, y oceanos para poder pasar tiempo contigo” to the grandkids in order to help us understand what kind of effort, distance, and sacrifice was invested in order for her to spend time with us. Clarita was a soul full of colors, love and forgiveness. She was magic with her unconditional love, like a poesía de alegría. She could lite up any room she walked into, filling a house with her energy resembling vibrant colors. To better understand why Clarita was the way she was, our greatest inspiration to keep going despite life’s obstacles, the following is her story.

Clara Beatriz Rey was born on July 29th, 1934 in Bogotá, Colombia, although the date is debatable. This stereotypical vivacious Leo personality argued that her real birth date is unknown since she has no birth certificate to prove it. Her family’s life took a turn when she was 4-years-old because her dad Guillermo Rey Chacón passed away due to Tuberculosis, leaving behind Clarita, her older sister of 7 years-old Maria Helena “Nena”, and their Mami Maria Helena Vazquez.

They moved in with her mom’s 14 siblings, 5 tios and 9 tias who helped raise the young girls. Her mom was the oldest of the 14, therefore she was known as el gran poder, or the mighty power, also due to her affability and kindness leading to a certain don, or gift, she had liaising with people. Clarita would later acquire this same don and impressive ability of connecting with people in a way that even a stranger on the street would love talking to her.  Furthermore, Maria Helena had a distinct ability to play the piano that her parents ordered from Germany.

Clarita finished up to 7th grade (2do de bachillerato), then went to work at a Kodak 100_4407shop that some of her aunts worked at, as well as a laboratory where she packaged medicines. Cue meeting her future husband Carlos Jaime Chavarriaga (pronounced Hi-meh) on a bus towards downtown, both of them on their way to work in 1954 when Clara was 19-years-old. Jaime worked at the Manhattan store, a clothing line for men. By the end of 1954, Jaime and Clara wed at the Iglesia Santa Teresita, and then by 1955 their first daughter Martha was born.

 

First Trip Abroad, 4 Kids, and Career

Clarita y Martha - Culver City, California

Clarita & Martha in Culver City, California

By the end of 1955, a tia of Jaime offered the family of three their first trip to the United States. They took a short stop in Cuba for a couple of days, and they stayed in the USA for about 5 months. Since they stayed in Culver City, California outside of LA, Jaime tried out for various roles as an extra for several movies searching for “Hispanic” actors. He wasn’t able to find a job, so they returned back to Colombia. However, this trip must have made on impact on her first born (and possibly the second born too since she could have been conceived in the USA), which later on it will make sense why.

Shortly after, the brood grew to a total of 4 kids with Maria Clara (1956), Carlos Jaime (1958), and Claudia Rosa “Rosita” (1960). In order to not confuse Carlos Jaime Jr with his dad, we will refer to Jaime Sr as “Don Jaime.” Most family trips consisted of long weekend “Puente” holiday trips to warmer climate and lower altitude pueblos outside of cold mountainous Bogotá a couple of times a year. Girardot, Melgar, and Utica were the most frequented spots. Don Jaime’s brother, Guillermo, was a pilot, therefore the couple or the whole family sometimes got to travel thanks to his benefit. By airplane in Colombia, they visited coastal locations like Barranquilla and Tumaco both on the Caribbean and the Pacific coast respectively. 

 

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Clara on her way to Tumaco, Colombia on the pacific coast in 1971. Her brother-in-law Guillermo was a pilot, so he let her take a quick photo opp.

Family Trips in Colombia:

Entrepreneurship ran through Clarita’s veins, as did her nurturing and healing essence. In 1962-66 she started a fashion design business out of their own house where she had a couple of seamstresses on her team. In 1964-69 she created a cake and dessert business overlapping with the other business. Fast forward a bit of time in 1983, she supported Carlos Jaime’s travel agency business which later turned into a catering and events business, Banquetes Pablo VI, which still continues to this day 36 years later. However, her love for working in the healthcare industry prevailed.

Clarita found an internship working as an instrument nurse at the Hospital San José in 1968. To the dismay of her husband Jaime, who like many men at the time felt she should stay at home to child rear and tend to housework, she went against his wishes as she discovered her passion for working in healthcare and continued with it. At the time, Don Jaime had been working at Abbott as a pharmaceutical drug salesman who visited different Doctor’s offices, a job he held until retirement when he created his own related company Disfarma LTDA. Throughout the years, Clara worked seasonally or part-time at several different hospitals: Clinica Palermo, Clinica de Marly, Hospital Militar, and Clinica del Country. She specialized in supporting heart surgeries from about 1968 until about 1988 usually on part-time or short-term based assignments. She took two separate breaks between those 20 years, once in 1977 and once in 1981.

Clara was always savvy to find or create opportunities anywhere. She landed a job as a live-in nanny for two Cuban girls in the Miami, Florida area (Coral Gables) in 1977. She was there for about 5 months, where she would send her earnings as remittances back home to the family. At the time, the eldest daughter Martha was 22, therefore she helped run the household in Colombia. She later had to go home for unexpected reasons the family does not like to talk about, however the experience served as preparation for exciting opportunities to come in the USA and abroad.

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Clarita’s Beauty Battle Scar

She took almost a year-long break in 1981 after she severely broke her right arm in a freak mini elevator accident at the hospital, when a small container (aka dumbwaiter or lift), that transported medical supplies and other materials between floors in the building, fell on her arm and broke skin and bone. Around the same time, Don Jaime and Clara separated since they spent most of their time fighting. It was a very tough year for Clara due to her arm, her failed marriage, and her eldest daughter had left to live in the USA for good. Once her arm was fully mobile again thanks to healing and physical therapy, she persisted with her seasonal work at the hospital. This is only one of the many examples of Clarita’s strength and resilience. It wasn’t until the birth of her first grandchild in 1988 that she decided to drop everything and leave Colombia for a while.

A New Chapter – Grand-parenting All Around The World

At the wedding from left to right: Clara, Richard, Martha, and Don Jaime.

Her eldest daughter Martha met a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Richard Tracy, in 1978. They wed by 1980, and moved to the U.S. by 1981 after Richard completed his volunteer service. By 1988, they were living in Richard’s hometown Toledo, Ohio when Alexandra was born. Clarita decided by the time that Ale was 3 months that she was ready to be a full-time grandmother in the USA to help while both parents worked full time. A year later, and still the only birth of her grand kids she ever witnessed, Michele was born in 1989. Just two months after that, her 3rd granddaughter Diana Carolina or “Caro” was born in Bogotá to Carlos Jaime and his wife Diana Patricia. Because of this, Clara spent most of her time traveling between Colombia and the USA for the rest of her grand kids’ youth until the U.S. grand kids turned 18. For 19 years, her visits to the USA would usually span about 3-6 months each, about once a year, all depending on her Visa and who was able to cover her flights.

 

The most exciting birth of a grandchild occurred in the outskirts of Milano, Italy. Clara’s second daughter Maria Clara received a scholarship to study Opera in Italy, and she was there with her partner Carlos Yañez who was also studying his PhD from 1987 to 1994 for 11 years. In 1992, Clarita’s only grandson Andrés was born, providing her another way to explore outside of Colombia and help rear her 4th and last grandchild for a full year. In addition, she landed a job as a nanny for twin Italian girls. With her youngest daughter Rosita, who at the time worked for the Colombian airline Avianca, she was able to travel very easily due to perks and benefits from the job that were extended towards family. The two traveled throughout Europe together while they spent most of the time in Milano. They traveled to London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, and all around Italy. Maria Clara and her family lived in Italy until 1996, when they moved back to Colombia.

 

Rosita and Clarita always traveled together when Rosita worked for Avianca

Again thanks to Rosita and Avianca, Clarita got to travel all over Latin America for the rest of the 90’s and early 2000s. They traveled to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, and Quito. Maria Clara and Rosita spent a lot of time going to visit the USA to accompany Andrés and Caro throughout their youth, but not as much as Clara traveled there with the them. Thanks to Clara’s dedication and guardianship, as well as Rosita, Maria Clara, Martha, and Jaime’s funding and hard work, the four cousins grew up like siblings and all became fully bilingual Spanish-English.

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The 4 primos/siblings: Alexandra, Caro, Michele, and little Andres all together for the first time ever at the Bogota Airport.

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Clarita and Rosita visiting Maria Clara and Carlos when they lived in Santiago, Chile

In 1991-1997, Martha’s family was living in Texas for 7 years, therefore Clarita had visited enough times to establish relationships in San Antonio, TX. She was able to acquire jobs with her Visa at the time working as a maid at a hotel, as well as babysat from time to time. When Martha’s family left for Mexico in 1997, she decided she was going to try to acquire U.S. citizenship. She continued work at the hotel, found a job at McDonalds, and helped care for disabled people. Whenever she had some extra time, she traveled to Mexico and was able to see some of the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon with Martha’s family. Perhaps due to viewing the USA as a ‘superior country’, Clara worked hard to acquire U.S. citizenship. She studied for years for the citizenship test to prepare for once she qualified to actually take the test, especially this visibly worn list of 100 questions in English. Although Clarita had the help of Martha and family to bid for citizenship, benefited from white privilege, and she worked very hard at several jobs, sadly her dream did not come true. It could have been the political and cultural nature of Texas, it could have been her broken English, but unfortunately U.S. citizenship was not granted to her after her test in 1999.

 

 

An Adventurous Life

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Clarita’s Passport photos through the years

Nonetheless, Clarita lived the last 20 years of her life traveling everywhere with her family. It was always her family connections who made it possible for her to travel so much, and on occasion she was able to save her own hard earned money from different jobs in order to be able to travel. Martha’s family moved to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1999, Maria Clara and her family moved to Chile for a year in the early 2000s, and then her sister Nena’s family moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 2006, so there was still a lot of traveling. By 2012, all of the female grand-kids graduated from college, and so the family started traveling more together to new places. Alexandra moved to California, where it was the first time Carlos Jaime and Diana Patricia traveled to the USA in 2014 with the rest of the family. After that, different family members traveled with Clarita everywhere including an epically captured trip to Cuba.

Cartagena, Colombia:

Las Vegas, Nevada and the Grand Canyon:

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Clarita was very modern for an abuela, savvy with her cellphone, especially Whatsapp. Here is a picture she sent Alexandra about her piece of luggage she kept just because of the memorable trips Alexandra took with it.

Clarita was a resilient, independent, adventurous, and a vivacious soul. Her love for exploring new places almost matched her greater love for her family. For about 3 years, she begged Diana Carolina for a trip to Aruba. That trip did not occur because her 3 granddaughters thought they had way more time to plan and save up for the trip. Clara passed away unexpectedly in September of 2019 due to catching bacterial meningitis which sparked sudden rapidly deteriorating health. Thankfully, she did not suffer as she was in a coma for 11 days straight, 3 of which she was half-awake to what the family deems a miracle chance for her to say her goodbyes before she passed. The whole family was convinced she would live past 100+ years just based on her positive, magnetic, and vivacious attitude. Nevertheless, the family holds Clarita’s spirit in their hearts, and are currently grappling with how to move forward with this new void in their lives.

 

Stay tuned for our trip to Aruba which will pay tribute to Clara Chavarriaga Rey! Who knows when it will be planned, but it will happen!

Montañas, Rios y Oceanos

Possible tattoo inspiration found by Michele. Clarita, a Leo with the Sun as it’s ‘planet’ (star), would often say “yo cruce montañas, rios y oceanos para pasar tiempo contigo.”

How Thrifting Enhances My Travels & Experiences

Ever since most of my suburban classmates growing-up were wearing all the latest seasonal trends from Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and American Eagle, I decided I’d embrace being unique rather than dwelling on the fact that I couldn’t afford the same clothing as them. I mean hey, I was already one of the only Latinas at my school so why does it matter if my style is different too? My Mami and Abuela taught us basic stitching, but starting in Middle School we had one of our close Mexican family friends, Luz Telleria, teach my sister and I to use a sewing machine. We mostly would make our formal school dance dresses from scratch with a lot of her help, not only saving us money but creating pride in such uniquely crafted fashion. I do consider making your own clothing a form of thrifting because the definition states “the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.” Furthermore, I discovered from some alternative-styled classmates, who inspired me early on in High School with their quirky fashion from the Salvation Army, mostly comprised of unique used clothing for cheap. This helped to change the way I shop and dress myself for the rest of my life.

Some of the formal school dance dresses my sister and I made between Middle and High School with Luz Telleria’s help:

 

 

 

Here is a bag I made from retro pants found at the Salvation Army. The idea was inspired by an American Girl Doll book (since we never owned a doll, we had a book instead):

 

 

 

The 80s dress I bought at the Salvation Army for less than $9 for my Senior Prom. I won Prom Queen with this dress!:

 

 

 

Aside from the Salvation Army, I volunteered at the Catholic Charities Hispanic Outreach Services in Pontiac, Michigan that use to be located in an old mansion with an attic full of lightly used or vintage items that were donated to the Outreach for them to sell for cssfundraising. My abuela use to call that informal store attico-Kohls. Both of these locations plus my ability to make my own items, or tailor used items to my own liking, provided inexpensive alternatives to create my unique style that I will describe as Latina-Vintage-Chic. I loved mixing bright colors, off the shoulder tops, shimery or glittery, flowy or frilly, and/or vintage old school — all on a budget.

Vintage store finds and shots in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2011:

 

 

 

I made a necklace and headband from an old yellow t-shirt that I bought at the Goodwill for the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2012:

 

 

 

Thrift store finds in San Diego, CA in 2013-4. On the left is a bright fuschia shiny jumpsuit from the 80s, and on the right a green retro poncho from the 60s:

 

 

 

Fast forward 15 years, and I still do this to create a unique sense of style, but most importantly to save money. Moreover, I’ve learned the detrimental impacts that over-consumption of material things like clothing can have on the environment. Did you know that, the average person in the U.S. buys 65 articles of clothing a year, each item only to be worn a few times? According to Greenpeace, “global clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014. The average person buys 60 percent more items of clothing every year and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago.” This is not only a huge waste of money that could go towards building wealth or traveling, but also a huge waste of resources like vital water supply, overuse of gas for transporting of these goods that contributes to CO2 emissions, etc.  According to Forbes – Making Climate Change Fashionable – The Garment Industry Takes on Global Warming, “it takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans.” The United Nations Climate Change News states that “the fashion industry contributes 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.” 

So who’s ready to join the #NoNewMaterialThings, #BuyUsedOnly, and/or #BuyNothing trend in order to save more money for building wealth, or more importantly for travel? One can argue that traveling can be as harmful to the environment as the clothing industry, so for our sake let’s hope that transportation & travel continues to become more energy efficient, conscious, and sustainable. Furthermore, I will continue to enjoy my more sustainable wardrobe, perfect for traveling the world, while advocating for a more sustainable textile and travel industry. In fact, I consult for my prima Carolina Chavarriaga’s small clothing & accessories business, and convinced her to recycle used materials, fabric, and/or clothing for her products from here on out. Follow her FB page and Instagram, and check out this video announcing her new sustainable business endeavor:

Above in this article and following I share some photography I’ve captured over the years during trips to the park, a nearby city, or to another country. Pay attention to how a homemade, used, or vintage outfit enhanced not only my photo, but the memory of my travels or experiences in general along with a subtle reminder that I saved money and contributed to sustainability by buying used or making my own item. At the end of the day, no material object matches the unforgettable experiences we share with our loved ones or with ourselves (self-care alone time).

I bought this sparkly top at a consignment store in San Diego, CA, but the photo was taken in Palomino, La Guajira, Colombia in 2016:

 

 

 

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Wearing a used dress bought at a thrift store in Portland, Oregon in 2016 while visiting Riohacha, La Guajira, Colombia in 2017.

For more Latina Thrifty Vintage fashion inspo, make sure to check out Bomba Estéreo‘s leading lady Li Saumet‘s venture as the co-owner of Soy Banana Life Tropical Vintage Store located in Santa Marta, Colombia (follow @soybananalife on IG):

The Traveling Chihuahua: Tips on How to Raise a Dog Who Travels

We made an addition to our family with a little Chihuahua-(1/4)Pinscher during our Peace Corps service on April 4th, 2017. She was the first dog I’ve ever adopted since the only other pets I had were little perriquito birds popular where we lived in Saltillo, Mexico in 1998. I’d always wanted a Chihuahua after growing up with close Mexican family friends in Lake Orion, Michigan who had two little ones. Almendra was the same brown color as Coral and abuela to Pepita, the sweetest cutest little black Chihuahua:

 

My partner Kyle knew I was having a hard time with my mental health, specifically panic attacks and severe anxiety. Considering this, he thought of a great idea to help me thanks to one of the people he worked with at a Cacao Association in Mingueo, La Guajira, Colombia who had two dogs that had just had puppies. After Kyle went to go meet the dog parents and newborn pups, he determined that the dogs parents were chill, not as “yappy”, or temperamental as most Chihuahuas are known for. I was apprehensive at first since we traveled a lot via bus to get everywhere along the coast for work with the Peace Corps, and we were living on a volunteer stipend, therefore I was worried there wouldn’t be enough money to support Coral. Alas, Kyle took me to go see the dogs, so of course I fell in love immediately. I saw my baby Coral and instantly felt a connection to adopt her.

 

She cost us 150,000 Colombian pesos, which is about $50 dollars. Apparently, miniature sized dogs can go for about $2,000 in the US, so we saved A LOT of money there. Either way, miniature or small dogs require such little food consumption, clean-up, and I argue overall minimal effort to train. We got lectured by my sister and prima who are avid supporters of “adopt don’t shop.” I’m a supporter of adopting as well, but the reality was that the nature of our job wouldn’t allow us to adopt just any dog, especially a medium or large-sized dog because a) their food costs too much to manage with our budget, b) finding someone to take care of a larger dog in Colombia when we have to travel 6-7 hours to the main office in Barranquilla would be difficult, and c) it would be much easier or cheaper to take a small lap dog around with us on buses or flights.

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The family in our backyard in Dibulla, La Guajira

Overall, we learned a lot about traveling with Coral mostly on buses, but a little on flights as well. My recommendations are as follows:

  1. Buy a neutral colored doggie bag cage that does not scream “I have a dog!” This will facilitate hiding your pet when certain conductors or transportation workers aren’t too keen about you having an animal. We bought a black bag that almost looks like a generic duffel bag. The majority of people didn’t complain about Coral after at least 60 times we rode a bus with her, except for a bus driver one time we were rushed and didn’t have her in her bag so he asked us (visibly annoyed) to put her in her bag, and another driver that insisted to give him a tip/bribe for bringing her on.

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    Coral the size of Cacao pods outside of San Jacinto, Colombia

  2. Start training your puppy to travel right away by bringing them along on trips since they are young so that they grow up traveling easily. Potty training is the most difficult at first, so make sure to take them out at every pit stop possible so they know that is when it’s okay to go potty instead of in a moving vehicle. Overall Coral started to learn that she needed to lay low and out of sight, but we had to train her not to whine or yip to be let out. We would train or discipline her to not bark with water in a spray bottle or squirt gun.
  3. You do have to think ahead to when you can take your dog around with you, and when you might have to leave them in your hostel, hotel, or rental home. We would usually mix it up and take her out after work, but during work we left her in our room which sometimes required innovative measures like placing the “Do Not Disturb” sign out, or creating a barrier so she doesn’t stick by the door whining for us to come back to her.

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    How we would look while riding a Brasilia bus around the Caribbean coast of Colombia

  4. Buses are usually more relaxed spaces for small dogs as long as you have a well-behaved dog, while flights can be more strict and flight attendants will make sure you don’t take your pet out of their cage. Bringing your dog along on a flight tends to cost more money (unless it’s a commercial US flight that accepts certified service animals for free), while buses didn’t usually charge.
  5. Plan ahead for potty breaks during long bus rides. We still have not taken Coral on a long flight, so I have no idea how this would work. Do any of you have pointers?
  6. Taking your pet outside of the country is complicated, and it can get expensive. When we moved back to the USA from Colombia, we had to go to the veterinarian to get special tests done, get some vaccines that were required by the USA, a special letter from the vet approving Coral’s travel, and another approval from the national

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    Coral with her Colombian soccer jersey in Dibulla, La Guajira

    Colombian Agricultural Institute (called the ICA) located inside the airport. We left the country in a rush due to my medical evacuation, therefore this whole process was rushed as well. The vet visit should have been done at least a week in advanced, therefore we were charged extra for the rush on top of the normal charges for the travel-related tests, medicine, and documents. In Colombia specifically, we should have visited the ICA office located at the airport at least 24 hours in advanced of our flight, but we didn’t know this until the night before our flight. We arrived super early to the airport the day of our flight. Aside from getting lectured by the administrator for not completing this task the day before, and explaining our unique work situation, he didn’t charge us extra for the rush.

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    Coral with her Tia Michele in King’s Canyon National Park in California

  7. Make sure to get your dog a Service Animal certification so that you don’t run into problems on flights or entering certain spaces with your dog. This is mostly for those of you who have a disability, mental illness, severe anxiety, depression, etc. However, please be wary no to abuse this benefit that helps many people with their mental illnesses or other disabilities, and please know you’re still highly responsible for the behavior of your dog around others.
  8. When hiding a dog, it’s still important to be as respectful and cleanly as possible with lodging staff, transportation staff, owners, etc. Coral makes a very small mess if there is an accident, but no matter what, we would clean it up right away and leave the space better than we found it. Once, Coral scratched at a door and we made sure to fix that right away. Please be respectful and aware when traveling with your pet, even if you might be hiding them.

 

I hope these tips help! Coral has not only joined us as a member of the family, mi mejor amigita o hijita de otra especie de animal, but she has provided a therapy-type of companionship through very challenging times in my life. They do say our Millennial generation is not having kids like generations before us, but we sure do love to have fur babies. It’s likely we will see more and more people traveling with theirs pets.

 

What is your experience traveling with your pet(s)? Please share in the comments below!

How a Visit to Switzerland While Studying Abroad in College Impacted My Career

I was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France for an academic year from Fall 2008 to Summer 2009. Coincidentally, I had met a French girl the year before who was studying abroad at the University of Michigan for a year. Even better, she was from the school I was planning for over a year to attend called the Institut d’Etudes Politiques-Aix (IEP aka Science-Po-Aix). Her name is Julie Mandoyan, French-born daughter of Armenian immigrants, and I have to thank her for changing my career outlook forever.

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Here I am with Julie on the right

Not only did we spend some time together in Ann Arbor, but we organized my arrival in the Fall after she would have already returned home. Her and her family welcomed me in their home for a couple of days in Marseille, France because the international airport is located there, and Aix is less than an hour away. She was technically accompanying me to Aix, not to return to the IEP, but to ask for her school transcripts that stated she had completed her Bachelor’s Degree after studying abroad. In France, most Bachelor’s programs take 3 years, the 3rd year is commonly spent abroad in the Erasmus program, but almost all French college students continue their Master’s program right away for 2 years. Furthermore, the average French college student completes a total of 5 years in school to complete their Masters all at the same school without the need of GRE’s or applying again. On the other hand, Julie was accepted into a prestigious Masters program called the Graduate Institute of Geneva in Switzerland. The IEP made it close to impossible to give her paperwork and transcripts because this is not a common occurrence, but yet she was able to get it done, therefore she moved to Geneva!

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Julie took this photo of my in Marseille, France

Fast forward a couple of months living in Aix around winter time in February 2009, I decided to finally visit Julie in Geneva. We planned on touring Geneva, visiting the United Nations headquarters, and then a trip with her graduate school friends to go skiing in the Alps.

A walk around Lake Geneva and the Freddy Mercury Statue

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A Tour of the United Nations Headquarters – Palace of Nations:

It was a dream come true to be able to see this building. I always knew since I was little that I wanted to work internationally, but visiting this location inspired me even more. In the following photo I’m acting like I submitted my job application to the UN:

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A road-trip to the Swiss Alps, blocked road by an avalanche, skiing, and finally arriving to our wooden cottage (called “chalet” in Swiss French, pronounced sha-ley)

Overall, because of spending time with Julie and her classmates, I decided I wanted to apply to grad school in International Affairs in the future. In fact, I applied to her program in 2011 but unfortunately did not get in. However, I did get accepted to the University of California, San Diego – School of Global Policy & Strategy which was a blessing in disguise because it was significantly less expensive and much warmer than living in Geneva.

Nonetheless, thank you Julie and Switzerland for inspiring me to take my career route of International Development. I will never forget it, and hope to one day have an opportunity to work in Geneva one day.

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