I can't dance (or sing), but come to my musical

So tonight is the night, "In The Heights" opens at the South Bend Civic Theatre tonight at 7:30PM. It is my stage debut... I can't sing, I don't even read music, and I really can't dance (I pretend well) and have never been in a choreographed number. So why am I in a musical tonight?


Our Cast (me in blue tank top)
When my friend, Aaron, the Executive Director of the theatre told me they were bringing the famed Lin-Manuel Miranda musical here... I thought whoa yes! And then I thought... oh crap... we got to do this thing right... how can I help?

The Civic has done it right, they advertised castings in Spanish, on Spanish radio, we even did auditions at La Casa de Amistad, we promoted it at Latin Dance downtown... and we got it, a diverse cast.

So why am I in the cast? Well, if I was asking people to audition for it, I couldn't be a hypocrite and sit back and say, "Thats not for me"... cause guess what, Aaron told me that the Civic should be, and is for everyone...


Aaron Nichols, SB Civic Theatre
So I auditioned, I warned them, I can't really sing... they told me they would push me to learn. Then I broke the news to them, I don't really dance, I do merengue and bachata cause hey, its easy and most people are worse than me so I generally look alright on the dance floor... and they again told me they would push me to be better.

I got a role, ensemble, AKA back up dancer and singer. I figured cool, I made it, and the role would not be a lot of work. I was wrong... it was a lot of work. We started months ago, several nights a week, learning the songs, learning the choreo, learning about theatre... this week I spent nearly 30 hours at the theatre.

I will reflect more on my experience later. It was hard for an engineer to be involved in a musical... it has been a challenge, but you know whats good for this soon to be forty year old? Having to learn new things, to push myself, to make myself step out of my comfort zone.


Tonight I step out of my comfort zone. Tonight I represent Bolivia on that state, I represent local immigrants, I represent immigrant kids who might think they can never be in theatre... hey you can, look at me, this old man learned, and this old man will miss a few steps tonight, and come in a second late in a spot (or two, or three), but the show will be amazing, filled with talented local folks, singing and dancing their hearts out and telling you a beautiful story of a low income immigrant neighborhood in New York...

Enjoy the show... to my cast members, thanks for helping me along, to the crew thanks for including so many cool South Bend Latino/Immigrant things into the set, and lets break a leg tonight.



What I told Anderson Cooper about Dreamers

It’s been a year since my interview with Anderson Cooper. As usual 80% of what you tell a journalist doesn’t make the news… so I wanted to write it down. I told him two stories; this is my family one that I share a lot when I speak about immigration and about Dreamers… 

I was a child, brought to this country by my parents, I am not technically a Dreamer but close. Why is no one mad at this child immigrant? 

Let me tell you a story…

My mom was born in Saginaw, MI, red hair, green eyes, requires SPF 75, and most would consider her about as American as apple pie. After college she went to Bolivia to do missionary work, fell in love with the country, and later fell in love with my dad. They got married, started a family, and never planned to move to the USA. In 1984 they planned a trip to Michigan for Christmas. 

We packed for a short trip, I kissed my abuelita, wrestled with my dog Tony, and told my cousins I'll be back in two weeks. (Blog about my first Christmas)

Couple days after Christmas, my brothers and I were enjoying the snow, playing with presents, and our parents sat us down, and told us, we weren’t going back. My mom was pregnant with my little sister, and the Bolivian economy that year had over 2,000% inflation (not a typo) and in 1985 it was over 16,000%!  They explained that life would be better here.

It didn’t feel better...

I lived with my grandparents that spoke no Spanish (my parents went back to sell everything). I spoke little English and no one else played soccer. I started school right away and couldn’t understand anything except math class.

I would never see my dog Tony again. I wouldn’t get to kiss my abuelita for many years. I didn’t play pick up soccer with my cousins again until I was a teenager.

I came to this country, like most Dreamers, by “no fault of my own” as they say. My status is not challenged, I am “good immigrant”, who did it the right way.  Did my family seeking the American Dream impede on your ability to chase that same dream? I don’t think so, so why are you mad at Juan? Am I not taking people’s jobs? Am I not the negative things people say about immigrants?

I was born an American citizen...  

We had support systems when we arrived to get on our feet. Even with a green card my family couldn't get most government supports, but my dad was able to work right away, and once he learned English was able to get better paying jobs and eventually back into accounting. With a SS number I worked in high school and I got to fill out FASFA for college, and got grants and subsidized loans.

Compared to my Dreamer friends… who get accused of using government resources…. And who can’t. I paid in-state tuition, got loans, and other government benefits. 

So why is no one mad at me?

It’s where you easily see the racism. Regardless of how I came, my impact is exactly the same as Juan from Mexico. It’s where you see our country’s history of treating immigrants horribly. My dad, green card or not, had it hard. In our history every major immigrant group had its stereotypes, and now people are against Mexicans/Latinos, and make negative myths, and take advantage of them.

I look like my mom, was born an American, and so I had it easier. Yes my immigration story was hard, but not as hard as it has been for others and I often wish I could trade places. To carry their burden for them, and in a way I am trying in my work now to make it right. 

So how do we change? We have to expose the truth, teach people what is happening, why it is happening, and discuss real solutions. When I told Anderson Cooper this story he replied that my story, and those of Dreamers, is the story of America. The story of seeking opportunity, the true definition of “The American Dream”.

So what can you do? Lot's, here are some suggestions: Want to Help? 


How I Did It (The Meals)

So in this blog I will describe how I changed my diet to get this done.

Road Trip breaks... healthy snacks. 
Like I mentioned in the original blog (Why I Did It), a large part of my problem was carbs. Working and eating in a Latino neighborhood lends itself to eating lots of carbs... tortillas, beans, tortillas, rice, tortillas, and lots of salt and tortilla chips (which are made out of tortillas).

So my first step, reduce carbs. Not eliminate carbs, but cut them, and I cut them more and more as I went. My usual order for lunch was three tacos, so I started ordering three, but taking the third taco and emptying it into the other two tacos. Still meaty, still filling, and just 1/3 the carbs. I also then reduced eating the chips... somedays I would ask the waitress not to bring chips to the table. Yeah I got the side eye... but I already got street cred and she didn't judge me. Ha. Now I rarely get tacos, I usually get a food plate instead, and ask for it without beans and without tortillas. Thats way less carbs, and I usually ask for some extra lettuce and tomato instead.

So I still ate some carbs, I was grabbing a beer at South Bend Brew Werks during the week, and eating normal everywhere else.

After those results were coming in, I realized I could cut carbs more to keep it going. So I started cutting carbs in other meals. No toast with breakfast, open face sandwiches, no more Chicory muffins (yogurt instead) but yes an occasional donut with my kids. Eventually I cut out hash browns, and potatoes from most meals as well... I have slowly started to do like a half order of hash browns, or just not eat it all (which is super hard for me, I am the former president of the clean plate club).

Other small things I did... yogurt. I would have yogurt for breakfast and I started healthy snacking. The snacking is where I realized I was sabotaging myself. So now I try to keep cucumbers, bananas, cuties, apples and other things for me to snack on instead of grabbing chips or other junk. At work I keep a box of healthy granola bars (Cliff Bars and similar) in my drawer, and one in my car for days I have to skip a meal.

My final step was reducing sugar intake. Four years ago I ordered a coffee with 2 creams and 4 sugars. Yep... Latino coffee, light and sweet. Well now I order: no sugar, skim milk and the sugar free caramel flavoring. Based on Dunkin' labels... it saves me over 300 calories per cup. Also when I splurge and get a drink drink, I order a macchiato... it is half the calories of a latte (saves about 150-200 cals).

I did eliminate a few things from my diet.

NO FRENCH FRIES. I did that last time I lost weight and its still my mantra.
No more baked potatoes, I get broccoli or asparagus instead.
No toast or bagels, unless it is a Panera cinnamon one, I am only human people!

What I still eat... I have ice cream at night with my kids (but less) and I like rice no matter what healthier people say about it. I still snack on tortilla chips at lunch, but just a couple chips, not the whole basket!

I just think about my food more. Especially when out to eat, read the labels, and in my work I eat out a lot so it is important.

So thats it... 6 months, 40 pounds, you can do it to! Still 6 months until I turn 40...


How I Did It (The Workouts)

Follow up to my blog "Why I Did It" is the details on HOW, the Workouts Edition.

Well first off, it wasn't easy, it took time and dedication, but I also didn't do anything weird, or a crazy diet, or completely cut anything out of my life. I mean most of my friends probably didn't even notice most of the lifestyle changes. So let me walk you through it.

Spinning, Push Ups and Yoga.
I had been a member at the O'Brien Fitness Center for about a year... but used it maybe once or twice a week. So in September, I started 4 to 5 days per week. I also started traveling with workout clothes. I travel a lot, so missing those days hurts, and I actually find working out on the road easier and a commitment since I don't have my kids I need to be up, and working hard.

I was going to the gym around 5:30AM during the week and riding a spin bike (upright) for 20 minutes each time at the gym. I like the bike, cause man you get sweaty, and lets be real, if you aren't sweating, you aren't losing. I also like it, cause in between times of pushing myself I could check my social media, lets be honest, I love to multitask.

After a month or so the progress was starting to show and I started stepping it up. I started doing push ups before bed. The first night, I could barely do 15 straight, and did 50 total. Today, I do push ups throughout the day, or if I do them at once I ramp down in between other workouts. I now do 50 before I leave the house, then 40 before riding the bike, 40 after, then 30 in between my stretching, 30 after stretching, and then throw in another 20 somewhere. So I try to do between 160-200 push ups daily. I will admit, I don't get my elbows to 90 degrees, my elbow pops, so I get close so that I don't hurt my elbow. It took my 4-5 months to work up to the amount of push ups I do now.

At the same time I worked in some curls, presses, and tricep lifts. I was originally curling 15 pounds per hand, and started with 2 sets of 12, then 2 sets of 15, and then 3 sets of 12. About two months ago I upped the weight to 20 pounds per hand, and built up about the same way. I am not fully able to do 3 sets of 12, but I am close.

So I spend about 45 minutes to an hour at the gym, 4-5 days per week. On the days off I still do push ups, or some curls at home with my weights. Or somedays join my wife in one of her workouts at home and I started a weekly Yoga class. I usually try to get my son to do some with me, or like last Friday I took both the younger ones with me to a Zumba class.

My next blog will be the "How I Did It: Meals Edition" about how I changed my diet to get it done. Post coming soon...


Why I Did It

So the cat is out the bag, I lost some weight.

I didn't think it would be such a dramatic transformation, I didn't think people would think I was getting sick or something... so I am writing this blog to clear the air about why I am losing weight.

I started trying to get healthier after my father in law passed away. I have heart disease in my family, and have always put off doing more to get in shape. I was an athlete, I loved to run... but about 8-10 years ago started getting back pain, and after a while slowly doing less and less and finally I stopped running. At the same time I got hired at La Casa and ate lots of carbs on the West Side daily... then the weight came...

So I committed to getting in better shape, but it wasn't working, I dropped a little, went up again, lost more... then a trip to Bolivia last summer made me gain it all back and some. Most of my friends don't believe me when I tell them at one point in 2017 I was tipping the scale at nearly 200 pounds.

In September 2017 I turned 39 and said enough is enough. I committed that before I turned 40, I would get in shape. For my family, for my health, for my back... but more importantly for my kids. So I said I will get "Fit For Forty". I will write another blog about How I Did It (blog coming soon).

Then like I tend to do, I made more goals. I said, 2018 is my year to do new things, to take on new challenges, to push myself more, to do things that don't come naturally to me. So I said lets lose 25 pounds, well I have lost 40. I said I am going to do a musical, well I am in the cast of "In The Heights" that opens March 9th (Get tickets HERE). I am going to get back into running, I am signing up for a few races, maybe a marathon... we will see.

So here is to new challenges, new adventures, and to being a healthy example to my kids.

Follow Up: How I Did It (The Workouts)
Follow Up: How I Did it (The Meals)


Surprise AARP Comments

I do a lot of advocacy work, basically ask me to speak, name the topic, and I am there for you. In our community I have spoke to youth groups, high school classes, done college lectures, church groups, and everything in between. Well this week I had a new adventure, I was asked to speak to an AARP group...

Honestly I was hesitate, I thought man, an older, mostly caucasian group... could be walking into a bees nest. It could get ugly, am I ready for some hard questions (yes of course) and could it get out of hand? I guess how out of hand can an AARP meeting get?

So I planned my general overview presentation. I define common immigration terms, Dreamers, Green Card, Legal Permanent Resident, talk about the ways people get visas, processes and what makes people American Citizens. I give a historical overview of immigration in terms of policies and short bit on how we got where we are today. I then do some local impact pieces; talk about percentage of Latinos in our community, the benefits, the impact, etc. I talk about myths, doing it "The Right Way", taxes,  taking jobs, desire to integrate and about the American Dream.

I end it with my story, which I have shared here in my blog a few times. I also still need to write a blog on that full story, it is what I share with Anderson Cooper when I was interviewed by him for the 60 Minutes Piece (full interview didn't air). Reminds me I should write a blog about that interview.

Well then we got to question time and my guard went up. A lady, who sat in the front row, raised her hand right away. Worried me more, cause I remember when I used to travel as an anti-hazing speaker the best hazers sat up front, mean mugged me during the whole program, and couldn't wait to ask me a dumb question... well here is a paraphrase of what she said...

I want to just make a comment. We had a Mexican family, they lived next door to us. They seemed to be nice people, kept to themselves. When my husband died 15 years ago, (she choked up) they came over and offered to help. They would help with the yard, with the snow, and didn't ask me for anything. They just gave, and I know they didn't have much. It meant so much to me, and it hurts me when people say bad things about those hard working people. 

I just choked up writing that out.

Then I had several other questions, all great comments like that one, and a few with some clarifying questions like do undocumented immigrants get social security. So I cleared up some rumors, and then the group asked me what can they do... I said tell your elected officials how you feel. Especially since I bet they, like I did, think AARP members would be anti-immigrant. They weren't, and I guess I forget, that some of them were also immigrants, and when asked nearly half had a parent that was an immigrant.

This was a busy week. La Casa is back open, news on El Salvador TPS and DACA legal challenge, and rehearsals each night for In The Heights has me busy... but that presentation on Monday gave me life.

Thank you Sue for inviting me to speak, thank you AARP for being so supportive, and I hope you do tell all your friends what we discussed.


Thank You Season

I was reminded recently on the power of a sincere thank you. A local reporter who I worked with on a lot of stories with asked to get a beer with me before leaving town. She gave me a hand written thank you note. I was thankful for her coverage of many stories that were important to me personally and professionally... so she helped me. We helped each other. I thanked her with a free beer (at Brew Werks of course) and I have momento as she travels to the plains to bigger and better things.

It reminds me of the importance of being thankful, and now today is Thanksgiving. Its hard to celebrate this "holiday" for what it pretends to historically celebrate, but we can reclaim it as a time to tell people thank you.

So take time today to do that... I don't tell people thank you enough. To my team at La Casa, that tireless work towards helping others, to my family that support each other no matter how far apart we are in this country and around the world. To my South Bend family and friends, who come to events, support my work, love me regardless of how scattered I am, and encourage the work that makes this world a better place.

I could write a paragraph about all the people that I owe a thank you to this year. I need to be better about dropping thank yous to people and checking in with friends and family more often. People know I hate, I mean HATE talking on the phone, but I will try to be better this year.

Thank you. Thank you to those who challenged me to think different, thank you to those who encouraged my crazy ideas, thank you to those who jumped in to help, thank you to those who let me fail when I had to learn a lesson, and thank you to everyone who continues to be there for me, and there for my family.

Gracias a todos. Happy Thanksgiving.


Bolivian Fricase Recipe

I have made this the past few years... slowly getting better and better, and this summer I was in Bolivia and my Tia Lilia showed me some of her trips for preparing it. The trick is getting certain ingredients or creative substitutions.

Here is my recipe and what I have learned Fricase is a dish served in the mountain region of Bolivia. It is a really a pork stew if I had to give it a basic name, and to relate it to something my friends would know it is close to Mexican Pozole.

4 to 6 pounds of pork ribs (I tried lean cuts or pork loin but it is not the same)
1 White Onion
Aji Amarillo (Yellow Pepper) Paste (Inca Foods, from Amazon - link)
Aji Amarillo spice (ground dried pepper) that I got in Bolivia
Black Pepper
Carne Asada Seasoning - most Mexican stores will sell this
Chuño - this is a naturally freeze dried potato from Bolivia (Amazon - link)
Potatoes - I substitute this for Chuño usually
Mote - this is large white corn from Bolivia
Hominy - Mexican Style White Corn (try to get 5-6 cups)
One Green Onion

I take the meat out and season it with the Carne Asada mix. Just lightly dust it and let it sit while I prep the rest. I chop the onion, three garlic cloves, and green onion.

I get a stock pot, and start to boil 12 cups of water. I put in half of what I chopped (onions, garlic) and then a teaspoon of Aji Amarillo seasoning, teaspoon of black petter, teaspoon of cumin, and a tad of salt, onion salt and a little more carne asada seasoning.

I heat a large pan and put some olive oil in it and toss the other half of the onions, a tea spoon of the aji amarillo paste and garlic in the pan. Once it heats up I quickly brown the pork on all sides. Once it is browned I put it in the stock pot and let it boil for a little bit and then turn it down. I cook it until pork is falling off the bones, usually about 2 hours.

Once the fricase is getting close I cook potatoes (or chuño which cooks the same, except you have to remember to rehydrate them overnight). Peal them well and cut them into quarters or like 1-2 inch pieces. This all depends on how much you want I don't make a lot and cook it in a small pot. I try to have this done just before I am going to serve.

Once I think the fricase has about 15-20 minutes to go I put in the hominy. I strain it, and lightly rinse to get some of the salt off since the soup should have plenty. Then just put the hominey right into the stock pot.

To plate it, traditionally you would put the potatoes and chuño in a large soup bowl, and then serve the fricase on top of it. It is good because it keeps the flavors apart. I keep the potatoes separate until we eat it, and put 2-3 pieces of potato in the bowl, and serve the soup.

The Aji Amarillo paste can be very hot, so you have to be careful with how much you put in but flavor to taste. The cumin can also be overpowering, but it is in important part of the flavor in my opinion.

It is definitely not like my abuelita made, not like Tia Lilia either, but I get better each time and my kids love it so that is a win. Happy eating, CIAO CIAO.


Lessons from Grandma Millie

Coates Cousins in Saginaw
On September 28th, 2017 my grandma Millie, Mildred Coates, left this earth. I had gone up a couple weeks before to visit her and glad I got to spend some time with her before the end. My older brother Miguel and I spoke at her funeral and I am combining my words, and his, into a blog about things I learned from Grandma Millie.

Power of Kindness
My grandma was kind, from inside out, kindness just came from everything she did. Many shared stories about this, but mine was from when I was a young boy. When we moved to the USA, my parents left my older brother and I with my grandparents. They went back to Bolivia to sell our belongings, and Miguel and I stayed and started school. I spoke no English, she spoke no Spanish, but her kindness made me feel loved when I came home from a long day of a new school where I understood nothing. That kindness helped me through months of being away from my parents.

Importance of Routine
Grandma and grandpa liked routines. From how early they woke up, to how they took their coffee or even how she did the dishes. Everything included routines. It made them successful, my grandma worked for a bank, and my grandpa ended up owning his own shop - Coates Tire. I remembered during that time that I lived with them that each Friday we had pizza. Another routine, something to look forward to, something to end the week positively, no mater how stressful, it ended with delicious pizza. Pizza-Pizza.

Value of Silence
Miguel shared how great it was to share times of complete silence with them. Time spent fishing on a boat and not saying a word. Sitting on a porch with some coffee, just looking out at the sunrise, in complete silence but the surrounding emotions took the place of noisy words. In their presence, with words or not, you felt a spirit of love and support.

Link to Obituary: Case Funeral Home

It was a powerful few days we all spent together in Saginaw. My cousins all came together, for the first time in many years, to celebrate a life well lived. We are blessed that grandma wrote a memory book in 2000 and wrote a lot about her birthplace, early life, marriage to grandpa (72 years), and much more. We mourned her loss, but we all celebrated her life.

May we all live a life like grandma, full of love, routines and needed silence. Love you Grandma Millie.


Not Just About Tacos Sometimes

Why Vote for Taqueria Chicago for Taco Wars?  LINK

Vote. Vote Again. 

So Taqueria Chicago is in Visit South Bend's Taco Wars. When I heard they were doing Taco Wars man I knew we had to jump into this and support the West Side of town. Well three of the spots that we visit for West Side Wednesday's made the finals! Of course my heart was set on one place... 

But this is not just about tacos... 

Vote. Vote Again. 
Not just cause the tacos are good. Vote cause they opened a place in 1996 on Western Ave when few believed in this side of town. They made it through economic slumps, major construction projects and now Maria and her family are still holding it down. 

Roberto and Mayor Pete at
West Side Main Streets Kick off.
Vote. Vote Again. 
I still remember Roberto bringing in tortillas he just got at Rosales Plaza. Meetings with him about construction projects at La Rosita. Being with Roberto and Maria at the ribbon cutting for the Western Ave improvements. They are a large part of the reason that block is so beautiful now. Roberto thanks for your years of hard work, I wish you could see it all now. 

Vote. Vote again. 
Your vote is believing in South Bend, is believing that the West Side is the best side. Your vote tells others to visit our neighborhood. Taqueria Chicago, and Maria, whenever you ask for help or we tell them about a West Side Wednesday event... "What can I do?" is her first question. Not what do I get out of it... but how can I help. You don't get that a lot anymore, pure selflessness and hard work.

Vote. Vote Again.
They have catered countless La Casa de Amistad events, tours for Notre Dame classes, community groups, immersion tours, fed volunteers on a block clean up project... they have held it down in the neighborhood for over twenty years and deserve your vote. My first time meeting Becky (former La Casa Director) was right there, on Western and Camden... home for Taqueria Chicago.

Western Ave ribbon cutting in
front of Taqueria Chicago
Vote. Vote Again. LINK
The winner of the Saint Joseph County competition will be announced on July 31st. You can vote every 24 hours and please share with friends. You don't have to live in our county to vote, and if you have ever visited me you know thats where I take people, and know that if you visit I will hook you up there...

Vote. Vote Again.
I won't get more emotional about it all now. If you have ever been there, been on a tour of the neighborhood, volunteered at La Casa, met with me there... please vote, share, vote again, like and share and vote and vote. I really want to see them recognized...

This isn't just about tacos... it is about Latino entrepreneurs who took risks, worked hard, and deserve your vote.