Giving Thanks!

Thanksgiving. Traditions and family rituals often times just get reproduced with little thought, and slowly over time merge and change. I was thinking this year, in wake of all the talks of immigration, caravans, asylum, welcoming the stranger and building a wall… I got to thinking about the original story of Thanksgiving that I was told.

The pilgrims (AKA Immigrants) came to this continent and suffered. The native population not only welcomed them, but helped them, taught them to plant corn and prepared them for life in this new land. The pilgrims were thankful, thankful for generosity, thankful for the friendship, thankful for their future.

I want to shout out all my friends that I am thankful for… don’t worry friends, those of you that I am thankful for, I won’t force you off your lands and enslave you.

This was a milestone year. I turned 40. I lost 50 pounds. I did a FASFA app for my child. We buried my last grandparent. There were lots of personal and professional projects, some challenges, but a great year to find focus and toward the future.

I want to thank everyone who assisted and supported me this year. Friends that checked in on how I am doing, reminded me that I am not alone. For colleagues who supported my work, challenged me to do more, from my team to La Casa, to IUSB friends, to all my current and past OutSight clients. We spend a large amount of time at work, so supportive structures there are important. To my family that love me no matter what, that supported my drive to a healthier life, that picked me up when I was down, thank you.

Any one of you reading this fits into one of those categories… my family isn’t just blood, it is my fraternity, my close friends that feel like family… GRACIAS. My work folks aren’t just at La Casa, they are on local boards, city committees, etc. and of course just all my friends. It’s nice knowing I can go anywhere in town and see a friend, say hi, chat, and connect.

Thank you everyone. I am mega thankful for a fantastic year. Thankful for friends. Thankful for my health, my family, my kids, and just in general my life. It’s not perfect, but man it is pretty fantastic.



Pumpkin Pie Titan

Just over ten years ago I set foot on the campus of IU South Bend as the new Director of Student Life. That job made me a Hoosier, made me a #IHeartSouthBend groupie, and connected my family and I forever to this community.

I was there when the first students moved onto campus, there when we planned major concerts, when we added sports, when campus was growing, started Greek Life, and just plain out had a great time, with amazing staff, and supported some stellar students.

Over the past ten years I have gotten to see my former students go on to grad school, professional careers, community leaders and I even hired one at La Casa. Over the past 6 years I got to watch campus from a far, but still got to poke around campus here and there as a guest speaker, panelist, event volunteer and this summer even got to be an adjunct professor for a class. I always get a little nostalgic when I am on campus for something.

Last week I walked onto the IUSB campus and ate this delicious pumpkin pie. No I don't normally like fall pumpkin everything, and first thing I thought was man Cruz will be jealous (he loves pumpkin pie).

It was the end of lunch in the Chancellor's Dinning Room that was part of the campus advisory board meeting (campus Board of Directors), and it got me reflecting on my time as a Titan. Board Page: LINK

It was a huge honor when the chancellor asked me to serve. Honestly I thought, am I ready for this? At my first meeting I sat between a Mayor and major business owner turned elected official. The list of people on the board is like a local Who's Who, and then me.

Then I looked across the table from me and there sat Karen White. The Karen White, the person who interviewed me now over 11 years ago for a job at IUSB, the city council member, long time community leader, and all around amazing person. She introduced me to this community, she taught me to realize potential, nominated me for roles, trusted me and always gave me feedback (positive or negative). Thank you Karen for believing in me.

I am looking forward to this role with IUSB. To all my Titan friends, past and current students, faculty or staff... #GoTitans!


Greatest Generation, Greatest Grandpa Harold

On September 7th, 2018, Harold Coates of Saginaw, MI passed away. He was a husband, father, mechanic, good Christian, small business owner, fisherman, teacher of water skying to many grandkids (including me), World War II Vet, and mostly importantly my grandpa.

Don't feel sorry for me, or for him. He lived a tremendous life, and less than 12 months ago his wife of 72 years, Grandma Millie, departed this world. Most of us knew he wouldn't be far behind, and I know he didn't want to be far behind. We talked last week, and he mentioned how great his life was, and how much he missed grandma.

When my grandma passed I wrote a little about the things that she taught me. The power of kindness, the importance of routine, and the value of silence. Blog Link.

So I thought, what can I write about my grandpa? He taught me to love cars; he dropped out of high school to work at a garage. He changed tires, pumped gas, worked hard. He fell in love with a woman one year older and tad taller than him. He made a trip to Hawaii to serve our country. He returned and raised a family. He bought the garage he worked at, then opened a second location and called them Coates Tire. He was a good boss, strong business man, and always did what he could to support his family.

He saw his oldest son earn a Purple Heart in Vietnam. He saw his only daughter be the first to go away to college, and then away to Bolivia to work and ultimately get married and raise a family on the other side of the world. He saw his youngest drive cross country in the hippie days and then return to be a small business owner just him (Coates's Closet). In the middle of that he caught a lot of blue gills, fixed a lot of bobbers, gave many grandkids deals on tires, and rarely missed a Sunday at church. He saw his three kids, have eight kids, and those eight kids gave them a gang of great grandkids that kept them busy.

Grandpa was humble, he accomplished a ton, but you would never hear it from him. He always asked if you needed something, and for all us grandkids (well I hope that rest of you got this...) he sent me money once a month during my first year of college. It was enough to get some pizza and stress about one less thing a month. It more meant that he was thinking about me, and that was worth more than the money.

As I mentioned in my grandma's blog, I lived with them for probably the hardest months of my life. When my family decided to stay in the USA, my parents went back to sell everything, and Miguel and I stayed behind to start school. To say it was hard is an understatement, to say what my Grandparents did to help us acculturate is beyond measure.

Not sure what else to write. I think the best tribute we can leave to those who help raise us is to live a life that would make them proud. Not sure I can compete grandpa, but I will do my best to be half as good of a grandpa as you were to me. Love you.


Fit At Forty

Time for a new hashtag. This past weekend I turned forty. It was at a doctor appointment around this time last year that my doctor said I needed to go on high blood pressure meds. I said no, I won't do it, not this young, and I made a plan to get my blood pressure down. (Why I Did It Blog)

I started slow, just thinking I would eat healthier, work out once or twice a week... I think it was really my meals that got me rolling. Once I was cutting carbs, eating healthier out to eat (hard to avoid in my industry) and for sure eating better when I traveled... I started to see results. I am still doing usually one meal a day of Greek Yogurt, and when I eat out no more burgers and less tortillas (I am only human), and a lot more salads. (How I Did It: The Meals Blog)

Once the meals got my weight loss rolling I started upping the workouts. I was seeing results, and that motivated me to get more. I was spinning (on my own usually) 2 to 3 times a week, yoga one day a week, and weights/running here and there... I hadn't run in years... I thought it was my bad back that took me out of running, but it was the weight that was killing my back. When I did my original blog on my workouts I still was not running... now I run, not only do I run, but I am faster than I was at 30 when I got in shape for my wedding. I also am running twice as far as I did in my 30s. (How I Did It: The Workouts)

So now the #FitForForty is #FitAtForty

I feel better than I have in probably twenty years. I remember it was in grad school that I passed 186 pounds... I joked and said it was my "Beta Weight" (fraternity was founded in 86). At my peak I was nearly 210 pounds when I left Albion College in 2008 and moved to South Bend. Well I recently weighed in at 148.6 which I will say is even a better "Beta Weight" (we were founded April 1986).

I lost from peak to today about 55-60 pounds. So the other day I picked up Cruz (weigts about 50 pounds) and straddle carried him up the stairs to see the difference. WOW. I could barely get to the top without struggling, and I can't imagine I did that several times a day before.


How Immigrant News Has Changed

It was an interesting week in news, so interesting that I had to write a blog about it. Also, no I won't end this blog saying I will blog more, cause lets be honest, that ship sailed.

The week started with news that Adam Driver (might know him as Kylo Ren) claimed that he remembered KKK rallies here in town (he grew up where I now live). Right away an IU history professor and local history expert here both jumped all over it. Saying he was wrong, of course they are experts, and he is just an actor right? Well then the correction to the correction came, a drove of news stories, personal recounts, and photos of all the KKK activity that did occur in this area when Adam Driver was growing up. News story: Indystar Article

Why were people so anxious to discredit Adam Drivers recount of seeing racism?

The week continued with the news about the immigrant accused in the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts. It was like a racist field day, even the official White House media channel was putting out anti-immigrant propaganda as a result of the news. Like there wasn't any other criminal news this week, for example a handful of the President's good friends who got found guilt of major crimes... What was nice was to see all the news and media outlets point out the fact that immigrants commit less crimes than Americans. I mean my picture of the USA Today front page was my most popular post since my selfie with Anderson Cooper.

Why were people so excited to get to blame an immigrant for a high profile crime?

Today (8/24/18) in the ND Observer there was a nice little racist inspired article about how bad Dreamers are... it was an editorial and it well written (grammatically). The problem was the opinion on the value of immigrants, specifically dreamers, and then the "facts" used to prove the point. At first when I read it I thought, man I want to break down all these facts and prove them all wrong. Then I thought, that won't make a difference, but what will make a difference? Here is the article: ND Observer Article

Why did these three stories get me thinking? Here we see a difference to me is in who is what.

Who is saying what and how they say it matters. An actor says he remembers KKK activity and academics jump in quick to discredit him. An immigrant commits a crime and all the racists are ready to jump all over it. A Notre Dame student writes their opinion on dreamers and people start to think... maybe he has a point? Why?

There is a change now in who people think are racists, and the change in that narrative is throwing people off. The narrative was easier to discredit when we thought it was only skin heads; we labeled them misfits, uneducated, outcasts, violent, bitter... but now things have changed. The people who are spouting this today are educated. They wear khakis, they march with tiki torches, they attend ivy league schools. It was an IU Professor who tried to discredit Adam Driver, it is the White House spouting nonsense about immigrants and crime, and a well educated Notre Dame student spread fake news and skewed "facts".

As activists we got lazy. We used to easily discredit skin heads and he crazy anti-immigrant ranters. Now we have a more sophisticated opponent. We have to be vigilant. We have to continue to fight the narrative regardless of where it comes from... because people are getting others to believe them. We can't just label these people as crazy, we must find ways to engage people in the middle to our side, not just try to discredit the other side. 

We must resist. We must resist smarter.


For my Mothers out there!

I was reflecting, on how great of a mom I have, and how great D is as a mom, and how blessed I am to have such a great relationship with Tamara. I am a blessed man, my children and I are lucky as can be, and I wish I could do more to honor all of them in the way they deserve.

I tried this week to tell all the moms in my life an early Happy Mother's Day. From the mothers that I work with, to my friends that are great moms. There are so many jobs that women hold in our lives, from friend to partner, and from student to CEO, and sister to mother... so many roles and maybe more importantly so many expectations.

I also try to think this week of those without mothers... for my mom, we recently lost grandma Millie, and this is her first Mother's Day without her mom. A special shout out to my friends who have struggled to become moms, or maybe to those who can't be moms or chose not to be and have to face all the pressure society puts on women to be moms.

As usual my kids made some art projects at school for moms. Mari already broke what she made, Cruz just finished coloring his, and I have to remember where I hid our present to mom. I think I remember now... later we will try to plant flowers. That is a tradition of something we always did for my mom growing up and that my kids continue to do to honor their mom. Its a fun way, and good timing (except through the rain this weekend) for new spring flowers.

This year I will try to be better and make sure the moms in my life know how great they are all year round. That they are perfect, and don't have to try to be more, or like another mom. I am blessed, I couldn't be more blessed if I wanted to be, and I think we all need to remember to tell the moms in our lives that more often. I will try this year.

Well.. on to regularly scheduled Mother's Day programming... taking D to brunch and give her presents from the kids and gotta Facetime my mama.


A Day In the Life

I get asked a lot, what my days look like since I am so busy. I hate the term "busy", I prefer efficient. I think busy sounds like you are out of control, I am focused on being effective. Friday was crazy, but most days get crazy, and I thought, man I need to document my day. I usually Instagram a little, maybe Tweet, for sure some FB posts... I am documenting this to show people that its not hard work, you just have to be consistent, say yes when people ask for help, and get out of your comfort zone... and focus on being effective with your time.

5:15 AM - GYM TIME
If you follow me regularly you know that I am turning 40 later this year and trying to get in shape. Rode bike for 25 minutes, 20 minutes of weights, and then some stretching to get ready for the day.

Its donut day with the kids. On the way home from the gym snagged my coffee, and their donuts for the ride to school.

7:30 AM - DROP OFFs
Maybe my favorite part of the day is dropping off the little ones. I give C good intentions before he walks in for school. Tell him to be kind, be a leader, work hard... Then I drop off M and she needs no intentions... she bursts in ready to own the classroom. Ah.

Swung by La Casa and then a Western Ave business to talk to an owner about a project. I also picked up some buttons and pan dulce... hey it's donut day.

Went up to Notre Dame for the USCIS Citizenship swearing in ceremony. Helped with set up and last minute items. Connected media to some interviews and took time to finalize my speech.

11:30 AM - SPEECH
I had the honor of speaking after the Honorable Judge Ann Williams and I gave her one of our buttons. It is always powerful being a part of these ceremonies, like I said in my speech, immigrants remind me of my story, of my dad's story and that the American Dream is still alive.

Lunch at Mango with the La Casa team and a volunteer from our citizenship class. Love supporting immigrant owned businesses and man their yucca frita reminds me of home... did I mention donut day is diet cheat day?

Met with realtors downtown on a development project. Hopefully good news and details coming soon. I try to remember on long term projects, you are either driving change, or you are watching it.

I am on the steering committee for the inaugural IDEA Week. We did a presser at the Brew Werks giving away tickets for the Chainsmokers concert and gave out information on IDEA Week.

Went to Civil Rights Heritage Center for a panel discussion and the kick off of an art gallery featuring art from La Casa kids about immigration. Part of our events around the One Book title this year, "The Distance Between Us". Bummed I couldn't stay for entire panel discussion.

I was asked to box for a good cause; the Beacon Center in South Bend. I like a good cause and a good challenge, so I agreed. I boxed Jacob Titus and we raised nearly $30k! Tons of fun with friends and my kids got to watch... wow boxing is a crazy hard workout!

I had some restraint on donut day... on the way home took the kids for ice cream. The two little ones enjoyed the boxing match and sat ringside to cheer me on. I passed on dessert but got some take out, and we went home to get ready for bed.

WHEW. Next week right back at it...


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...