Yesterday was a good day for me. It had nothing to do with work, or writing, my home life or really even me. It had to do with the people who remembered me.
I don’t want this to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. And still, it might. But I want to tell you these stories anyway, because they inspire me and keep me going every single day.
For the longest time, I’ve understood the importance of giving back. Whether that was my Jesuit education or my mom’s desire to be a teacher, I always thought that if I could be of help and service to others, the world would be a better place and more positive things could happen.
For example, as an eighth grader, I worked with younger students and tutored them. As a high school student, I worked with kids from a dual language school who were smarter than I’d ever be. I realized they didn’t need tutoring as much as they needed mentors and someone to look up to.
We went on service trips in high schools where we constantly heard, “it’s not your agenda.” We were there to serve. I learned how to connect with people and make them feel good. I learned to love in a variety of ways.
Right after I graduated from high school, I worked for the school as a teaching assistant for seventh and eighth graders who were aiming to work on their math and reading not because they lacked the skill, but because they wanted to go above and beyond. Mini overachievers. I had them aiming to get a perfect score on their multiplication tables tests that I gave them every morning. And I think they all did it once.
During my summer with this program, there was a little seventh grader (like, for real), with big hair. His name was Carlos Hidalgo and he had asked me what kind of music I listened to. I told him the truth, that I listened to Depeche Mode, the Cure, basically ’80s synth-pop. He told me he listened to the same thing and that his brother and uncle heavily influenced what he listened to. I didn’t believe it. When he showed me his music collection and told me stories about going to concerts to see these bands, I was stoked. After that, he became my best little buddy. He eventually became my sister’s classmate since they were the same age and they became friends. He was a great kid. Now a great man. 😉
At that time, his brother Gustavo was in high school. A rock-a-billy type with slicked back black hair and cuffed jeans, I thought he was cool but never really had the opportunity to meet him until my sister told me about a band that she knew that was playing in Evanston. I took her because I wanted to see what this was all about, too. To make a long story short, I met Goose and eventually managed the band he and his friend Jorge had created for about a year and a half, maybe two years. They called themselves The Black Roses. We grew together and I learned a ton in those years. I got really close to the guys in the band who were some amazing musicians. We had gigs every weekend and spent at least four days out of the week together. I did all I could to support their musical endeavors, and after working hard at making connections, we could have a show whenever and where ever they wanted.
Once Goose and I were talking about my weird fascination with singing on stage and being a front woman. After watching so many shows, I felt like I had what it took. Then he says to me, “We could start a band called Grace and the Go Carts!” Where he pulled that from was genius. Goose played bass, Carlos played guitar and their little brother Arturo played the drums. Get it? Go Car and the over lap of Art– it was all of their names combined. They could have been a family band. It also cracked me up as a real possibility to get on stage. It never happened.
A few years later, I started EXPO Collective and had developed an art festival alongside my partners. We were in search for a photographer to document the day. A great photographer and friend of mine reached out to me. He knew a young photographer looking to get into the scene and especially looking for practice. It has to be known that I hadn’t seen Carlos since he DJ’d an event for me before EXPO Collective even became an official thing and Goose had been doing his own thing around Chicago for a while.
The young photographer’s name was Sebastián. OK, I said. I took my friend’s word for it (he said he was really good and had a lot of potential) and asked for his number. He emailed me and lo and behold, I saw his last name. Could it be? I thought to myself as I dialed his number. It has to be.
He answered the phone. “Hey Sebastián?” I asked. It was him. “Hey are you Goose’s and Carlos’ little brother?” He said he was and I laughed, almost giddy with excitement. “I used to manage The Black Roses and I’ve known Carlos since he was in seventh grade! I got your information from Jose. How are you?” I asked if he wanted to be our photographer– I’d help push his work and his brand, making sure to give him credit where it was due. I eventually asked where Sebastián came from; it’s his middle name. I was amazed that I had worked with and had the opportunity to work with all three brothers.
His work was nothing short of awesome. You can find his pictures on our website and Facebook page. He had new ideas that he shared with me and his passion shone through him. He was a documentarian, a photojournalist. He eventually made his way into the photography circle where he met another amazing photographer that we worked with, Max. He recommended Sebastián for an opportunity at the Chicago Reporter and he just kept going after that. I usually bumped into him in Pilsen, wandering around with his camera. I’d see him at art shows and asked how he was and how his brothers were doing.
A few days ago, The New York Times Lens blog featured Sebastián’s pieces and stories, highlighting work he had done in Pilsen. Knowing his parents, his brothers, his aunt and seeing how far he had come and how much he had grown, I felt privileged to know him.
I felt privileged to know his whole family.
His brothers had their families; Carlos had lived in Malaga, Spain with his wife (they’re back in the States now) and Goose, who now goes by Jack, also got married and had children– successful in their own ways. But maybe it was the journalist in me, the fact that Sebastián had fulfilled a dream of mine and I knew just how amazing it was to have one of the greatest newspapers in the world recognize you and the story that you’re telling– of the people, of your people– that really struck a cord in me.
I shared it on my Facebook page. I tagged his family. And he thanked ME for believing in him.
“I love that you [tagged] my family in this!” he wrote. “Thank you, Christina, for your support and believing in me.”
If there was anything easy for me to do, it was believe in him. Not only because of him, but because of his brothers who were also brilliant and talented and driven. It’s now his turn to chase a dream and go for it hard. I had believed in his brothers and now it was time that I passed that same love and support on to him. He has the passion and the drive and the ability to make it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll go as far as possible and his love of photography will take him there.
[Side note: The world is tiny. A few months ago, my fiance introduced me to his friend Ivan, who he’s known for years. I recognized him. “I know him,” I said. He believed me since he had been in the neighborhood. No, I thought, not just in the neighborhood. Goose had introduced me to him. He was his uncle. The next time I saw him, it felt weird to say, but I said, “I was the Black Roses manager. Goose’s band.” This was the uncle Carlos had initially told me about.]
As a young adult I learned about the importance of mentors, finding someone who was where you wanted to be and following in their footsteps. Then I got myself one. In college, I realized just how much journalism and writing down someone else’s story is a form of service. I was tasked with telling other people’s stories. I got to learn about people, build relationships and build long-lasting friendships. I had the opportunity to make change happen.
As a reporter for Café magazine, I got to know the interns and helped them with writing. As an editor for EXTRA newspaper, I aimed to mentor, coach and develop writers. Not only were they getting time with me, sitting down to go over their stories and developing better writing, but they were able to publish their stories in a credible paper.
That’s where I met Evan F. Moore, who has gone on to write for various publications (and by that I mean hundreds, maybe more). Not to say he was younger than I, but he was new to the world of journalism. I met him through a blog community we were both part of and although his writing needed work, I recongnized that he had the qualities to be a really great journalist. He was great at research and had no fear in asking the right questions. All he needed were clips and proof of his storytelling capabilities. He also was enthusiastic about writing and actually listened to my advice on the subject matter.
After I left the paper, he continued to thrive and I was so incredibly proud that he had become a freelancer for various magazines and newspapers. His social media presence grew and his voice was being heard. On my side, I smiled. He was actually taking the steps to accomplish his dream. Every now and then, he would send me texts thanking me for pushing him like I did and for giving him the opportunity. To have him remember me, or to even say that he wouldn’t be where he was without the support I gave him with the resources I had, made me feel like I was on top of the world. “You gave me my first byline,” he said to me recently.
I’m so happy that I did give him that opportunity, that I saw it in him. Sometimes, that’s all we need– the faith of another person to push you to the next level.
Then there was my one intern at EXTRA, Wendy Esparza. I met her through my sister. They went to Loyola together and worked together. I’m pretty sure Wendy recommended my sister for a job after school. In return, my sister asked me to talk to her because she wanted to be a journalist, so I did. [UPDATE: I stand corrected. My sister got the job first and recommended Wendy for that as well. Oops!]
I offered her an internship with us, giving her an opportunity to write and get published. It became a lot more than that. We talked and got to know each other. She wanted to be on television, be an anchor on Univision. Her mom was in Mexico with her brother and she was here, figuring out what to do after she graduated. Needless to say, we grew close.
Because of my good friend Abel, who was also EXTRA’s production director at the time, Wendy was able to get an internship at Univision and I was extremely proud of her because I know that’s what she wanted. I posted a message on Facebook. It was 2013.
Yesterday, she wrote a comment on that post, since it was exactly five years since I had written it and it came up as a memory. “I continue to celebrate this day and the gift of knowing you & learning from you 💕,” it read. I cried.
What I haven’t told you is that Wendy moved back to Aguascalientes, Mexico and became a model and started entering pageants. She became Nuestra Belleza Aguascalientes and eventually became Nuestra Belleza Mexico in 2014. She competed in the Ms. Universe pageant and came in the top 15. I hadn’t really heard from her, but the fact that she continues to remember our relationship and commented on this memory twice in two years, makes me feel so loved.
I knew her as a student and saw her achieve what she wanted and more. When you feel the most distant, it’s then that love pulls you back in.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life and in reality, you never really know how many people you affect or touch. Giving of your time and energy, belief and support is never wasted. I’ve always wanted to give back in multiple ways and I continue to in any way I can. I’ll offer my ear, the guest bedroom in my house, my time and my resources, my knowledge and insight. I’m forever appreciative of everyone who has ever expressed what many never do– gratitude.
These instances in no way blow up my ego. In fact, it’s times like these that make me feel the most humble. For that, I am forever grateful.