Helping Hands

“The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm..” And with that, not only are my hands busy today, but my heart is full! It’s almost bursting at the seams with gratitude in being able to give to those who are less fortunate. I did A LOT of volunteering during my college days and I’ve missed the camaraderie that can easily come from the smile of a stranger! So, in the spirit of giving, here I am at a local homeless shelter surrounded by comrades in gratitude! Happy Saturday, good people! 🙂

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Yo Soy Tu Gente — Viva Panama!!

I am an American. Born and raised in the shadows of rock n’ roll, apple pie and baseball. I learned at a fairly early age while standing in class with my hand over my heart, that I should always “pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…” and while I am proud to be American and wave the colors of Old Glory (red, white and blue), it should be noted that I am just as proud to wave the colors of La Bandera Typical (also red, white and blue) and to be a Panamanian. It’s not something that many people would instantly know about me, as I don’t walk around with mola bags, caday jewelry or even a Panama t-shirt. And although I may not “look the part”, I am a proud Hispanic whose heritage and ancestry spreads as wide as Jamaica, Barbados, Costa Rica, Portugal and Spain. New York City, and most specifically Brooklyn, is slated to have the second largest Panamanian population in the U.S.

And so, it was on a sun drenched Saturday in October that revelers born in, transplanted from, or just in love with Panama gathered in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn to celebrate the uniqueness that we represent, at the 17th Annual Pre-Panamanian Independence Parade! Franklin Avenue, between Fulton Street and Empire Boulevard has traditionally been the epicenter of Panamanian-American culture and community and it was here where city and state representatives, singers, beauty queens and marching bands from all across the country (and even some visiting from Panama) put themselves on display for the world stage. Banderas, Polleras, montunos and smiles were widespread during this celebration! The music, the food and the sense of camaraderie were enough to make anyone feel like an honorary Panamanian that day!! But it’s officially today, November 3rd that we celebrate 109 years of independence — Viva Panama!!

This identity goes far beyond where I was born. It goes beyond what people may think they know about Panama — it’s so much more than just a Canal! It is demonstrated in the timbre of my voice, the way I laugh, the way I dance and the way I walk through my life. I am Panama.

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The Storm… And Mom’s Red Velvet Cake

So, with Hurricane Sandy barreling down on us and letting us here in the Northeast know what’s up, I’ve taken refuge at my Mom’s house. And even though she lives just a few miles away from the closest body of water here in Brooklyn, I couldn’t be more comfortable. We’ve stocked her shelves with all the necessary amenities: batteries, flashlights, a first aide kit, bottled water and food (including canned and non perishable items). I’m so happy to be spending time with my family, even in light of these events. And what really made me smile is when, just a few short minutes ago, she called me downstairs to join her for some tea and a slice of red velvet cake (besides cheesecake, it’s one of my favorite desserts!) So, the moral of the story is, take comfort in your family and BE SAFE OUT THERE, PEOPLE!!!

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Making Strides…

Fuscia, Cotton Candy, Magenta… It’s the color of the day. The affect cancer has on families/ friends so often goes beyond words and it’s something that no one should ever face, but unfortunately so many often do. Specifically, breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women this year. But breast cancer is also the most preventable, with a 92% survival rate. It’s great to know the facts, but today is about standing strong in LIFE. Cancer has had a personal effect on my life and today I’m walking for those in my life who have survived (I love you Teresa and Edna! And my girl Ebony — I see you, Eb!) and sending light and love to those who have not (Te amo Marcella, estas en mi corazon para siempre). October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month…Get those boobs checked, people! We all need you here!!

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Jump Up and Wave!!

New York City is known by many names: “The Big Apple”, “The City That Never Sleeps” and the “The Capital of the World” are only a few that describe this ever changing Metropolis…but I just call it home!

I love this city! The hustle and bustle, the energy and the sense of community that’s all around me (New York often gets a bad rap by suggesting that it’s every man for himself here. But when we’re called upon, it’s amazing how we band together!) This melting pot known for it’s yellow cabs, Broadway lights and the best bagels anywhere, came together in droves on Monday for the 45th Annual West Indian Day Parade!! There was a rainbow of flags being waved, enough jewels and glitter to make any fashionista blush, people who danced to the beat of their own drum (most notably a photographer who happily walked around topless and was willing to pose for pictures — all in plain sight of the fuzz! And a colorful character who referred to himself as Lady Gaga’s Grandma!) and smiles and laughter that were infectious! This celebration of the unofficial end of summer is one of the biggest parties in Brooklyn, reveling in heritage and cultural pride (I’m proud to represent El Puente del Mundo –¡Viva Panama!) lavish costumes, awesome food and music that will make you whine, bacchanal and jump up and wave!! Even I couldn’t help but get in on the fun! (Thanks for the candid snaps, Mr. Mathias!)

So if you ask anyone at the parade, the census would be that this colorful annual spectacle brings Caribbean culture to life in the most ornate, jubilant and thrilling of ways! So, grab your flag, represent proudly and jump up and wave!!!

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Liberated…

So, this moment right here? This solitary act of affirmation? It’s been almost a lifetime in the making! My most recent smiles came after being reacquainted with the kinks, coils and curls that have always been around, yet I never knew — yes, my hair and I were virtual strangers!!! For years, I hid under the guise of perms, wigs or my “go-to” style, braids! There was even an edge crippling, mind numbing weave experience!! And although there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these accessories to enhance one’s beauty, I’ve never had the opportunity to showcase that beauty…until now! Looking at this follicle free-for-all makes me so very happy! So I said goodbye to the chemical confinement and the cultural conformity and hello to the newly nappy natural me!

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Love, Liberty and Ladies Who Lunch : Lynn’s 30th Birthday Celebration

There are girls who grow into the kind of women who know exactly what they want; from the kind of job they want to have, to the kind of car they want to drive, even to the type of man they want to marry! And while fate holds the cards for some of life’s happenings, other choices, like our friends, flow into our lives with ease. Meet Lynn, an engaging, insightful and funny young woman who knew just what she wanted for her soiree in celebration of her 30th birthday last weekend: Note eight of her closest girlfriends, great food, the best wine and pure decadence on the water!! Now I ask you, what could be more decadent than a YACHT?! And not just any old clunker boat, but a 97 foot private luxury vessel (the S.S. Minnow has nothing on this, guys!) So…all aboard and away we go!!

Now, I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat adventurous (there was climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica, parasailing in Mexico, going to the top of both the Arch de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, paragliding in San Diego and even rock climbing at Chelsea Piers — all done with a slight fear of heights), but admittedly with this exploit, once I stepped onto the yacht and felt the slightest sway, I became a ball of nerves, pondering every scenario, like: what if I lost a shoe or what if my glasses fell off my face and slipped overboard (this actually happened to my friend Felicia on a class trip on the NYC Circle Line in the fourth grade — it undoubtedly scarred me for life!) or even, dare I say it, what if I became so queazy, I lost my lunch!! But as the guardian of the day’s memories, I couldn’t lose my cool (but more than that, I couldn’t let a pregnant woman in heels steal my shine — I see you, Toya!!), so I put all my worries aside and proceeded to document the fun!!

And what fun it was!! We all danced, laughed and shared secrets like great girlfriends often do! I was even made privy to some moments that I’m sure they would never want their mothers to know about — but reassured ladies, your secrets are safe with me! But mostly, in between enjoying the lobster and chocolate covered strawberries, the toasts of chardonnay, bursts of laughter and outright silliness, the point of the day was crystal clear — these women came together as pillars of support for one another and to applaud each other’s triumphs! It was an awesome thing to witness! I want to give a special shout to Senior Purser Ingrid and the entire staff of “Justine” — you guys were awesome and made us all feel so welcomed! Finally, as the yacht pulled into port the ladies huddled together for one last picture. Perfection. And as the limo pulled away after dropping me off, I couldn’t help but feel such joy for Lynn and her friends. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And Lynn, I’d say you chose some wonderful sisters to walk through life with…Happy Birthday!

A Night At The Gramercy

From her songwriting talents to her melodic voice, this award winning singer/songwriter, whose credits include Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies”, Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” and Jazmin Sullivan’s “Music (All I Need)”, never ceases to give her all to her fans and this was proof positive last night as Marsha Ambrosius debuted her single “Friends & Lovers” on the Gramercy stage from her upcoming sophomore solo album of the same name. This hour long show gave a snippet into her life, from the remnants of really bad breakup (“Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)”) to the loss of a friend (“Far Away”).

Now, admittedly I was a bit skeptical of her showmanship as my last encounter with the songstress at S.O.B’s last year had her at her keyboard bashfully singing and seeming to give her voice to her band instead of her fans. But she more than redeemed herself with this show by engaging with her audience with stories, jokes and even a thank you in the form of the Golden Girls theme song “Thank You For Being A Friend”!

And although photographing shows is always an amazing experience for me, I truly was excited and pleased to soak all of this in as a fan…no fancy camera angles and lighting flares. It was just me, my cell phone camera and my love of music! Be on the look out for the Marsha Ambrosius’ release soon!

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Here’s To Love

Love is what some would call a force of nature. As much as we may want to, we can’t command or demand love anymore than we can command the sun or the moon to raise and fall. But when the stars of life align and we encounter this grand and often fiery sentiment in its purest form, it will always be a cause for celebration.

I can remember the day clearly. My friend Kim was beside himself with happiness. Devotion spoke loudly with his every move. He’d finally found it. Love. And he wanted to share his excitement and utter joy with everyone he knew. He approached me on this day and said, “We’ve been friends for a long time and Yolanda and I would so appreciate if you would capture our day for us.” How wonderful it was to be asked to photograph their wedding. It was the most heartfelt request, the likes of which I couldn’t possibly refuse. And with that, I smiled and happily agreed to capture the essence of and celebrate love. On a brisk yet sunny February day before their god, their family and their friends, Kim and Yolanda committed their lives and hearts to one another. They promised to love, respect and cherish, to find laughter, comfort and trust in each other. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.

And so, my wish for you Kim and Yolanda is that the love of God and His word never leaves your hearts. May this special love always be yours to share! God’s word says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Thank you for sharing your day with me and allowing me to see the great promise of your lives together…HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!! Cheers!!