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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Spirit Lives in Goleta

Santa Barbara Seems Depressed by Comparison

By Silvia Uribe

Ah, the winter season! Everyone is filled with the holiday spirit-or are we? As do many others, I spend half of my days in Santa Barbara and the other half in Goleta. In talking to my friends I've found out that it has been quite difficult for many, especially in Santa Barbara, to get into the holiday mood this year.

"I think that people in Santa Barbara are a little depressed with all of the financial problems that the whole country is facing," one of my friends said, while the rest nodded in agreement. Many have planned to reduce the ornament buying, the food cooking, and the gift giving. For those who lost their homes due to a calamity such as fire or a foreclosure it is even worse. Their holiday spirits, in some cases, have gone into deep comas.

Santa Barbara's malls seem way less busy this year. Last week I went to what's commonly known as a "high end" store in which I was the only customer. I'm not kidding you! I was attracted inside by the curiosity of seeing a lovely purse discounted from $1,300 to only $650. What a bargain not! I came out empty handed, as you probably already guessed.

Another thing that seems to have an effect on people's perception of the magnitude of the crisis are the stores and restaurants that no longer exist, and the ones that will disappear shortly, notwithstanding what seem to me the permanently empty commercial spaces, and the notion that there will be more of them. These give us the impression that things are not going to be better any time soon. Not even in a town that people consider to be well-off, like Santa Barbara. How landlords can maintain these commercial spaces empty, for such a long time, is beyond my comprehension. It goes against logic and pragmatic commercial tactics, which indicate that a reduced income is better than no income at all, but what do I know!

In Goleta, for some reason the situation feels more hopeful. It is like we are looking at our problems with a different perspective. People seem more into the celebrations; stores at the various commercial conglomerates on Calle Real, on Fairview, and at Storke and Hollister, as well as in Old Town, seem as busy as any other Christmas, and the store fronts around the city are filled with lights and merchandise, inviting even the most frugal of people to go inside, look around, and buy one or two things. What the heck!

Roaming around Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace and talking with the president of Wynmark Company, Mark Linehan (the force behind the Marketplace's development and the visionary of Girsh Park), I learned that most businesses are not only staying in Goleta, but new ones are trying to get into the area as soon as possible and fill the few empty spaces available. But what is the secret to retaining businesses and attracting more in an economy that's less than certain? Simple, said Linehan. "The Marketplace is locally owned and this makes it unique."

According to Linehan, the operating costs of other malls are extremely high, and this is reflected in the rents they charge. All the marketing that other malls do ends up being added to their lease contracts. "At the Marketplace, each business is in charge of their own marketing, making the spaces quite affordable, and that's why our tenants want to get leases here for 10 or 20 years in some cases."

Although the general financial situation might not be propitious-the national chain Linens 'n Things went out of business and CompUSA (sold to Systemax) closed its Goleta branch-Linehan believes that the space that Linens 'n Things occupied will have a new tenant by the end of January. If that's the case, you'll read about it here first. For now, as you probably already know, Best Buy is remodeling the old CompUSA space. If everything goes as planned, it will open its doors in April. Another tenant that just signed a contract to come to the Marketplace is Holdren's Steak and Seafood. It will be housed across from the Hollister Brewing Company, next to Chili's.

The Grapevine has also learned that a project to build an "urban village" is in its preliminary stages. It is to include some 300 living units and a number of commercial spaces for small local businesses. The proposed location is that big vacant tract on Hollister, right across from the Marketplace.

So, for all intents and purposes we can be reassured that Goleta is truly the Good Land, where people share hope for better times; and that we Goletanos know how to make a delicious lemonade when handed lemons.

Happy holidays!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Taste Of Tradition

By Silvia Uribe
Christmas in Mexico equates to a series of festivities that go farther and deeper than most would think. It is a cold season weather-wise, but a very cozy one in which the social and the religious aspects meet in a wonderful celebration of the spirit. I enjoyed those festivities, made into traditions at friends' homes or out in the community, from the time I was a girl until I left to come live in Santa Barbara. Memories of the images, smells, and sensations bring happiness a bit of nostalgia.
The 16th of December is the first of nine posadas; one per night, starting usually at 7 or 8pm. The posadas serve as a remembrance of Joseph and Mary looking for a place for baby Jesus to be born. Half of the posada attendees go outside the home and the other half stays inside. With candles in their hands, in a short procession, and singingLos Peregrinos (the pilgrims) both groups talk to each other in musical waves until the group inside offers posada (lodging) to the pilgrims. Once inside, the party starts with the ruthless smashing of piñatas and a mad scramble for the shower of fruits, sugar canes, peanuts, and candies released from within. Then, the potluck meal and the ponche (a hot fruit punch), sidra (sparkling cider) or other beverages are served for the holiday brindis (toast). Lots of fun for children and adults!
PASTORELAS (Shepherd stories)
The Pastorela plays an important role in teaching children the Nativity story. It usually starts with Maria being announced by an angel that she's pregnant with baby Jesus. It also encompasses a commemoration of King Herod's ordering the slaughter of all male infants in his kingdom, intended to include the Christ Child, and how Jesus' life was spared. And, it also includes the Epiphany story of the brilliant star guiding the wise men to Jesus. These pastorelas are presented at schools, at churches, and as plays in theatres.
EL NACIMIENTO (Nativity Scene)
The focal point of Christmas decorations is the traditional Nacimiento, which is an at-scale stable where clay figurines of the Holy Family are sheltered. Depending on the available space, the scene may also include an angel, Los Reyes Magos (the Wise men), the ass, shepherds, other people, and livestock. The figures may be simply positioned in a bed of heno (Spanish moss), or scattered throughout an elaborate landscape. The Nacimiento may be inside the home or on the outside for community enjoyment. The Christmas tree became very popular, and it is now an important part of the Christmas decorations.
LA NOCHE BUENA (Christmas Eve)
This is also considered the very last posada. Families get together in the late evening for a supper that may include tamales and atole or other regional dishes. A more exotic one may have bacalao a la vizcaína (Biscayan cod) and romeritos (wild greens with mole). Roasted turkey, ham, or suckling pig are popular choices among those who can afford them. Then the whole family attends the Misa de Gallo (a late night mass). Back at home, the celebration is rounded out with the opening of gifts, and theluces de Belen or de Bengala (sparklers). As the next day everyone is tired, December 25 is set aside as a day to rest and enjoy that universal holiday bonus - el recalentado (leftovers).
The Christmas season is not over yet. The celebration of Epiphany (arrival of Los Reyes Magos) is next and for many, last. January 5th is the preamble to their arrival. The family gathers around the Rosca de Reyes (pictured above) that is a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits. Inside, tiny baby shaped figurines are hidden in the dough before baking. There is much excitement as each partaker cuts his or her own slice, for whoever gets a piece containing a baby is obliged to host another party on or before La Candelaria on February 2, when Mexico's traditional holiday season finally comes to an end. A common variation for those who do not celebrate the Candelaria, but still participate in the Rosca and get the baby, is to organize the Rosca de Reyes the next year to continue the tradition. The night of January 5th, the Reyes Magos bring toys to those kids who wrote a letter asking for them and placed it on top of their shoes. The next day children go out on the street to play with the newly found favors.
If you get invited by your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker, or your employee to celebrate any aspect of these festivities, try not to pass on it. Otherwise, you'll miss the first hand experience of the tastes, colors, warmth, sweetness and joy of these Mexican traditions.
Feliz Navidad!
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.
Cross-posted at

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who Are You?

By Silvia Uribe

If you think you have your answer to this question, think again! Before risking failure try and peel off a few layers that hide our true selves rather than to help us to see who we are.

In today's world, people's identity is largely based on what they do. Our value equals our net worth. As a consequence, we tend to want more than what we have - better jobs and more money so we can accumulate possessions to gain greater status. It is as if we we're little ants carrying goods ten times bigger than ourselves to our nest. We want to have the best house, the fastest car, to travel the world, and to buy brand name clothes and shoes. We compete with our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, and with complete strangers. We compete to compete.

In order to be able to have the status we want, we have to work hard, too hard; sometimes we live to work. Many of us are workaholics who live in a constant state of stress and rarely have time to enjoy life. Our life is full of responsibilities with very little room for mental relaxation. No wonder depression is now a common ailment. It is a great paradox that societies poorer than ours (in Latin America, for instance) are happier. Their members are more willing to smile, have fun, and they rarely feel lonely or depressed.

But what happens if we peel off the layers of work, responsibilities, seriousness, and get to the root of who we really are? What happens if we forget adjectives like ‘professional', ‘punctual' and ‘organized', and try to think instead of what we enjoy the most. Maybe we could find a couple of words that define our inner self and write them down on a piece of paper. We could keep that paper in our wallet and go back to it every time we feel stressed or out of balance.

If who we are and what we enjoy is clear, we can look for balance in our lives by integrating time that's NOT available for responsibilities. But beware of the common excuses we use. A 57-year-old friend of mine, and successful dentist once told me that he would like to play the guitar. But, he said, "I don't have the time to take a class now; I'll do it when I retire." "When?" I asked He shrugged his shoulders and said, "When hell freezes over."

We know that hobbies are a great tool to bring happiness to our lives. And hobbies make us be present and enjoy the moment like little children with a balloon in their hands. The problem is, we never set time aside to practice our hobby. We ought to change this! Remember that the more life enjoyment we produce, the more productive we will be. That's when we can achieve balance and dramatically reduce stress in our live.

It is during this time of the year, that we have the perfect opportunity to start anew. We can let go of what doesn't work for us anymore. To enjoy our live more, regardless of the problems or of the people that cause them, could be a New Years resolution! There is no such thing as a life without problems, but we can manage the stress and avoid stress from managing our life.

OTHER TIPS TO REDUCE STRESS (These really work for me):

1. Think of something to look forward every day, no matter how little it may be.
2. Remember that you always have at least two options when facing a problem, a positive and a negative. Choose the positive one and put it in practice as soon as you can.
3. After something stressful or bad happens, don't dwell on it. Get distracted.
4. Do not resist the inevitable.
5. Trust that things happen for a reason

After all, the source of our stress is not as important as the way we react to it.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Parallel Sign Of The Times

Parallel Sign Of The Times
By Silvia Uribe

At eighteen, my grandma spent her afternoons sitting in a balcony sewing and watching people pass by. In the crowd was the 26-year-old handsome man who 2 years later became her husband. Their contact was limited to a few glances through the balcony's bars and letters they exchanged with the help of one of my grandma's maids. In the early part of the 20th Century, communicating by letter was a sign of the times.

Their verbal communication never went further than "buenos días" or "hasta luego" until the day he came to her house to talk with her parents about his intentions to marry her. I always thought that they were so contained and repressed that they were forced to marry a complete stranger. Little did I know the wealth of opportunities to fall in love that they had literally at their fingertips.

Using only written communication they figured their compatibility to the point of making the decision to get married. Later they had a family, and they were in love with each other until my grandpa died 22 years later. How were they able to accomplish all this? It was like a riddle that I was not able to decipher until I realized the secret of their communication method - efficiency!

All BS aside, they only wrote about the important things they wanted to say. Pouring their hearts out, they expressed the way they felt about each other and about life. They took the risk to tell each other about plans and dreams, and they shared about past and present. If you ever tried describing your character and your feelings in writing, you would probably agree that it is like an honesty exercise. This, in return, gets the reader to respond in a similarly candid way.

Conversely, our conversations today either by telephone or in person have become quite inefficient and irrelevant. In an attempt to not be intrusive, we refrain ourselves from asking important questions that could provide crucial information about our person of interest. In trying to always be politically correct, we rarely touch on the "sticky" issues that could give us a very good idea of the values, beliefs, and ethics of that person. And, since immediate gratification is over-rated, we have somehow decided that sex is the infallible tool that will ultimately bring us together, right?


Various studies on US Divorce show that the rate of divorce in America after the first marriage is from 41% to 50%, after the second marriage is from 60% to 67%, and after 3 marriages the US divorce rate is from 73% to 74%. (The mere fact that we have multiple marriage stats proves that our communications, as well as our negotiation skills, are not as effective as they should be.)

However, inadvertently, we have stepped back to my grandparents' communication system. A sign of our times, the internet, dangerous in many levels if not used with precaution, has given us the opportunity to meet people that might very well be at the other side of the world. We are forced to pace these relationships for obvious reasons. Efficiency in our communications is again a must if we are to understand each other. When emailing or chatting, people seem to be more willing to ask those important questions in a casual way. As a result, they can actually determine whether there is understanding and chemistry between the two. How exciting!

In other words, the Internet might have resurrected the art of good, effective communication. Maybe that's why so many use eHarmony,, or other sites of the sort. So, my single friends, next time that you meet someone that sparks your interest, be it in person or online, remember to use your time wisely by making your conversation relevant and entertaining. And, pace yourself. These two somewhat easy steps might just be what you need to close the "real deal."

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Waking Up With A Hangover

By Silvia Uribe

For the purpose of this column, I would say that it doesn't matter who won or who lost the presidential race. It also doesn't matter for whom you or I voted, which propositions passed, or which didn't. Today, the anxiety, excitement, campaign ads, and anticipation are not distracting us anymore. Now we can be realistic. It is like waking up with a hangover; the night before was fun, but the next day we feel terrible and have a deep feeling of disappointment about ourselves. Yes, we have elected an African-American President, but other collective behaviors will doubtfully allow us to feel proud.

We know - whether we want to accept it or not - that the candidates and their campaigns repeatedly lied to us just to sway our vote. Their political statements were often gross exaggerations, if not plain lies. At best, they were twisting the truth to accomplish their goal, providing us with a "suspicious truth." The same can be said about those who funded propositions and measures.

The media is another example of non-anticipated shameful behavior. It showed its bias and sexism in the way TV personalities and comedians attacked Clinton and Palin.

We also saw shameful examples of oppressive behavior in our own communities. Some people's homes were vandalized and others received hate messages written on their property because of their position on controversial propositions. And let's not forget about the racial attacks and the recently busted plan of white supremacists to kill Barack Obama.

On Sunday I was looking for something to watch on TV while waiting for the rest of the family to wake up. In my channel surfing, I found a religious service with a preacher named Ed Young. He got my attention. The stage had a Democrat donkey and a Republican elephant in the background. The front of the stage was decorated with a striped red, white, and blue skirt. It looked as if one of the candidates would suddenly appear. Instead, the preacher was reading from the Bible and forcing all sorts of political ideas on the audience by attempting to connect these ideas to what he called "Jesus' message."

Although I was in complete disbelief, I continued to watch. He was vehemently trying to convince everyone that Obama's more progressive positions were against what the Bible says. He was not preaching, he was acting - walking vigorously from side to side of the stage with his hands in the air, putting up a scene that would be worthy of an Oscar. If only his script had been more credible! He reached my limit when he said, "As Christians, let's forget about McCain or Obama, and let's vote for Jesus Christ." Excuse me! As a Christian, I do not appreciate phony, manipulative preachers.

We shouldn't be proud of religious leaders who forget who they are, and what purpose they serve. They become one more piece in the political machinery, ready to manipulate their constituents to achieve a very non-spiritualistic goal.

As a country, we've done it all: lied, been sexist, showed a complete lack of tolerance, committed hate crimes, pronounced racial slurs, and manipulated Christians through their faith. Not that we were much better before, but it's hard to believe, in the 21st Century, that we still are so oppressive!

Coming from another country, I know that the U.S. is perceived as the most open and progressive society in the world. If, as American citizens, we think that we can be that society, we will need to work harder and faster to accomplish it.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Waste

Goleta Politicians and Others Spend Way Too Much Money on Garbage

By Silvia Uribe

Recently, USA Today reported that the total cost of this year's presidential and congressional elections will reach $5.3 billion according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks money's influence on U.S. elections and public policy. But what we desperately need is a "Center forResponsible Politics," to track how campaigns choose to spend their money, and who or what gets negatively impacted by them.

More than $5 billion seems to me to be an irresponsible expenditure, especially considering the financial situation of our country. Most of this propaganda goes directly to the trash can! At this time, it seems like a slap on the face of those who are facing serious financial hardship. What's wrong with our political parties and their leaders? Leaders are supposed to be level-headed and make sound decisions. Is this how they demonstrate their financial planning skills and responsibility? I'm terrified!

Think about it, these figures reflect only federal races, but what about individual state races, such as the State Senate race between Tony Strickland and Hannah-Beth Jackson, with its preposterous ad battle? They have raised and spent more than $7 million for their campaigns. In the past few days, I've received around four pieces of printed propaganda from each candidate per day. It is ridiculous!

As for the Goleta City Council candidates, the Coalition for a Healthier Goleta, a "mysterious" group that supports Jean Blois and Don Gilman, has not even filed, as of October 28, financial reports as required, hiding from voters what its sources are. This group has already spent approximately $20,000 on printed ads and TV commercials in favor of Blois and Gilman.

I brought my concern to a person involved in campaigns, and his response was, "How else would candidates promote themselves?" Don't get me wrong. I believe in campaigning. I know that it is hard, valuable work and that it is needed. I have volunteered my time for campaigns before. But there's something called limits, you know?

Because it doesn't stop with print media; there's also the so called "robo calls" and the "voter ID calls," notwithstanding the infamous telephone surveys. (Mine being a Latino household, we get all of the above, plus the ones that focus on minorities - woo-hoo!) And let's not forget - how could we - the numerous TV ads. It is not only irresponsible, but quite impolite to jam citizens' minds, mailboxes, and recycling containers full of this stuff. They have already worn everyone out - even political junkies like me! There's something to be said about that.

You may have watched last Wednesday's half-hour "infomercial" that Barack Obama aired on NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision, BET, MSNBC, and TV One, with which he punctuated his broadcasting strategy. Reportedly, the spots cost him almost $1 million apiece. If this is not extravagant and excessive, I don't know what is.

It begs the question: What about regulations? There are regulations for nonprofit organizations prohibiting their participation in political campaigns; counties can set limits on where political propaganda can be displayed; online political advertising has been regulated, and the contributions made to a campaign are regulated as well. Broadcasting political "issues" and/or candidates has its regulations, as do print pieces regarding their content. But when it comes to setting limits to spending or to bombarding the public, no political party wants to talk about regulations, and so far, the Supreme Court has not taken up this issue either.

For future elections, I propose that at least all printed propaganda should give the public an option to unsubscribe when they don't want to receive more mailers. Each piece should include a telephone number and an email address where people can opt to have their name and address removed. I would've unsubscribed a long time ago if I had been given the opportunity. I don't appreciate when politicians portray themselves as financially and/or environmentally conscientious while they spend valuable resources, and also step over people's boundaries.

The good news is that the election is here! After almost two years of political propaganda, I just want to vote and be over with it!

Please vote!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chocolate De Vine Anyone?

By Silvia Uribe


"Chocolate is like love - a sweet release that lightens the spirit," a friend told me as a truffle was slowly dissolving in her mouth. "Dark chocolate, however, is like good sex - exciting, strong and delicious." You may add your own definition of chocolate, and also enjoy a delicious tasting opportunity with your friends. Now, in the unthinkable (to me) possibility that you are less of a chocolate lover and more of a wine person, you'll be elated too. Yes, I've found an event that combines both chocolate and wine tasting at its best.

But before going into the details of the event, here's a very brief background on these two products:

* The cacao is a tree which seeds can be processed into chocolate. The first people known to have made chocolate beverage were the ancient cultures of Mexico, mainly the Maya and Aztec 250-900 A.D. The flavor of this drink was a little spicy then, but later the Spanish conquistadors took the seeds to Spain where other flavors, and sugar were added making it widely accepted. Because the cacao was imported and expensive, chocolate became a symbol of wealth and power in Europe. It was not until the 19th century that the mass production of chocolate started.

* The wine's history goes far back, 6000 to 5,000 B.C. and according to archeologists, evidence suggests that Georgia and Iran were the first places that produced it. 6,500 years ago, wine production started in Europe, in what was known as Macedonia. Time after, it became very common in Greece and Rome. Wine was forbidden in certain cultures during medieval times, but it got widely accepted later. It was not until after 1870 that growing regions were established throughout the world.

Now, back to our main point. Here's what you'll be in for at the event. Be prepared to find several of our local chefs coming together to put their skills at work by creating not only silky and delicious, but also artistic pieces of chocolate that will be competing for our nomination for the best chocolate in town. Yes, we'll be asked to vote on "The People's Choice Award." Other categories that will be judged are "Best Table Top Presentation", and "Best Flavor Appeal". Also, the area vintners will present their world-renowned wines for us to sample.

This is like a dream come true for those of us who like to indulge our palates!

But that's not all! If you're also a risk taker go-getter, you'll be in heaven. You'll find the live auction, conducted by professional auctioneer John Glines, irresistible. We'll be bidding on no less than a) a one week stay in Spain at a house at the beach or in the mountains, your choice, b) a one week stay at a luxurious condo at a Colorado ski resort, which includes maid service, a land rover to take you places, and other amenities, and c) a trip to Catalina Island in a private plane.

Now, if you are extremely conscientious, you might be considering the extra calorie ingestion. Don't even think about it because you'll easily burn those calories at the dance floor, with the Latino rhythms and beats of local band "Somos Son" - my feet are moving already - that will provide the entertainment.

Thanks to the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, its generous donors, and its laborious volunteers, "Chocolate De Vine" is a dream event come true. Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 8th at 5:30 p.m. at Carriage & Western Art Museum, 129 Castillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. Don't miss it! It is without a doubt an event to enjoy, and at the same time, a chance to support a good cause. For ticket information you can call 805-963-6832.

Count me in!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Conversation with El Sitio's Jose and Sanjua Gil

Silvia Uribe Talks with the Successful Restaurateurs on Family, Work, and Food

By Silvia Uribe

I've known Jose and Sanjua for a few years. I've always admired them not only for their success as entrepreneurs, but mainly for their family values and for their humbleness. But don't get me wrong: This interview was not an easy one to get. They finally agreed to it, but in exchange, I had to accept a dinner at their home. Being the devoted writer that I am, I said yes.

Once at the dinner table, the conversation flowed as the roasted lamb garnished with veggies and rice, and the salsa, guacamole, and tortillas were quickly disappearing.

First, we spoke about the business's name. "El Sitio," in Spanish, means the "place, the site." El Sitio is also a town located in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, "where we were born and raised," Jose and Sanjua proudly said. However, in Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista we identify "El Sitio" as the place where we can go for lunch or dinner, and enjoy great Mexican food without going out of our budget.

Jose started by telling me that he arrived in Santa Barbara in 1971, and Sanjua, his then fiancee, arrived in 1979 to get married and established. From the beginning, they knew they were here to prosper and create a future for themselves and their future family, but never in a million years would they have imagined what they have so far accomplished.

"My parents were poor, very poor farmers who grew corn and beans. As the oldest son of 13 children, I helped my father with planting and harvesting." Jose said. It is with humbleness that Jose explained that "in the old days we didn't have tractors. One of us would be guiding the horse that carried the plow, while the other one went behind covering the seeds," he remembered.

Once in Santa Barbara, Jose's first business was gardening while Sanjua got a job at the production line at CUI Corporation. For this young couple, hard work and saving were their creeds. "We worked really hard. I worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. When Sanjua came back home from work, she did the bookkeeping and accounting for our business. She's always been good with numbers."

By Silvia Uribe

Sanjua and Jose Gil.

Another thing that Sanjua was very good at, was cooking. "I've been cooking since I was six years old, and I've always loved it. I'm good at it!" she said, her eyes lighting up with joy. Her 13-year-old daughter Ivette corroborated with an enthusiastic nod and an ample smile.

Both Jose and Sanjua knew that this particular skill was a gold mine, but it would take them years to tap into it. In 1990, they open their first restaurant on Salinas Street. Jose scratched his head as he told me, "It was not an easy thing, by any means. It took us eight long months and the good will, patience, and guidance of our business landlord, Mr. Fred Winters, to bring our dream to reality. We didn't know where to start or how to go about permits; plus we didn't have the money, but Mr. Winters believed in us." Sanjua said she can't forget that their family and friends opposed the Salinas Street location. "Everyone suggested either State Street or Milpas, instead. We didn't pay attention. Jose and I intuitively knew that the food would attract the people, so we went for it."

After the Salinas location got accredited, the Fairview branch opened in 1994, and then in 1996 the next El Sitio opened at the Ralph's shopping center on De la Vina Street. They didn't stop there. In 2001, it was the one on Calle Real, on the northwestern part of Goleta, followed by the Isla Vista location, in 2004.

Even longtime fans of El Sitio may not know that the restaurant will soon open its doors in Ventura as well. "It is a great location, at 2771 N. Ventura Ave., and we hope to have it ready in the next couple of months," said Jose. But he warns anyone thinking of following a similar route that they should not think that the job of a restaurateur is an easy business or that money will be made immediately. "It takes a long time of reinvesting your profits before you can take any money out," he said. "But God has allowed us to live free of financial pressures now, and have some extra cash to help others."

Jose and Sanjua were reluctant to talk more about their charitable contributions, but it is well known that they frequently give to organizations in the community by donating food for nonprofit events, for school functions, for children's sports, and for other causes. "Let's just say that it is our way to give back to this wonderful community," Jose said. "People have given us a lot, and we feel good giving to others."

My conversation with Jose and Sanjua also centered around their children: Ivette and Pepe, 15, who was at a football practice during out dinner. They are two very impressive youths, not only because they are well-mannered, but also because they are excellent students who proudly carry their family's cultural heritage. "It was Dad's 55th birthday, and I wrote him a letter," Ivette told me as we were eating our dessert.

She allowed me to share its ending. "Even though we're from different eras, and we're sometimes on a different page, I admire you. Your siblings, my aunts and uncles, are grand for their education, but you're grand for your perseverance. You never give up! This is what I love the most about you, and it is a great example for me to follow. You're the best father on the face of the earth. I love you."

Yes, family and their love for one another are the most important things for the Gils. Their home has two decorative themes: hearts and roses. These can be found on the steps, on the shape of their chairs, carved into the chimney mantel and on the benches next to the pool, hanging on the walls, decorating the bathroom, and on the floor mats. Unless you're very observant, you wouldn't notice them, but there they are. Why? Sanjua has the explanation: "Red roses and a heart charm were the two presents that Jose gave me when we became boyfriend and girlfriend. He didn't have any money then, but because of what they meant, those two things are the best presents anyone has ever given me."

On my way out of the Gils' beautiful home atop a hill in Goleta, from which you have a 360-degree view of the city, the ocean, and the mountains, I still had two questions for them: How do you define each other? After considering it for a minute, Sanjua said, "He sure is perseverant. Whatever his idea or his goal is, he applies himself until he attains it." Jose told me, looking at Sanjua with great love, shaking his head from side to side, and giggling, "She is active, very active. She never gets tired and she's always doing something."

I also asked them what the most important lesson they've learned is. Both agreed. "The greatest success anyone can have in life is forming a strong, loving family that might not be perfect but will always be there for you."

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Santa Barbara

138 S. Salinas St., Santa Barbara 805-963-0171. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Isla Vista

6850 Pardall Rd., Isla Vista, CA 805-685-5015. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - Fairview

102 S. Fairview Ave., Goleta 805-964-6104. More Info

250 m 1056 ft
Data ©Navteq,TeleAtlas
©2006 Yahoo! Inc.

El Sitio - De La Vina

2830 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara 805-682-9747. More Info

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the