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Monday, December 28, 2009

They Buy Treasures

Interview with a Traveling Antiques Appraiser

By Silvia Uribe

I remember how much fun I had when, as a kid, I participated in the Girl Scout treasure hunts. I felt like an old-school investigator who had to exercise her intelligence and observation skills in order to solve the assigned mystery. I felt like the Latina version of Sherlock Holmes. I would've responded easily to the name Sherlocka.

Not only that, but having the vivid imagination of an eight-year-old kid, I imagined and wrote a story of a child who found a treasure at her school grounds in a very unlikely place: the pool. In order to access this treasure, the protagonist (me, who else?) had to dive into the deepest part of the pool, and open a little door on one of the side walls by which she could get to a room lit with torches, and filled with unexpected treasures and antiques.

Where this story came from is a mystery to me. It is as much a mystery how it ends, because I was never committed enough to finishing it. Maybe that's why I got fixated on treasures and antiques. Who knows! Last week, my fascination for these objects got new wind in its sails: I went to witness a great Treasure Hunt that took place in Goleta.

No, it was not a community venture. A company by the name of We Buy Treasure (, based in North Carolina, came to our area. Its manager, Chris Wagner, was nice enough to let me in on the secrets of this business, and the ins and outs of what we need to know in order to cash in on those rare possessions that could be worth a small fortune.

Wagner travels, with his team of four, to four or five towns around the country per month. "I'm out for four or five weeks and then I'm off one week," he said. "We come back home during the weekends. Here in Goleta, for instance, it has not been terribly busy," he continued. "However, very good things are coming: jewelry, coins, autographed pictures of famous people."

When I arrived at the Treasure Hunt, a gentleman with a book of autographed pictures was being helped. The collection included photos of Joe DiMaggio, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable, and John Wayne. "Precisely what we were hoping for in this area," said Wagner.

Because "Curiosity" should've been my middle name, I wanted to know how someone becomes an expert appraiser. "With time and experience, but you also need to be a part of that culture, I think. In my case, as a child, my life revolved around sports: basketball, football, and also comic books. I had a great collection," said Wagner, as he opened his eyes real big. "I always had the collector bug in my blood."

"I understand that you collected sports memorabilia and comic books, but what about other items?" I asked. "How can you judge if they're valuable or not?" He replied, "The company has around 50 appraisers. If there's something with which I'm not familiar, I can always reach them. We also have with a great database, where we can also research the prices that items are going for now."

What items are going down in price? "Porcelain, newer baseball '80s and '90s cards, and same years comics are not a good investment," Wagner said.

Furniture is also down now, he said: Good pieces of furniture are worth one third of what they were worth two years ago, or even less. "However," he added, "I think that these will rebound rather sooner. I think furniture is a great thing to buy now if you have the money. It is certainly a great investment. A couple of years ago an antique dinner table was $3,000, and now it may be around $700. Yet, this is the type of item that will for sure bounce back."

"Can you explain how this business works?" I asked. "Well," he said, "a person brings an item and if we think we will be able to sell it, we make an offer, and the person decides if he/she takes it or not. We offer free appraisals with the hope to have the opportunity to buy the items." Once they have bought one, or several, items, his group ships them to North Carolina, to be sold through a couple of auction houses the company works with.

"Items are usually sold in a couple of runs," he said. "We have a very good eye. We also have customers that are looking for something in particular. When we find it, we call them and they usually pay very good money. We have a 50 percent to 75 percent profit rate, but our overhead is big, with the traveling and the shipping, plus we also have to take some losses when the items don't sell."

The rarest item he's ever seen? "A Gibson mandolin from the 18th 19th century. I think we sold it for almost $100,000. We made a good profit."

The weirdest thing ever brought to him for appraisal? "A man was in Greece in an excavation of a church and he found there an image that he told me was the oldest picture of Christ. Is that what it was or just a stain on a wall? Who knows, but that was weird."

His favorite thing to buy? "I love maps. They're like a window to the past. In them you can see how the world has changed."

Have people gotten mad at him? "Sometimes we don't even make an offer and people don't like that. Some other people have idealized their perception of what they have and they're expecting you to pay for a beat-up coin the price of an uncirculated one. They want the full price. We tell them the price and if they get upset, they get upset.

The final question I got to put to Wagner was, "What's the best thing about this job?" He said, "There's very little monotony, and I love learning new things."

I finished my interview with Wagner only due to the fact that many more treasures came in and a waiting list started to fill up. For those of you who find treasure hunts fascinating, who like little monotony and lots of traveling, this could be an excellent career. Think about it!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Under Pressure

By Silvia Uribe

Old Faithful
For most, pressure is an unpleasant sensation; something to avoid at all cost. Many, are sold on the idea that we can live our lives without pressure, be freed up and feel the liberating sensation from the stress that pressure brings along, as well as from the illnesses that derive from it. Magically, they tell us, once we have accomplished this, our life will be closer to perfect. But is this true or is it just an imaginary state, much as the "simply perfect" place described in Thomas More's Utopia?

Pressure starts from the time we're babies. When we're learning how to walk, for instance, we fall; we get ourselves up time and time again, just to fall back on our butts, and then we start all over, until one day we're able to walk. Our life continues pretty much in the same way; we pressure ourselves by trying new things, failing, and trying again until we master that new skill, or a new ability, or until we accomplish a new goal. Pressure is innate to human kind.

As we grow up, we learn the ropes. We know that if we apply ourselves and are willing to repeat things enough times, we can be successful in the end, and success is sweet. It makes us feel good, accomplished, even admired. That's how we build our self-esteem, and how, when we have an inevitable defeat, we can bounce back rather quickly.

Depending on the size of our ambitions, we continue trying new things until we achieve each goal. Those who work well under pressure are the ones who, instead of avoiding it, adapt to it faster.

Life is pressure, and we seem to be wired for and well equipped to not only manage pressures, but to use them as a tool for our personal growth.

But, is it possible or even good for us to pursue the idea of not having pressure in our lives? If we are financially well off, that's great, one less concern. But much like anybody else, we cannot get away from other pressures: health issues, family responsibilities, and work or the lack thereof, or simply trying to move ahead in life.

Instead of adapting, we could avoid pressures at all cost and teach our children to do the same. We could decide not to take on any challenges, not to pursue any dreams, not to have the responsibility of a family and, since we have to make a living, choose to have a job that is not too demanding, and if it becomes so, leave it and go somewhere else. Basically, we could follow what I call the, "law of the least effort".

But then, it would seem, our life would never be complete; we would be silent, stand-by witnesses of our own story. We would take all our power away from ourselves and be like the leaves of a tree, going wherever the wind may take us, with no direction or particular purpose.

In the USA, the reality of life is different than in most other places. In Latin America, for instance, people are exposed to very difficult circumstances at a very young age: they don't have enough food to eat, or a welfare system in place to meet their most basic needs. Parents have no opportunities, and they cannot appropriately provide for their children. Nevertheless, most people can still function normally because they're capable of dealing with those pressures.

Thankfully, most of us here don't have to deal with extreme circumstances. Yet as parents, we think we do a favor to our children when we over-protect them so that they don't have to face challenges. But, is this really helping them, or are we raising them as socially handicapped persons who are not prepared to deal with life struggles?

Look around. Our youth today is plagued with quitters who are so passive that they have no desire or instinct to fight for what's worthwhile. "Having a girlfriend is too much pressure", Mike, my 19-year-old neighbor, told me last summer. "…if I have one, I need money; girls are high maintenance. I don't want to work, jobs are too demanding. What's wrong with staying home playing computer games?"

Mike is not an isolated case. Many young people grow as dreamless individuals who cannot visualize themselves in the future and get depressed because they have no motivation in life.

No one wants that for their child. That's why it would make more sense for us to sharpen our children's innate abilities to adapt to, and deal with, the pressures that come their way; to give them trouble-shooting, decision making, and coping skills by allowing them to struggle (at least every now and then), instead of rescuing them time after time.

Frequently, life is tough, but it is rarely impossible. Those who adapt to life and its pressures have a much higher chance of success than those who avoid them. Being under pressure is not as bad as being under-living, under-achieving, and constantly under-estimating our capabilities.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Cheapest Holiday Present

Loving the Light

By Silvia Uribe

Last night was a sky-clear, full-moon-lit night in a bluer than usual light. It was quite cold, 48 degrees. It starts feeling like holiday time as soon as my fingers go stiff and my nose hurts a little on the bridge; you know, one of those weird things. As I was sitting in the living room admiring our Christmas tree and the rest of the ornaments around my home, it occurred to me that my family is not the only family that has the tradition of having our home already decorated on the first day of December.

People might have different reasons for being prompt in making their home look festive. For us, though, decorating our home inside and out is a reflection of the love that this season symbolizes and stresses the importance of coming together as a family on a project that allows us to be with, play with, and enjoy each other while decorating. Here's the best part: We don't take the decorations down until January 6, after Epiphany, and once the Rosca de Reyes celebration has passed - that's a Spanish and Mexican tradition that I'll explain in due time.

Our tradition started almost two decades ago, and has continued every year no matter what our circumstances were, or if we had others around us to help, or which country we were living in. Actually, it didn't even matter that we didn't have our home furnished yet one year; we for sure had a decorated tree on December 1. Sitting on the ground, we had enough time to admire our tree as we waited for a week and a half for our furniture to be delivered. Come Hell or high water, our tradition stands.

With all this in mind, I dragged my husband around Goleta just to take a look and see how many homes have been fully decorated in the first three days of December (just before my deadline to turn in this column). It was a nice surprise to see that more homes than I thought were already decorated with some sort of Christmas lights hanging from their roofs and sometimes around the trunk of their front-lawn tree. Not only that, but we were able to also find some homes that were richly decorated; I took some photos.

I'm glad to see that the spirit of the holidays is demonstrated not only with material presents that cost much more than we should be willing to pay, making it very difficult on our pockets, particularly in these grim times that we are living. I'm glad to see the warmth and the love in the form of giving a little to make ourselves and others happy, the cheapest present that we can give, and the one that's really the most desired.

Since this is a time to share, feel free to share with our Grapevine readers your family's favorite tradition, the one most special to you, so that the warmth and the love continue to go around.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Goleta Wish List

Goods and Services We Still Need

By Silvia Uribe

Life in Goleta is pretty laid back. Most of us can agree that we have many things to enjoy on a daily basis: a lovely coastline, several beaches, mountains not only to admire but with different levels of trails to hike, a small lake of our own, the bluffs-and such good weather can be found almost nowhere else, which makes it the perfect place to live.

However, the same praise cannot be heaped on the necessity of traveling to Santa Barbara, or even further away, to look for, buy, and pay sales tax on things that are simply unavailable in Goleta. Those of us who live in the northernmost part of our city not infrequently find ourselves imagining that what life would be like if we had this or that store, restaurant, or service close by. We would not have to make that 24-mile round-trip to Santa Barbara.

As we know, the holidays are almost here. This is the time when we start making wish lists of what we want Santa to bring to us, and one of the few opportunities to ask for those things that we might never otherwise get. So, I've decided to just put out there the things that, in my opinion, our city is missing, to see if city government or entrepreneurs might make my wishes come true.

Personally, I would love to be able to stay local in order to find the following:

City appearance:

* An attractive, inviting downtown where families will congregate, and spend their time and money, and where business would thrive.


* An amateur theater group to perform frequently at the Dos Pueblos High School auditorium. (I might even venture to participate in it)


* A Goleta newspaper. I join the voices of those would-be readers who have expressed this same wish over and over again.


* El Bajio Restaurant (not only delicious, but very authentic Mexican flavors), The Olive Garden, and more restaurants serving breakfast besides the ones we aleady have (Cajun Kitchen, Plaza Deli, and Jack's famous bagels).


* A shoe repair, a hair/waxing/massage salon, a tanning salon, a butcher shop, Firestone auto repair/oil change, and a seamstress.


* Ross Dress for Less, Tuesday Morning, So Good Store


* I love our great views. Kudos to our government! I encourage them to keep up the good work, and to continue protecting our agricultural land zoning, and our open spaces

Watering Holes (day):

* An on-line cafe (for those of us who don't own a computer)

Watering Holes (night):

* Live music bar. Soho type, with all kinds of music and a dancing area.

I recognize that you may or may not share my choices for what I call my wish list for Goleta. The good news is that this wish list is not finished. You're invited to add your own items to mine to let us know what you would like to incorporate into our nearly perfect, everyday life in Goleta.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to you.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Specialists vs. Generalists

By Silvia Uribe
Thinking about the way our world operates, it feels that rather than looking for solutions to make our lives not only better, but also easier, sometimes we make things more difficult. We are so invested in being efficient, that we frequently forget to actually address our needs, by making things far more complicated than they need to be. Particularly, I'm referring to how we, little by little, went from being a society of generalists - in almost every possible activity under the sun - and became a world of specialists.
When my parents were growing up, they could visit the doctor -- simply and plainly -- and that doctor was able to determine what their health issue was, its probable origin, and how to cure them or any other person in the family, when they fell sick. This doctor knew and remembered each of his/her patients personally, as he did the medical history, and what medications they responded to. Usually, the cures were quite simple, compared to today's treatments and they were, for the most part, incredibly inexpensive. When worse came to worse, people were sent to a general (again) surgeon, who was able to perform almost any kind of surgery.
When I was born, and while I was growing up, science was incredibly more advanced, and in response, some specializations were common already. There were dentists, eye doctors, cardiologists, OBGYNs, pediatricians, orthopedists, and a few more. But today, the level of specialization is almost ridiculous. I was able to find 21 different specialties, and I'm aware I'm missing many: Internal medicine, Cardiology, Haematology, Gastroenterology, Diabetes, Nutrition, Metabolic diseases, Pneumology, Pneumophysiology, Nephrology, Allergology, Immunology, Endocrinology, Oncology, Rheumatology, Infectious Deseases, Neurology, Psychiatry, Orthopedy, Dermatovenerology (huh?), Physiology, Pathological Anatomy, plus the subdivisions that some of these have. Once I got sent to see the hand specialist. It is as if my hand was a newly built machine, never seen before, and a general orthopedist wasn't given the blueprints.
If we want to look somewhere other than the medical field, we'll find that specializations go across the board. From attorneys to therapists, architects, engineers, designers, mechanics, interpreters, and accountants, it would seem that the different areas of expertise are so narrow that we are not only constraining our own mental and professional sphere, but we're also forcing those who seek services to deal with three or more specialists as opposed to one generalist, and to invest way more time and money that they would otherwise. The poor in our country, and in other countries (certainly in the Third World), don't have any of those resources. Progress, to me, means general advancement, simplification and access, and that's not necessarily what we're getting.
The story is different with consumer technology. In the last fifty years, technology has had enormous advancement; it simplifies our lives and facilitates communication among individuals. Technology also reaches more and more people every day, and thanks to it, awareness about world issues has never been higher. This is a good example of progress that we should try and replicate in other areas.
I wish the same could be said with medicine. I'm not a retrograde, but when money gets in the way of our ability to obtain health services, injustice flourishes. So much specialization could potentially be more harming than helpful, plus we might not be able or have the desire to maintain this pace for much longer. It is definitely not in our collective best interest. If we do, the disparity between the rich and the poor not only in life expectancy, but also in our general quality of life might give way to the worse social injustice ever.
Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.
Cross-Posted at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Goleta's Future Coming Soon

Informal Survey Shows What's On Some Goletans Minds

By Silvia Uribe

The city of Goleta will hold its next City Council elections in 2010, in which Mr. Roger Aceves, Mr. Michael Bennett and Mr. Eric Onnen will be running for re-election. For those of us who follow local politics, now is the time when we start thinking about whether they should keep their jobs, and wondering who will run against them.

I asked another political aficionado if he knew who's in the pipeline, ready to take Goleta's challenges in their hands and, with new approaches, continue to move things ahead. The answer he gave me-that no one seems to be willing to take the lead and change the things that we don't like, to modernize our city and the way our government operates-was a little disheartening. No new leaders on the horizon, at this point. If a viable candidate doesn't come forward, the incumbents will run unopposed, which is not just a stamp of approval for the way things are done, but a missed opportunity to have a dialogue as to how things could be better.

To find out whether people in general are happy with the present City Council, I decided to go out and do one of my non-scientific, but very telling, surveys at the Camino Real Marketplace. After I made sure that the interviewee lived or worked in Goleta, the questions I asked were simple: 1)What do you know about City Council? 2) Can you tell me the name or names of any council member? 3) What are the most important issues facing Goleta? 4) What do you like the most and the least about Goleta? 5) In which way would you like to receive updates on what city council is working on?


Carolyn, a young mother of one who has lived in Goleta for eight years, said that she doesn't know anything about City Council. The one thing that she keeps track of is the housing problem. "There's a desperate need for housing. We're renting and landlords treat us really badly," she said. "It's really frustrating. We're treated without respect. Because of this, we bought a house in Arizona, and lived there for a while but came back because here you find very educated, interesting people from all over the world, and because it is so beautiful. Updates? Maybe a mass e-mail with a link to the latest news about Goleta might work for me."


Robert, a husband and a father of two, works at Mika's: "I don't know any of the names of Council members or the issues affecting Goleta. Look, I work a 12-hour day and I don't have time for anything else. I've worked and lived here for five years. I used to live in Colorado and it's way better there. Here I work 72 hours a week and I can barely financially make it. My wife in Colorado was a stay-at-home mom, and I was making about the same money, but my rent was $600 for a two-bedroom home. We're barely surviving and can't even save the money we need to go back to Colorado. Wages here are way low for the cost of living. We need a living wage here, otherwise the hard-working people will have to leave the area and that won't benefit anyone. I'm not really interested in politics or politicians or in knowing what they do. I'm busy trying to survive."

Mike, living the peaceful life of a retired person, told me that he doesn't know anything about our City Council members or what they do. "Here's an outstanding issue: Old Town. It needs to be rejuvenated. If they don't fix it the merchants won't be able to make it. Another one: Goleta is getting old. Just six months ago they finally started fixing the off-ramps of the freeway and the mid-sections of Hollister. A good thing: We don't have as much crime and graffiti as Santa Barbara. Kudos to whomever is responsible for that. Information: I don't want any. I won't ruin the quality of my life by paying attention to politics."

UCSB student
UCSB student

A young UCSB student-her name was inaudible in my recorder: "I don't know anything about City Council. Last week I learned about Council members going to I.V. to experience Halloween. That's all I know. I'd like to see Goleta and UCSB more integrated. Students could be volunteering more for community programs, and school kids could have more activities at UCSB. Goleta is a beautiful location and the coast line is gorgeous. Text messages make up for a good conversation among friends. City Council should send updates in the middle of the day so we could read them, and talk about them with others."

These are only four examples representing 10 people that I interviewed. None of them knew Council members' names or what they're working on, thus they were unable to evaluate their performance. Nine out of ten accepted that they're not proactive in looking for information, and none of them uses or was aware of the website. Eight out of ten were concerned about the very basics: housing, living wage, water, quality of life. Six people's personal priorities were reflected in the city's strategic plan, and seven people suggested that tidbits of information in text messages or short emails with links to the latest about Goleta would be helpful in keeping people informed.

These findings showed once more how little our involvement is in the very things that have the potential to affect our lives the most. The government's responsibility is to keep us informed of what's happening in our city, but having the information available is not enough. Should they look for more modern ways to communicate with us? On the other hand, it is in our best interest to be proactive in finding out what our government is doing in order to hold them accountable.

Maybe politicians will start behaving more responsibly when we start paying the same attention during their terms, that we paid when we elected them.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Immigration Battle

By Silvia Uribe

If you are tired of the health care debate, of the yelling from those who oppose it, and the pleads from those who want it; if you think that the insurance companies are spending too much money promoting their agenda, or you're concerned that your tax dollars are not going to be efficiently spent, you've seen nothing yet.

No matter which side of the debate we may be on, this issue affects us all and we know it. If we're healthy now - good for us. But, sooner or later, we know we will be faced with the inevitable fact that we will get sick, need surgery or treatment for something, and we all can agree, that when that happens, we would like to have the best possible health care at our reach, without having to loose everything for which we've worked so hard.

If there's this kind of turmoil about something that we all can have some degree of agreement, imagine how it will be when the next matter in the order of business comes: Immigration Reform. At least with the health care reform, we can attribute our discrepancies to political manipulation or to financial interests playing a role. Not so simple with immigration issues.

Everyone has their own ideas and biases about immigration. Everyone feels differently affected by the concept, the trends, and the laws surrounding it. Each person's level of acceptance of others varies. Words such as diversity, discrimination, privilege, and opportunity, seem to have a different meaning for each individual, depending on their background, situation, education, and personal experience. We all seem to feel entitled to certain things, but we frequently question others' feelings of entitlement.

While some feel immigrants are hardworking people that do the work no one else is willing to do, others want to portray them as people who take a great number of jobs, and blames them for lowering salaries for the rest of the workers. For some, immigrants are troublemakers, criminals that have no business in this country, while others claim that without these workers, the American economy will crumble like a sand castle. For each and every other argument there are thousands of takes.

If our president is having a great difficulty in dealing with the people on the "other side" of the health care issue, namely Republicans, and insurance companies and their millions, he really needs to be prepared for what will come his way along with the dialog on immigration. With this one, the "other side" could be each American. The president's job will be to unify us in looking ahead and focus on the collective benefit as opposed to on the individual.

Some Latino organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza, and individual community leaders, insist for the immigration issue not to be pushed out too far, and keep the topic alive in the high political circles. They are also preparing to start formal conversations during which they will present the most important points to be included in the reform. They are organizing, informing, and mobilizing their base around the country to be ready when the time comes.

Many anti-Latino, anti-immigrant groups like Minute Men and others, trying to discourage Latinos from organizing, would like to make people think that from the last marches, only harm came to immigrants. What they fail to see is that although it is true that the marches ignited hateful expressions and behaviors against Latinos, they also brought the issues of racism, discrimination, and the need for a change in immigration policy to the forefront, giving it the deserved attention from the government and the public.

The question now is; when will the president move ahead with the immigration reform? No one really knows. The more optimistic say mid-next year. Others, like me, believe that it will take longer - possibly not until sometime in 2011. Obama's reelection year is 2012, and he won't want this thing hanging over him then. Whenever it is, the truth is that the president will need to take a deep breath after the health reform, re-charge his batteries and be prepared for a fierce battle for an immigration reform that won't be easy on anyone, but it is one that our country, as a whole, desperately needs.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Cats and Monarchs at Art Museum

Video Environments by Diana Thater

By Silvia Uribe

When my editor suggested that I should write about an art exhibit I wondered if he had made a mistake. I'm not an art critic, nor an art connoisseur. However, it is also true that when I see either a piece of art or an exhibition, I know what I like and what I don't. I know if it makes me feel something or if it goes completely over my head. So, shooing my insecurities away, I drove myself to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) to see the exhibition Diana Thater: Butterflies and Other People on its opening day.

The exhibition occupies two of the museum galleries, galleries 10 and 11, using the existing architectural space as a landscape within which to create color-and-light-saturated environments and projections.

The first work in the exhibition is titled "Videowall (Butterflies)" (2008). It is Thater's response to an invitation by three curators in Mexico City to create artwork drawing attention to the threats to the monarch butterflies' winter home in Michoac¡n, Mexico. This multi-monitor piece shows footage of the migratory resting place on six flat-screen monitors that rest on the floor. The placement of the monitors reflect the position of the butterflies upon Thater's arrival-thriving on the forest floor due in part to the increasing lack of forest foliage (where they normally take refuge).

Standing at the entrance of the videowall exhibition, it took me a while to figure out how to best appreciate it. Little by little I walked in. As I approached the video monitors (with certain reservations, I have to admit) I was suddenly sucked into the scene, and into the reddish color that permeated everything, including me. By the time I was amidst those monitors, I became completely oblivious of my surroundings, while I had the most incredible worm-like view of a butterfly posed on a little branch. Its colors and its movements around me were captivating. At times, the view was so up-close that it lacked focus, but that didn't bother me. It felt very natural to be there. I kept looking downwards and around me for several minutes. It liked it there. Somehow, it was a calming experience.

"Perfect Devotion Two" (2005) is the second work in the exhibition, featuring rescued tigers from the Shambala Preserve, a big-cat rescue ranch in Southern California. The subjects of this exhibition are Simba, Mona, and Zo», who were discovered together as cubs. Like most of the cats that live at the ranch, they were rescued from the black market trade of exotic animals, though some are rescued from zoos.

Maybe because I'm more used to watching videos or movies of tigers, I related to this exhibition more easily and quickly. The all around green-lit environment was very inviting. This was the first time I watched a tiger appearing rather confused, not knowing how to react to the stimuli around it. This made the exhibition interesting and fun to watch.

I was curious about such an original artist, and after some research I learned that Thater was born in San Francisco, received her B.A. in Art History at NYU and her M.F.A. at Art Center College of Design, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Her work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art; Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Vienna, Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, and many others. Recent exhibitions include Diana Thater: gorillagorillagorilla, at the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria (a collaborative project with the Natural History Museum, London, England).

Once again, I was able to confirm how lucky it is for us that we can count on the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a privately funded, not-for-profit institution, to bring to us internationally recognized collections and exhibitions and a broad array of cultural and educational activities, as well as travel opportunities around the world. For more information on these or other exhibits call 805-963-4364 or visit

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Communication Pains

By Silvia Uribe

My Palm phone broke down, leaving me with only a very few of the 400-plus contact numbers I used to have. My virtual Rolodex was thick -- much as the old fashioned ones that you could hardly turn due to the very many cards attached to them -- remember? As you can imagine, I'm mad. Really mad. Although I recognize that this might not be the best time for me to sit down and write a column, I'm still writing it. My frustration needs an escape valve before my family unjustly suffers the consequences.

Yes, I know, it was really dumb of me to trust that a cell phone should last past its 1-year manufacturer's warranty. One year and 3 months. That's how long mine lasted. I also know I should have backed all that information up somewhere else, and I didn't do it. Please, never neglect such an important step. I didn't do it because, believe it or not, as much as I depend on technology, I've never had a phone that wasn't reliable until now. I was kind to it. During the time that I had my Palm phone, I didn't drop it, and I was careful in the way I handled it. Well, this didn't do the trick. For the first time in my life, my phone died in front of my eyes, and I - or anyone else - wasn't able to bring it back to life. Complete drama!

Having to replace my phone, I went yesterday to the AT&T phone store located behind La Cumbre Plaza. I asked as many questions as I was able to come up with. My visit to the store lasted longer than it usually takes me to buy clothes. However, I never asked about compatibility. That was my mistake. I cannot attribute any wrongdoing to Alex, the sales representative who helped me. He offered great customer service, and answered every single question I had. The "Samsung Impression" looked good to me and I got it.

Earlier today, I showed the new phone to my daughter. With that built-in technological ability that the new generation has, she was able to figure it out completely in no time - programs, compatibility and all features, allowing me to immediately realize that this, maybe, was not the phone for me. The problem is that the phone can communicate (or synchronize) with most email providers except for Google, and guess what? I run my life on Gmail, Google Calendar, Google spread sheets, you name it. I need to get my emails, to transfer data, and do all sorts of things. Impossible!

She also identified another problem. The computer software that syncs to this phone recognizes multimedia (pic, videos and music) but not data files stored in computers.

Now, I have to go back to AT&T, return the "Impression" (according to Alex I have a 30-day grace period) and search for a new telephone. This is driving me totally crazy, as you can imagine. I'm not exaggerating. Here's the thing. Buying a phone is, to me, like buying shoes. The damn thing needs to be comfortable to handle, and not too small or too big. I also need for the numbers, letters, and whatever appears on the screen to be in a readable size (for me). And, I want a slick and slim phone, with a decent keyboard, or at the very least, with a virtual keyboard. Ah, and as I just explained: a phone that is able to "sync" with Google. If you are aware of such a phone - other than the iPhone - please let me know. I'm in a cheap state of mind, due to the recession, and paying thirty bucks a month for the Internet service seems a little excessive when I can get it in any other phone for ten.

Well, after my rant, I hope my bad experience serves you well. Learn from what happened to me, or be reminded, and always back your data up. The next time you shop for a cell phone, make sure that it is compatible with whatever service providers or programs that you use the most. Communication and compatibility are as important for humans as they are for machines. For humans, to live a happier, better life around those with whom we come in contact, and for technology so it can make us more efficient.

Wish me luck!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Old Town Frown

Neglected Strip Has Potential to Be the Heart of Our City

By Silvia Uribe

Since its inception in 2002, the Goleta City government has worked tirelessly so that we Goletanos can have the quality of life that we enjoy. We've seen them spend endless meeting hours and staff time throughout the years to get our General Plan approved. Our city is more efficient and better organized. As the city Web site states: "Goleta remains a beautiful and safe small town community, with family-friendly neighborhoods, that values the environment, agriculture, and open space while providing housing, recreation and business opportunities."

The City of Goleta has considered not only our present needs, but also the future. It hosted a series of workshops, in which many committed members of our community got together to talk about what Goletanos want. Thanks to that concerted effort, in 2007 the city adopted the Strategic Plan, which provides direction about what our values are, where we are going, and how we intend to get there. This is it, stripped down to its principles:

1. Advocate Goleta's interest at the local, state, and federal level

2. Sustain sound fiscal and budgetary policy

3. Promote a healthy business climate.

4. Build, retain, and support highly qualified staff.

5. Enhance communication and services to the community.

6. Protect and preserve agriculture, environment, and open space.

7. Implement general plan measures.

8. Promote comprehensive housing programs.

9. Protect and promote character, quality, and diversity of neighborhoods.

10. Emphasize Old Town revitalization.

11. Create parks and recreation opportunities.

12. Enhance public safety and emergency preparedness.

13. Improve and maintain city infrastructure.

It was clear to those who participated that this was not a "to do" list in which our government would check things off and move to the next item. This is the criteria that the city government needs to work on constantly to ensure that we're going in the right direction according to our core mission and values.

Of all these 13 points, number 10 is the one with which I have an issue. I don't know about you, but I, like many of my friends, have a serious case of Old Town "frownitis," and it hurts badly. Every time I drive by the area, that wrinkle between my eyes gets deeper. I've heard for years now that this part of our city is going to be rejuvenated, beautified; that trees and plants are going to ornament both sides of Hollister, that the community will look forward to hanging out there, and that by having more foot traffic, opportunities for businesses will be increased. The question is-when? No remedy for my condition at sight yet. And, if they take much longer, not even Botox will help.

I frown because Old Town has the potential to be the heart of our city, as opposed to the plain, unattractive, almost neglected looking strip that it is now. I understand there are infrastructure problems that need to be solved first. Well then, let's start working on those.

There is another potential benefit of paying immediate attention to Old Town. The more lively and people-friendly it is, the less crime the area will have. Gangs will not be able to claim it as part of their turf, and, with more lighting and curbs, residents won't fear for their safety at night.

Of all the points in the Strategic Plan, the beautification of Old Town seems to be the only one that our government has ignored. Yet this one project, when completed, could be a point of pride for our city, and the legacy of our city leaders. Future generations will know the names of those who make this miracle happen. Will our current city government and its leaders take on this project? Will the community be proactive in writing letters or calling City Council to let their voice be heard on this issue?

Change doesn't happen in one day. But it won't happen at all unless we take the first steps to make it happen. I don't want to wait any longer for a community-welcoming Old Town. Do you?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Heroes Among Us

By Silvia Uribe

It seems that most of us mid-lifers have a past life, or maybe more than one. Most of us have had more than one career, more than one love, more than one hobby, and many things of which we are proud. We have also, no doubt, had our share of mistakes, mishaps, confusions and (some more so than others) disappointments. I'm talking about general experiences that gave birth to the "persona" we are today. However, we keep many of those experiences as best kept secrets, known only to a few, even within our family.

I recently attended two memorial services for my friends Lloyd Saatjian and Metta Thomsen, both at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. During each eulogy it was obvious how rich their lives were, how accomplished they were, and how many lives they touched. They weren't celebrities, and they weren't particularly rich either. In fact, most would consider them individuals who lived under very normal circumstances. Nevertheless, once the details were revealed, it was clear that their lives were uniquely fruitful -- and particularly surprising -- to the many who gathered to honor them.

Whether it was working to benefit the field workers alongside Cesar Chavez (like Lloyd), or at the school kitchens offering salad bars years ago when these were unheard of (like Metta), my friends were recognized more for their service to others --

and for the impact they had in others' lives -- than for their family name, their wealth, or their business interests.

Time and again when I hear personal stories, I notice that compassion is one characteristic that makes us remember people, and be remembered. As a side note, this is very much in contrast with what the media tells our children to admire: power, money, position, fame.

It's too bad that we must wait until people are no longer with us to hear those stories. I wish we could hear them while people are alive so we could follow the example of those, for the most part, unknown heroes who live among us.

It doesn't take much effort. For example, during my trainings on diversity, I ask participants to share with the group about something in their life that would generally take others a long time, maybe years, to find out. That's the moment when the juicy stuff comes out. Usually, in a shy way, people share about their accomplishments, their proud moments in life, or about some hard lesson that changed their life forever, and made them who they are today. The real persons start emerging, and individuals start developing certain admiration for each other.

No matter the setting, whether it is during training or during a casual conversation with friends or acquaintances, it usually takes only one question to start people on sharing who they really are. Contrary to popular believe, if we are authentically interested, people generally don't find questions to be intrusive. Most are happy to talk about themselves, and reveal their stories. They are happy to let us be the recipients and the beneficiaries of their wisdom.

We shouldn't wait so long to learn from others or to share our experience. We all have a life to live and a story to tell. Sometimes we listen, and sometimes we share.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at