Search This Blog

Monday, March 30, 2009

Girsh Park: Healthy Free Fun

Modern Version of Ancient Egg Hunt

By Silvia Uribe

Community events are made so that we can cherish a happy environment and enjoy unexpectedly meeting friends and neighbors. These really bring back to us the sense of community that sometimes can get lost in the business of our individual lives.

Girsh Park promises a lot of fun for children and their parents at the Goleta Egg Hunt on April 11. Ryan Harrington, the park's executive director, expects to have around 1,000 attendees, up from the 750 who participated last year. Imagine that! "The collective fun starts when community volunteers come together to fill the plastic eggs with candy," he said, and then comes the hiding of the eggs.

The Easter egg is not an ordinary egg. It carries with it a history of traditions and beliefs. The Easter egg stands for fertility and rebirth as the celebration has been derived from the ancient pagan spring festivals. Decorated Easter eggs are also given to friends and loved ones as presents, and have come to represent a token of friendship.

This is how the celebration at Girsh Park will work: Registration starts at 9:30 a.m. and the hunt at 11 on the dot, Harrington emphasized. There will be five different fields for different ages and abilities: toddlers, 4-6, 6-10, 10-12, and "Challengers" for children with special needs. The Egg Hunt is free and the Easter Bunny will be waiting for you.

Today, when going out with a family can cost a bundle, free activities become a need. If we count ourselves in the 80 people of people who have been affected by the rough times of our economy, we may be forced to eliminate expensive outings, but fun and family bonding doesn't need to make a hole in our pockets. In fact, Girsh Park is the perfect place to find many kinds of free entertainment.

Named in honor of its generous lead benefactors, the park opened in 1999 adjacent to the Camino Real Marketplace shopping center. Since then, it has become an essential part of our community. The park, which in May will be celebrating its 10th anniversary, is owned and operated by the Foundation for Girsh Park and directed by volunteers. It also receives funds from the City of Goleta. "Girsh Park is a model for public and private partnerships to provide services to the community," said Harrington.

Over the past two years, Harrington said, with a well balanced budget, the park has been able to increase programs and activities, creating healthy fun for everyone. Here's an idea of what we can find there:

• Baseball and soccer tournaments

• Baseball and soccer summer camps

• Free soccer program for all kids from the Goleta School District

• Yoga, nutrition, and strength training

Other yearly events at the park include fireworks on July 4, the Lemon Festival in the fall, music in the park every Sunday in September, Halloween for small children on October 31, and, for the first time, this year on December 6, the International Santa Barbara Marathon Children's Fest.

If you're interested in renting out the baseball and soccer fields, the basketball courts, the group and family picnic areas, or the children's play area, you can. Just call Ryan Harrington at 968-2773.

See you at Girsh Park!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Cultural "Shockers"

By Silvia Uribe

Blue Sky
If you have never lived in a different country from the one you were born in, I submit to you that it is one of the most, exciting, difficult, sad, interesting, crazy, fun, and self-revealing things that a person can ever do. Having said that, I also have to admit that living abroad is a great learning opportunity that allows us to grow as human beings-- as long as we're open.

But today I won't talk about the serious, thought provoking experiences that life gives us, (usually in the needed dosage). Today I'm thinking about the mundane, the everyday little things that can make our life look like the puzzle of a blue sky, with tiny little pieces looking exactly the same, and no recognizable sign or indication of where they fit. The following are just a few examples:

Our first home in Santa Barbara was located in the Samarkand area-- a very nice, calm neighborhood. Too calm! I was perpetually wondering where all the people were during the day, the afternoon, and in the evening. Where was everyone? Cars cruised by only every now and then. But coming from one of the biggest cities in the world --Mexico City-- it felt not only lonely, but also plain boring. Our solution was to go a few times a week to a coffee place downtown to watch people go by! Who would've told me then how much I'd enjoy living in a calm area. I love it!

Once installed and ready to socialize, we got invited to a party at some neighbors' home. Charming couple! When we got there, they greeted us very politely, introduced us to a couple of their friends and left us standing there. We were very confused. The hosts never invited us, or anyone else for that matter, to have a seat. In our culture, a seat is the first thing we offer someone when he/she arrives to our home. Not knowing what to do, we decided to sit anyways, but no one else was sitting. It felt a little odd, or better said, very odd and uncomfortable. So, we decided to go do what we later learned, is called "mingle." Brilliant strategy to make new connections!

Have you realized that Americans refer to things, places, organizations, professions and even people by acronyms? If you're new to the culture, you're lost! And, to make it worse, text messaging has added a few abbreviations that are almost impossible to decipher, let alone memorize. Complete conversations can happen in acronym, or "text mode." After 15 years living here, I've learned the most common, but every now and then I'm still asking for meanings.

Now, think about the almost sacred rule in the American culture of not interrupting others when they're speaking. I doubt I will ever master this one! In my culture we don't call it interrupting. We believe that we're helping the other person find the right words, or that we're contributing to a lively conversation. Talk about different perspectives!

And lastly, the worst shock ever! When we learned that unannounced visitors are considered impolite here, I thought I had gone too far away from home. In our end of the woods, unexpectedly visiting someone shows the desire to be with that person, and so it is taken as a compliment! Similarly, the notion of time limits being set for parties held at home or for calling friends on the phone was unthinkable. When were people supposed to interact with their friends freely? For months, both our ring bell and our phone were like strange, dormant objects waiting to be awakened by an animated being. We were hoping for another human. Now, we understand the reasons for these social rules, and we abide by them

As you can see, we learned some things intuitively, and others the hard way. Some were easier to adapt to than others, and every time that we encountered one of these "shockers" it gave our family conversation for a while, until the next came by.

We learned the American way of living, its systems, and we adapted. We kept the good things that we brought with us and made ours those that would help us grow as individuals, and as community members. The term "assimilation", or the concept of a "melting pot" just doesn't cut it. For us, it is all about having a strong sense of identity, about learning and adapting. We can recreate ourselves a million times, as long as in the process, we don't forget who we are.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Silvia Uribe

Silvia Uribe was born and raised in Mexico City, where she studied philosophy and Spanish literature, got married, and formed a family. Some 15 years ago, Silvia and her family arrived in Santa Barbara, moving a few years later to Goleta. Silvia is the founder and owner of Transil-Pro, a translation/interpreting company also located in Goleta. Through her business, Silvia has collaborated with nonprofit organizations, county and city governments, and corporations alike. She is a big supporter of volunteer work, which she does for two organizations every year. Silvia is also a freelance writer for both English and Spanish language publications. Whenever asked, she emphatically says, "I love everything I do, but writing is my passion."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dianne Burns, Forensic Scientist

Major Crimes Criminologist Tells All

By Silvia Uribe

As I was listening to Dianne Burns talk about her work complexities I was mesmerized, and I wanted to hear more. We were at a meeting, though, and it wasn't at all conducive for a lot of unrelated questions. Once we were done with the order of business I approached her and ventured to ask her for a time to meet and talk about her career. She immediately said yes.

On the scheduled day and time, we met at a restaurant in downtown Goleta, and after a few pleasantries, I started shooting questions.

How did you figure out that you wanted to be a forensic scientist?

During an Introduction to Forensic Science class, I found out that the minimum criteria to work as a forensic scientist was a science degree. I had two years of biology under my belt already, and after two more years, I got my degree at UC Davis. At the time, the O.J. Simpson trial's news was on TV every day, and they showed the criminalist testimony. I liked the way he gave his testimony and the scientific information.

Dianne said she wanted an exciting career that would allow her to work independently. "Not having a boss breathing down my neck was very important to me," she said. She also wanted job security and a decent salary - who doesn't! With the O.J. Simpson case still in mind, she decided to explore the field a little bit more. "It didn't take me long to make my decision." It was then that she started looking for a job.

Was it difficult to get what you were looking for?

Santa Barbara's forensics lab

There is not a lot of competition. If you're serious, you can get a job. It took me three or four interviews with the California Department of Justice (CDJ) before I got a job. After seven years at that job, I came to Goleta as a senior criminalist to the Santa Barbara County lab. A criminalist and a forensic scientist are the same thing, did you know that?

Can you define what you do?

Basically, I examine evidence from the crime scene, apply scientific methods to the evidence, and interpret the information. I then present my interpretation of the evidence in the court of law.

I do major [persons] crimes - homicides, rapes, and assaults. Other criminalists do alcohol, drugs, and firearms. I go out to the crime scene and collect all possible evidence. I usually have two crime scenes in one: The first one is the place where the crime was committed, and the second one is the body. I work diligently so that no biological evidence goes unnoticed.

What is it like to work with the dead?

I rationalize death. You can tell when the spirit is not there. You can tell that the human body is no longer inhabited by the person. You're only dealing with matter. However, I know that the body of a person is sacred to his or her family members, so I treat it with the utmost respect.

What traits does a person need to be able to do this work?

One needs to have the eyes of a child in a scientist's brain, and to be curious about what happened before and after the crime was committed. One needs to be able to observe details that others might not think about. This is very important in order to anticipate where the evidence might be found.

What do you like the most about your work?

I like presenting the information in court. It is a challenge to interpret all the scientific data into common words for people to understand it, but I like challenges!

Conversely, what do you like the least?

Paperwork. My work is very regulated, as it should be. Although I know that paperwork ensures that the work is done correctly, it still takes too much time.

What is in the future for the forensic science field?

This is already a very precise science. We are able to individualize, meaning to identify, DNA to the exclusion of anyone else, except for identical twins, for which the DNA is the same. In this case we have to rely on their fingerprints only. But, we need to acknowledge that this is a comparative science of the known and the unknown. For example, we might have sperm and know what the specific DNA is, but we might not know who it belongs to. Until we can put the known and the unknown together, we can't do much with this information, and it is always going to be so.

On the other hand, forensic science has advanced 100 years in 20. Predicting the future is risky, but two things come to mind: a) Smaller equipment - we will be able to bring our equipment to a crime scene, and b) Faster results - we will be able to take samples of available suspects at the crime scene, analyze them, and know if there's a match with the samples taken from the victim, right then and there!"

We also touched on the personal side and she acknowledged that it could be disruptive to family life, and relationships, especially when she has to go out to a crime scene at any given moment, day or night. However, she made it clear, "When there's a will there's a way, and we, women, know how to make things happen."

Every part of our conversation, every answer that Burns gave me was filled with the kind of passion that transmits enthusiasm, leaving one craving more. When we parted, I was left with the thought that as long as our criminal justice system has people of high ethics and professionalism like hers, justice can and will be served.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Job, No Dough!

By Silvia Uribe

To think about the financial situation of our country is like being in a maze. We know there's a way out somewhere, but we simply can't find it. On one hand we hear statements full of hope for the future - the financial situation will get better, the economy will be reactivated with the stimulus plan, and the trust of investors will be reinstated. No doubt! Everything is cyclical. But, the question at hand is when.

Our president is encouraging the public to have their eye in the future and invest now. It is only logical: buy low-sell high. Good advice. Those who have money will make huge profits. This is a buyer's market. But, how many of us have the resources to take advantage of the current situation?

We hear that the banks will start lending money again. Que Bueno! We also hear that we - those who earn less than $250,000 - will have a couple of thousand dollars a year in tax cuts. These are great measures?

...if we have a job, that is.

How can we get a loan, invest again, or spend money if we don't have a job? How far can a couple of thousand dollars go when we don't have a steady income? Those of us lucky enough to still have a job, have the threat of losing it at any given moment. How can we regain trust when we constantly have the ax to our neck? And those who don't have their job, and don't have chunky savings either, are watching their credit card debt increase up to over 43% of their annual income (percentage debt limit set by most banks). They have little chance of getting an equity line or a small loan.

Unless the government focuses on restoring the job situation in America, while re-organizing the parameters in which industries and banks operate, we won't be able to break the vicious cycle in which we find ourselves. The more jobs we lose - blue or white collar - the less reactivation of the economy we'll have.

I assume and trust that the decisions made by our government are what our macro-economy needs to eventually jump back. In all truth, I have to confess, that amounts that exceeding six zeros after the comma are way over my head. This must be the reason why I have so many unanswered questions!

For example, I don't know what's proportionate to what anymore. Is the $44 billion request by GM not enough to get it out of trouble? Really? So, if we were to buy it, what would be its price? To me, it's as if we aren't just "injecting" money, but buying the company and giving some profit to the stakeholders ? but still not owning it. Whether we are for government acquisition of private enterprises or not, it certainly doesn't feel like a good investment to me, and apparently, Wall Street feels the same way.

What's concerning is that we have not hit bottom yet. In my column, "Road to Nowhere" published on Edhat on September 25, 2008, I mentioned some things that may happen to us if we do not implement preventive measures such as a steep devaluation, super-high interest rates, inflation, and de-capitalization of the country. Our continuously growing unemployment rate could only make these things worse and more immediate.

President Obama has been criticized lately for doing too many things at one time. Maybe his critics can indefinitely wait for things to get better. However, most of us don't have that luxury. My only complaint is that while the will to help both "Main Street" and our macro-economy is there, these efforts aren't enough on the Main Street side.

I'd like to see our government focusing more people. Maybe "injecting" money to local governments to prevent more layoffs, or giving fiscal incentives to those who create new jobs, or encouraging the creation of small and micro businesses through small loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Practical, dual measures for our macro and micro economy should be put in place with the same emphasis, and at the same time. If we don't have our main needs (food and shelter) met, how can we be expected to contribute to the reactivation of our economy?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, March 2, 2009

Goleta Shows Solidarity

City Displays Heart at Council Meeting and at Walker Memorial

By Silvia Uribe

The Condo Conversions: When I got to the meeting, there were no seats. It was a full house. Everyone was there to talk about one thing: The Rancho Mobile Home conversion from rent-controlled park to condominium ownership. Not everyone who was there lived at the park. In fact, quite a few didn't. They lived in other mobile home parks, single family homes, and condos. There were also some people who didn't live in the area, but were interested to see what the Goleta City Council would decide. The expectation was enormous!

Goleta City Council members don't have to make this kind of decision every day. Whichever side you may be on, you cannot help but think that their decision will set a precedent affecting other mobile home parks. No wonder I'm a writer and not a politician! Having people's life and future in one's hands must not be an easy responsibility to carry.

Mobile Home Coalition activists fought conversion.

One thing that caught my attention was the commitment that most of the council showed to being truthful and up front with Goleta residents. I was glad to see this, especially, after feeling the energy that was going around among the Rancho residents. Several of them were crying, and others were mad, but most were fearful.

After a very long meeting, Councilmember Michael Bennett spoke to the public in a heartfelt way, which was obviously appreciated by the public. He explained how the state's legislation took away all of the city's options, leaving them with no other alternative but to negotiate and approve an agreement with which he and the rest of the council, he said, were not happy.

Not only that, he also expressed in no uncertain terms his disapproval of park landlord Daniel Guggenheim's practices. The rest of the councilmembers supported Bennett's comments.

I left a few minutes after 11 p.m. However, even though it was clear that most of the Rancho residents were not satisfied with the decision-out of 156 tenants, only eight wanted the conversion-most liked to hear from their city leaders that they really understood what was at stake, and what the real motives for the conversion were. They appreciated the feelings of solidarity.

After that, and not being one of those directly affected by this decision, I went home with a sweet and sour feeling. On one hand, my heart was going out to all of these close-by neighbors of mine, because I could feel their fear of losing their homes; and on the other, I felt satisfied to see that the spirit of service and solidarity, with which our city was founded, is still present in the City Council.

Another Example of Solidarity: I had the privilege of attending Phil Walker's memorial. Phil was a teacher, a musician, a friend, a father, and a loving husband to former Goleta City Council member Cynthia Brock. Most of all, though, he was a beloved human being as proven by the number of people who attended his memorial. More than 200 people met at the Museum of Natural History to remember him, celebrate his life, and show their love to my friend Cynthia.

Phil Walker
Phil Walker

Politicians, his fellow UCSB professors, Santa Barbara and Goleta residents, and people who lived outside the area all listened to the stories people shared, which gave, to those of us in the audience, a clear idea of who Phil was when he was in his many other worlds, the ones that each one of us represented.

Here, again, the spirit of solidarity was so clear, and moving. I know Cynthia from work-related activities, and I didn't have as much opportunity to get to know Phil. Still, I was told that the relaxed, casual, light feeling that marked this memorial gathering was very much aligned with his personality and taste.

I gave Cynthia a hug and asked her how was she feeling. "As you can expect, given the circumstances," she said with a sad smile that showed her pain, and at the same time, her strength.

Cynthia, you and Phil have lived a life of service. Now, your friends and community are here for you!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at the