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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Power of Listening

By Silvia Uribe

Jul 24, 2010, 9:15 AM

"Please, don't hang up on me" I heard a voice say on the other side of the line. It was a small voice, a quiet one. "You don't know me, and I don't know you. I don't even know your number. I just dialed some digits without looking. I promise you won't hear from me ever again, but please, don't hang up on me. You don't have to listen or say anything, just don't hang up on me."

I frequently work with victims of crime. Also frequently, I'm asked how can I deal with so many horrific stories, and their painful consequences. Every time, my answer is the same - because I know the power of listening.

The woman on the other side of the line did not know that I was 19 and quite naïve. I was still living with my parents in Mexico City, and I was over-protected. Surely, she never imagined the impact that her story would have in my life. The phone's ringing woke me up abruptly, and I answered instinctively. Although at 3:00 a.m. my brain function was not the sharpest, I was able to perceive the despair in her voice.

I responded, "esta bien" (ok) to her plea for not hanging up. After that, I didn't open my mouth or produce a sound again …for almost two hours.

She told me her name. I'll call her Laura. Hers was a story of perennial misfortune, and overwhelming guilt. She was twenty-nine years old. At eight, she was abandoned by her parents, to take care of her four-year-old sister. From what she said, it was as if they mysteriously disappeared one day, never to be seen again. Laura and her sister were almost starving and homeless throughout most of their childhood. Laura never attended school, but made sure her sister did. Laura became a prostitute while raising her sister, and continued to provide for her until, one day, "sis didn't come back from school". She was told that a bus ran her over, and she died on the scene.

Time went by, but not fast enough for Laura. Out of loneliness and desperation, she became prisoner of an addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I remember thinking that she was bright and surprisingly well spoken for someone who didn't have any schooling. I guess her intelligence was one of the very few things that life couldn't take away from her.

"No one ever did a thing to help. No one ever cared." Laura repeated several times during her monologue. Most of the time that she was speaking, she was also crying. No, not crying. She was sobbing. I cried with her. She didn't hear me.

I had so many things to ask, and so many things to say, but everything seemed so irrelevant compared to her need to be listened to. She was pouring her heart out, "for the first time," she said, and I became the still vessel of her emotions. At that age, I never knew that someone could go through so much pain. The contrast between my life and hers was abysmal. I was able to see a different reality, painted by someone that I didn't know, and that I couldn't see. I realized, probably for the first time, how lucky I was.

Her story got to a semi-ending. She became calmer, her breathing was easier, and her speech slower; it was way easier to understand what she was saying. I kept quiet.

"Are you there?" - she asked, taking me by surprise. "Uh huh" "Were you listening all this time?" "I w…" - I had to clear my dry throat "I was"

Laura started sobbing again. I was confused. "Before dialing this number - she explained - I had dialed four other numbers. Each time I asked the same thing - Please, don't hang up - and each time the person hung up. You were my last call. I was ready to commit suicide, but you cared."

I, of course, didn't have an answer to that.

Laura reassured me that I wouldn't hear from her again, and profusely thanked me. She hung up. I didn't…not for a while. I needed to recover from the experience.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-published at

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Human Tsunami

By Silvia Uribe

Jul 10, 2010, 9:45 AM

Santa Barbara's community events are great. Whether it is the Summer Solstice Parade, Fiesta, the Arlington Soccer Screenings, both Christmas parades, and other events - you name it - I'm usually there. My favorite, however, is the "human tsunami". You know - the mass passing underneath the freeway after the 4th of July Fireworks Celebration.

This one has become some sort of ritual for my friends and family. Ten to fifteen of us gather on State Street for a cup of coffee and some good conversation. Around 7:00 p.m., we start our pilgrimage down to the beach, or close enough to it, to enjoy the multi-colored lights and the loud booms of the fireworks, while also people watching.

When the show ends, we start walking back. It is a great sight when standing at the top of the street we can see others going under the bridge. Some run, others jump, and most walk. When they get there, everyone yells at the top of their lungs, or whistles, or makes noise in any way they can. IT-IS-LOUD! Some use their phones, while others use their cameras to capture the moment.

People in our group hold hands, creating a human chain in order to stay together and down we walk. Those who are not as noisy move their heads, pretending disapproval, the rest get more excited by the minute - everyone laughs. Other individuals walking next to us do the same. We exchange some words while we can hear each other. They are complete strangers, but we make them part of our group. We pose in their pictures and they pose in ours. It happens every time. Happiness flows - we all contribute to it.

If you have ever been to the Olympic games, or to a Soccer World Cup, you know what I'm talking about. It is the same kind of feeling of unity.

When the human tsunami comes out on the other side of the freeway, it is over. It quickly vanishes like the bubbles on the ocean's foam. The magic ends. But it leaves each one of us with a warm, positive feeling in our heart, and with the desire and the commitment to be there next year to re-live the experience.

There's an immense amount of good energy every time that a mass of people gather, and moves around in celebration of something. Some enjoy being active participants, while others, a bit less actively, enjoy with other's enjoyment. But whichever category one belongs to, the energy is contagious.

Maybe I like these things because of my Latino heritage and culture, which is, for the most part - and this is no secret to anyone -gregarious and loud. We say that when two Latinos get together, they have a conversation. When three Latinos gather, it is a party.

But there are other reasons as well.

Miraculously during these events, the old and the young, the able and the disabled, private individuals, celebrities, the rich and the poor sit next to each other for a couple of hours, completely oblivious of who the others are. We can relate as simple human beings, no strings attached. During that time, we can all share the same space, and the same kind of experience while exchanging a brief, casual conversation with one another.

This fact alone is enough to make me feel hopeful.

I also cherish the anonymity and the freedom that all these events promote. One can stand, sit on a chair or on the ground, dress fashionably or do the complete opposite. We can be extremely loud or completely quiet. We can sing, dance or do nothing. We can eat, or drink, or do both things. We can bring our whole family, be with a group of friends or come alone and spontaneously join others. Or, we can wear costumes, specific makeup, a festive headpiece or go natural.

We won't be judged by the same standards that we usually are. We are all free, and for the time that the celebration lasts, accepted as we may be. No prejudices.

This gives me enough reason to be there.

Our celebrations are a reflection of our town, our community, our families, and about each one of us as individuals. Peacefully gathering in mass with no other purpose than to be happy and make others happy is - in my book - a very healthy way to relate to each other. That's why tourists come to Santa Barbara.

On the other hand, I very much resent those who not being able to do this, engage in criminal activity during our celebrations. Thankfully, this happens very sporadically, and when it does, the rest of us don't let them take over our town, our festivities, and our sense of security.

Next year, come and join your friends and neighbors in the human tsunami, and all other celebrations. You won't regret it.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-published at

Cosmetology Academy Futures

Making Money Doing Hair and Make up.

By Silvia Uribe

During difficult financial times, the ones who can still pay the bills are those who have a specific skill or craft to offer, while many others scramble for the few jobs available in a tight market. Good promotion of a good service helps these lucky—oops, I mean skilled—individuals do better than others who may be job hunting for months on end. They can be more independent.

I chose cosmetologists as an example because of the many options available in their field, the good tips, and the commissions. Griselda Rosas, cochair of the Santa Barbara City College Cosmetology Academy could not agree more.

“The beauty of our industry is its flexibility,” she said. “We work seven days a week, if we want; we can work in the mornings, or on weekends. With salon chains, people can move around, and be transferred from city to city, keeping their seniority. They can assist other well-situated stylists, and learn more at the same time. Cosmetologists can make good money by selling products and getting the commissions. When they have a clientele built, their income can be really good.”

The Cosmetology Academy is right here in Goleta, and if you’re about to decide on your future career, this could be an excellent option. “From working for a cruise line, or as a makeup artist in Hollywood, as some of the graduates do, to working at a salon, or doing home visits, program participants can choose the career path that best fits them,” said Rosas.

As an experienced cosmetology instructor, with 10 years working at the academy, Rosas enthusiastically explained:

“We have 115 students at this time, and we always have a waiting list. Every time there’s a new class we have to turn people away. We have two programs — cosmetology and esthetics. You have to decide if you want to be a cosmetologist, an esthetician, or both.

“Some of the classes that we offer are: manicure and nails, pedicure, hair cutting, hair styling, permanent, color, high lighting, hair relaxing (for very curly hair), up-do’s (for special occasions), curls, makeup, waxing, eyebrows, and tint for brows or lashes, plus electric treatments for the thinning hair (which work really well.)

“Cosmetologists are trained on everything, whereas estheticians concentrate on facials, makeup, and hair removal.

“We also teach them basic bacteriology, chemistry, anatomy, and electricity.”

Rosas proudly shared that the Cosmetology Academy graduation rate is 80 percent.

When asked about the skills necessary to be a successful cosmetologist or esthetician, she did not hesitate. “The most important one is people skills,” she responded. “Eighty-five percent of this line of work is based on how we relate to people. When clients feel good, they will for sure go back to see that person again.”

I asked about men who attend the school, and Rosas mischievously laughed as she explained. “Usually, the number of men students is small. Right now, for instance, we only have two. The reason is simple: They will be surrounded by many women here. Before making a decision they need the approval from their girlfriend or their wife.”

Students at the academy can graduate in 11 months, and immediately afterwards take their California State Board licensing exam in cosmetology and esthetics. “The written test is not difficult at all,” Rosas said. “The greatest difficulty is the speed. Although graduates know how to do things, they need to do it within certain time.” She added that once they are licensed, cosmetologists may go one to earn the hours required to become a licensed cosmetology instructor.

The academy also offers services to the public. “We have a lot of students and they need the practice. We can take walk-ins, or make appointments. Our prices are half the average price, and the advantage is that students are never in a hurry. Our clientele includes many senior citizens, and they don’t like to feel rushed.”

Rosas shared her reasons for teaching at the academy. “I never thought I would be an instructor,” she said. “This was not on my list. But once I did it, I loved it. Here, I see the students’ progress and I feel that my day was worth it. It makes me really happy.”

Five Important Things to Remember About the SBCC Cosmetology Academy:

1) The Cosmetology Academy is conveniently located at the Magnolia Shopping Center in Goleta, and it is open to the public.

2) They do hair and skin care.

3) Prices are extremely affordable.

4) Students are eager to do a good job.

5) Students are constantly monitored and supervised by instructors with more than 25 years of experience in the field.

To contact the Cosmetology Academy, call (805) 683-4191, ext. 2, or go visit them at 5160 Hollister Avenue.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-published at The Independent