Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yvette Martinez, Governor Haslam's press secretary, talks about Mexican-American family, military, hard work, faith, and taking risk

Yvette Martinez, next to Governor Bill Haslam as he talked to the media about incoming Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman in 2011
Yvette Martinez has led quite a life leading up to her most recent job as press secretary to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. In this exclusive interview about her road to that job and where she's going from here, Martinez's biography spans the military, the church, family illnesses, famous Knoxville tragedies, hard-working parents Amos and Edna, and an anecdote showcasing one of Governor Haslam's hidden talents.

"I am one of 4 children, 3 girls and 1 boy," says Martinez, who lives in Middle Tennessee and was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. Both of her parents had been born in New Mexico - "My parents were both born in Roswell, NM and are Mexican-Americans," Martinez tells HispanicNashville.com. Her mother's parents never left the Land of Enchantment, living in Roswell for most of Yvette's childhood before becoming ranchers an hour's drive east in Hondo. Her paternal grandparents, however, moved to El Paso from New Mexico before Yvette was born. They became leaders (he a preacher and she a teacher of theology) at the Latin American Bible Institute, which was at the time located in El Paso and has since relocated to San Antonio.

Left photo: Yvette’s maternal grandmother Eleanor “Nora” Salcido. Her grandchildren in the photo (L-R) are Yvette, brother Joe Villarreal Jr., little sister Denise Mercado (who like Yvette went into the Marines) and older sister Eleanor Rios.
Right photo: Yvette at 7 years old


In these excerpts from our interview, Martinez describes her family in terms of work, health, perseverance, and faith:
We grew up poor but each of us inherited our parents' great work ethic.
My dad (Amos) served in the Army and was stationed in Korea when he was called to come home to help take care of his family when his father became terminally ill. He went into the grocery business and eventually owned his own grocery store in South El Paso. He lost the store when I was a teenager and he started a new career as an over the road truck driver which he loved until he lost his vocal cords and larynx to throat cancer. Doctors believed his cancer was caused by second hand smoke from riding with another truck driver who smoked for five years.
My mom (Edna) was only 16 when she married my father. Shortly before my parents divorced she went into the work force as a certified nurse’s aide. She worked in nursing homes in El Paso and Mescalero, New Mexico which took a heavy physical toll on her body. I asked her repeatedly why she put her body through so much for so little money and she said because no one will take care of her patients like she does. She can’t physically do that job anymore and she really misses taking care of the elderly.
My father’s parents were heavily rooted in ministry and their faith. Neither one of my grandparents lived to see their sons embrace that lifestyle, but my father is beginning that journey now. My mother is also at the beginning of her faith journey. 
I asked Martinez how her parents' roots affected and/or influenced her own childhood and youth, and how those roots are relevant to her life now. We also covered the fact that she has both German and Mexican heritage, and that her father once told her that her "grandfather (five greats ago) came across the U.S. Mexico border, paid five dollars for his citizenship and changed his name." But Martinez considers that story more legend than fact. She's more confident of the family history she's experienced herself:
Both of my parents started with Spanish as their first language.  My mother remembers being slapped on the hand with a ruler for speaking Spanish at school, so she eventually stopped speaking it all together.  The only time we ever heard our parents speak Spanish was around Christmas time when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying.

When I told my mom I was moving to Tennessee, she asked me “Do they like Mexicans there?” I told her, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” I am not afraid to be different or to be the only Hispanic in the room.  I have taught my children that it’s ok to be different and if people say things that may sound insensitive or ignorant, that is a perfect opportunity to patiently educate others about who we are and how much we actually have in common.  I have also repeatedly said to my children and to classrooms full of students, don’t be afraid to live and work outside of your comfort zone.  Familiar isn’t always what is best for us especially when God is trying to grow us past the limits we set for ourselves.  
As for Martinez's own faith, she tells HispanicNashville.com, "I started my journey to deepen my faith when I was 14 years old and I strongly believe that God has guided my entire career."

Navy Achievement Medal
That career started when Martinez enlisted with the Marines when she was 17, "went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina then went to Camp Pendleton" in California. At Camp Pendleton, she was subsequently put to work in communications and training:
While I was stationed there, Desert Shield, Desert Storm erupted and I handled casualty reporting, classified messages, discharges, awards, and training incoming troops to handle these types of administrative duties in Saudi Arabia (overseas).
Martinez spent four years in active duty before returning to El Paso with an Honorable Discharge and also a Navy Achievement Medal.

Her communications experience soon dovetailed well with journalism. She started her private sector career as a radio sales assistant for KTSM AM, FM, TV, "making $5.75 an hour," recalls Martinez. Moving up the ranks to account executive, she appeared on camera for the first time as a KTSM weather anchor. Landing in the public eye suited her. Her next four jobs were on camera, at KDBC-TV and KFOX-TV in El Paso, at KPTM-TV in Omaha, and WATE in Knoxville. Along the way, she traveled to Bosnia for KFOX, "did 13 to 17 live shots a day" for the Omaha station, and won an Edward R. Murrow award at WATE, for a story about her daughter, who is now 17 and "doing great," according to Martinez, despite the scare she describes below:
Bailey's Bravery was one of the toughest stories I ever covered. Bailey is my daughter and when she was 5 she was burned by boiling water while trying to help my husband cook dinner. The Shriner's Burns Hospital in Cincinnati took care of Bailey and our family while they treated her for first, second and third degree burns. They didn't charge us for her treatment, and they do this for every child they care for, so I did a series on the whole journey and Shriners.
Left photo: Yvette and husband John, who is a high school athletic director and head basketball coach
Right photo: Yvette Martinez with daughter Bailey, who is in high school, and son Brandon, a UT-Knoxville undergrad, in Martinez's office at the Capitol.
Martinez then took a temporary detour from journalism and followed her grandparents' example of working in the church, but with a focus on media. At Grace Baptist Church in Knox County, Martinez says she "learned to shoot video, edit, increased our television ministry," and launched a magazine and website.

When Martinez went back to working in TV journalism, she ended up covering some of the most sensational stories ever to hit East Tennessee. She tells HispanicNashville.com that after joining WBIR-TV in 2006, she covered
  • the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom;
  • the deadly love triangle of Eric McLean, his teacher Erin McLean and her student 18 year old Sean Powell; and
  • the 'black widow' case of Raynella Dossett-Leath.
The stark contrasts of the work of a TV journalist
Left photo:
Yvette Martinez describes the circumstances of her conversation with Deena Christian (in red): "Deena’s daughter was Channon Christian who was carjacked, raped and murdered in January 2007. The men around us were investigators in the case and this was outside the courtroom during one of the trials against one of the five defendants."
Right photo: Martinez and Knoxville WBIR anchor legend Bill Williams narrated a Christmas production at Salem Baptist Church in Knoxville.
    She was hired away from the Knoxville station to communicate messages from the outgoing mayor/incoming state governor, Bill Haslam. In addition to being the printed and spoken voice of the Governor's office on a variety of issues, Martinez also amplified the outgoing channels of communication:
    I also worked on Governor Haslam's video outreach to keep Tennesseans informed. If you go to his Youtube channel you will see some videos I shot, produced, edited and posted on behalf of the Governor. ... I believe all of my different jobs offered a variety of training that brought me to this point. I hope when people look back on my life they will see there are so many advantages to taking chances and getting out of those familiar comfort zones.
    The one anecdote from her tenure with Governor Haslam that she believes sums up the former Knoxville mayor is this tale of hospitality:
    I do remember a time in East Tennessee, the Governor was attending a breakfast event at a small restaurant when he decided to pick up a pitcher of water and he went around serving people who were enjoying their breakfast. The waitress took the pitcher from the Governor and he then picked up a pot of coffee and continued to serve customers. He is down to earth and continues to have a heart to serve.
    As of this month, Martinez has transitioned from the Governor's office into another state communications job, as Assistant Commissioner of Outreach and Communications at Veterans Affairs. As the Assistant "Commish," Martinez will be getting the word out about veterans' rights and benefits. To pull that off, she'll bring a wide variety of past skills that have enabled her to "write, assist the media, shoot and edit video, shoot and edit photographs, organize events, emcee events and tweet all about what's happening right now," as Martinez describes her previous on-the-job experience.

    "I am a passionate communicator with a Marine history so the new role is a perfect fit," Martinez said. "Now I'm off to my next adventure!"

    Follow Yvette Martinez on Twitter at @yvettem_tdva

    Yvette Martinez

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Uniformity, by Fabian Bedne

    Councilman Fabian Bedne
    Immediately after declaring our American independence, the struggle began regarding the proper balance of power between the states and the federal government. This struggle also happened in Latin America. In Argentina there were many wars fought over this very issue and, over time, the federal government became very strong. This resulted in the federal government having the most power to collect and decide how to spend the tax revenues.

    Unfortunately, the subsequent (and huge) accumulation of power and wealth in the capitol city of Buenos Aires occurred at the expense of Argentina’s various provinces and cities. This ultimately created a situation where approximately 50% of Argentina’s 40 million inhabitants now live in or around the federal capital of the country. Though Buenos Aires itself enjoys most benefits and comforts of a modern city, if you drive 100 miles out you will find many little towns with open sewage and unpaved roads. Recently Argentina has realized the negative impact of this and has been working at making adjustments.

    The preferred pastime of the Argentines is to try and figure out why a country like Argentina, which was the 8th wealthiest country 100 years ago, is now so far behind. They like to compare their country to the USA and ponder the stark differences. They just can’t figure out the why the differences are so dramatic.

    Photo by ::: M @ X :::. Licensed via Creative Commons.
    It took me a year after moving to the USA to get it. I used to live in Columbus, Ohio and the program with which I was associated wanted to show us the real USA. So, I was invited to Appalachia, spent the night with an Amish Family, visited many small towns and always would get in trouble for asking if the water out of the faucet was good to drink. You see, in Latin America that is an important question. In the USA however, that is almost an insult as local communities have the means to make sure their water is safe. We created a system here in America that is in equilibrium; federal issues are handled at the federal government level and state issues are dealt at the state government level. Just as important, local issues are managed by local governments. This is possible because each of these respective levels of government has its own source of tax revenues, which truly empowers the various levels of government to deal with issues as they see fit.

    I understand why some of our State Legislators say that the conversation about the proper balance of power is only between the states and the federal government. But by limiting the conversation to only those two levels of government however, they take a huge risk. Our system works because somehow we have managed to spread out power. To try and concentrate power in this way, all in the name of uniformity, is a very dangerous path that, as I described above, will have a very negative impact on our local communities. Cities across Tennessee have declared concern for legislations that will limit the ability of local officials to do what they were voted into office to accomplish.

    Uniformity, when taken to extremes, is what you will find in countries like Cuba or Iran. We benefit every day by empowering local communities to make local decisions. Let’s remember that the water across America is safe to drink and there is a reason for that. Local government makes this and other things possible which should never be taken for granted.

    Fabian Bedne represents District 31 on the Metro Council.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Rebecca Zanolini: my Costa Rican rebirth

    Rebecca Zanolini
    Photo by Leslie Rodriguez Photography
    for HispanicNashville.com
    By Rebecca H. Zanolini, Ed.S.

    It was in Costa Rica where I experienced a rebirth of self. I had been born in California with a cleft lip and palate and faced many difficulties in overcoming both a speech impediment and social stigma as a child and young adult. But when I first went to Costa Rica 13 years ago, the experience brought me out of my cave and exposed me to realities I never knew existed.

    I strongly believe when an individual is on the right path in life, he or she is compensated with a certain sense of ease and continued opportunities. For me, ease came in the form of an innate ability to learn the language and adapt to the Tico culture; opportunities came in the form of life long relationships, education, and ultimately a career path. I felt a strong connection to the land and its people. Even after I left, this connection intensified.

    Returning to the United States the first time, I was blindsided by reverse culture shock. While I was away, cell phone use had evolved, the Clinton controversy had subsided, and Christina Aguilera had just released her first hit. I remember a sense of confusion as I tried to reconcile my life in my hometown in Tennessee with what I had just witnessed and experienced in Costa Rica. Coming home, I remember thinking it was almost like my Costa Rican experience was nothing but a dream. For months I continued to trip over my words in an attempt to articulate what I saw, felt, and loved for the first time. All of these new experiences were now stratified in my new language and culture. I remember the frustration of trying to transfer all of this to my native modes of communication. As many who are bicultural and bilingual might agree, not all experiences, feelings and words lend themselves easily to another culture or language.

    Furthermore, I also realized that it wasn’t until I left my country that I developed a clear sense of patriotism for my homeland. Leaving the United States for the first time helped me to better appreciate and understand my own ethnic roots and culture. Thus, two things became clear to me: I wanted to continue to pursue Spanish and to educate others locally on global issues.

    Fortunately, I continue to do both of these things. I went on to graduate high school, obtain a Bachelors of Science in Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies from Middle Tennessee State University, a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from Middle Tennessee State University and most recently an Educational Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Culture, Cognition and the Learning Process, also from Middle Tennessee State University. Currently, I am pursuing doctoral studies at Tennessee State University in Curriculum and Instruction. Since 2008 I have had the opportunity to teach full-time as a Spanish Instructor for Middle Tennessee State University. I have also had the opportunity to educate students at Lipscomb University and Nashville State Community College during the summer semesters.

    My passion for the Spanish language coupled with my compassion and understanding of people from around the world has helped me to become a better instructor and a better person. Knowing what it is like to be different has helped me to better relate to my students and to immigrants in my community. Despite my birth defect, I stand up in front of my students daily in an effort to teach and inspire them that they too can overcome life’s obstacles. At the end of the day, when the facts are forgotten, I want my students to walk away from my class with a better understanding of who the Spanish speaking individual is, what he or she looks like, and the experiences he or she has had. While teaching the Spanish language is my primary objective in my profession, I am determined for my students to gain the cultural knowledge needed to insure they are better prepared for a diverse 21st century

    Personally, my Costa Rican husband and I are committed to raising our daughter in a home environment that celebrates both of our native cultures and languages. We refuse to forfeit one culture or language for the other. While we have decided to make Tennessee our home, we make frequent visits to Costa Rica in an effort to strengthen family and cultural ties. Costa Rica always welcomes us back and offers us to the opportunity to refresh and recharge so that we may return to Tennessee and continue to pursue our passions.

    Beyond my love for teaching the Spanish language, I am committed to achieving social and educational equality for Tennesseans of minority and immigrant backgrounds and improving the quality of life for all people in our community. Most recently, I have served on the Equity Task Force Committee with Franklin Special School District, volunteered with the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Guatemala as a translator/interpreter through the Shalom Foundation, volunteered with the FUTURO organization of Middle Tennessee State University, and helped to lead and moderate an equality forum at Middle Tennessee State University known as, “We are Created E.Q.U.A.L.” 

    In the end, I believe we all must use our talents and circumstances to better our communities and the lives of those around us. Therefore, I am determined to continue my efforts to better my own education, improve my community, and help educate those around me.

    Rebecca Zanolini lives in Nashville and is a contributor to HispanicNashville.com

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Ricardo Sanchez's self-taught guitar-making process, behind the scenes

    Ricardo Sanchez, with an in-progress, three-toned guitar body. Photo by HispanicNashville.com
    Ricardo Sanchez of Nashville taught himself how to make guitars. Let me repeat: he makes guitars. Self-taught. Wow.

    Ricardo is a friend of ours, so we placed an order with Ricardo Sanchez Guitars. It's an electric guitar with a custom Tennessee/Chile design (scroll down for photos). When we went to pick up the brand-new instrument, I asked him a few questions about the whole process.  This is what he told me.  

    Nearly half of the vinyl covers on Sanchez's wall at home are by the classic Christian rock band Petra. Sanchez and I are both fanboys of Petra, actually; the first music I ever owned was their "Not of This World" cassette tape from the Logos bookstore in Green Hills. (Did I mention that some of the original members are touring under the name "Classic Petra" and are playing the Hard Rock Cafe this May?) Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    What sparked Sanchez's love affair with custom-made guitars was finding out that former Petra lead singer Bob Hartman has a side business in Nashville making guitars. Sanchez bought his first Bob Hartman Guitar from the man himself about five years ago; they met in the parking lot of an Outback Steakhouse in Franklin to seal the deal. Sanchez hung the above Hartman creation on his wall after having it signed by many of the classic Petra band members at a reunion gig in Nashville.  Photo by HispanicNashville.com


    Three years ago, Sanchez started making his own guitars with kits ordered off of eBay. Six months ago, he started making the bodies, so all he buys now are the electronics and the necks. Everything else, he makes himself. Each body starts as four pieces of wood glued together. The wood comes from everyday local sources. Photo by HispanicNashville.com
    The Ryobi machine cuts the shape of the wood. Sanchez's uncle picked up this machine for his guitar-making nephew. Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    They bought a sander (on the left) to smooth the edges. Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    Glued, cut, and sanded.  Next comes either staining, or priming and paint. Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    Car paint is more resistant, so that's what Sanchez uses. For smaller quantities, spray cans are called for. Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    This is the guitar my family will own. Only the red and white coats of paint have been applied. Photo by Ricardo Sanchez.

    Our guitar after the blue paint has been added. The neck is the only part of the guitar that Sanchez still buys partially preassembled. The design is something my wife came up with - a combination of the flags of Chile and Tennessee. Photo by Ricardo Sanchez.


    The luthier himself, testing out the final product next to an array of effects pedals. Photo by HispanicNashville.com


    We asked him to sign it; we have an original! Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    In the hands of its proud owner. Photo by HispanicNashville.com

    Ricardo Sanchez Guitars can be found on Facebook here.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Nashville Symphony Presents The Spanish Harlem Orchestra








    By Cindy McCain
    The Big SHO at the Schermerhorn is March 18 when Nashville Symphony presents The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, performing for the first time in Music City.  Since the band’s first release a decade ago, all four albums were nominated and two won Grammys, including  “Viva La TradiciĆ³n” named Best Tropical Latin Album in 2011.

    The Spanish Harlem Orchestra emerged from the New-York-City-Community-of-a-Camelot where King Tito Puente and Queen Celia Cruz ruled Latin music.  Many crown Oscar Hernandez, a Bronx boy who played with them both, as today’s Prince.  As a musician, composer, producer, and leader he has worked with greats such as Tito Rodriguez, Jr., Willie Colon, Eddie Torres, Ruben Blades, Julio Iglesias and Paul Simon. 

    Likewise, the other twelve members of SHO have distinguished themselves in other groups and ventures.   Many have won Grammys and Doug Beavers, trombonist, founded the Harlem School of Urban Music and Recording Arts.  Most were born in the Bronx of Puerto Rican descent; others moved to New York over twenty years from California or Michigan, Ecuador, Venezuela or Costa Rica.  Together they have conquered the world.

    I asked Hernandez to name his favorite or most surprising cities where SHO has played on world tours.  He recalled:  “The most surprising was St. Petersburg, Russia.  We felt the audience’s energy. They were knowledgeable fans.”  Hernandez says he “likes to dance but doesn’t love to dance,” but in a big club in Russia, he enjoyed dancing salsa.  “I was surrounded by people who get it.”  Of other gigs and the upcoming stop in Nashville, he said:

     “Everywhere we have had great experiences.  Israel, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia. France, Spain, Italy.   The Czech Republic was really great.  Prague and Munich.  We played for 100,000 in Montreal.  We’ve been blessed for sure.  We’re excited about Nashville because of its incredible music history.”

    The Schermerhorn is making space for cha cha cha and salsa dura dancers.  Local Latin dance companies such as Music City Salsa, Music City Rueda, and Sentir el Ritmo will be on the floor inviting all to join.

    You can buy tickets here. Hernandez enthusiastically beckons, “Be there! SHO is a great musical ensemble.   Don’t miss it!”
    Full interview with Oscar Hernandez is here.




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