June 6th, 2013
08:56 AM ET

Adios Charlie Sheen, hello Carlos Estevez

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Are the days of Latinos in entertainment changing their given names to appeal to a broader audience long gone?

That's what it looks like now that former "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen has dropped his stage name for birth name Carlos Estevez for Robert Rodriguez's Latino-centric new action film "Machete Kills."

The film is second in a series after the 2010 film "Machete" starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez. In "Machete Kills," Trejo returns as ex-Federal agent Machete, recruited by the president of the United States, played by Charlie Sheen, asked to go on a mission to take down a madman revolutionary and eccentric billionaire arms dealer, played by Mel Gibson, who has come up with a plan to spread war across the world.

This second installment will star Sofía Vergara, Demián Bichir, Antonio Banderas, Zoe Saldaña, Edward James Olmos, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alexa Vega, and Lady Gaga.

According to Sheen's representative, it was his idea to use his birth name for the film. However, there's no confirmation on what spurred the decision or whether Sheen will stick to Estevez from now on.
Some call the change ironic in light of comments last year by Sheen about his heritage. "I don't wake up feeling Latino. I'm a white guy in America, I was born in New York and grew up in Malibu," he said in a 2012 interview with Univision.

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Filed under: Ethnicity • History • Latino in America • Pop culture • Who we are
Day of the Dead trademark request draws backlash for Disney
Traditional sugar calaveritas, or little skulls, are displayed in Mexico City on October 31 ahead of the Day of the Dead.
May 11th, 2013
09:10 AM ET

Day of the Dead trademark request draws backlash for Disney

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

Read this article in Spanish on CNNMexico.com.

(CNN) - Is it possible to trademark the name of a holiday? The Walt Disney Company was interested in doing so.

On May 1, the entertainment giant filed an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure the phrase "Día de los Muertos," or "Day of the Dead," across multiple platforms. Disney subsidiary Pixar is releasing a film - for time being called "The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dia de los Muertos" - this fall.

Here's the problem - Día de los Muertos is a traditional holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2 in Mexico and across Latin America. People honor the lives of lost family members or friends by building altars, holding processions, decorating gravesites and placing offerings for loved ones. Over the years, the holiday has gained a foothold in the United States, too.

Disney hoped to secure the rights to the title "Day of the Dead" and such themed merchandise as fruit preserves, fruit-based snacks, toys, games, clothing, footwear, backpacks, clocks and jewelry.

But the Latino community raised a ruckus about the application on social media.

'Ask A Mexican' columnist: Cinco de Mayo is "pointless"
May 5th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

'Ask A Mexican' columnist: Cinco de Mayo is "pointless"

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Gustavo Arellano is not politically correct in his "Ask a Mexican" column.  He calls Cinco de Mayo "Gringo de Mayo" and regularly plays on stereotypes Americans have of Mexicans.

But he answers readers' questions with enough gusto and satiric flare that many might forget they are being educated on Mexican customs, immigration and labor issues.  What began as a spoof in 2004, is now one of OC Weekly’s most popular columns, appearing in 39 cities across the U.S., with a weekly circulation of over 2 million.

In addition, Arellano is now regarded as “perhaps the greatest (and only) living scholar of Mexican-American fast-food." He shares that knowledge in his new book, "Taco USA:How Mexican Food Conquered America." It tells the story of how Mexican food transformed the way Americans eat as it has entered popular culture, unlike any other "ethnic" food.

Gustavo Arellano spoke to CNN about Mexican food in the United States, what Mexican dish he hopes Americans co-opt next, and why he thinks celebrating Cinco de Mayo is silly.  FULL POST

Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez is a first for Dominican-Americans
Thomas Perez has been nominated to be the secretary of the Labor Department. His roots are Dominican.
March 18th, 2013
07:17 PM ET

Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez is a first for Dominican-Americans

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated Thomas E. Perez, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department of Dominican origin,  to be the next secretary of the Labor Department.  He will replace Hilda Solis, the nation's first Latina Cabinet member, who resigned in January.

Supporters say it is a step in the right direction for the Latino community, and they hope it sets a precedent.

“This move is significant because there has been at least one [Latino or Latina] in the president’s Cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s years,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “What’s even more significant is that it's not somebody who is Mexican-American, Puerto Rican or Cuban-American as in previous years.”

In 2010, there were an estimated 1.5 million Hispanics of Dominican origin residing in the United States, comprising 3.0% of the U.S. Hispanic population.

Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with French-speaking Haiti. He was the first lawyer in his family. Speaking in English and Spanish, Perez spoke about his upbringing at Monday's announcement.


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Filed under: Latino in America • Politics • Who we are
February 6th, 2013
08:25 AM ET

Intern's memoir recalls Giffords shooting

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Daniel Hernandez Jr. isn't your typical 23-year-old.

On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, Arizona, featuring U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Since he had some medical training, Hernandez ran toward the gunfire to tend to victims, realized Giffords was shot on the left side of her head and used his bare hands to keep her from losing more blood. Six people died and 13 people were injured, including Giffords, who is still recuperating.

That was Hernandez's first week interning for Giffords. He was only 20.

He's been credited with saving Giffords' life and recognized as a hero, although he rejects the title.

Since the tragedy, Hernandez's life hasn't been the same: It's involved interviews, meeting the president and first lady, and national fame. After graduating from the University of Arizona, he was elected to serve on a school board in Tucson but also travels the country as an inspirational speaker.

Now, in a heartfelt memoir, "They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth," the Tucson native speaks in detail of the shooting, the experiences that have helped shaped him and why he doesn't want to be called a hero.

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Filed under: Age • Latino in America • Who we are
New immigration rule helps undocumented families
A new immigration rule makes it easier for undocumented workers to return to the U.S. to wait for visas.
January 14th, 2013
01:05 PM ET

New immigration rule helps undocumented families

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Vera has found a good man.

He loves her and her 16-year-old daughter. His work provides their income and allows her to attend nursing school. They married two years ago and their future was set. Except for one thing. Lucio came to the United States illegally and has been living as an undocumented immigrant. At any time he could be deported to his native Peru.

Although undocumented, Lucio was able to find work as a contracting muralist in Houston, where Vera - a U.S. citizen - was born and raised. He learned to speak English in less than three years for work and the need to communicate with the "love of his life" as he put it.

"I love this country and have made it my home. I want to be able to contribute to this country and give back in any way I can," said Lucio. He said he got his Tax ID number as soon as he started working because he wanted to get started on the right path and pay his taxes.

Vera also depends on Lucio for emotional support as she suffers from PTSD. She is a victim of sexual molestation and suffered mental and physical abuse while growing up.

They'd always planned for Lucio to apply for citizenship, but were afraid of going into the system that would require him to return to Peru for up to 10 years.

"I used to have nightmares about Lucio and I separating. I used to worry so much about it," said Vera, "I wouldn't know what to do without him. If he left I wouldn't know how to run his business."

Now Vera and Lucio, whose last names we've agreed to withhold to protect their identity, are entering that system, hopeful that they won't be separated.

Come March, many mixed-status families will breathe a sigh of relief knowing they won't have to remain separate for a long period of time while they apply to become legal residents in the U.S., according to a new rule made by the Department of Homeland Security announced last week.

Read the full story

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After offensive photo, Penn State students plan silent march
December 13th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

After offensive photo, Penn State students plan silent march

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - Just two weeks after Chi Omega’s controversial party photo surfaced on Facebook, students at Penn State are planning a silent march today, hoping to increase Latino recruitment and retention.

The sorority members celebrated Halloween with a Mexican-themed party wearing sombreros and ponchos and pasted fake mustaches on their faces. They held signs that said: "Will mow lawn for weed + beer." Another sign said: "I don't cut grass. I smoke it."

The university president, the president of the board of trustees and other officials expressed deep disappointment and Chi Omega put its Penn State chapter on probation.

Members of the Latino community were outraged  by the photo with comments like this one from Liz Martinez on Twitter: “So many frats and sororities think it's ok to perpetuate stereotypes. It isn't.”

March organizer Manuel Figueroa said the march is not being organized in response to the Chi Omega photo. The march will be led by the Penn State University For All Student Equality, a student organization whose goal it is denounce all forms of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia and seeks to draw attention to social inequality.

“The incident definitely served as a catalyst for all this but it’s not the reason we are doing it,” said Figueroa. “There are grievances to a larger issue that we believe the university should take up.”

The Mexican American Student Association (MASA) will not be participating in the march and instead plans to work with Penn State President Rodney Erickson and university officials to bring awareness and change to the campus environment.

The organization would rather "not make this issue a larger one,” said Roberto Hernandez, president of the Mexican student group. “We are hoping to expand the Latino Studies program into a department. We are working with faculty on that.”

In a statement, MASA said:  “We ...  urge the university to reassert its commitment to ethnic and racial diversity. We hope that the university exercises its stated commitment to diversity. We look forward to working with the campus community in reaching these goals."

Students who are marching plan to peacefully walk through the campus in a silent, single-line manner.

Hispanic students make up 5% of the 45,351 undergraduate and graduate population on campus, according to the fall 2012 enrollment data.

Figueroa said they expect at least 50 students to participate.

Erickson commended the student movement to combat the issue, reported the The Daily Collegian.

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Filed under: Community • Diversity • Ethnicity • How we look • Immigration • Latino in America
December 11th, 2012
08:05 AM ET

Jenni Rivera is mourned, but still inspires

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN
(CNN) - Jenni Rivera is being mourned as the Diva of Banda, after the musical superstar died Sunday in a plane crash in Mexico.

She built a recording and performing career, several businesses and a devoted following - and her life was as full of the ups and the downs as any of the characters she sang about.

She was born 43 years ago in Long Beach, California, to Mexican parents Rosa and Pedro Rivera who named her Jenny Dolores Rivera Saavedra.

In an interview with CNN en Español in 2010, Rivera spoke about how she once sold cans for scrap metal and hawked music records at her family's stand at a Los Angeles flea market.

When she was just 15 and a high school student she became a mother herself, giving birth to her first child, Janney "Chiquis" Marin Rivera in 1985. She then had two more children - Jacqueline Marín Rivera and Michael Marín Rivera - with her then-husband, José Trinidad Marín.

Rivera spoke about how Marín physically abused her because while she wanted to attend college, he wanted her to quit school and be at home "cooking and cleaning." She said she grew up with four brothers so she knew how to fight back.

They divorced in 1992 when Rivera found out Marín molested their daughter, Janney, and Rivera's younger sister, Rosie. Marín was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Divorced and on welfare with three children, Rivera worked in real estate and took a second job at her father's record label, Cintas Acuario, which led to her passion and career in Regional/Banda/Norteño music.

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el Dia de Las Gracias – Thanksgiving with a Latin twist
November 22nd, 2012
08:24 PM ET

el Dia de Las Gracias – Thanksgiving with a Latin twist

Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America. Catch up on past coverage.

In Spanish, it’s known as “Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias” or el “Dia de Las Gracias.” Although it’s not a holiday celebrated in Latin America, Thanksgiving has resonated with Hispanics in the United States because of two vital components in Latino culture: family and food.

Latino households across the country will serve Hispanic dishes alongside Thanksgiving classics like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, blending their own culture into the “traditional” American holiday.

“Last year, I spent it at my sister’s house and we had ham, pasteles, yam, stuffing and Mexican rice alongside the turkey,” says Baltimore, Maryland resident Elianne Ramos. She works as the Vice-Chair of Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media.

In a first, more Florida Cuban-Americans vote Democrat
Cuban-American talk show host Cristina Saralegui endorsed President Obama this year.
November 14th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

In a first, more Florida Cuban-Americans vote Democrat

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - For the first time, CNN exit polls show, Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for a Democratic candidate over a Republican, 49% to 47%.

Cuban-Americans in Florida have reliably voted Republican and have been a factor in some presidential outcomes in the coveted swing state.

In 2008, more Cuban-Americans voted for John McCain over Barack Obama, 53% to 47%. In 2004, the preference was for George W. Bush, 79%-21% over John Kerry.

In 2012, many voters like retiree Antonio Villasuso believed that the president deserved a second chance.

“When Obama arrived, the country was destroyed, and now there is at least something," he said. "I don’t believe he can fix everything, but I don’t think (Mitt) Romney could have fixed any of our problems.”

Obama carried Florida’s Hispanic vote 60% to 39%, this year, an increase from 57% to 42% in 2008. Nationally, the president won 71% of the Latino vote, with key wins in swing states like Florida. FULL POST

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