OP-ED: Thank you for your service

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On Veterans Day, November 11, 1988, President Ronald Reagan said, “We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”
 
As America recognizes Veterans Day this Nov. 11, I hope we can all understand what this day really means. Current estimates have the total population of United States military veterans at 18.5 million with female veterans accounting for 1.6 million of this honorable group and veterans over the age of 65 at 9.2 million. It’s an obvious statement to say these individuals may be your mother, father, brother, sister and/or grandparent, or, at the very least, that of someone you know.

But as a group, our veterans are often overlooked, not just for their service but for the challenges facing them upon their return as civilians.
 
As citizens, we reap the benefits of our veterans' bravery and dedication to preserve our democracy and protect our constitution. When we see enlisted members enjoying leave in our communities, some of us are inclined to shake their hand, buy them a meal or simply say thank you. But what happens when our veterans take off the uniform? Unfortunately, they become invisible to many of us. And this is a problem.
 
The veteran homeless population in Los Angeles alone is estimated between 5,000 and 8,000 souls. These are hard numbers to grasp. Our veterans deserve absolute respect for carrying on a tradition of service and valor that keeps our nation safe and strong.

I recently saw a movie called "Thank You for Your Service." This film tells the very important story of veterans' lives once they return home. Their struggle is one that can only be truly understood by the brave men and women who have seen the horrific events of war and battle. It is a reminder to us all that the way we treat our Veterans should not be something we recognize one day a year, it’s about how they are treated every single day.
 
This Veterans Day, I encourage all of us to do a simple task of helping one soldier or veteran. It can be by writing to an active member of our service (a future veteran), help sponsor a companion dog to support a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), donate accumulated frequent flier miles, or offer to take a veteran to a doctor’s appointment.

You can also make a difference by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838) to help veterans on the streets or on the verge of becoming homeless. Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get information from the local VA.
 
You can also donate to the Wounded Warriors Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) and the Living Tree Foundation.
 
Lastly, on the top of a hill in Arlington Cemetery stands a tombstone that simply reads: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” We must not let those veterans around us become forgotten and do our part to honor them and their families. Thank you for your service to our country.
 
Mario A. Guerra is a former mayor of Downey and current Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. He is also the author of "Embracing Change; An Immigrant Saga" and can be reached at www.marioaguerra.com

Rio Hondo's Pathway to Law program recognized with state award

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WHITTIER -- Rio Hondo College has received the third annual Diversity Champion Award from California LAW for excellence in building its Pathway to Law School program, which guides students in pursuing dreams of becoming lawyers and judges.

The award, announced this week, will be awarded Feb. 24, 2018 at the annual Pathway to Law Summit at the University of San Francisco.

California LAW – the acronym stands for leadership, access and workforce – serves as statewide coordinator and chief navigator of the Pathway to Law School program launched in 2015 to aid underrepresented, first-generation students interested in pursuing legal careers. The program includes 28 community colleges and six California law schools.

“Thank you so much for your commitment to the Pathway to Law School program through innovative and creative ways of keeping Rio Hondo Pathway students engaged and inspired to achieve success in the law,” California LAW Executive Director Leslie J. Cunningham wrote in her announcement.

“Your accomplishment of graduating 24 certified law pathway scholars in spring 2017 made the Rio Hondo Pathway program a true frontrunner for the Diversity Award,” Cunningham wrote.

The nonprofit group is committed to creating a pipeline of diverse students from high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions and law schools into law and law-related fields so the profession reflects the state’s diversity.

“This award is truly an honor,” Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss said. “We are committed to helping create a pathway to legal careers for our students, and this award recognizes the excellent strides being made in that effort.”

Rio Hondo College’s Pathway to Law School program includes seven classes, activities and internships to expand students’ understanding of the skills and education they will need for law school. This year, Rio Hondo College added mentorships with local advocates to its list of activities, which includes a mock trial team and the Pre-Law Society.

“This program really helps students by exposing them to different activities and experiences other campuses can’t provide,” said Ryan Serrano, a second-year Pathway participant. “I'm glad Pathway is receiving recognition for preparing tomorrow's attorneys and politicians.”

Serrano, who is captain of the mock trial team and president of the Pre-Law Society, said his goal is to enter the political arena – inspired by his work canvassing for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Serrano said.

For now, he’s preparing for a mock trial competition in February and revitalizing the Pre-Law Society with a program of speakers that include local lawyers and state political leaders.

City seeks public input on south Rancho campus development

Photo by Pam Lane, DowneyDailyPhotos.com

Photo by Pam Lane, DowneyDailyPhotos.com

DOWNEY – A community workshop will be held Nov. 16 to gather public input on a development plan for the Rancho Los Amigos south campus.

Downey is in the planning stages of campus development plan using funding from Metro. 
The plan will guide future use and development of the south campus using long-term policies developed with residents’ input. 

The meeting will be held at the Barbara J. Riley Center starting at 6:30 p.m. 

Dr. John Garcia awarded mayor's Healthy Heart Award

Dr. John Garcia, left, and mayor Fernando Vasquez.

Dr. John Garcia, left, and mayor Fernando Vasquez.

“As the “CEO” of the Downey Unified School District, Dr. John Garcia sets the tone, charts the course and works closely with the board of education to continue to keep our school district on its level of excellency that administrators, teachers, parents, students and the community have come to expect.  

While being mindful of all the demands his position entails, Dr. Garcia is ultimately guided by his clear vision for the district.  He can often he be heard saying, “Our children deserve the best.” 
 
Under his leadership, Downey Unified School District has been visited by numerous teachers from outside communities to see how they can instill DUSD’s practices into their programs. DUSD has been featured on PBS for their “Character Counts” program, and just last week Google visited Lewis Elementary to show our students their new Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program. When Google comes to visit your schools, you know your Superintendent is doing an amazing job!

Dr. John Garcia grew up in Downey and is a product of our local schools. He has a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Long Beach; elementary teaching credential with a bilingual teaching authorization in Spanish from Cal State Dominguez Hills; a master’s in education from Cal State Fullerton and an Executive Masters of Business Administration and his Doctor of Philosophy from the Claremont Graduate University.
 
It truly is my honor to present Dr. John Garcia, Jr. with the Mayor’s Healthy Heart Award for his commitment toward improving the health, well-being and future success for the students of the City of Downey.

18-year-old Downey woman reportedly killed in DUI crash

DOWNEY - An 18-year-old Downey woman was reportedly killed in a traffic collision Sunday night in Downey. 

Karla Salazar

Karla Salazar

The crash occurred at approximately 9 p.m. when a BMW SUV traveling eastbound on Firestone Boulevard rear-ended another vehicle stopped at a traffic light. 

The driver of the SUV, 21-year-old Lise Moreno Arredondo, of Whittier, was arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, said Sgt. Jaime Pelayo of the Downey Police Department. 

Police said an 18-year-old woman in the vehicle that was rear-ended was transported to a hospital in critical condition.

Friends and family identified the woman as Karla Salazar and posted on social media that she died.

Salazar had graduated from Downey High School this past June. 

As of Wednesday morning, a Go Fund Me page in Salazar's honor had raised more than $7,300.
 

Downey's Lupita Infante to present at UCLA alumni scholarship event

DOWNEY -- Singer and television personality Lupita Infante will be presenting at the UCLA Latino Alumni Association’s annual scholarship fundraising event, The ULAA Fiesta de Inspiración!, taking place Thursday, Oct. 26, at the W Hotel in West Beverly Hills.

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Lupita, who is herself a UCLA alumna and Downey native, is the granddaughter of legendary “Golden Era” musician and movie star, Pedro Infante, and the daughter of Pedro Infante, Jr., himself famous as a singer and movie star.  Lupita is currently on production break from taping for a Mexican television show.  

Asked why she was attending ULAA’s fundraising event, Lupita explained: "Students need us to show them that we care. They also need financial support. This event will accomplish both of those goals."  

The event is scheduled for Thursday from 7-9 p.m. at the W Hotel.  For ticket or sponsorship information, contact Bonnie Chen at bchen@support.ucla.edu or (310) 825-6533.  
 
About Lupita:
A native of Los Angeles, Lupita Marisol Infante, also known as Lu, grew up in the suburbs of Downey, a city associated in musical history with celebrated and highly successful brother-sister musical team The Carpenters.

It was here where Lupita started her creative development with music classes. She learned to sing and accompany herself on guitar which earned her early recognition at the City of Downey’s Way Out of Broadway Talent Show at the age of 10.  

This excitement for the stage, along with the inspiration of her grandfather and father, led her to pursue singing and the study of music. Lupita graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 2017, with a B.A. in ethnomusicology. 
 
This year, Lupita performed in one of Southern California’s largest Latin Music festivals, The L Festival, with headliners that included Daddy Yankee, Juanes, Marco Antonio Solis, and Alejandro Fernandez. She has also opened concerts for Shaila Durcal and Beatriz Adriana. 

Lupita’s album self-titled, "Lupita Infante," is an artistic expression of her musical upbringing, paying tribute to her grandfather Pedro Infante, and her father Pedro Infante Torrentera, with songs like “Cien Años” and “Padre Mío Amigo Mío”, accompanied by Mexico’s traditional mariachi sounds.  
 
Lupita is currently in taping for the sixth season of Mexico's edition of "The Voice" with Colombian celebrity coach Carlos Vives.

Community clinic looks to empower victims of domestic violence

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LYNWOOD -- To promote community empowerment among victims of domestic violence and in honor of Violence Against Women Month, a panel of experts will address the mental health dynamics, legal elements and resources available for victims of domestic violence this Saturday, Oct. 28.

The event will take place in Lynwood's Plaza Mexico at the office of Centro Jalisco located at 3200 Mulford Avenue in Lynwood.  
 
Speakers include American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) National President Annaluisa Padilla and forensic psychologist Dr. Edgar Villamarin.
 
Topics will include the dynamics of domestic violence, cycle of violence, navigating the criminal justice system, VAWA, U-Visas, restraining/protective orders, marriage dissolution/spousal support and resource for victims of domestic violence.
 
The Victim Empowerment Clinic will focus on delivery of services, tangible support, and education to the community to “Break the Cycle” of violence against victims of domestic violence.

“Recently, batterers have taken to use the rising fears of deportation to inflict emotional pain and exert even more control over their victims," said Maria Torres, Ferias Legales representative. "The clinic will address immigration rights and visas to ensure that undocumented victims of domestic violence seek and receive the necessary protection for themselves and their families.”
 
The event is being organized by the Nonprofit Organization Ferias Legales and Centro Jalisco.

State files lawsuit against Curacao for deceptive business practices

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SOUTH GATE – State officials have filed a lawsuit against Latino retailer Curacao, alleging they defrauded consumers through false advertising and deceptive business practices. 

The lawsuit was announced Friday by the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs in conjunction with the Office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Curacao is a retail store chain that ranks among the 50 largest electronics and appliance retailers in the United States and has nine locations in Southern California. 

The company actively markets its products to members of the Latino community – specifically low-income, Spanish-speaking, and undocumented immigrants – who lack a credit history and have minimal experience with credit card and retail installment agreements, officials said. 
In the lawsuit, Becerra alleges that Curacao engages in numerous and pervasive unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.

Becerra alleges that Curacao takes advantage of consumers through:

■ Bait-and-switch advertising
■ Product bundling
■ Adding items and services to consumers’ contracts without their knowledge or consent
■ Failing to provide notice that translated contracts are available to consumers who negotiate in Spanish
■ Failing to tell consumers about return policies until after purchase
■ Failing to honor return policies
■ Failing to explain contract financing terms
■ Failing to tell consumers about important warranty terms
■ Failing to honor warranties
■ Harassing and threatening consumers who fall behind on their payments
■ Failing to properly serve consumer defendants in small claims cases

“Deceptive business practices take hard-earned dollars from the pockets of consumers and jeopardizes their economic security,” DCBA Director Brian J. Stiger said. “Our department is proud to work in collaboration with Attorney General Becerra and his office to help make sure the marketplace remains fair for consumers and businesses in Los Angeles County.”

Customers who believe they have been a victim of Curacao are encouraged to file a complaint with the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and call investigator Esther Martinez at (213) 974-9770.
 

Why Dia de los Muertos is a day of celebration

Yolanda Adele at last year's Dia de los Muertos event in Downey.

Yolanda Adele at last year's Dia de los Muertos event in Downey.

In my Mexican culture, we celebrate Dia De Los Muertos on Nov. 1. The heavens open up and the spirit of the littlest angels (children) are believed to come down to visit with their families for 24 hours. Adult spirits come to celebrate on Nov. 2. Preparations for their anticipated arrival starts on Oct. 31.

On these days family members tend to relatives' graves and picnic at the cemeteries. It is a time of reunion for families living and dead with songs, personal offerings, and prayers for all souls. They are invited to return for a while to the world of the living as honored guests. 

In an environment of community support, it can also be a time for healing the void left by the absence of a beloved who has died.     

In the Hispanic culture, children are not sheltered from the reality of death. In the Spanish language, there are no euphemisms such as "he passed away" or "he passed on" and such. Children attend funerals regardless of their age. Death is talked about openly.  

Youngsters are taught to mock death. On Day of the Dead, children break open the piñatas (a decorated pottery jar) made in the likeness of death (skulls, skeletons) to find sweet candy treats. In this way, they hold to the belief that death has its own reward and nothing for the faithful to fear.
    
In many homes alters are built and decorated with candles, marigolds, cut paper designs (like paper streamers) and photos of their loved ones. And of course, as with any celebration, special foods are prepared, especially breads and cookies in the likeness of calaveras. Candy skulls and bones are made of chocolate and white sugar. Each little skull bears the name of the deceased across its forehead to honor them.  

I was eight years old on one of my visits to my abuela’s house in El Paso, Texas across the border from Juaraz, Mexico. I remember the night when she and I walked in the noisy parade. The streets were filled with vendors selling brightly-decorated death masks, charm bracelets, pocket-size toy caskets, skeleton puppets dressed in everyday clothing. Many religious artifacts were sold as well. I held tightly to my abuela’s  hand. 

"This is scary, Abuelita. Can we go home now?" I pleaded.  

She explained to me, "No! Nina, no one is going to get out of this world alive. This day reminds us not to take things of this world too seriously for everything in it is temporary. The dead can not hurt you. It is the living that can harm.”

It wasn't until I became an adult and attended a museum of Latin art that I read the following and realized what she tried to have me understand on that day, so many years ago: "The Day of the Dead is a victory of sorts, not over death, but over the fear of death."  

Through the ages, every culture has found a way to deal with the inevitable. I saw a documentary on death. It showed an Irish wake where mourners were wailing, followed by music, laughter and drink. And in New Orleans party revelers took to the street behind a slow-moving hearse with a Dixieland band playing joyous music in procession.

My abuela was right, there is no escaping death. We might as well make peace with it in our own way. Though it may sound like an oxymoron,  the Day of the Dead is really a celebration of life.

Like other Christians, Latinos believe that death is a continuation of the cycle of life in a different realm. The Day of the Dead is a time of reflection, and inner peace as well as reunion. It is not "Trick or Treat."    

I look forward to attending Downey’s 5th Annual Dia de Los Muertos this Sunday. I urge my friends and neighbors to join me there for this special community event. 
 

St. John Bosco, St. Joseph students performing joint production of 'Into the Woods'

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BELLFLOWER -- Theater students from St. John Bosco and St. Joseph high schools will perform their fall musical, "Into the Woods," in November. 

Created by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, the story follows a baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King's Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. 

When the baker and his wife learn they cannot have a child due to a witch's curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone's wishes are granted but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them with disastrous results. 

Tickets to performances are $15 and can be purchased online at bosco.org or at the door. All performances are in the St. John Bosco theater.

Dates of performances:  
Friday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 pm
Thursday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 pm
Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 pm

Downey alumnus and Berkeley team look to the stars

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DOWNEY -- A Downey High alumnus and current sophomore at UC Berkeley is hoping to help put the first completely student developed rocket into space.

Paul Shin is currently leading the Space Enterprise at Berkeley Organization, which has taken it upon itself to tackle and complete an extraordinary task.

“The organization that I’m currently leading right now, it’s primarily about sending things into space,” said Shin. “We want to be a launch provider organization.”

To achieve that goal, Shin says that a vehicle is required. For shin and his team, that boils down to a rocket. That’s where Project KARMAN! And EUREKA-1 come into play.

“The literal definition of Project KARMAN! for us means to be the first university group to successfully fund, design, and build a rocket entirely developed by students that can be launched into space,” said Shin.

While other universities and groups have tried, Shin says there has yet to be a successful attempt to fund and build a rocket that could successfully pass the 100-kilometer mark called the Karman line, which is commonly seen as the boundary where “the sky ends and space begins.”

The rocket that Shin and his team hopes will pass that mark is the 16-inch in diameter, 30-foot in height liquid-fueled EUREKA-1, which would be able to take a payload mass of 5 kilograms.

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“We call it EUREKA-1 because we thought it would be kind of respectful to pay homage to the state that’s kind of supporting everything we’re doing,” said Shin. “We thought EUREKA was a fitting name because not only is it the motto for California, but it also is a word that is used to kind of indicate something new, like the start of something great.”

The team is currently on schedule to launch EUREKA-1 in nine months in July 2018 at SpacePort America, New Mexico.

Shin said that should Project KARMAN! and EUREKA-1 succeed, it “would show the new capabilities of what college students are able to do.”

“Simply proving to the world that college students are able to do such a feat and accomplish such a feat, it’s a eureka moment,” said Shin. “It’s an awakening… our big vision is to inspire the youth, the young in different continents, different backgrounds, to pursue their dreams, especially in the space industry…”