Mi Gente! Welcome to Episode 8 of Trailblazers: Meet The Creatives.
Today we feature Community Organizer, Storyteller, and founder of YesSoyLatina organization Lucy Orejuela.
I met Lucy about two years ago at a vision board workshop hosted by Proud to Be Latina, and we connected immediately. Since then, Lucy and I have supported each other’s dream and projects.
This past November she along with her son who you met on Episode 7 attended my workshop and has been working tirelessly in her book and community projects. Lucy loves her community and alongside her husband, Pedro Antonio Miranda are constantly finding ways to support it in any way they can.
I am excited for her and her organization and I invite you all to connect with her and support her work.
Tell us about yourself, who are you and what do you do.
My name is Lucy Orejuela, I am a storyteller, aspiring writer, community motivational speaker, and public servant.
What’s your background?
I was born in Cali, Colombia and came to New York City at the early age of 7. My love for reading and writing was defined at the early age of two when I only asked for books for Christmas. I enjoyed writing my own stories and delivering them to my family and friends throughout the years. I graduated College with a Bachelor’s in English Literature in the hopes of becoming a Children’s book writer, but due to personal circumstances, I took a detour. My heart was always in helping and inspiring others, so I took a job with the Government as a public servant. Today, I enjoy helping our community and at the same time inspire my staff in being the best that they can be. Although I love my career, two years ago I took a leap of faith by jumping onto an open mic night at the Poets Passage in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Unprepared, I wrote a poem on a napkin and delivered. I felt so alive, I knew I had to get back to the arts. By June 2017 I was attending inspirational conferences, such as Proud to Be Latina, founded by Yesi Morillo-Gual; that same June I was honored to walk in the Puerto Rican Parade as a Special Guest for the town of Salinas; During July I was part of the SavvyGems book launch feedback for Kenia Nunez, motivational speaker, writer, and coach; The remainder of that summer I became a regular at open mic nights at Flushing Town Hall, held by Bobby Gonzalez, storyteller, motivational speaker, and writer; From September 2017 to April 2018 I volunteered with several organizations and different type of artists in fundraisers for those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Participated in the Fish Parade held annually in the Bronx and walk for Los Pueblos of Puerto Rico. In November, inspired by so many I decided to begin my own women’s group and named it YesSoyLatina. That same November I was given the opportunity to deliver my vision of YesSoyLatina to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Loft Charla at the Google Offices in NYC. In May 2018 I held my first intimate group workshop for 11 women and young ladies. In June of 2018, I participated and assisted for the Salinas Float in the Puerto Rican parade. Afterward, I was a speaker and presenter of awards. In August 2018 I delivered a story for the Bushwick Love Letter event, held by Bridget Bartolini creator of Five Boro Story Project. I continue to attend forums and conferences that provide important information for the Latino Community.
Define your artistry…
Thru writing and motivational speaking, I am able to reach others and inspire. It also allows me to deliver the information that I want our communities to have.
What inspires you?
The little things inspire me. Acts of kindness. Those that hold the door for others. Those that have the courage to speak up. Sharing a conversation with a homeless person. When perfect strangers say good morning or good night. Life.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
The most memorable response I have had to my work is that of a teenage girl who had real-life struggles beyond her control, including the loss of her family. She was aggressive and in a shell. We bonded immediately when we met and spoke about her dreams and fears. Weeks later she had the courage to open up and embrace herself. Since she has been taken in by a foster family and is doing wonderfully. We still talk and she keeps her dreams alive. I encourage her as much as I can. She dreams of becoming a counselor and inspiring others like herself.
Who are your biggest influences?
My third-grade bilingual teacher, Miss Clara Caballero who encouraged me to be tough, the importance of perfection, to never give up and a secret collection of thousands of books she kept in a warehouse. I thought it was weird to love books as much as I did, but when she showed me her books, I felt a common interest. She was my personal librarian. She loaned me books and recommended many good ones. I was embarrassed to speak English because of my heavy accent. But thru her unconventional ways, she would scream to the top of her lungs: “Just speak, chica! You cannot be embarrassed. Just let the words flow. Be proud of who you are”. She gave me my first job at the warehouse. We kept in touch from time to time but eventually lost contact. Miss Caballero passed away a few years ago, but her words of encouragement are forever embedded in me. She is one of the reasons I speak up and founded YesSoyLatina. I want to give a voice to those without one.
Should art be funded? Why? What art means to me
Absolutely. Through art, we see the true inner beauty of others at its best. Art makes you cry, smile, think, relate and inspire. There are so many aspiring artists out there that give up on their dreams and talent simply because they cannot afford it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
During the darkest time in my life, a friend pulled me aside and said: “When you are faced with a problem…..Instead of wasting your time crying or worrying about it….spend that time fixing the problem”. That advice changed my life forever. Now I take everything in as an experience.
What is your dream project?
My dream project is to Incorporate YesSoyLatina and share the knowledge free of charge to those that seek simple guidance in the United States. Such things as buying a house without putting a down payment, scholarships available, where to go for free English classes, who to contact for any type of assistance, etc. My dream is to watch the Latino community rise by combining forces and always answering “Yes Soy Latino/a” when asked where they are from, instead of defining specifically the country or island. Our culture is beautiful and that is what makes us so unique. My vision is to see that unification one day in our Latino community.
What’s next for Lucy and YesSoyLatina?
I will be speaking and delivering the message of YesSoyLatina at a School District’s Health Fair this May 2019. I also look forward to finishing my first book by the end of 2019. My hope is that through the book, young generations of Latinos see the importance of their Culture, ancestry, and family. At the same time for the elder generation to understand the young generation and their struggles. My aim is for the book to be a source of encouragement for those whose first language is not English. I want Latinos to know “Que, si se puede” (That Anything is possible).
Lucy Orejuela is a Colombian storyteller, aspiring writer, motivational speaker, public servant and the founder of YesSoyLatina, a grassroots organization whose mission is to strengthen the Latino identity by empowering the Latino individuals and their communities: Please say “Yes, Soy Latina/o”, the next time someone asks where you are from. First, we have to accept our Latino identity before we get into where we are from.
Lucy resides in Queens, New York with her husband Pedro Antonio Miranda founder of Salinas Unidos and together they support many community initiatives in the city and Puerto Rico.