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Mimi Pollack

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Miriam [Mimi] Pollack was born in Chicago, but moved to Mexico City when she was five years old. She lived and worked in Mexico for over 20 years. She currently resides in San Diego and worked as an ESL instructor at Grossmont College and San Diego Community College Continuing Education until June 2018. She writes for various local publications.

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Inglés como Segunda Lengua

Aprende o mejora tu inglés... Fácil, rápido y divertido. Entérate como.

Nuestro programa tiene como objetivo ofrecer información para el aprendizaje de inglés como segunda lengua y otros servicios gratuitos o de bajo costo que ofrecen en San Diego.

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Artículos Publicados

“Into the Beautiful North” is almost there, but not quite yet

I really wanted to love “Into the Beautiful North”, a new play at the SD Repertory Theater, especially because of its pedigree. It is based on the book by Luis Alberto Urrea –it was the KPBS One Book San Diego for 2012 and one of Amazon’s Best Books 2015- and was adapted by noted playwright, Karen Zacarias. It is directed by Sam Woodhouse and has a stellar cast, including one of my favorite performers, Herbert Siguenza. However, as I was watching the play, I felt like it had great potential, but hadn’t quite gotten there yet.

The play starts out in a small coastal village in the northern state of Sinaloa, Mexico, that is being threatened by “narcotraficantes”. All the men of the village have left for the United States to find work and send money back home. The main character is 19 year old Nayeli who, after watching the movie, “The Magnificent Seven”, also decides to head north to the USA to find seven Mexican men to bring back home and help defend her village against the bad hombres. In addition, she wants to see her father again as he left the village many years ago and is now living in Illinois. She carries around a beloved old letter that he sent her, but in the end, he disappoints her.  There are two other men she is also looking for. One of them is her aunt’s old flame, who is supposed to live in Tijuana, but has since moved to San Diego, and a young man who came to visit her village as a Mormon missionary and has morphed into a weed smoking surfer dude, also in San Diego.

Nayeli is accompanied on her trip by her two loyal friends, the Goth Veronica, who fancies herself as a vampire and is called, “Vampi”, and Tacho, the flamboyantly gay owner of the town’s only internet café. Together, they face many adventures and hardships as they take the bus north to Tijuana, sneak into San Diego twice, and drive across the country to Illinois. On the way, they learn many lessons and meet both kind and cruel people in different scenarios, some of which seem right on the mark and grab you, while others are lacking. The same goes for the narration and music.

The cast gives it their all, but stumbles now and then. Nayeli is played by Kenia Ramirez who gets the sweet and innocent part down pat, but could be a little fiercer. The talented Jennifer Paredes is good as Vampi, who comes to realize that maybe she just wants to be Veronica. She also displays a musical talent playing the ukulele and singing. Bryant Hernandez is very engaging as Tacho. Both Catalina Maynard and Herbert Siguenza are old pros, playing different characters, including Nayeli’s aunt and a waitress, and a lecherous Mexican border patrol agent and a kind gay man who helps Tacho in Tijuana.

The standout for me was sexy Jorge Rodriguez who plays Captain Jack Sparrow [he comes to Nayeli in her dreams] and the hilarious, Atomiko, a character who accompanies Nayeli, Tacho, and Vampi on their journey.

This production will especially appeal to people who are bilingual and bicultural as it will be easier for them to get some of the inside jokes.

A work in progress, this play is on its way to being beautiful.

  • Into The Beautiful North” runs through April 23 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in Horton Plaza
  • Performances are Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. or 7 p.m., depending on the date.
  • Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
  • Tickets ($38-$65) are at 619-544-1000 or org



Helping children and animals together

Giving back to others is always good, but when you can give back to both animals and children, that is even better! Local humanitarian, Agnes Barrelet, is doing just that by heading up two non-profits, Hands United for Children and Children’s Nature Retreat.

The Children’s Nature Retreat in Alpine is a  haven for all kinds of animals, including two zebras, four Friesian horses, African cows, mules, donkeys, rabbits, mini horses, goats and pigs, ostriches, and desert tortoises, etc. There are over 95 domesticated livestock with 17 species and 38 breeds from around the world. They all live comfortably on this beautiful 20 acre property. There are several animal enclosures, including Barnyard Alley, Tortoise Landing, African Grasslands, and Mini and Big Farms. For example, in African Grasslands, you will see the two zebras with several ostriches.

One thing that struck me was how friendly most of the animals are which makes this place especially suitable for children. Barrelet opened this place in February 2017, with the goal of providing a place in the countryside where city- especially inner city- children can come and experience the beauty that nature has to offer as well as interact with the animals and learn all about them. She wants them to feel a connection that will last.CNR is working with local schools and organizations to help fund free field trips for schools and children that normally would not be able to pay for them.

This is where United Hands for Children comes in. This non-profit strives to help children in many ways. First, it helps to fund the field trips and bring joy into the lives of underprivileged children. Second, it opened the HUFC Dental Clinic on the campus of the O’Farrell Charter School in Southeast San Diego.  The clinic will serve the children, who attend this charter school, free of charge. Barrelet is on the school board.

Finally, there is the HUFC Preschool in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The preschool educates and feeds up to 120 children in remote villages. They also sponsor 39 middle and high school students. In January 2016, a nursery was added, so that many of the mothers would have a place to leave their babies while working in the fields and factories as Burkina Faso is where most of the world’s shea butter is produced.

So where does the money come to fund all of this? Donations are always welcome and once a year, they have a big fundraiser. This year the Hands United for Children 6th Annual Fundraiser Gala will be on Friday, May 19th at the Viejas Casino from 6:30 to 10:00 PM. More information is on the website:

Then, there is Agnes Barrelet herself. She is a formidable woman who is very sweet with a steel core. She is steadfast in her desire to bring happiness into the lives of others, especially children, and to help animals.  Born in Nimes, France, she came to the United States in 1993 to get a BS in Business Administration.  She and her ex-husband moved to La Jolla in 1995. She fell in love with La Jolla because it reminded her of the south of France. Together, they ran a very successful website [WEBSIDESTORY] that analyzed traffic on the internet. They divorced in 2011 and Barrelet sold her shares. She and her 14 year old daughter, Vanessa, now live on site, and many times nurse a sick or injured animal themselves at their home. They also live with three dogs, a cockatoo, various turtles and the biggest bearded dragoon I have ever seen.

During the interview, she told me it was the movie, I Bought a Zoo, with Matt Damon, that inspired her to open this animal sanctuary. Today, working together with several experienced ranch hands and animal handlers, this inspiration has become a reality.

For more information, the website is



Jewish Family Service and Dreams for Change: Making Mitzvahs Together

Here in “America’s Finest City”, the weather is nice year round while rentals are very high, and many families live paycheck to paycheck. This situation is also the reason why there are so many homeless people in San Diego and worse yet- homeless families.

However, two very mensch organizations have paired up to help: Dreams for Change and Jewish Family Service.  Next year will be the 100th anniversary of JFS, so this non-profit has been serving the community for a long time with its various programs that strive to help others by empowering individuals and families, sponsoring and supporting refugees, and fostering community connection and engagement. JFS’s mission is to build a stronger, healthier, and more resilient San Diego.

Dreams for Change began in May 2009 to support homeless and low-income people who were not being served by traditional homeless-service providers and government programs. They advocate an action plan that places emphasis on finding permanent housing, employment, training, and emergency support. They also started the Safe Parking Program for homeless people [which include the working homeless] who live out of their cars, so they would have a safe place to park at night.

In October 2016, Dreams for Change approached Jewish Family Service and asked if they could use their parking lot after hours, and an innovative and effective partnership was born.

This program operates from 6:00 PM to 6:30 AM seven days a week, 365 days a year. It is contained in the fenced parking lot of JFS between the buildings and provides 40 parking spaces for between 20 and 30 cars and around 40 people, including individuals and families. DFC carefully screens them before sending them to JFS.

The program is self-contained and operates almost completely outdoors, with the exception of case management sessions that DFC now conducts inside in rooms that JFS provides. Since October, this partnership has grown, including engaging staff and volunteers to host dinners on both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays along with a few other evening dinners.

In addition, JFS is now providing food from the JFS Corner Market. This market receives its food from JFS, Feeding San Diego, and recently Starbucks joined in after the employees there complained about wasting food. JFS has also brought in port potties, a sink, and given access to an indoor shower. The children all go to school and it is nice for them to be able to clean up and eat breakfast before they leave.

Finally, this  partnership, which also includes job coaching and employment services, has resulted in several individuals gaining employment, as well as financial assistance to help clients with clothing for job interviews, security deposits for homes along with other items related to self-sufficiency and becoming housed.

Both JFS and DFC will continue to work and grow together in their common goal of helping families and individuals as they move forward to greater self-sufficiency and finding stable housing, employment and a better life. In my opinion, it is good karma all the way around and a blueprint for others to follow!

If anyone is interested in hosting a dinner for Dreams for Change clients, they can contact Dana Toppel at [email protected]





Immigrants Enrich This Country

Imagine you have had a good life with a stable job and family. Then, imagine that your life turns upside down, be it from war, religious persecution, or social unrest, and you have to start from scratch in a new country with a different language, culture, even alphabet! Welcome to the world of many of my adult ESL [English as a Second Language] students. Despite all that they have gone and continue to go through, they are very grateful to be here

Some people fear the unknown and are suspicious of newcomers, so I’d like to give you a glimpse of my world. I have been both an adult and community college ESL teacher at SDCE Mid-City Center and Grossmont College for over 30 years. I have worked with people from all over the world and their resilience never ceases to amaze me. In one class, I can have students ranging in age from 18 to 65 and from different socioeconomic and academic backgrounds, but they all have a mutual goal. They want to learn English and forge a better life for themselves and their children. For the most part, it is not easy.

For example, many of the Middle Eastern students arrive with horrific stories to tell about losing family members, about bombs and kidnappings, and about living every day with fear and uncertainty.  They view this country as a haven, but then a harsh reality sets in. They have a sense of stability and freedom here, but they also have to learn a new language, find a place to live, find a job, enroll their children in school, learn how to drive, and navigate all the different paths that come with a new life. It can be daunting. I have had students who study during the day, work all night, and get by on two-three hours sleep!

Yet, they don’t give up. The good news is many of them thrive and go on to become productive citizens. We ESL teachers have had so many success stories! Back in the late 1980’s, I had a shy Vietnamese student in my evening class who became a primary care doctor at Kaiser. In fact, his office is next door to my doctor’s office! I had a student from Guatemala who is now a popular teacher at Morse High School. He also does community volunteer work. There was my Iranian student who went on to become an engineer and is currently working for the city of San Diego. Then, there was my Somali student who had never gone to school in her country. She learned how to read and write here. Today, she is getting ready to attend college as well as being a wife and mother.

Right now, there are my Iraqi students at Grossmont College. These students are Chaldean, Muslim, and Kurdish, and they do not take for granted how lucky they are to be here.  President Trump’s executive order surprises and saddens them, especially those who worked with the American military. They can’t understand why the men who worked with American soldiers and risked their lives are not allowed to come now with their families. Yet, they don’t lose hope. They see bright futures for their children and encourage them to study hard.

We have a young man who shines as a tutor in our ESL program at Grossmont College. His wise father encouraged him to take college classes. This young man came up the ranks in our program and decided he wants to give back. His love of learning is infectious.  He is a full time student, who in addition to tutoring also works 25 hours a week at a liquor store, sometimes dealing with crazy customers.

Finally, all of the Middle Eastern students have been thoroughly vetted before they get here, many waiting several years and going through many interviews before they are allowed in. We all have our prejudices, but I would hope that as a nation of immigrants [I am the Jewish granddaughter of immigrants], we could rise above those prejudices and the fear of the unknown and welcome these new immigrants who want to make a new life for themselves and enrich their adopted land.
Pollack is an ESL instructor and freelance writer.

Jewish couple raise alpacas in descanso

“David is a unicorn”, said Amy Alyeshmerni, referring to David Kabbai, her partner of six years in life, love, and business. ”Here is a man who owns a ranch, loves animals, and wants us to spend every other Friday with his mother and family for Shabbat dinner. How unusual is that? I am very lucky!”  Indeed, they share a bucolic life on their alpaca ranch.

David Kabbai is an unusual man. He is a Persian Jew who left Iran when he was a teen and came to live in La Jolla. Although extremely smart, he struggled with academia, but still managed to get into UCSD. Nevertheless, he felt happier working with his hands and problem solving, so he dropped out to open a successful business, DaMar Plastics with his family’s blessing.

However, he still wanted to do something more, get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, and work with animals. After doing some research and making numerous trips to Descanso, he sold his business and bought a 14 acre ranch in the countryside where he could raise alpacas and live a rancher’s life. Today, Kabbai and Alyeshmerni live on the ranch- Atlas Alpacas -with 65 alpacas, two dogs, two cats, one rooster, and various chickens. He is in his element working with the animals, fixing things, and he recently began remodeling their house.

Amy, a “city girl”, originally from St. Louis Park, a Jewish suburb of Minneapolis, fell in love with the country lifestyle and all that it offered. She doesn’t mind commuting to work in downtown San Diego. She is a leasing manager for Westfield Shopping Centers, and is focusing on the redevelopment of Horton Plaza. After a hard day’s work, she comes home to the peace and serenity of the ranch.

The ranch truly offers a break from city life. It is a lovely haven. When I first drove up, I was greeted by two sweet Anatolian Shepherds. Caleb, the 155 pound male, tried to climb in the car with me when I opened the door! Tika, the female, wanted me to pet her and followed me around. These two gentle giants are also loyal guard dogs whose duties include guarding the alpacas from predators. They usually work all night guarding the herd and relax during the day. These dogs originated from the Anatolia region of Turkey and are known for their intelligence and strength.

The stars of the place are the 65 cuddly and curious alpacas. Some of the alpacas belong to a good friend who is also in the alpaca business. Actually, alpacas are not usually cuddly, and they sometimes spit, but these alpacas are used to people and come right up to sniff you. Some even give you kisses. The ranch has them separated into three groups. They have the mamas and their babies in one pen, the females in another and they keep the males in another area that is quite separate. It is important to keep them separate as alpacas are instant ovulators.

They all have their unique personalities and Alyeshmerni went about introducing me to them. The babies, Harry and Adara were a bit shy, but the protective mamas, Princess and Fanunella greeted us. Alpacas are smaller and less aggressive than llamas. Their diet consists of special pellets and hay. They also have magnificent coats and their fleece is very soft.  I saw white, black, caramel and two toned alpacas

The alpacas at Atlas Alpacas serve several purposes. The males with good conformation, backs and legs are used as studs for breeding. Some of the animals are sold, but Kabbai inspects where they will go to. Finally, and most importantly, they sell their fleece and fiber with Amy spinning most of it herself.

In fact, Amy finds sitting at her spinning wheel and spinning the fiber into yarn to be an almost meditative experience. She feels it has brought her closer to the animals. She sometimes sends out the fiber to be processed which includes cleaning and carding. Some of the yarn is natural and some of it is dyed, and there are yarns of different weights, such as super chunky and super fine.

Several times a year, Kabbai and Alyeshmerni host an open ranch where the public can learn about alpacas, buy yarn and other alpaca related items, relax in the fresh country air, and take in the lovely views.

For more information, click here


Janet and George Gastil- The legacy continues

In her 80 years, Janet Gastil has worn many hats and is a true renaissance woman. She has been a wife and mother, teacher, musician, realtor, and politician to name the most important ones…
Janet Manly Gastil was born in 1936 in Long Island, but moved to San Diego in 1946 when she was ten years old. Like her mother, Gastil suffered from asthma, so going west improved their health. Both of her parents were attorneys and active in social causes which helped to shape their only child.

A student prodigy, Gastil received her BA in English from SDSU [back then known as San Diego State College] at 19. She was awarded a Woodrow Wilson fellowship to Duke University where she got her MA at 20. She returned to San Diego and continued her graduate studies at UCLA from 1957 to 1959. She worked as a TA there and reconnected with an old family friend, Gordon Gastil, a geology professor, eight years her senior. That connection grew romantic, and nine months later, despite their parents’ objections over the age difference, they got married. The marriage lasted 54 years and produced four children.

They moved back to San Diego in 1959 after their first child was born. Gordon began his renowned 35 year career in geology as a professor and mentor to many at SDSU. Janet began teaching English at San Diego Junior College -today it is City College-, but her stubborn, independent streak prevailed, and she quit after one year when she had a conflict with the administration over academic freedom.

She left teaching and focused on raising her children. The Gastils moved to La Mesa in 1963, and in 1966, they designed and built an adobe house in the old “Californio” style where they lived until Gordon passed away in 2012. A feminist, who also loyally stood by her husband’s side, she was his caregiver in his last years.
In 1968, Janet became actively involved in politics, as did Gordon who went on to run for congress in 1976. Janet served as his campaign manager. In 1977, she was elected to the school board of the La Mesa/Spring Valley school district where she served for 14 years. In 1992 and in 1994, she ran for US Congress against Duncan Hunter. Although she lost both times, she gave Hunter a run for his money in the 1992 campaign. In 1996, she ran for state assembly again Steve Baldwin.

She retired from running for public office after that, but still served as the president of two different Democratic Clubs as well as serving on the executive board of the California Democratic Party in 2013. She also actively campaigned for her son, George, in his 2016 bid for mayor of Lemon Grove which he narrowly lost.
Finally, there is her love of music. She took violin lessons as a child, and in 1968, she began giving violin classes through the Suzuki Strings program at SDSU. She went back to school herself and finished a second BA in music in 1976. She has been a violinist for the Tifereth Israel Synagogue for 20 years and before that, she played for the Jewish Community Center Orchestra.

This Renaissance woman also had a successful real estate business for 30 years. She had a Quaker business philosophy in running her company as she believed in environmental preservation among other things.
Indeed, it hard to describe all that this lively woman has done, but she still goes through life with determination, boundless energy, and a twinkle in her eye.

The apple does not fall far from the tree and her son, George Gastil, 53, has his mother’s energy and sense of justice. In addition, as a middle child, he has an easygoing way about him that likes to resolve conflict. George has followed in his parents’ footsteps in wanting to be of public service since he was young.
Gastil graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a master’s degree in history. He returned to San Diego to become a teacher, and has worked as an adjunct professor at every single community college in San Diego County except Miracosta College! He has since narrowed it down to two schools, and he currently works at Grossmont College and SDSU. His specialty is California history, especially early California history, and his passion for teaching has earned him high marks from his students. In addition, he has been active in fighting for better working conditions for adjunct teachers.

George’s easy way with people was put to good use when he began writing a weekly column about public events in Lemon Grove for the Daily Californian in 1993. In 1994, he moved to Lemon Grove with his family and ran for the school board, winning a seat in 1998. He served on the board for ten years and was the president in 2007. In 2008, he was elected to the Lemon Grove city council where he remained until 2016.
Furthermore, in 2002 George joined the staff of State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny. He served as the Senator’s local liaison for education, health care, human services, and labor issues. He worked for the senator for two and a half years. Like his multi-tasking mother, he served as the city’s representative to the East County Economic Development Council (ECEDC), and as the Lemon Grove representative to the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) until December 2016.

George is also a devoted family man. He has been married to his wife [also named Janet] for almost 32 years. They were college sweethearts. She works for the Bonita branch of San Diego County Library. She previously worked as the Youth Services Librarian for the Lemon Grove branch. They live with their two cats.

George is a proud parent to his three sons. The eldest is married and works and the other two are off studying. When asked what he liked to do for fun, he replied that he liked to hike and travel with his sons.
Although he had endorsements from three Democratic parties, Shirley Weber and Mary Sesson, the former mayor of Lemon Grove, he narrowly lost in his bid to be mayor. However, George is not finished serving the public. Right now, he is taking a break and concentrating on his classes and students. However, he will return to public life and find where he can contribute most because it is in his genes and part of his family legacy.

Nurturing immigrant art and giving back

Makeda “Dread” Cheatom believes the world would be a better place if people took the time to learn about and respect other cultures. She believes there would be less prejudice and a greater understanding among people. Learning about different cultures and promoting unity in diversity have been lifelong passions for her.

Makeda has a long history in San Diego. She founded the World Beat Cultural Center 30 years ago and serves as the executive director. She has produced programs and presented artists from wide cultural genres represented within the cultural center. Makeda has received numerous awards for her service to the community.  Most notably and recently, she was recognized by the Women’s Museum of California as a Cultural Competent Bridge Builder. In 2012, she was inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame. She is dedicated and committed in her goal of nurturing and raising world consciousness through music, dance, and the arts.

The founder of the World Beat Center in Balboa Park is now embarking on a new venture. In collaboration with other local and international artists, they have opened an art and cultural center, Casa del Tunel, right across the border in Tijuana. Like the World Beat Center, Casa del Tunel will be a place where people of many different cultures can come together to teach, perform, and present traditional forms of art to the world. There will be exhibits and art, dance, and music classes. It will be a binational and multinational collaboration. Enrique Chiu, a well-known local artist, is the art director and Wilner Metelus, a Haitian from Mexico City, will collaborate with them.

 Casa del Tunel is also a place for Makeda to engage in her philanthropic side as she envisions it as a place to help support the Haitian and African refugees who have been arriving in Tijuana. She hopes to provide jobs, guidance, and promote their art.

In addition, she has been collecting donations in both San Diego [this writer rallied her friends and donated 10+ bags] and Tijuana of warm blankets and clothes, towels, non-perishable food, etc. The donations are kept in storage at Casa del Tunel and then go to various shelters that serve the needy in Tijuana. These shelters have been inundated with an influx of Haitian and African refugees, including Movimiento 2000 and Madres y Familias Deportadas. Casa del Tunel strives to be both a practical and artistic haven for many.

The history of the place is very interesting. The building is located right across the border in La Colonia Federal. It was originally built in the 1950’s by a man named Gabriel Moreno Lozano. He was a lawyer, Renaissance man and a legendary person in Tijuana. In his later years, unbeknownst to him, a tenant dug a tunnel (approximately 150 ft.) under the house across the border to a parking lot on the US side and engaged in illegal activities. In 2004, the tunnel was discovered and all parties responsible were caught, arrested, and imprisoned. Today, after three years of litigation, the owners, heirs of Moreno Lozano, released the building and decided to provide the space to COFAC [Consejo Fronterizo de Arte y Cultura] for the establishment of an international center for the arts. In this way, they honor the life and memory of Gabriel Moreno Lozano, who was a lover of the arts.

Tijuana has developed a vibrant art scene, and Makeda would like to raise more awareness of this scene. She wants to encourage patrons and groups on the US side to cross the border without fear and plans on having tours of not only Casa del Tunel, but also other art galleries in Tijuana.

A woman with a good heart and a nonstop schedule, Makeda hopes to be the voice of the voiceless and raise a multicultural awareness through art on both sides of the border with World Beat Center and Casa del Tunel.

La Casa del Túnel: Art Center is dedicated to create a new model at the US/Mexico Border region for sustainable cultural development, and to empower the families of local and rural Tijuana including children, the disabled, and elders through music, art and culture. The center strives to promote and present a Cross-Cultural exchange between traditional cultures of the world through music, art, dance and education.La Casa del Túnel: Art Center is dedicated to create a new model at the US/Mexico Border region for sustainable cultural development, and to empower the families of local and rural Tijuana including children, the disabled, and elders through music, art and culture. The center strives to promote and present a Cross-Cultural exchange between traditional cultures of the world through music, art, dance and education.

Mon Dieu! C’est Manifest Destnitis!

Moliere is smiling. The multi-talented actor and playwright, Herbert Siguenza, has breathed new life into his play, the Imaginary Invalid. Manifest Destinitis is set two centuries later in 19th century “old or Alta California”. This high energy play is also brimming with clever and scathing 21st century social commentary on the upcoming election, Trump and his ‘wall’, and the present day health care system.

Siguenza is becoming a San Diego treasure in the theater world with his plays, Steal Heaven, An Evening with Pablo Picasso, El Henry [a favorite of mine], and now Manifest Destinitis. In August, he began a three year residency as Playwright-in-Residence with the San Diego Repertory Theater through the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. San Diego will benefit greatly.

Directed by the venerable Sam Woodhouse, Manifest Destinitis is set in the home of Don Aragon, a wealthy “Californio” and a proud Spaniard who is not ready for the changes that are coming to California after the Mexican-American war and the Gold Rush, including the influx of Americans or “Greencoats” [ AKA Gringos]. Along with many imaginary maladies, Don Aragon also suffers from Manifest Destinitis- a riff on Manifest Destiny, the belief that it was a God given right for the United States to expand from coast to coast- as this is going to change his world as he knows it.

Besides seeing the world he has known changing all around him, he is also worried about the future of his two daughters, Angelica and Luisa, and making sure they marry men of suitable Spanish backgrounds. He thinks he has found the perfect husband for his daughter, Angelica, when he finds out his neighbor, Don Pedro Diaz, has a son, Tomas, who just returned from Spain after studying to be a doctor. For him, it is the perfect combination of wealth and someone to attend to his hypochondriac needs.

unnamed-2What he does not know is that Angelica has met and fallen in love with a young Americano, Charlie Sutter, and Luisa is a gay feminist who has no interest in being a proper Spanish lady. Then, there is also the cunning stepmother, Don Aragon’s second wife, Belen de Aragon, a gold-digger who is carrying on an affair behind his back with an American that she passes off as her Spanish lawyer. She would like to see the girls shipped off to a convent in Spain.

In the midst of all this mayhem is Tonia, the good hearted Indian servant who slyly manages the affairs of the dysfunctional household. She is the heart and soul of the play, and through her meddling, exposes the stepmother for who she is and brings Angelica and Charlie together.

Mark Pinter gives an engaging and wry performance as Don Aragon, the befuddled and pompous Spaniard. Jennifer Paredes, playing dual roles, is delightful as Angelica, but really shines as Luisa, a cross between a fiery Betty Freidan, Peter Pan, and a cholo. She is a young performer with a bright future ahead of her. The always regal John Padilla is good as Don Pedro Diaz, and very funny as the sleazy American lawyer, Robert Mayo.  The graceful and fierce, Roxanne Carrasco, who was so good in El Henry, gives a convincing performance as the conniving second wife, stepmother, and hustler. Jacob Caltrider is perfect as the 19th century California surfer dude with the valley girl accent. Richard P. Trujillo is a chameleon actor who plays both Dr. Burgos and a hilarious Friar Beto [with a bald spot that looks like a yarmulke]. The darling Scotty Atienza plays the pueblo newsboy who alerts the audience to the changing events in California history.

Salomon Maya is notable as the hilarious Tomas. Channeling the late actor/comedian Marty Feldman and his eyes, he plays him as a fey, but slightly lecherous, twitching social misfit. He and Trujillo are also good as swaggering park rangers.

The standout of the play is Herbert Siguenza as Tonia. His Tonia reminded me of a cross between the famous Mexican Character, La India Maria, and Cantinflas with all the physical humor, pratfalls, and human warmth, while also making the role his own. Tonia is the glue that brings it all together and the smartest one of the bunch despite being the “lowly Indian servant”, a social commentary in itself.


Sean Fanning, the set designer, Jennifer Brawn Gittings, the costume designer, and Lonnie Alcaraz, the lighting designer, should all be commended for doing a fine job that helped bring the play to life.

Finally, Manifest Destinitis is a timely play with clever and current political commentary disguised as a very funny 19th century farce.

  • Manifest Destinitis” runs through Oct. 9 at the San Diego REP, 79 Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego
  • Performances are Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., with some Saturday matinees
  • Tickets ($35-$62) are available at 619-544-1000 or online at
  • Running time: 2 hrs.

The San Diego audience is also in for a special treat when two founding members of Culture Clash- Siguenza and Ric Salinas- give a one night performance of the play, El Cipitio, on October 17th at the SD REP. This play is presented by Amigos Del REP.



How to “Lighten Your Load”

In today’s world, many of us lead very busy lives, and there are many self help books out there to help people find ways to cope. However, it is nice to find one that gives concise advice on ways to make your life less stressful, healthy and even lighten your footprint on the planet.

Karen Kiser’s new book, “Lighten Your Load” gives precise and helpful information. The book is divided into eight chapters and has “35 surprisingly simple ways to free yourself from stress, toxins, and clutter”.

There are chapters like lightening your cellular, physical, and stress load, as well as your load on the planet.
When the author was asked what inspired her to the write the book, she answered,
“I’ve worked with hundreds of women over the years, and I’ve done a lot of listening. What comes up over and over is stress. We’re overworked or overscheduled. We may exercise and eat pretty well, yet still have several pounds that won’t budge. We’re tired. We often don’t sleep well. Something about our lives feels “off”. I know all about stress. I used to work 70+ hours a week. I used to think the formula for success and happiness was to just work harder and get more done”.

“However, I don’t do that anymore. I lightened my load. I now teach others to do the same. For the last three years I’ve created group programs to help my Pilates clients detox, declutter and de-stress their lives. I wrote the book to be able to help even more people lighten their load and live lives of joy, radiant health and sustainability, for themselves and for the planet”.
When asked which chapter a “newbie” might start with, she replied,

“For best results, I recommend people read through the entire book first, since the strategies in each chapter build on each other. Then feel free to go back and put into action whichever strategies resonate the most”.
One of the chapters that I found most helpful was the one on lightening your cellular load because it reinforced practices I already do which are drink plenty of water throughout the day, start your day with water and lemon [I also add a few drops of cider vinegar], do a cleanse every month or two, dry brush your body, sweat to allow toxins out, open your windows to let fresh air in, breathe deeply and of course, move your body or exercise.

I actually don’t cleanse, but I do drink veggie smoothies and instead of dry brushing daily, I use a salt scrub once a week because exfoliation is important.

Finally, for Kiser, the main takeaway of the book is to make just a few simple changes, do them consistently over time, and you will find they can have a massive impact on your health and happiness. She says not to be fooled by ‘simple’ because sometimes it’s the simple things that can really transform your life in a positive way.
Her book is available on Amazon in paperback and kindle editions, and on her website.
There’s also a free gift on her website, called “The 5 Hidden Causes of Nearly Everything That’s Not Working in Your Life…and What To Do About Them.”

Free Classes in San Diego

One of the best kept secrets in San Diego is the free classes offered at San Diego Continuing Education. Under the umbrella of the San Diego Community College District, Continuing Education has six centers around town, including Cesar Chavez, ECC, Mid-City, CE Mesa, Miramar, and West City.

The largest English as a Second Language program in San Diego is offered at all the centers. Classes start at level 1, and some schools have beginning classes for both literate and non-literate students. The levels continue until level 7 which is the highest level.

Some of the ESL level 7 classes are Transition to College ESL courses in which students prepare to be successful in college. They learn about the college system in California and focus on improving their writing and oral presentation skills.

All the ESL classes teach the students the various aspects of learning a language, including reading, writing, listening and speaking as well as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Moreover, there are some specialized classes that reinforce certain subjects, such as grammar, writing or conversation. There are computer classes where ESL students can practice using specialized software.

There are morning, afternoon and evening classes to accommodate the students’ schedules. There is no limit to the amount of classes a student can take.

There are also vocational ESL classes or VESL classes. These classes are offered to help second language learners prepare for jobs or job training. There are several types of VESL classes.
The general VESL classes focus on English for the workplace, job applications, and job interviews during the first half of the class. The second half of class focuses on curriculum in specific careers, and students study individually on these modules.

Two special types of classes are offered in which the students get practical training at the same time they practice their English skills. In the Personal Care Assistant class, a nurse and an ESL teacher teach the class together, which speeds up the training for the student. There is another class like this in the Automotive Technician program.

The various centers also have citizenship classes for those who are preparing to become American citizens. The citizenship classes focus on exactly what is required to pass the naturalization interview – the 100 questions, the N-400 application, and the reading and writing portions of the exam.

Practice interviews are also part of the class curriculum. Classes are offered in the mornings, evenings and on Friday night and Saturday morning at some locations. There is also an online course in which students only have to come to class once a week and then practice online with the instructor.

Finally, Continuing Education has a wide variety of classes for native speakers. There are 11 different programs, including GED/high school diploma/basic skills classes, food and nutrition classes, fashion/sewing classes, business, computer and information classes, emeritus classes for people over 55, and job training and certificate classes to name a few. These classes can be taken to help find jobs or just enhance one’s general knowledge.

Classes begin on Tuesday, September 6th for Fall 2016.

For more information, the website is

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