Friday, May 27, 2011

Interview with Lisa Garcia, a Latina who is Chief of Staff to US Trade Rep

Lisa Garcia is Chief of Staff to the United States Trade Representative, serving as managing adviser on policy and personnel.
By Stephanie Valencia, White House
 WASHINGTON -- As part of, we are featuring interviews with Obama Administration staff whose work impacts the Hispanic and Latino communities. This interview is with Lisa Garcia, Chief of Staff to the United States Trade Representative.

Lisa A. GarviaWhat is your key responsibility?
As the Chief of Staff in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, my job is to be the right-hand aide to the President’s top trade negotiator – Ambassador Ron Kirk – and to provide leadership and management for USTR, a key economic agency.   

I serve as the managing advisor on issues of policy, personnel, and in other areas that serve USTR’s core mission: to make sure that our trade agreements provide real export and job opportunities for Americans, and that those agreements are enforced so that their promised benefits are really felt right here at home.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in the state of Kansas but consider myself a Texan, since our family moved to Houston when I was two.  It was supposed to be a temporary stay, but became permanent after my father graduated from the University of Houston and recognized that Houston was the place to stake out our legacy.  Houston Hispanics caught the political bug and my family, like so many, was caught up in the excitement of influencing the destiny of our people through the political process.  We shared a true sense of responsibility for our community and participating in the political process was key to making changes.  I have never known another way of life than to be politically involved, and remember being involved at a young age in the screening of political candidates in the Houston area.   My father would smile and take seriously my impressions and evaluations – of course, I volunteered this wisdom whether he asked for it or not!

What is your educational background?
My formal education started with the Dominican Sisters and I am a graduate of Houston’s St. Agnes Academy.  I then headed to Austin and attended the University of Texas, received my Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and truly appreciated attending working at the local PBS channel located at the University of Houston.  But I also got a political education, working local city, county and state races from the grassroots up, spending several years working in the state House and Senate, then as the Executive Director of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and was scouted by a global company to lead a regional government affairs office.  Eventually I joined the Democratic Presidential campaign in 2004, worked the Florida governor’s race, then worked for Senator John Kerry in Washington for a while, and returned to Texas for my family and established my own consulting firm. But I could not stay away from the excitement surrounding then-Senator Obama’s quest for the White House – and now here I am serving in his Administration.

I do not believe that life is one random event after another.  All of these activities built on one another to teach me lessons, enrich my life, and make me more complete as a public servant and as a person.

Are you a member of a notable community organizations, church, or volunteer/mentorship program?
I am a Graduate and Alumni Member of the 2002 Leadership Texas Program, Member/volunteer NALEO National Association for Latino Elected Officials, Mexican American Women’s National Association (MANA) a National Latina Organization lifetime member

During the State of the Union, the President laid out his vision for "Winning the Future" through Education, Building, Innovation, Responsibility, and Reform. How does your role in the Administration help to advance the President's agenda?

Every day, USTR contributes to the President’s work to create jobs in the United States by doing trade in a new way.   We’re working to get trade right by talking to more Americans, by listening to more Americans, and by seeking trade agreements that are fair, full of export opportunities around the world and job opportunities here at home.   At the President’s direction, we’ve also put a special emphasis on enforcing the trade agreements already on the books – helping to foster a global trade environment in which American innovation can thrive in every corner of the world.   As we work to out-educate and out-innovate, USTR will make sure that the fantastic made-in-America products springing from all that effort have ready markets around the globe.

How does your work impact the Hispanic community? 
The goal of USTR is to do trade in a new way that increases opportunities for ALL Americans, including the Hispanic community.  Specifically our focus with ensuring that our trade agreements provide export opportunities for small businesses – this is key and supports the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hispanic community, my community.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Latina filmmaker tells it like it is

 Fanny Veliz is making it her business to change the image of Latinos in media.
 By La Cosmopolatina

Producer/Director Fanny Veliz
HOLLYWOOD - It’s no secret that Hollywood has never been great at portraying Latinos accurately. Latino characters on the silver screen are often underdeveloped, and the stereotypes surrounding them are rampant. Women are either the maid or the overly sexual, sassy sidekick and men are usually depicted as aggressive or gangster types. So what’s a young Latina actress and filmmaker to do? Take matters into her own hands, of course.

Venezolana Fanny Veliz is such a Latina, and she is making it her business to change the image of Latinos in the media. She has been doing so since 2005 when she launched her own production company, Criolla Productions. Since then, she has written, directed and produced multiple short films that have been screened at various international film festivals. All of these projects have one common purpose: to create Latino characters that are rich and multidimensional, and whose struggles and achievements truthfully portray the experience of Hispanics in the United States.

Her latest endeavor is a film called Homebound about the lives of a family in El Campo, TX. The film is currently gathering backers so it can get off the ground, so be sure to support a fellow Latina in her noble quest to make us look like the rockin’ badasses that we are. Or at least make us look authentic.

Prenatal vitamins reduce autism study says

Study first to suggest women can take vitamins while pregnant reduce child's risk of autism.
Dr. Rebecca J. Schmidt
SACRAMENTO, CA — Women who reported not taking a daily prenatal vitamin immediately before and during the first month of pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder as women who did take the supplements — and the associated risk rose to seven times as great when combined with a high-risk genetic make-up, a study by researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. 

"Mothers of children with autism were significantly less likely than those of typically developing children to report having taken prenatal vitamins during the three months before and the first month of pregnancy,” said Rebecca J. Schmidt, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine and the study’s lead author.

The finding was “strong and robust,” the study authors said, and is the first to suggest a concrete step women can take that may reduce the risk of having a child with autism. The study, "Prenatal vitamins, functional one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism in the CHARGE Study," is published online today on the website of the journal EPIDEMIOLOGY. It is scheduled to appear in print in July.
Consuming prenatal vitamins may be especially effective for genetically susceptible mothers and their children. For women with a particular high-risk genetic make up who reported not taking prenatal vitamins, the estimated risk of having a child with autism was as much as seven times greater than in women who did report taking prenatal vitamins and who had more favorable gene variants, the study found.
The authors postulate that folic acid, the synthetic form of folate or vitamin B9, and the other B vitamins in prenatal supplements, likely protect against deficits in early fetal brain development. Folate is known to be critical to neurodevelopment and studies have found that supplemental folic acid has the potential to prevent up to 70 percent of neural tube defects, the authors said.
“This finding appears to be the first example of gene-environment interaction in autism,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor and chief of the division of environmental and occupational health in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine.
“It is widely accepted that autism spectrum disorders are the result of multiple factors, that it would be extremely rare to find someone who had a single cause for this behavioral syndrome. Nevertheless, previous work on genes has generally ignored the possibility that genes may act in concert with environmental exposures,” said Hertz-Picciotto, the study's senior author and a researcher affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute.
To conduct the study, researchers collected data from approximately 700 Northern California families with 2- to 5-year-old children who had autism or typical development and were participants in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study between from January 2003 to December 2009. All children were born in California and came from families that spoke either English or Spanish. The autism diagnoses were confirmed through testing at the UC Davis MIND Institute.
Women who participated in the CHARGE study were asked via telephone whether they took prenatal vitamins, multivitamins or other supplements at any time during the three months prior to and during their pregnancies and during breastfeeding. If the respondent said she had taken vitamins, she was further asked what type she took, at what dosage and frequency and during which months of pregnancy she consumed them.
“Because the mothers were asked about their vitamin use years after their pregnancies and after their child’s developmental status was known, some error is expected in their reporting. Moreover, in comparison with mothers who have an affected child, mothers whose children are healthy and show typical developmental milestones may be less likely to remember accurately, simply because they have less reason to reflect on and be concerned about their behaviors years earlier,” Schmidt said. This could have biased the results, she pointed out. Further research will be needed to rule out reporting bias.
The researchers accounted for maternal education and the year the child was born; results were the same when also accounting for the mother’s age. However, after the first month of pregnancy, there was no difference between mothers who did and did not take prenatal vitamins. This indicates that, by the time most women are aware that they are pregnant, taking prenatal supplements may not benefit the child in terms of risk for autism.
Significant interaction effects were observed for two maternal genes, including a well-studied variant on the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene associated with less efficient folate metabolism and increased levels of homocysteine, an amino acid.
Mothers of children with autism were 4.5 times more likely to both have the less efficient MTHFR 677 TT genotype and to report not taking prenatal vitamins during the period around conception than were mothers of typically developing children.
The other maternal gene variant with a significant interaction leads to decreased cystathionine-beta-synthase (CBS) activity and elevated plasma homocysteine. Increased risk for autism was also associated with other maternal gene variants associated with less efficient one-carbon metabolism, but only if the mother reported not taking the prenatal vitamins in those early months before and right after conception.
In addition, being homozygous for a common, functional variant in the child’s catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene was associated with more than seven times the estimated risk for autism in mothers who reported not taking the supplements around the time of conception, compared to children with other genotypes whose mothers did report periconceptional prenatal vitamin intake.
This gene reduces COMT enzyme activity three- to four-fold. The COMT enzyme, well known for its role in dopamine degradation, is activated during early neurodevelopment. Structural and functional brain differences have been described across COMT genotypes, particularly in the hippocampal and prefrontal cortex, regions affected by autism.
The finding, if replicated, provides a potential means of reducing the risk of having a child with autism. the authors said.
“The good news is that if this finding is replicated, it will provide an inexpensive, relatively simple evidence-based action that women can take to reduce risks for their child, which is to take prenatal vitamins as early as possible in a pregnancy and even when planning for pregnancy,” Hertz-Picciotto said.
Other study authors include Robin L. Hansen, Linda C. Schmidt and Daniel Tancredi, all of UC Davis, and Jaana Hartiala and Hooman Allayee, of UCLA.
The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, including funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; a United States Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant; and a UC Davis MIND Institute Pilot Research Study grant.
The UC Davis MIND (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) Institute, in Sacramento, Calif., was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where parents, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers collaborate to study and treat autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. The institute has major research efforts in autism, Tourette syndrome, fragile X syndrome, chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). More information about the institute, including previous presentations in its Distinguished Lecture Series, is available on the web at

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

AltaMed Exec awarded prestigeous 2011 Latino Spirit Award

Zoila Escobar Recognized for Her Contributions to Latino Communities in California

LOS ANGELES, CA -- AltaMed is proud to announce that Zoila Escobar, Vice President of Strategic Development and Community Support has received a 2011 Latino Spirit Award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus. Overseeing the Foundation, managing the organization's strategic planning and connecting with Latino communities throughout Southern California are just a few of the reasons why Escobar has received this acknowledgement. AltaMed's leadership, employees and patients celebrate her success.

"Zoila Escobar's contribution to the health care field in California has been extensive," Assemblymember Tony Mendoza said. "By acting as a pioneer in AIDS prevention efforts for our community, she has truly epitomized what the Latino Spirit Awards are all about – furthering understanding and acceptance through leadership and service. It is an honor to present her with the 2011 Latino Spirit Award for Achievement in Health and Business." 

The California Latino Legislative Caucus created the Latino Spirit Awards in 2001 to celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the common culture of the United States and to motivate the youth of California. Escobar received her award at the 10th Annual Latino Spirit Awards Ceremony at the California State Capitol on May 9, 2011.

"It is truly an honor to receive this award among so many outstanding representatives of the Latino community," says Escobar (watch video below). "Their contributions and standards of excellence are truly inspirational to us all." 

Escobar has an extensive history in the health care arena. She supported AIDS Project Los Angeles, as Program Director of the first "Latinas and AIDS" program in Los Angeles County. At the UCLA Family Planning Clinic, Escobar served as Clinic Administrator for HIV Services and later became the Director of Education and Government Affairs for the Arthritis Foundation. She has also served as Technical Assistant for the World Health Organization where she worked to develop and implement a comprehensive training program to help physicians and other health care professionals improve Hemophilia and HIV Infection Health Care Systems. Escobar has served as co-chair of the first "Binational U.S./Mexico AIDS Conference"; "Latino Artists Against AIDS" Art Show; the "Big Sisters of Los Angeles - Latina Advisory Dinner and Gala" fundraising committees and more. At AltaMed, Escobar is responsible for strategic development and cultivating community support from stakeholders in Los Angeles and Orange Counties and philanthropic support from public and private funding sources.

AltaMed Health Services
AltaMed is Southern California's leading nonprofit health care system delivering integrated primary care services, senior care programs, and health and human services for the entire family. AltaMed's team of multicultural and bilingual physicians and health care professionals deliver superior quality care through an integrated delivery system of 43 sites and an affiliated Independent Practice Association (IPA) of contracted physicians in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.