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The last awesome photography documentary to come out was about famed photographer, Bill Cunningham. The latest is called Everybody Street and looks to be just as good. Stoked for this to come out soon!
Back in March, I reached out to my Facebook network and asked everyone to donate whatever they could to a trip that I was taking to Mexico. Instead of using the $1200+ that you graciously donated and hitting up the resorts of Cabo or entering a wet t-shirt contest at Papas and Beer, I took my talents South to Baja where I spent two days with three different orphanages.
The first of these orphanages was Casa Eben-Ezer in Tijuana. I went on this trip as Change Fire’s photographer, the non-profit that organizes these trips. It was extremely touching for me to see such a huge group of kids filled with so much genuine love and respect for one another. These kids have next to nothing in terms of material possessions but you’d never know it considering how happy they all were.
As I paid close attention, never once did I notice any bickering, yelling, or fighting. If one kid got his or her hands on your iPhone, you wouldn’t see it again until the end of the day but you knew that it’d be safe and that it’d get returned. They took turns playing with it. They understood what it meant to share with one another! They laughed, they smiled, they loved each other. When it was lunch time, they all lined up to go wash their hands before eating. They all bowed their hands and prayed before even touching their utensils. When you visited their rooms which housed upwards of 10 kids, everything seemed to have its place. Nothing was out of order, from the decorations on their walls to their expertly folded shirts that rivaled that of any department store. These kids who had next to nothing were well-behaved, respectful, and disciplined… more so than any group of kids I’ve met here in the good ol’ US of A who literally have and are given nearly anything and everything they want. Makes you wonder sometimes…
I listened to heart-wrenching stories about how the kids ended up at the orphanage but by the smiles and excitement on their faces, you’d never know what they each went through. Girls who were sold into prostitution before reaching their teens. Drugs. Violence. Poverty. None of these things surprised me but I was taken aback nonetheless because we all hear and read stories like that all the time but to laugh and hug and eat and play with these kids who actually experienced such hardships… it really puts you in check.
The second orphanage we visited that day was Casa de Paz. This particular orphanage tugged on my heart strings a little more than the last because there were a lot of special needs kids who lived there. And again, nothing but happiness when we arrived! The people who run Casa de Paz are seeking to raise funds to further develop their organic farm where all the produce is sold to help feed and maintain the orphanage. I hope y’all know that all the money you donated is going to legit and worthy causes. By helping Casa de Paz cultivate a program where they are generating their own money, we are empowering them by teaching them “how to fish”.
The last of the three orphanages we visited was Sion. If I had to choose a favorite of the three, Sion would be it merely for the fact that there was a room full of the cutest newborn babies. Due to my camera breaking the night before as I was enjoying some amazing guacamole and chips while being serenaded by a super legit Mexican cover band at the La Fonda Hotel, I had to resort to shooting all these photos with an iPhone.
The non-profit that organized this trip, Change Fire, plans trips to these orphanages all the time. Their next trip is this weekend and though it’s probably too late for you to join them, there will undoubtedly be more trips in the future so I encourage you to “Like” their page on Facebook to keep yourself in the loop with their next trip. Over the course of two days, you’ll visit three orphanages and spend one amazing night eating and dancing at the La Fonda Hotel. You’ll be doing a good deed and you will meet amazing volunteers but more importantly, you will be spending time with beautiful children who will truly show you how to appreciate life, love, and laughter. We often complain about the most petty of things here in America when we have so much more than these kids will ever have in their lifetime. I definitely came back with a renewed mindset and I wish everyone could have experienced what I did that weekend.
I want to thank everyone who donated funds to this trip. There were so many of you who graciously donated money to me who I haven’t seen in many, many years! I cannot thank you enough and I can only promise you that all the money is going to a good cause. I said that I would raffle off a photoshoot to one person who donated to my trip. Using random.org, the winner is Brandon Kamigaki! I’ll have to fly out to Hawaii for you to collect on your shoot brotha!
I know I say this a lot when it comes to weddings but Haylin and Jimmy’s wedding at the iconic Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki was one of the most memorable weddings I’ve shot. I’ve had a soft spot for Hawaii, it’s culture, and the people who live there ever since my first visit to the islands the summer after I graduated from high school. Haylin and Jimmy, along with their ridiculously cute daughter Maddie, are the embodiment of what Hawaii and the aloha spirit is all about. Hospitable, generous, fun loving, go-with-the-flow… they were just beautiful people to be around and I was so fortunate to be a part of their day.
I met Haylin and Jimmy for the first time when we linked up for their engagement shoot back in June of last year. The second time we met was their wedding day in February of this year. Because we totally hit it off and had a great day shooting the first time, it totally set the precedence for our chemistry on their wedding day. This is one of the big reasons why I am such an advocate of e-shoots. Haylin and Jimmy were so comfortable with me on their wedding day that they knew exactly what to do and how to do it whenever I would set up a shot.
There were so many amazing, hilarious, and touching moments throughout the day. I will never forget the video testimonials that they played during the reception. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at a wedding before! You can check out the rest of their wedding day story here.
Thanks to my awesome friend Lauren Smith from L-4-Love who set me up with Haylin and Jimmy!
All the way through high school, my pops and I would celebrate pretty much every birthday together since our birthdays are only two days apart. When I started college, I apparently became extra selfish and decided that hanging with my friends was more fun and important and that I wanted to celebrate my birthday with them instead of with my family. Hindsight is always 20/20 and now when I look back on my life, I have a heavy heart and guilt that I didn’t spend more time with my father. It’ll be four years this June since he’s been gone and I’d gladly give back all the crazy college birthdays I spent away from him just to have one more chance to sing a happy birthday song together.
My father served 6 tours in Vietnam. He was part of a group of interpreters who served for the South Vietnamese Army but was assigned to an American unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry, H Co. aka… The Blackhorse. Now, don’t take the label of interpreter lightly. Usually, they were the first men to head into unknown territory and villages because they were familiar with the terrain and could speak with the villagers. They were not only interpeters but acted as soldiers first and foremost and often times as medical practitioners. Grown men in their 60s and 70s have come up to me at reunions for the 11th Armored Cavalry, hugging me and crying to me, telling me how many times my father had saved their lives. After the war ended, my father had to find his own way out of the country. After several failed attempts of escaping and many stints in torturous Vietnamese reeducation camps, he was finally able to escape as a refugee on a boat to Thailand where he met my mama. Hiding from pirates, all the refugees were huddled up under plastic tarps with my father’s head buried beneath my mama’s butt. I’ve always been an ass man and apparently I got that trait from my pops. =)
It’s crazy how much I am like my father. I’ve inherited so many of the characteristics that made him such an incredible man but at the same time, I know if he were alive, he’d tell me that I still need to continue to work on being a better human being, brother, and man. I know he’d slap me silly for being impatient and unforgiving, two traits that I am very aware of. He was extremely loyal, ridiculously romantic, and his work ethic was incomparable, all traits that he’s definitely passed on to me.
Pops, if you’re looking down on me today, I want to wish you the most amazing birthday. Knowing you, you’re probably eating Cup O Noodles right now with a small bag of Cheetos dumped into the cup. You’re most likely tending to the most amazing garden in the heavens. I know you’re taking care of our grandmas and you probably got a camera strapped around your neck. You probably fell asleep to a Chuck Norris or Steven Segal movie or most likely a nature documentary. If you were still here, I know mama would wake up to the most over the top display of a flower arrangement sitting on the dining table that you bought for her for no apparent reason. And I know she’d probably get mad at you for wasting money… but then tend to the flowers with the care only a loving mother and wife would know and constantly comment on how beautiful they were. I love you and miss you a ton and know that you’re guiding me through my life each and everyday. I know I often have stumbles in my journey but know that I am constantly working to be a better person, brother, and man. If I can become even half the man you are, then I know I’ve succeeded in life.
Happy birthday pops.
Exactly one year ago today, I wrote a post bidding farewell to 2010 and ringing in 2011. We say it all the time but damn… time flies! So, is it that crazy that here we are again on the verge of a new year?
In the past couple days, I kept on saying how I couldn’t wait for this year to be over with. In the span of two months, I had my car broken into, practically all my camera equipment stolen, lost my iPhone, and two days ago had $300 stolen from my wallet at the gym. All I could think about was all the shitty luck I’ve been having and how I couldn’t wait for 2012 to be here already.
But then I started to think about how truly fortunate I’ve been this year.
In the grand scheme of things, I have my health. Being a freelancer, I don’t have the luxury of a company sponsored health plan. I can’t just go to the doc and drop a $15 copay and be on my way. It’s one of the big reasons why I am so passionate about health and fitness. It’s my health insurance and short of being in an accident or getting cancer, it’s something that I have total control over. I was super bummed and upset after getting jacked but a couple days after my car was broken into and robbed of the very things that put food on my table, I learned that a friend of mine was in a serious motorcycle accident. Xander suffered collapsed lungs, broken ribs, vertebrae, and is now paralyzed from the waist down. That definitely put things into perspective for me. (Please check out Xander’s Facebook page, Xander’s Plan, to keep up with his recovery and participate in any fundraisers and events that might be going on.)
I am very grateful to say that there are things in my life that I have a true passion for. Not many folks have the opportunity to say that they are passionate about anything let alone be blessed with the opportunity to pursue those passions. Most of you know my love for photography via this blog but unless you follow me on Facebook, you don’t know how much I love to bake/cook/eat and how passionate I am about health and fitness (which often times can be misinterpreted as anger). I’m trying to figure out a way to incorporate these two things into the blog so hopefully you’ll be able to know another side of me. I will warn you that my health and fitness posts will not be sugar-coated whereas my baking posts will be… literally.
Mi familia. No one else has been there for me the way my family has. From my mama to my three sisters to my five nephews, I am so grateful for all they do and for all the things that they are to me. Just like any other family, we have our ups and downs but at the end of the day, the love and support will always be there.
Mi amigos! Literally my extended family considering I am the only one of my family members (immediate and extended) that lives here in LA. From NY to Hawaii and especially here in LA, thank you for pushing me to be better, mentoring me to be wiser, and always being there in my time of need. I’ve always been envious of folks who have huge circles of friends that have been together for years and years but how can I complain when I have some of the best personal relationships with the people I surround myself with? Huge shoutouts go to Ja+Bev, Karina, Marc, Doc Cheng, Moses+Jen, Aileen, Alaaeddine, Alan, my NY folks and all my Hawaii fam. And everyone else? I love you too!
An important part of my post a year ago had to do with a piece entitled, “Closing Cycles“. A big part of me was successful in this endeavor in not only closing chapters and moving forward but also creating new chapters in the storybook of my life’s journey. Another year has quickly gone by and I’ve been blessed in so many ways through friends and family, traveling, health, photography, training… needless to say, I am super stoked for 2012!
Leaving y’all with a random selection of images from the past year. Much love!
See their story by clicking… here.