“I always liked to sing, but I didn’t know I was going to end up as a singer,” Ayllón says. She first thought she’d become a nurse, but changed her mind when she was in her teens. Nevertheless, Ayllón still liked the idea of healing people, and decided to do this through her singing.
Ayllón began performing in Peruvian nightclubs in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, she was producing and collaborating with established Peruvian groups. In 2003, she received two Latin Grammy nominations in the “Best Folk Album” category, and in 2008 she sold out Carnegie Hall.
She says that the most difficult point in her career was when she had to perform when she was still distraught over the death of her mother. “I think we artists are like little clowns. We have to have a great temperament and great attitude during adverse situations like death.”
Because of this perseverance, her music has made an impact on people all over the world. She says that some fans have even approached her after concerts to tell her that her music saved their lives. “Some people said they were going to commit suicide, but listened to one of my songs and felt revived,” she says.
“This isn’t vanity for me. I was born singing.”
“I discovered my love for books when I immigrated to the United States. I loved books to death,” says Dominican American writer Junot Diaz.
But success didn’t come easy for Diaz, who before establishing his writing career, worked in a steel mill, washed dishes, pumped gas, and delivered pool tables. “For a Dominican kid from New Jersey, it was an unusual and impractical dream,” he says.
Despite the obstacles, the idea of becoming a writer was something he wouldn’t let go of even though, he says, “there was no sign that it was going to get better.”
And his persistence paid off. Diaz is the author of “Drown”; “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “This Is How You Lose Her,” a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He has won numerous other awards and is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Part of being a young artist is being true to your dream. I don’t think I would give advice to young writers of color, but I will give advice to young people of color with a dream: there is nothing in the world that makes the dream easy except the love of the practice. I had to constantly rekindle my love of reading and find ways to honor that love.”
Sandra Andino was in her mid-20s when she decided to pursue photography. She first received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, then moved to move to Philadelphia to attend graduate school at Temple University. During this time, she started to meet other artists. “I realized it was my calling,” she says.
Though her family always encouraged her to be creative, they didn’t think she should pursue photography as a career. “Making a career out of making art wasn’t something my family understood.”
She has now shown her work at several galleries and has served as an arts administrator in agencies such as Taller Puertorriqueño, WHYY-TV, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Bed-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and others.
For a long time, Andino said she had a 9 to 5 job and practiced her art on the side, but she recently decided to dedicate herself to her photography full time.
“Despite what others might say, stay focused, centered, and positive,” she says. “If you give it value, then others will.”
Nilton Borges, Jr.
Chef Nilton Borges Jr. grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother. “I always had an affinity for food,” he says.
And though he was passionate about cooking, Borges didn’t decide to become a chef at first. “Growing up in Brazil and being black, there was always that image that you have to have a position with more status.” Borges attended medical school in Brazil, but when he was 20, however, he decided to move to New York to look for other options.
His first job in New York was as a bathroom attendant at a music venue, but eventually, Borges ended up in kitchens. “I started as a dishwasher and working in kitchens for free,” he says. After working in restaurants for eight years, he decided to go culinary school.
Borges is now the executive chef at Amali, a Greek restaurant “dedicated to supporting sustainable farming, viniculture and design,” which has won many awards including New and Notable Newcomer in Wine & Spirits Magazine, 2012, and Diner’s Choice Mediterranean Restaurant, Tri-State Area, 2012
“I’ve been blessed with the people I work with and the place where I work,” Borges says. “I’m successful by doing what I intended to do.”
He believes that to succeed in the culinary world, you should always focus on your skills. “Always try to move to places where you can learn. Never follow the money,” he says.
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. Her poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Witness, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and many others. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com