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A Journey to ‘The Voice’

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 presetIn 2000, 3 years after I first moved to San Francisco, I met a young girl named Deanne Palaganas. She was in my chorus club at the very first elementary school where I was in residence. She was full of personality, always smiling and she loved to sing! She was one of those kids you never forget.

Recently, I ran into her while I was rehearsing a group she was performing with. Out of the blue she asked me if I would consider being her mentor and now Juana’s Voice is mentoring her and helping her prepare to chase her dream! She is scheduled to be in Los Angeles this July to audition for “The Voice”.

Deanne is a young woman fierce with ambition and stunningly talented who works incredibly hard, follows through with everything and has the courage to listen to her heart. We are honored to be here with her as she walks this path.

Please follow her FB page and send her positive energy as she goes for it!

Dreaming Big

westportJuana’s Voice is officially a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization! This dream has been in the works, in some variation or other, for many years and so it was very exciting to feel the big push of forward momentum.

Along with the many small accomplishments that we celebrate come the very big dreams that we have for the organization. We share these dreams to create hope and excitement for our future. And as a good friend recently said “It’s about time you two started to dream big!”

The ultimate dream is the Westport House. (pictured) Twenty acres on the Mendocino Coast of California. A permanent home for Juana’s Voice. A place to be still; A beautiful environment, intentionally created where you can discover your highest potential. Where you can come on retreat, or to take a class or workshop from healers, musicians, gardeners, authors and artists. A place that hosts all women, including artists-in-residence, and girls and women with financial limitations. A place for writing and painting, singing and music making, woodworking and gardening, ceramics and cooking. Pretty much, whatever we can think up.

Let’s make magic happen!

– Shannon & Elizabeth


eventAfter months of research and work we have started our non-profit: Juana’s Voice, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

We have been fortunate to partner with the Brava Theater for Women in the Arts  in San Francisco to offer classes in expressive arts.

Pioneering A Girl’s Perspective

A digital photography program at the Brava Theater. We want to congratulate the girls who participated in our program! We met twice a week for four weeks. The students came in wanting to learn to ‘look at things differently’ and ‘take better pictures’. They definitely accomplished their goals and then some! We are proud to present a gallery of their photos.

Maria and Consuelo

20140327-102720.jpgI usually don’t deal with disappointment very well. But I am very good at hiding it. I could go down the list of my life altering disappointments, but I won’t. Yesterday was the first day of our photo project with girls in San Miguel de Allende. Yesterday we waited and waited and no one showed up. As we drove home we talked about what went wrong and we talked about what it means to us to give back, the importance of sharing what we know with girls and women. It seems like it should be easy–we find an underserved market and we provide everything free of charge. The realization that giving and sharing isn’t as easy as it sounds, has set in.

Shannon and I are always good with a plan B. We are used to being thrown curve balls. Though we would like for things to go smoothly, they rarely do. We often find ourselves scrambling to make our ideas and projects work. We live with so much uncertainty that it seems like we should be pros at this by now. If nothing else, we know how to throw back a shot of tequilla, laugh until we cry and then magically come up with an idea that might well be better than the first.

The next day we headed into town with our basket full of cameras, hopeful that we could create a situation that would allow us to interact with the people of San Miguel de Allende. First we stopped for lunch at the farm restaurant where we met two women from Canada. We ended up offering them a ride back into the city. The interesting thing about being here in SMA is that you can give perfect strangers a ride, talk like you are old friends then say goodbye as if you will see them tomorrow. After we dropped the Canadians off we stopped at the bank to exchange dollars for pesos. While waiting there two ladies came in, Denise, from San Diego and Felicity, from Australia. We found out that they had just arrived from a few days in Mexico City. They asked us for food recommendations and other fun things to do. We ended up spending a couple of hours together talking about San Miguel and world travel over tea. Afterwards we exchanged emails and planned to see each other again.

Shannon and I then headed to the Jardin (the central town square) where we saw two old women huddled closely together in a doorway. As I watched them whispering and laughing I felt like I had to capture that moment with my camera. I realized that they must get at least ten tourists a day who want to capture their photo. I then thought it would be interesting for them to take pictures of tourists taking pictures of them. What a reversal. I convinced Shannon to go over and ask them if they would like to learn to use a camera, as a fun experiment.

Meet Consuelo and Maria. 20140327-102700.jpg

They are two women with no husbands, no children and no means of support. So they sit in doorways with their hands, palms up, as they ask for money. We ask them if they would be willing to take pictures of the things and people that they see as they sit on the curb. Maria is fierce and very open to it, Consuelo, with a patch on one eye, is a little more shy and uncertain. They gave the picture taking thing a try but seemed more interested in just having a conversation. The conversation went from our camera ‘how to’ to people that walk by and ignore them. They asked which of them we thought was older. They told us that they live in homes without water and that that was why their clothes were so dirty. Maria told Elizabeth that when Consuelo had lost her eye it just plopped right out of its socket. Consuelo told me that she lost it two years ago and that it has made things difficult. Maria tells me that she sits there offering her shame to the people that walk past and she finds it hard to understand that that they will pay $1 for a coke and yet begrudgingly will give her only 10 cents. She said, if someone wants to take her picture she wants $10. Elizabeth tells her that she should charge $1 and that more people might wants pictures and she could make more money. She laughs and says that Elizabeth is smart. She tells us that she is smart too and that just because she is poor does not make her stupid. I tell her that it is only because of luck that I am not poor and she says yes, but it is also because of god. I cannot argue with her. Consuelo can’t stand her secret any longer and tells me she is 85 years old and Maria says that she is 83. I take my hat off and show them that I have more gray hair than they do and tell them that I am 45 years old. They get a good laugh out of that and said that yes, my hair is a lot more gray but they tell me that I am just a young thing! We thank them for taking the time to talk with us and tell them how nice it was to meet them both. We also say that we still think it would be interesting for them to take photos.

We didn’t understand half of what they were telling us but we knew that sitting there trying to teach them how to use the cameras, letting them see the photos that they had taken and learning about their lives had to be what it is really all about.

So, Juana’s Voice is not a project any longer, it is about connection and it is about humanity. It is about being aware of our surroundings and acknowledging our innate trust in one another. It is about serendipity and helping when we can. We will share stories and maybe teach photography or singing or just do something fun and creative together.

JV in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

atanecion 2014Our photo project in San Miguel starts this coming Monday! We cannot wait to meet our students and to see this beautiful town through their eyes. An enormous thank you to Maria Almirantearena for translating the newspaper article into Spanish for us! We definitely could not have, and I mean not at all, done it without you!


TenderPics in the Tenderloin

When I moved to San Francisco in 1997 the first place I lived was a seedy motel on the border of the Tenderloin and Union Square.  The restroom was down a dark hallway that had peeling 1970’s wallpaper. The room smelled like the last person that had lived there and every sound that was spoken or grunted echoed around me.  In 2002, to take advantage of cheap rent, my best friend moved into an apartment on the fringe of the Tenderloin. From the train station I had to walk eight blocks, through the heart the neighborhood, to get to his apartment. Mostly I remember the smells; pungent urine, sour beer and rancid food. Smells that stuck to my clothes and lingered in my nostrils, leaving me feeling like I needed a hot bath.   In 2009 Shannon worked with writer Sean Owens and composer Don Seaver on a musical dedicated to the seedy history of the Tenderloin. As I sat in the audience and watched these twelve characters (ie: a crooked cop, a drug addict and the landlady at a resident hotel)  come to life  I felt like I understood the Tenderloin. That is until a few months ago. Suddenly my opinions, my aversions and my fears were challenged.

(More information here: the Tenderloin and NY Times article)

I  spent many years clutching my purse and walking briskly through the Tenderloin. But on a rare, sunny San Francisco day in November, Shannon and I joined Andi Wong and the A Slice of Life Exhibit at the Tenderloin National Forest. There, in the middle of Ellis Street, armed with cameras and a simple backdrop, cards with kind words for strangers and a photo printer, we hoped that people would want to participate by having their picture taken.  The denizens were curious.  They happily walked up. They DID want their picture taken. And they also wanted to talk to strangers; us.  They wanted to talk to us about life in the Tenderloin.

Here is a bit of what I discovered.  Several were drunk and a few were “on” something but most were kind and gentle and sober.  I took their picture. They took it as a chance to share part of their story. I found out that the living situations were so undesirable that the overwhelming preference was to be out in the streets.  Unfortunately there is a conflict. The city of San Francisco wants to keep them hidden, off of the streets and out of sight. I found out that most try to stay away from each other because they don’t want any problems. I found out that for them, talking to a stranger was a treat and that they were weary of the depressing stories shared amongst themselves. I found out that even though many lived in the same building and had seen each other on the street for years, they didn’t know each others names.  I saw them look at each other for the first time. I looked at them too.  I stood still and listened and understood a lot for the first time.

Though I found myself uncomfortable most of the day, I was grateful for the fact that I couldn’t walk away.  I know that the next time I walk through the Tenderloin I will reflect on that day and hopefully I will say hi to someone I know.


While we were in NYC we thought it would be fun to spread some words of encouragement and inspiration for the new year. Elizabeth wrote each card by hand, an inspirational phrase on one side and a collage art piece on the other. We put them all over the city, Brooklyn to Park Avenue, with little pieces of red string. We were always looking over our shoulders and giggling at the thought of getting caught. Our sincerest hope is that the person that picked it up was touched in some way. Maybe it helped them believe in themselves. Maybe it made them smile at a stranger. Maybe the holidays weren’t as lonely. And maybe, they turned around and shared it with someone else who needed it.


p“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” Bob Kerrey (1943)

Recently I watched a video about photographer, Richard Renaldi  and his project Touching Strangers.  Basically he pulled people (strangers) off the streets of New York City and paired them up with unlikely “friends” so that he could photograph them as if they had been dear friends or loved ones.  In the end his photographic subjects were able to really see strangers as people not just a black man or an old lady or a bum or a yuppie…you get the point. He helped to break down barriers, no labels–just people. This project affected me so much that I thought I would love to do something like that here in San Francisco.

My version of Richard’s project includes little cards with words of encouragement and kindness to share with strangers–we’re gonna make it easy for you to share tenderness in the Tenderloin :-).  I wanted to add this element because of the many times I have been unable to utter words that I wish I had said. Sometimes, I found it so hard to say a simple Hello. Most times it was easier to look away from the complete stranger.

Join us in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where Shannon and I will take pictures of strangers as they share kind words on Saturday November 9th from 12pm to 4pm on Ellis street between Hyde and Leavenworth. The street will be closed for the event. Music, art, photography and pizza! We hope to see you there!

Her Folkloric Life

pie pic 

Traditional beliefs, myths, tales and practices

have forced her mind to blossom

her wings strengthen

her body becomes infinite as the sea and stars.

She is rooted to the earth, she is the mighty oak,

among the tulips and able to feel the wind.

It is all within.

Even when the world tries to disassemble her.

Mixed Media Collage
hand sculpted porcelain woman, glazed in colors of tree bark and leaves, paper, beads, metal, vintage buttons, shell, plastic, dice, glitter, paint in a painted French Brie cheese round.

Come and see Director Elizabeth Rosas’ latest work.

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center & The Luggage Store present Flo Oy Wong, The Whole Pie

Opening Reception: Friday November 8, 2013 from  6-8pm

The Luggage Store – 1007 Market St. San Francisco

more information HERE