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Delia La Vara's Challenge: Producing the 2012 ALMA Awards

She co-heads the telecast showcasing the spirit and accomplishments of some of the most prolific Latinos in entertainment

By Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: August 27, 2012


Delia La Vara's Challenge: Producing the 2012 ALMA Awards


The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. For 44 years, NCLR has been promoting the advancement of Latino families in this country, creating opportunities and opening doors.

The NCLR ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Awards presentation is an integral part of that mission: a national prime-time NBC television network entertainment special with a cause -- to show how diversity strengthens our country and how inclusion strengthens the American entertainment industry.

The 2012 NCLR ALMA Awards telecast -- a National Hispanic Heritage Month event--celebrates America's favorite Latinos in the entertainment industry, television programs, films, and music. The ALMA Awards will kick off Hispanic Heritage Month as a celebration of the entertainers who have upheld and promoted a socially proactive image of Hispanic culture in today's media. The telecast will showcase the spirit and accomplishments of some of the most prolific Latinos in the entertainment industry, spanning music, television, and film.

NBC will air the initial broadcast; mun2 will present the ALMA Awards Red Carpet special and rebroadcast the show; Telemundo will host the official ALMA Awards website at
www.telemundo.com/almaawards; and Comcast will leverage its cable outlets to both promote and provide the show to viewers via video on demand.

This year the show will be produced by Dick Clark Productions' executive producers Orly Adelson and Barry Adelman along with Eva Longoria and Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR.

The event is produced by Delia De La Vara and Leroy V.Martinez.

LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos had an opportunity to speak with ALNA producer Delia La Vara, through an introduction by Alma Awards writer Nancy De Los Santos.

Delia has an interesting background of social service; she is the Deputy Vice President for the Strategic Communications Group (SCG) of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). She has been with NCLR for seven years, first serving as Director of Affiliate Relations before moving to SCG where she started as Director of Sponsorships.

She recently assumed the helm of the group overseeing all aspects of logistics, marketing/promotions, and fundraising related to NCLR's major events and meetings including the NCLR Annual Conference, the NCLR Capital Awards, the NCLR ALMA Awards and the NCLR Pre-ALMA Gala. These events represent the public face of NCLR to the national mainstream and Latino population. She takes us backstage…

Al Carlos (AC): Tell us about growing up in Arizona: family, good and bad of childhood, what kind of a child you were, what was your dream back then?

Delia La Vara (DLV): I was born in the border town of Yuma, AZ. My parents were both born and raised there. I spent my early childhood in Yuma and Somerton, AZ around a lot of family (cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, etc.) and friends, who were like family. When I was 8 years old we moved to Phoenix and I grew up there. We didn't have family in Phoenix, but we ended up having a great network of friends who became our family. We called them tia, tio, and the kids were like cousins too.

I know now, that we didn't have a lot growing up, but I never really felt like we lacked much. I'm ever grateful now to my parents, who managed to raise us with limited resources, and yet not make us feel inadequate because we didn't have the labels, the brands or the latest of whatever was the popular item.

AC: How did your fathers work as an attorney effect your sense of justice? Does his influence inform your work today?

DLV: My father works as a public defender. Most of his legal career he has worked defending the accused in either public or private practice. He's always been very open with us and talked with us about the legal process. I always though his perspective was interesting. It taught me to look at things from another person's point of view, to get a sense of how the world treats people, engages them, judges them, opens its doors or closes them.

His stories also enlightened me to our system of justice, as well as the flaws in it. There are good and bad people on both sides of the law. We see it every day. And the systems in place to hold people in power accountable are just as important.

AC: How did your moms work as a Congressional aide effect your view of politics? Did she instill in you the heart for social justice?

DLV: My mothers influence in my work started back when I was a little girl. My mothers work environments (community-based nonprofit organizations, political campaigns) were probably a little more family friendly than my dads (court rooms and jails). One job in particular I remember because it kind of served as my "after school" program for several years. Sometimes, when daycare or babysitters were unavailable, my mom used to bring me and my brother to the office of Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC). To keep us out of the way, she would give us assignments – straighten up the supply room, staff the copy room, pass out mail... I even learned to answer the multi-line switchboard before I hit 13.

It wasn't just after school though. CPLC also organized community events around the major holidays and back to school. I remember helping my mom and the staff distributes toys and food for Christmas, paint and hide Easter eggs in the Spring, and march to the state capitol in protest of legislation that wasn't treating people fairly. There were so many lessons I learned from those experiences, including seeing my mom as a person of influence, someone whose advice and mentorship people sought, whose voice and opinion was respected, and seeing my mom and all the people around her who worked at jobs they cared about and to help families and communities they cared about.

AC: Even though you came from a middle class family, did being Latina effect your perception of life?

DLV: I think I've always felt middle class, even if, when I look back and read between the lines of my memories, I would see that we were really struggling when I was growing up. But I think the environment my mom provided allowed us to feel like we had more. Being Latina, I'm not sure I thought about it much because that's just what I was. I knew there were other girls and boys with my cultural background, and those who didn't. Being different was a bad thing, it was something to explore. And, I think I encouraged me to explore more about my own background, culture, and identity.

AC: What is the NCLR? How and why did you get involved?

DLV: NCLR is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. whose mission is to improve opportunities for Latino families. I came to NCLR because of its connection to local nonprofits, like CPLC. I saw great value in the idea of having a strong organization representing the Latino community in our nation's capital, but also having strong ties to local groups around the country – so it could stay current with the real experience of our community.

I came to DC and NCLR in 1998. I remember hearing of NCLR when I was in college. As part of my Chicano Studies classes, I read about the formation of NCLR (founded as Southwest Council of La Raza) and their role during the civil rights movement. I also had a chance to meet the former CEO, the Hon. Raul Yzaguirre at a reception in AZ, and remember leaders from throughout the Phoenix community coming to this reception. It was impressive to me to see the great respect and influence the leader of this national organization had and its connection to my hometown.

After college I bounced around several years trying out different jobs to see what would be the right fit. I realized I wanted to have a work experience similar to what I had seen growing up visiting my mom's workplace. I found a mission-driven, community-focused, connected, values-oriented, innovative and impactful organization in NCLR. And I've been here since.

AC: Tell us about your mentor, Janet Murguia.

DLV: I was always an observant person, checking out how things worked, what the relationships were, and how things worked out to be successful or not. Through this process of "observing" I often connected with colleagues to find out more of the behind the scenes reasons things worked the way they did. I found many great mentors and advisors along the way.

Janet Murguia is both my boss and my mentor. Around the time that Janet started as CEO, I was also promoted to the post of overseeing our signature annual events (national conference, national legislative event, and the ALMA Awards). These are large scale events – lots of people attending, lots of sponsors and partners, lots of media, and our biggest opportunity to reach thousands to millions of people and talk about NCLR, our work, and our positive impact in the country. Without a doubt, any CEO would be interested in how to use the opportunity to put their organization in the best light possible and Janet was no exception. So, from her earliest days at NCLR, I was in a position to work closely with her.

Eight years later, I've had a wide range of experiences with Janet and am ever grateful for all that I have learned and continue to learn from her. As a mentor, she is generous with her time and knowledge. She is a tremendous role model, she works hard AND smart. And she challenges me to go beyond my comfort zone.

But beyond the professional aspect of our mentor/mentee relationship, I also get to see Janet in her interactions with so many of the communities we work with every day – visiting our nonprofit affiliate partners, meeting with our youth leaders, meeting with the President of the United State or our congressional members, or engaging corporate leaders. And in every situation, she is caring and inspiring. She sees the individual across from her, but she also sees the community or constituency they represent. And she knows well her role and her position and the influence and meaning it has.

Particularly to those who are at the highest levels of our government who see and trust in her the voice.

AC: What does ALMA mean in reference to the award show?

DLV: ALMA has many meanings for the show. The letters stand for American Latino Media Arts. But in Spanish, alma also means soul or spirit, so the ALMA Awards reflect the soul or spirit of the community, celebrate the accomplishments of Latinos in the media arts, and demonstrate that diversity in our entertainment is positive and successful.

AC: How and when did you get the responsibility to produce the show?

DLV: I have been working on the ALMA Awards since 2002, but it wasn't until we re-launched the show in 2006 that I started working in the capacity as a producer on the show.

AC: What does an award show producer do?

DLV: I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that a producer could do a wide variety of things – creative development of the show, fundraising, logistics, writing, and more. My role as a producer involves fundraising and managing the expenses; reviewing contracts; ensuring the show has an entertaining, yet respectful Latino feel; making sure the show highlights the many ways Latinos are a part of and contribute to American culture; sharing with our viewers how NCLR and our community leaders strengthen our country through the programs and advocacy work we do; and ensuring our viewers and live audience have a great experience celebrating the ALMA Awards with us.

AC: Based on your political and now your entertainment business experience, which milieu is harder to negotiate?

DLV: Each has its great assets, opportunities, and challenges. With the ALMA Awards, learning and getting to know the entertainment industry and how it operates has been interesting and I continue to learn every day. Like any sector, it has practices and traditions, some of which don't make sense. Yet, there are also tremendous opportunities to do more in this industry in terms of raising awareness of the value diversity brings to the quality and success of our entertainment.

Despite the low numbers of Latinos on screen, Latino stories, Latinos in decision-making positions, there are many success stories in our community. We turn to these individuals for advice and guidance, and think about the best role and contribution we can offer. Presenting a show like the ALMA Awards is just one way. We share and highlight the amazing talent in our community, with the Latino audience, but equally important, with the national American audience, a diverse audience that includes our community.

AC: Tell us about this year's program and the various partners involved in making it happen.

DLV: We have several key partners who help us present the show, and we're grateful to each of them for their support and partnership.

This is our second year with our broadcast partner NBCU. But the partnership is broader than NBC; it includes Comcast, mun2, and Telemundo.com. The NBCU/Comcast family see the ALMA Awards as a show that can cross the English, bilingual, and Spanish-language platforms and they are fully engaged. Through this partnership mun2 hosts the ALMA Red Carpet show and also rebroadcasts the show in the week following.

Telemundo.com hosts the Official Bilingual ALMA Awards website at telemundo.com/almaawards, and Comcast is running promotions to their subscribers as well as offering the show as part of their Hispanic Heritage Month offerings.

Pepsi, our presenting sponsor, is also returning and is fully committed to helping promote the show. In various markets, you'll be seeing promotions and in-store displays they have developed to help us promote the show, as well as collaboration on our promotional efforts. Pepsi will host the ALMA Awards Fan Zone and, in demonstration of their support of our community efforts, they will present the PepsiCo Adelante ALMA Award to a community leader from the NCLR affiliate network.

This year we are also working with Dick Clark productions (all lower case) to produce the show. Their knowledge and experience are sure to bring a dynamic and energetic element to the show.

And of course, we have our executive producer/co-host, Eva Longoria. She has been a key partner and friend to NCLR and the ALMA Awards since we re-launched in 2006, and has committed so much of her time and energy to ALMA's success. Each of these partners is a dedicated friend and supporter of the ALMA Awards and NCLR.

AC: How is the use of new and social media changing the way the program is marketed? I understand you are doing some on line contests.

DLV: A strong element of NCLR's promotion of the ALMA Awards is to engage our community. As a nonprofit, we don't have the resources to dedicate to buying ads to promote the show, so we have to be very resourceful. We engage many media partners who help us reach our target audience and negotiate trades with them for ad space. But we also want to really engage our viewers so we've offered a variety of promotion contests, incentives, and opportunities to help our fans feel connected to the show - feel a part of the ALMA experience.

While we've been doing this for several years, the rapid growth and innovation in the area of social media have allowed us to expand our reach and leverage more off the relationships we have with our partners and the talent who appear on the show.

This year, we are asking our fans/viewers to vote online for their favorite stars nominated. Each time they vote, they get a chance to win a VIP ALMA Awards Red Carpet experience with travel, limo service, and VIP tickets to the events for the show taping. We are also encouraging our fans to host viewing parties on September 21, 2012 providing sample invitations, posters, and recipes. And, with social media, we are regularly posting trivia questions and updates on what's happening in Latino Hollywood.

AC: How will this year be different than last year? Any surprises?

DLV: Each year is different, and our viewers and guests tell us it gets better each year as well. Last year, we did something different with our partner telemundo.com when they streamed our Pre-Show Awards online at telemundo.com/almaawards. It's hard to squeeze all the awards in a one-hour broadcast, so we were thrilled to have this partnership to share the non-televised awards with viewers.

This year the show will also be available to Comcast viewers as part of their Hispanic Heritage Month offerings.

We are in a different venue this year: the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. As I mentioned before, we have a new production company and we also have a few stars joining us who haven't been to the show before.

One thing I know we all talked about at the production table was recognizing the work of Lupe Ontiveros. She was a trailblazer and an important mentor to many Latinos working their way through the film and television industry. It's a tremendous loss for our community and for the entertainment industry.

Surprises? Well they won't be surprises if we tell you.

AC: What is your ultimate goal for the show this year?

DLV: The ultimate goal is to have a fantastically entertaining show that reaches more viewers than last year and adds a little bit more to our viewers understanding of the Latino community in the U.S. – who we are, what we contribute, and how much we care about our country.

AC: What are some of your personal goals for the future?

DLV: Personally, I have two goals:

First, I want the show to be a financial success. For us, that means breaking even. For many years, we have been committed to the show but our financial model was tough. This show looks very glamorous, but we do it on a shoestring budget.

There have been several years where the show lost money, but we believe so strongly that the opportunity to share a show like the ALMA Awards and what it represents to and for the community, was worth the price. Where else do we have a chance to reach millions of Latinos and non-Latinos in that way?

Second, I want our viewers and the talent and guests who attend to understand that with the celebration comes a lot of hard work. I'm not talking about the hard work of preparing the event, yes it is a lot of hard work. I'm talking more about the hard work further behind the scenes, the work of NCLR.

Shows like this don't just come about because we ask and a network says, "Sure, let's do it." NCLR works hard to maintain a strong credibility in all the sectors we work with and who touch our community – nonprofit, government, corporate, foundation, and media. Through our programs and advocacy work, we have demonstrated positive impact in the Latino community.

And we know that the when we develop and promote programs that improve the quality of education, access to health services, offer training and opportunities for employment, and support fair housing practices and the opportunity to realize the American dream of homeownership, those programs impact more than just the Latino community. Those resources have an impact on communities who are at a disadvantage for any number of reasons including economics, language, and limited education.

NCLR works nationally, through a network of nearly 300 nonprofit organizations across the country, and truly has an impact on millions of lives every year. I hope our viewers and our guests at the taping see this and are encouraged to be supportive, engaged, and to serve their community through NCLR or directly. It's so important.

AC: How can people know more about NCLR?

DLV: You can learn more about our work by visiting us at
www.nclr.org, like us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Nationalcounciloflaraza, follow us on twitter at http://twitter.com/NCLR or check out our youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/nclr#p/a

AC: How can people support the ALMA awards this year?

DLV: You can support the ALMA Awards by tuning in on Friday, September 21 at 8/7C on NBC (check local listings).

Visit the ALMA Awards website at
www.almaawards.com to vote for your favorite stars through September 7, you just may win a VIP Red Carpet experience. Follow the ALMA Awards at @AlmaAwards or https://www.facebook.com/NCLRALMAAwards.

Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and tell NBC how much you appreciate their support of the ALMA Awards.

About Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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