Could Miami’s Next Fashion Icon Be This Home Grown FIU Student?

This story was originally published on on June 24, 2015.

By Jose Vicenty

Miami is known for many things – beautiful beaches, tourist attraction, nightclubs and great fashion.

With the Miami Design District and Miami Fashion week, Miami serves as a city that sets trends and grooms innovators in becoming part of the illustrious fashion industry.

Add Miami-bred Valentina Quiroga to the list of local trendsetters.

Valentina’s fascination with fashion began at the age of five. She started with a love for Abercrombie and Fitch.

Read Another Great Story: Miami Fashion Blogs Rise In Importance As Local Scene Grows

“I remember when I was like five I would see Abercrombie and Fitch, not being able to fit, and want to wear it because I knew that was what was in style,” Quiroga said.

As she grew older so did her love for the fashion industry and with the help and support of her parents, she was able to begin selling her own merchandise on eBay while still in high school.

“One of the most memorable moments as a business owner has to be when I sold out of my first item 9 hours after posting it on my eBay store,” Quiroga said. “That moment will never be forgotten”.

However, as amazing as it was to be a young owner, it was equally difficult.

“I think one of the hardest things I had to learn to overcome was when I had an eBay and eBay store and other sellers would say that my items were offensive or went against the selling rules of the sites,” Quiroga said. “The site would take the item down for seven days at a time and this would happen to like two or three of my items at once”.

Although she experienced a rough beginning, Quiroga saw the silver lining and decided to open her own website where she is able to sell directly to the costumer. That’s how Valdesigns was born.

Photo Credit: Valdesigns/Facebook

Young CEO Valentina Quiroga. Photo Credit: Valdesigns/Facebook

Valdesigns is a clothing site that sells everyday wear with fashionable phrases for men and women, as well as pets.

Moreover, she’s doing it with the help of social media but she owes most of her success to her parents.

“My parents have basically been the backbone for the business,” Quiroga said. “They are my investors to start new projects, they help with the design, and they make sure I do not lose motivation. If it was not for them Valdesigns would not exist, no exaggeration”.

As far as being a young owner- she is still a college student at Florida International University, Quiroga said that she has enjoyed the process of starting a business.

“Being a young owner is great. I do get a lot of praise because Valdesigns is not something I tell people right off the bat, I let them figure it out through my social media so it’s shocking for them when they find out,” Quiroga said.

What’s next for Quiroga and Valdesigns?

“I am definitely planning on expanding the business, getting custom materials to make shirts, maybe some bathing suit,” Quiroga said. “We’ll see but Valdesigns is not only going to stay in the fun phrase t-shirt sector, it will grow hopefully with support of customers and friends”.

In addition, she said that the company is looking into releasing a workout line next.

To learn more about Quiroga and her clothing line, you can visit You can also check out her pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #Valdesigns.

Kokoa Swim: A Young Miami Swim Line Grows Up Online

This piece was originally published on on July 23, 2015.

By Marcus Frias

It’s summertime and we all know what that means. It’s that time when the hottest bods strut down South Beach wearing the sexiest and spiciest swimwear pieces of the year.

For a while, all the rave has been about Wildfox, Mikoh, and San Lorenzo Bikinis, but now there’s a new girl on the block with a swimwear line that’s bold, innovative, and exciting.

Isabella Soto and her killer line—Kokoa Swim.

Soto says that she’s always had an interest in fashion although it wasn’t always something that she expressed through her clothing.

“It was something I was around constantly,” Soto said. “My mother graduated AI with a degree in fashion design and I’d constantly watch her create amazing projects.”

Read More: Swim Week Takes Miami Beach By Storm, Millennial Designers Show Out

But that all changed during her sophomore year at Miami Sunset Senior High School when she decided to stop watching and start doing.

image2 copy

Isabella Soto, the owner of Kokoa Swim. Photo Credit: Kokoa Swim.

“As a sophomore in high school I would sew hair bows by hand and sell them to friends for $3,” Soto said. “My senior year I launched a fashion blog and another small business. I’d purchase thrifted jeans and distress them, dye them all sorts of colors, and stud them. I would also sell these to classmates.”

With Kokoa Swim still far in the future, Soto became the fashion editor of the school’s yearbook. Fashion became more than an interest—Soto’s hard work to make a name for herself while she was still so young was both admirable and astonishing.

One of Soto’s high school teachers, Natalie Gutierrez says that Soto’s success doesn’t surprise her at all.

“Ever since I’ve known her she’s had high expectations of what she wanted to be and what she wanted to do with her life,” Gutierrez told Rise Miami News. “She’s a go-getter with a lot of passion and dedication. It is that attitude that has helped her achieve this dream of hers at such a young age.”

Still, her hardworking and ambitious attitude remains.

“This has all been such a huge learning process,” Soto said. “I started this business entirely from scratch and have made so many mistakes along the way.”

Those mistakes, though, simply motivate the youthful 20 year old to work harder.

Soto dedicates an average of 30 hours a week to the growing line—but says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I wake up and do this until I have to head out to work. Sometimes I’ll come home from work and continue,” Soto said. “It’s not a burden. I love doing this.”

Photo Credit: Kokoa Swim

Photo Credit: Kokoa Swim

In those 30 hours Soto designs new collections, shops for fabric, handles social media accounts for Kokoa Swim, and networks for opportunities to showcase her work.

Despite participating in big events like Swim Miami Fashion Week Kokoa Swim’s success is mostly due to its internet presence.

“I am eternally thankful for social media. It’s been a huge contributor to Kokoa’s growth. Instagram, especially, has helped me network and build a following of amazing people,” Soto said. “Through social media, I was given the opportunity of participating in my first Swim Week event at the Broken Shaker. I met other local brands that are doing the same. It was amazing to see brands I’ve been following online, in action. “

Read More: An Inside Look Into One Of South Florida’s Most Important Fashion Houses

Kokoa Swim has over 8,000 Instagram followers and that number grows everyday. Models like Harley Gusman and Mahila Snyder have all hopped on the Kokoa wagon and have stepped in front of the camera to model for the swimwear line.

Soto loves the partnership with these up and coming models.

“Like myself, these girls are working hard to build a name in the industry and it’s fascinating that our work benefits each other,” Soto said.

Photo Credit: Kokoa Swim

Photo Credit: Kokoa Swim

Indeed, a name is being built.

Kokoa Swim, a line that was built on impulse—surely has consumers buying on impulse, too.

A sketchbook dream that has turned into an incredible reality, but Isabella Soto won’t stop here. She hopes to have her line available for purchase at local stores within the next year.

With all of this success tucked under her belt at the young age of 20, it is safe to say that Isabella Soto was not fashionably late, but instead fashionably focused and early to the scene.

I’m From The UK And Spent My College Years Fighting The NRA To Keep Guns Off Campus. Here’s What I’ve Learned

I was born in Sweden and grew up in the United Kingdom, a part of the world that conservatives in America denounce for their “cradle to the grave” welfare policies while also being a place that liberals think of as a utopia.

Europeans look at America and are mystified by it’s enduring racism and strange gun laws, but are also drawn to the promise of the American dream.

I was drawn to it too.

In 2013, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida for university.

Unbeknown to me, I had stepped into a National Rifle Association (NRA) battleground state, which would ultimately set the course of the rest of my college career.

Before I stumbled onto the campus carry debate, I had no idea what the term meant. I didn’t pay much attention to Florida politics, so learning that lawmakers wanted to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms on to campus, with no restrictions, was bewildering.

Which is why I decided to join the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus as their Director of Communications.

The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. I’m a fan of those laws. They helped keep me safe.

But I’m not here to force them on my fellow students. I simply want international students like me to have a say when such a dangerous bill could impact us, because my college campus is my home.

Europeans find America’s gun obsession both fascinating and disturbing. We question how a country, a leader in the modern world, struggles with doing anything about their gun violence problem.

It’s an issue unique to the US, when even the majority of police officers in the UK don’t have access to a gun, unless they join a special armed police unit.

In a country of 70 million people, only 6,000 police officers are armed. And the strategy seems to work.

Which is why the concept of arming everyone in society is just absurd to me. Especially on a college campus, where controversial ideas are discussed, students are failed by professors, and alcohol and drugs are frequently used.

I know some proponents of campus carry personally, and in no way am I suggesting that they would harm anyone. On a whole, our political leanings don’t impact how we behave in our day-to-day lives.

But as students, in an environment that essentially promotes, to quote Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, “living young and wild and free” that is no place for a deadly weapon that can kill people.

To get into the nitty gritty of this, why do lawmakers, some constituents and even some students feel that the only way they’ll be safe is if they have a gun all the time?

Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The NRA has peddled the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” theory to push the narrative that a gun will provide you security because everyone else has one.

And it turns into this never-ending cycle of everyone wanting a gun to protect themselves from each other. The problem is, a “good guy with a gun” only stops a “bad guy with a gun” 3 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop the gun lobby. They further push their message out there, grasping on to the national conversation on campus sexual assault, and attempt to use it to their advantage.

Their argument is that a woman should be able to defend herself with a gun on campus if she feels her life is threatened. On its face, that may sound reasonable. The problem is: facts and variables. Every assault is different, and proclaiming that a gun is the answer to all of them is simplistic and ignoring real solutions.

Every time there’s a mass shooting, America is again forced to confront its addiction to guns.

As gun control activists and gun rights proponents face off in the national arena of public opinion, the British watch on in a perplexed manner.

Seeing this over and over again, I’ve come to realize trying to apply a British ideology on guns in the US is useless.

Of course, the statistics speak for themselves, higher rates of gun ownership in the US does equal in higher rates of gun violence. Clearly there is a problem. But the Second Amendment has to make us Europeans take into account the cultural significance of firearms in the US, so we understand why they are so voraciously defended.

For many, the Constitution is their bible (apart from, you know, the Bible). Who am I to dismiss that so casually?

But even when I put that in my pile of things to think about over my morning tea, I also know that the majority of American voters do want more gun regulation.

Even the majority of NRA members want universal background checks. So what is holding the US back?

Again, it’s the gun lobby. The NRA has stopped representing their members, and instead represents gun manufacturers, and with their financial muscle, most politicians cower in their presence.

How does this relate to campus carry? Allowing guns on campus is the NRA’s new mission, and although the political will for it isn’t as readily available even in red states, their campaigns are slowly gaining ground.

In Florida, we’ve managed to beat it two years in a row, but next year is looking to be our toughest yet because the NRA will put this on the top of their priority list and they’ll pour their resources into the Sunshine State.

Marion Hammer, the NRA’s former president turned lobbyist, comes back every session with a determined glint in her eye that admittedly I find a little scary. She’s such an effective lobbyist that Florida is sometimes referred to as the Gunshine State.

One interesting part of this whole conversation has been the NRA’s and Students for Concealed Carry’s manipulation of data.

They’ve compared US and UK violent crime rates, using the numbers as a justification for campus carry, and guns everywhere in general.

It is a completely misleading comparison.

Yes, violent crime rates in the UK are higher per capita. But they forget to mention that the violent crime definitions in the two countries are very different. In the UK, the definition is “all crimes against the person”. This includes bicycle theft, all domestic violence offences, all sexual offences, all assault offences and many more. And even the definitions of those crimes are broader in the UK.

In the US, the FBI definition is much narrower; “violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.” So there is no real way to compare the rates.

Florida House Rep. Julio Gonzalez, (R) made a similar argument, citing a ‘study’, that I later found and read. Two Harvard students who were gun rights activists, not researchers, wrote it. On top of that, the paper was severely criticized by the Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Dr. David Hemenway.

How does the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus, a group that just doesn’t have access to resources like the gun lobby, beat them again?

I’ll be honest, I’m concerned.

The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Our continued efforts to combat their problematic ‘solution’ to sexual assault and mass shootings in an educational environment resonates with the majority of students, but will it resonate with legislators in 2017?

It’s certainly interesting that legislators are so ready to consider and pass guns on campus, when every university stakeholder that has spoken out has said they don’t want it. But a bill that would have allowed guns in legislative meetings hasn’t moved forward since last year. A little hypocritical, no? If Florida legislators really believe guns lead to greater safety, then they’d want to flood legislative chambers with them.

As of now, this issue isn’t going away.

Florida is on the NRA’s priority list. Students, staff and faculty need to pull together for the 2017 legislative session.

And what am I doing? I graduate this semester, so I get to go back to my cozy gun-free London, and watch this whole situation unfold from afar.

But now that I’ve gotten to know all these amazing people during our fight against these farcical bills, I know I’ll be somberly watching as they do it again without me.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

These 7 Subscription Services Will Make Your Life So Much Easier

By Vanessa Paredes

The subscription service model is simple; pay a monthly or yearly fee and get continuous services or product(s) in return. Companies like Birchbox spearheaded the subscription biz boom in the early twenty-tens and the rest is history.

Today, millions of Americas are happily subscribed to a box or five, which comes as no surprise considering the nation’s lust for the following three things: fast, convenient, and app-enabled.

With over 1,000 subscription boxes and tons of other services now available, it might be difficult to sift through the melee and figure out which ones are truly adding value to your life.

I have personally tried quite a few of them myself, and I can assure you that the following seven services are worth a try.


Our new, rubberized Truman handle means more grip and better control. Shower shavers rejoice!

A photo posted by Harry’s (@harrys) on

Harry’s is a no brainer for those who happen to grow hair on their bodies. Yes, that includes women. This service offers a variety of “shave plans” depending on how often you need to shave, and it is a lot more affordable than buying over-priced razors at the drugstore all the time.

Bonus: the razors themselves are beautifully designed and the blades boast a clean shave every time.

Blue Apron

Wrap up the weekend with a pita full of all the best Greek and Middle Eastern ingredients!

A photo posted by Blue Apron (@blueapron) on

Throw on your apron and get ready to cook like a pro. This food subscription box might give you sticker shock at first ($59.94 a week). But when you start breaking it down, it makes sense.

You get 3 meals a week for two people, meaning each meal is under $10 per person.

If you happen to already be eating out or going to the grocery store regularly, chances are you spend more than that already without reaping the Blue Apron benefits: fresh pre-portioned ingredients delivered to you weekly that actually teach you how to cook like a chef.

Amazon Prime

Some advice as we head into the weekend ? #Regram from the talented @engineeronbreak #AmazonPrime

A photo posted by Amazon (@amazon) on

Prime may not be actual subscription box, but the benefits of having a membership are so rewarding that it had to be included in the list. Not only is two day free shipping a complete lifesaver for last minute gifts, but you also get tons of free movies and shows as well as access to Amazon Pantry and Amazon Now which will eliminate the need to drive to a store ever again.

Class Pass

Jumping for joy to have an extra day this year! #leapday #leapyear Studio: @bounceinc

A photo posted by ClassPass (@classpass) on

Its not all about making life easier, sometimes is about making life healthier. If you are looking for a subscription service that gives you the most bang for your buck, class pass is the way to go. It allows member to attend unlimited fitness classes a month, with options ranging from Yoga, to Spinning, to Zumba all over your respective city.

Trunk Club

When you look good, you feel good—and when you feel good, you break barriers. #MondayMotivation

A photo posted by Trunk Club (@trunkclub) on

In a way this is a free subscription service for men who hate going to the mall. How it works: you receive a “trunk” filled with clothes, belts and shoes in your size and style to then try on. Pay for what you want to keep and return the rest. It’s pretty simple and awfully convenient.


Makeup junkies rejoice, Birchbox is a super affordable way to try top of the line products and decide which ones are worth the purchase. Shopping for cosmetics can get tricky when you aren’t sure how certain products will affect your skin or look throughout the day. Birchbox saves the day by letting you try a gamut of items every month for only $10. Plus, you can take these minis with you when you travel as an added benefit.


? #netflixandchill

A photo posted by Netflix US (@netflix) on

If you are looking to make your life easier by saving money and you haven’t cut the cord already, you need to listen up: stop paying for cable and switch to Netflix. The streaming service is a respectable replacement for that little black box costing you a fortune in your living room.

Here’s Why Young Hispanics Are The Key To Bernie Sanders’ Campaign In Florida

By  Matthew Alvarez

MIAMI, FL- You wouldn’t know at first glance walking throughout Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus that the next potential leaders of the free world were about to arrive.

Other than a seemingly higher presence of police officers and little bit more traffic, the clues were subtle.

Students casually walked to and from their classes, people studied around tables and benches, nothing truly unusual.

It wasn’t until you headed out to the front of the campus – literally all the way into the sidewalk off of 104th St that you were able get a taste of the energy surrounding tonight’s significance.

Florida has been a notorious swing state over the last couple of presidential elections. This has to do with the fact that South Florida (Liberal) has a completely different political culture than North Florida (Conservative) and Central (Moderate).

For Democrats, one of the most important differences in South Florida is the large population of young voters that have an ethic connection to one of the dozens of different Latin and Hispanic ethnicities, something that both Democratic candidates want to capitalize off of.


Photo Credit: Matthew Alvarez/ RISE NEWS

So far, it looks like Hillary is winning that fight.

In a Washington Post poll released on March 9th, Hillary Clinton led Bernie Sanders 68% to 21% among Hispanic Democrats in the Sunshine State. Among all Democratic voters in the state, she leads 64% to 24%.

With all this being said, it’s no coincidence that one of the hottest issues from the Miami debate was immigration policy.

Over half the population of the city of Miami are immigrants or are the literal children of immigrants.

The stakes are high as  Sanders and Clinton play tug of war with Florida’s diverse electorate ahead of the March 15th primary election.

For such a large scale event at a college campus, the turnout wasn’t as huge as you would expect, but the lack of participants was made up for in passion.

The size of the rally fluctuated from a few hundred people to a few dozen by the time the debate started at 9:00 PM; at its peak the crowd spanned about two blocks.


Photo Credit: Matthew Alvarez/ RISE NEWS

There wasn’t a single person not chanting, or yelling in many cases, for their respective candidates.

A small group of Clinton supporters had left the area earlier in the evening, leaving it as an nearly exclusive unofficial Sanders rally.

As heavy rush hour traffic slowly drove on by, protesters urged drivers to honk in support, creating a symphony of loud cheers and car horns that could be heard from the other side of the campus.

Spirits were high across the entire crowd.

Jamie Friend, being a mid-aged activist, felt optimistic about the rejuvenating spirit that  Sanders has brought to the electorate.

Friend transformed recycled Styrofoam into light up boxes that spelled out “Bernie”, activated by the flashlight of your phone, and let anyone who wanted to borrow them.


Photo Credit: Matthew Alvarez/ RISE NEWS

She plans on driving up to Tampa to continue lending out her light up boxes at the next  Sanders rally.

Patrick Mesa came out with his own sign and high hopes, having complete confidence in Sander’s chances after his Michigan win.

“Truthfully speaking, I will not vote,” Mesa said, highlighting a fear of the Sanders campaign.

With the exception of about three Trump protesters (which I couldn’t tell if they were serious or just trying to pull a laugh out of the rally), there was an overwhelming grassroots support for Sanders outside of the debate venue.

People also took the opportunity of the mass exposure to express their own concerns and views, with marijuana legalization and anti-big-money sentiment being the major topics from the gathered activists.

Florida will become a deciding factor for the longevity of  Sanders’ candidacy, and for the strength of Clinton’s campaign.

No matter who you support, you should get involved in the campaign. Create a sign, attend a rally, hold a fundraiser, annoy anyone that follows you on social media with political propaganda (actually try not to do that last one), maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for the political state of our country and its future.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Matthew Alvarez/ RISE NEWS

Japan Needs To Have A Lot More Sex Or The Country Could Collapse Into The Sea

The Japanese population is rapidly declining.

The population has lost almost one million people over the past five years.

This decline has been long predicted by demographers but the world’s third largest economy has been unable to find a solution.

The situation is dire and hard to overstate.

If Japan can’t start having many more babies then the country will face great challenges later on in the century. These challenges could undermine the very core of the country’s social order.

Japan has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, 1.41 children per woman in 2012.

As a result, the number of people 65 and over has increased from 12.1% in 1990 to 26% in 2014.

Furthermore, estimates put Japan’s retirement age population at 40% of the total national population by 2060.

This would likely put a tremendous burden on Japan’s social safety net, state pensions alone being ¥792,100 per year ($6,960.76). This accounts for nearly 33% of Japan’s national budget in 2015 and it will only continue to balloon as the years roll on.

Having to cope with close to half of your population being in need of geriatric care is not a problem exclusive to Japan.

There is a lot of pressure on young people in Japan to have more children. But will they listen? Photo Credit: J3SSL33/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

There is a lot of pressure on young people in Japan to have more children. But will they listen? Photo Credit: J3SSL33/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

China recently revoked and replaced its One Child Policy, with the Two Child Policy.

In part this is to combat China’s low fertility rates, 1.66 births per woman, and in part to counter act the imbalance between the number of men and women, a 30 million person disparity.

Other low fertility countries include, but are not limited to: Singapore (0.81), South Korea (1.18), Germany (1.44), Russia (1.61), The United States (1.87), and the United Kingdom (1.89). All of these nations have fertility rates incapable of sustaining their current populations without immigration helping to offset the disparity.

Elderly populations then are not only a threat to the economic growth of Japan, but to advanced economies in general.

It would then seem that in order to combat global population decline, and with a greater number of developing nations creating advanced economies, nations may need to compete for immigrants in order to sustain their populations.

This may be particularly difficult for Japan, due to the relative difficulty in learning its national language, and a culture that is not as used to welcoming immigrants as many of its potential competitors.

Of course the other way for Japan to get back to an equilibrium in terms of old and young is to have young people have more children- lots more children. The government has tried many different methods, including offering to pay parents to have kids, but it has had little impact.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Freedom II Andres/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Being A Second Generation Haitian-American Is Really Damn Hard

By Nick Moncy

The term second-generation, as shown by a quick Google search, is an adjective “denoting the offspring of parents who have immigrated to a particular country”.

What factors drive people to move to another country? For a variety of reasons: to earn money for family battling poverty and sickness, for better opportunities for their children and themselves, to escape war and persecution. There are many other motives as well, but what most actions share are the selfless and brave motives behind them.

My own parents immigrated to South Florida from Haiti in their thirties to expand their horizons, graciously happening to find each other, fall in love and marry, and have my older sister and me.

Their hard work and sacrifice has carried us through school, my sister through graduating college as last May, and through endless extracurricular activities and personal ventures.

However, with that unconditional love comes unconditional expectations from their culture, many of which clash with those of prosperous countries like the United States that we also strive to embody. This leaves second-gen individuals feeling trapped between two insistent worlds, yet assuming this spot has allowed me to admire both sides.

In a traditional household, the rituals carried over create a rigid atmosphere. The parent’s native language is usually primarily spoken and heard in media outlets, cuisine revolves around their native tastes, and their expectations reflect those they were issued growing up.

Some basic ones are common – putting school and family first, learning your native tongue (Creole for me), and looking presentable to exude a sense of composure. There is, in fact, a barbershop on every block in just about every Haitian town, at least it seems that way.

When all you have is yourself, you must be your best self according to that logic.

Nick Moncy in Haiti, June 2015. Photo Credit: Nick Moncy/Rise Miami News

Nick Moncy in Haiti, June 2015. Photo Credit: Nick Moncy/RISE NEWS

But there are some cultural themes that do not carry over so smoothly. Emotions show weakness, immaturity and lack of self-control. You are your gender and sex and you will not deviate.

Your complaints pale to the immense pains your ancestors endured, so it’s no use. Mental illness is an illusion – you’re just afraid to try hard. You will wear what your parents tell you to wear, and think what they want you to think, or you are disobedient. You might even get compared to your friends who conform and feel ashamed. You lose the ability to believe in your own convictions.

When all you have is yourself, you must be your worst self is the sad reality.

The grand, overlying difference I have observed is others versus self. In rural parts of Haiti, where the heart of Haitian culture beats loudest, individualism simply does not exist. Family members put others before themselves – using free time to aid parents with laborious tasks, plowing fields, mentoring the young, caring for the old. There’s no “paying you back”. Or “chasing your dream” – that is perceived as a luxury.

Here in the United States though, being yourself is highly encouraged. Saying what’s on your mind, free speech, self-actualization. We have technology to provide access to an infinite amount of information and exposure to many ways of life around the world, which enriches our perspective and increases our tolerance for exploration.

Even in college, most students have the freedom to choose the field that resonates with them. When your family remains in the back of your mind, and you feel the gnawing conviction to return the favor, to bring honor, and your friends back home did what they were told and brought that honor, doesn’t it feel like an unseen power is forcing your hand the other way?

Ultimately you may feel guilty for following your heart, even though no beaten path –doctor, engineer, lawyer – worked out for you.

“Although tradition seems to control us like puppets, a predetermined course, it is truly up to us to steer our fates.”- Nick Moncy

“Being successful, you ponder, is the “paying you back” that I’m missing”.

Even your peers who’ve assimilated into American culture will look down on you at times for not keeping up with milestones – not being caught up with the latest episodes of American Idol (R.I.P) or sports, not being manly enough (which is an issue on both fronts), not flowing with the crowd.

And guess what? Other second-gens from your ethnic group will mock you too, for not repping your roots or knowing your language or not visiting your motherland yet. Oh boy! The pursuit of perfection, unfortunately, is widespread.


Haiti. Photo Credit: Nick Moncy/RISE NEWS

All reasonable people will ask for, like my parents, is to perform the best you can at whatever you are doing. Although tradition seems to control us like puppets, a predetermined course, it is truly up to us to steer our fates. However, our heritages compose a significant part of who we are today and explain how our circumstances came to be.

As I grew older, I saw the other side of the gourde (Haitian currency): parents usually aren’t narcissistic or obsessed – they just don’t want their cultures to dissipate, to be lost, and that is why they clench so dearly to what they know.

To what they are.

And I’ve been able to understand, or at least try to, just what that is. For two weeks this June I trekked all over Haiti with my family to see both family and our motherland. I dove into the core of the island and despite facing the unknown, the links between this world and the one back home became crystal clear.

I finally feel at peace in this gray area, and for that I am grateful. I now believe in my potential to uphold my family’s future legacy by being there for them –plus, I personally want to help Haiti at a future point – but the only way to accomplish that goal is to settle into the person I’ve envisioned myself to be. And that person, I hope, will be as courageous and righteous as my family members.

If you’re a second-generation person like me, I encourage you to discover your past and find your own balance in the present – the experience has proven to be fulfilling. And for goodness’s sake, don’t wipe your hands on the fancy towels. They’re there for decoration.

Cover Photo Credit: Nick Moncy/RISE NEWS

Could These College Students Spark A High Speed Rail Revolution?

By Natalie Alatriste

High-speed rail is not exactly an issue that is at the top of many millennial minds these days. But a few local college students are working to change that reality.

Two brothers—Darius and Demetrius Villa—and their friend, Aleksandr Khalfin, founded the High Speed Rail America Club (HSRAC) at Florida International University.

The club researches and promotes high-speed rail trains, also known as bullet trains, in America. Bullet trains, which average more than 150 mph, don’t exist in our country, and it’s a fuel efficient and quicker way to travel, according to Demetrius.

“Half of my family lives in New York City, so about every year, we would take the Amtrak from Miami [to visit]. The train ride, however, takes an embarrassing 32 hours; it used to take 25 hours back in the 1930s,” Demetrius said. “During a visit in December 2012…as soon as I got to NYC, I started searching up other countries’ rail travel in the hotel.”

And this is where it all began.

Demetrius said he started doing his own research and became passionate about the issue—so much so, he applied for TEDxFIU in 2013 to present his idea of revolutionizing American rail.

TED is a “nonprofit organization that is devoted to ideas worth spreading,” according to its website, which will partner with independent organizations, like FIU, to “spark deep discussion.”


Because he wasn’t an experienced speaker, he wasn’t able to present in 2013. However, that didn’t discourage him from informing others on high-speed rail.

People started hearing about it, and now High Speed Rail America Club has 676 members on Facebook. The club is also opening two new chapters at other local universities—the University of Miami and Miami-Dade College.

HSRAC doesn’t solely focus on bullet trains; it also focuses on inner-city transit. The club wants to solve common transit issues, especially in Miami, where public transportation is not as strong as other metropolitan areas.

The group says that they are determined to bring Miami a Maglev train-rail system, which is a transportation system that uses powerful electromagnets to create the high speed, according to

HSRAC is working with three private companies—Texas Central Railway, American Maglev Technology and All Aboard Florida—with hopes of creating a national vision.

The club works closely with All Aboard Florida, though, which is a passenger rail project connecting Miami to Orlando. All Aboard Florida’s website says the project is scheduled to begin this service in 2017.

The HSRAC introduced the Miami Maglev idea to All Aboard Florida, and hope to continue working closely with this already-established organization for the initiative.

The Miami Maglev system would supposedly connect FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus with Miami’s South Beach. The students in the club have been hosting events at FIU, such as the Future of Transportation Day, where members raised awareness for high-speed railways and unveiled the idea of the Miami Maglev to students.

And the members say that they are not stopping until their visions become reality.

One member, Tolga Erbora, the director of railroading and public relations for HSRAC, said he’s confident his position will be taken to a professional level once he graduates.

“The High Speed Rail America Club is an opportunity to take action and fix the issues that come in the way of travelers today,” Tolga said. “It is also a great way to network with politicians and related businesses.”

The club is in the process of making a documentary called “The American Train.” Its release date is scheduled for sometime in October.

“With this documentary, we want to spark the conversation throughout FIU and nationwide. It will include interviews from FIU deans, local historians and executives from All Aboard Florida,” Demetrius Villa said. “With this, we’ll continue to make it a reality and get everyone on board.”

To show support or for more information on the High Speed Rail America Club, visit

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Cover Photo Credit: Thomas Lok/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Can The 1975 Change The Music Industry As We Know It?

In recent months The 1975 has released their first single, “Love Me”, off of their highly anticipated sophomore album- I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It.

With Bowie-esque melodies and cheeky lyrics, the British quartet is shaking up the music industry with a valiant effort to challenge contemporary pop music. The 1975’s new single is a self parodying ode to the narcissism of fame in today’s youth culture.

Matt Healy, the front man for The 1975, begins the music video by singing, “I’m just with my friends online” while he drinks a bottle of champagne donning electric blue eye shadow.

Healy states this lyric derives from our generation’s obsession with social media and the alternate reality it ensues. If that’s not shocking enough he does this while provocatively enticing card board cut outs of pop icons.

He goes on to sing, “You look famous, let’s be friends and portray we possess something important” revealing the rock star’s sarcastic views on entitlement as a celebrity.

This poses the idea that artist and consumers alike falsely believe that celebrities possess qualities and thoughts that make them elite compared to the general population.

The in your face lyrics conclude with, “We’ve just come to represent a decline in the standards of what we accept!”

This is a direct questioning of the current principles of the music industry as we know it.

Photo Credit: 1975/ Youtube (Screengrab)

A scene from the music video for “Love Me.” Photo Credit: 1975/ Youtube (Screengrab)

Healy believes that pop music has become a brand and not about expressing genuine emotion through talent. He has articulated his want for the youth to be more critical about what they consume and what inspires them.

The band hopes to start a conversation what as a society we have let the music industry become.

Before releasing their single, The 1975 made a bold power move by deleting all of their social media accounts leaving fans and critics perplexed on the state of the band.

24 hours later, they reemerged with a new aesthetic, giving music lovers the opportunity to decide if pop artist can survive without a social media presence.

So what does witty one liners background with 80’s synth pop and social media blackouts mean for the The 1975’s music career? As listeners we’ll have to stay tuned but we’ll always be in awe of the band’s blatant disregard to music industry norms.

Cover Photo Credit: The 1975/ Facebook

Millennials Are So 2015: Meet The “Founders”

By Erika Hills

We have the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and now according to MTV, the Founders.

In a nationwide survey, MTV gave 1,000 teenagers born after 2000 the opportunity to choose what they believe to be a fitting name for their generation.

They are eager to face the world and the problems that lie within it, in their very own way.

With the abysmal job market and crushing national debt that stand before them, The Atlantic hails the Founders as pragmatists navigating a post-9/11 nation.

They [the Founders] continue to say that in front of them lie a mess from prior generations that they are tasked with cleaning up.

According to MTV, the teens surveyed also considered names such as “The Bridge Generation,” “The Builder Generation,” and “The Regenerator Generation,” before choosing “The Founders,” a fitting description for how today’s youth view themselves.

“We’re ‘the Founders’ because we’re the ones transitioning from before to what’s going to become after,” one participant explained in a video MTV released on Dec. 3rd.

Another said, “I’d like our generation to be marked kind of as the foundation that mostly set off what’s going to happen in the next 50 to 100 years.”

MTV is just as hopeful as the teens themselves, because despite the fact that Generation Y receives a bad rap, the Founders are “optimistic and forward-thinking” in terms of their endeavors and what they anticipate their futures to hold.

However, taking upon the thoughts and ideas of high schoolers to let them name their own generation has come under question.

The Atlantic points out that classifying any generation’s personality and goals is quite the challenge, but even more so when the people being interviewed have recently entered high school.

TIME also cited that entire generations don’t typically decide what their name will be.

That has been done only by individual personalities in history such as how “The Lost Generation,” was coined by Gertrude Stein to describe those who lived through World War I.

Others are bewildered at MTV’s attempts to gain credit in labelling a generation of rising teens who are unfamiliar with their music network roots and vastly prefer mobile devices.

In fact, this April the International Business Times revealed that MTV’s ratings have been declining for that very reason.

Don Kaplan of The New York Daily News deems it purely self-promotional on MTV’s part.

“It’s a ridiculously overstated attempt by MTV to define a generational boundary,” he noted in a column. “And it comes off more…like a bid to advance the network’s own self-promotional agenda.”

Is it still early yet to know the defining characteristics of this generation?

As the Atlantic claims, one crucial difference of this cohort  is that they’ve never known a world without the Internet.

Griffin Picciani, 14, interviewed by TIME, only knows of a black president. The games he plays today carry a world of difference in comparison to those his 20-year-old cousins played when they were younger.

“I think our generation is the bridge to a new era — a new idea, a new world, where things that haven’t really been thought of, get thought of,” another young Founder told MTV.

Only time will truly tell if the Founders’ optimism to achieve greater things will remain long enough to define them.

Cover Photo Credit: Petra Benstead/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

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