Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Our Hollywood Bel

Bel Hernandez Publisher, Activist, Leader
On Thursday, September 9, 2010, the National Hispanic Media Coalition at its annual Local Impact Awards Luncheon, in Pasadena, CA, is presenting the “Outstanding Service to the Latino Community” Award to Bel Hernandez, publisher of Latin Heat Magazine and Latin Heat Online. No doubt the awards presentation will include a recap of her outstanding contributions in helping Latinos in entertainment gain visibility, respect and work. Many owe their careers in part to Bel and her efforts of always representing the Latino actor, filmmaker, writer, behind-the-scenes professionals and technicians up front and center. The spotlight has never been about her or her publication.

Today, I’d like to share a bit of Bel the real woman, the true and loyal friend that she is. Those few who are in her confidence know her already but most of the people she is fighting for do not. Allow me to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Bel:

Bel, an actress and former professional Mexican folklore dancer gave it up to jump into the publishing world without knowing one thing about this industry other than knowing she had something to say and she was going to get it out in public. She never gave it a second thought that she would be competing with powerhouses like The Hollywood Reporter and the Daily Variety.

I have worked with Bel on and off throughout the past 15+ years. Anyone who has worked closely with Latin Heat can attest to the fact that at times our debates were very colorful. That’s what happens when two hardworking, determined and passionate women join forces to fight a common cause. I cannot say that she has always been a best friend, but I can say she has always been a loyal friend who never allowed any of our disagreements to get in the way of our mutual mission: To put Latinos on the Hollywood map.

When the rest of Hollywood is ignoring Latinos, Bel makes sure Latin Heat shines the spotlight extra bright and then knocks on the doors of decision makers without intimidation and states her case. When Latin Heat first started publishing, the subscription list was not very long. But the few Hollywood names that were subscribers, packed a powerful punch. It literally is a who’s who of Hollywood elite, and they read LH because they know it’s the main source where they can tap into who’s hot in Latinowood.

At the beginning, Bel went without any pay to first take care of Angie Ortíz, our Graphic Designer, and me. We worked for very little but it was enough to get by and enough to feed our passion to help Latinos. In 1995, we decided to co-host the first Latino Entertainment Media Conference in response to the dozens of calls we received from struggling talent asking for direction, opportunities. We often felt like the “Social Services Office for Latinos in entertainment.” One summer night while relaxing at former CBS weatherman Maclovio Perez’s famous Pasadena pink house, we came up with the idea of a conference where we would gather industry professionals to give out info to our readers. Bel and I immediately planned, plotted and made it happen. Bel combed through the Hollywood Creative Directory and called the most high profile names she came across. She talked to presidents and power brokers. She was able to get by the receptionists and in some instances talk to the “men” themselves (few women in power then). If any one said “no” to her, it was because of scheduling problems. Most said “yes” and we can only assume it was because they took the publication seriously and/or maybe wanted to be politically correct. We didn’t care the reasons why they agreed Bel hooked them with her convincing pitch. Our event budget came out to be $130,000 and we had no money. If the event had been a bust, she and I would probably still be washing dishes at the Sheraton Hotel in Universal City. But it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and, from this one event, we co-founded the non-profit organization, Latino Entertainment Media Institute (LEMI) and hosted conferences for several years until the event outgrew us and Bel stepped aside for others to continue sponsoring industry conferences.

Hernandez and Esparza
at the 1st
 LEMI Conference, 1995
Bel has never turned down any request to help, ever. She’ll either share her resources or contacts she has cultivated during the past two decades. She’ll even take the time to make the introductory call for you. She’ll never say it, but there are several high profile talents who owe in part their careers to her relentless efforts.

I remember the first time we met Jennifer Lopez, I recall Bel saying, “This one, is going to be a big star.” Jennifer was our 2nd LEMI Conference Celebrity Co-Chair just as the film Selena was about to premiere. Neither one of us had any idea how big she’d eventually be, but Bel called it first. And, Latin Heat was the first media publication to support this future megastar.

One of the things that I admire most about Bel is her strength of character. Very little rattles her or if it does, she never ever allows it to show. She’s unreadable this way and it has gotten her far when pushing Hollywood decision makers. I read in the manuscript of an upcoming book titled, “How to Say I love My Life and Mean It,” contains a chapter she wrote titled “The Power to Say I Belong,” where she tells how her pregnant mother “weaved her way in and out of rows upon rolls of towering green and golden cornstalks, through the beautiful hills and valleys that surrounded her home in El Rancho del Padre in Momax, Zacatecas,” on her way to the midwife. She never made it and gave birth to Bel while in route. “She delivered me on her own; quickly measuring the umbilical cord and cutting it with a nearby rock. Afterwards she wrapped me in her rebozo.” No doubt, this is where her fearless resolve and strength comes from.

In 2007, I was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer and I was frozen with fear. I recall that the only woman I wanted to talk to was Bel Hernandez. I knew that she would not coddle me or let me crumble. I knew that if anyone could kick me in the A and knock some courage into me, it would be Bel. She not only calmed me down and reinforced my faith, she also offered to take over my pending projects on top of her own responsibilities with the magazine. She did this quietly without ever saying a thing to anyone. Because of Bel, I was able to take care of my health business and all that was waiting for me without having to worry about my own career responsibilities.

This is the type of woman Bel Hernandez is. And, she’s never asked for anything in return.

Latin Heat is growing into a media giant and I hope the next time the publication comes knocking, you’ll remember the sacrifices it has taken for Bel Hernandez to represent the Latino community. She is, after all, all about us.

Congratulations, Bel.

—Elia Esparza

From Angie, With Love
Angela Ortíz with Latin Heat Publisher, Bel Hernandez    
The first time I met Bel, I liked her, even though she was very cautious while she looked through my portfolio. The next thing I know, I’m doing a couple of small graphic things and the next issue of Latin Heat. That was in 1996.

After a few issues with some minor changes, she allowed me to make some major changes in the layout and a great working partnership, I can say, began. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have layout suggestions, which I would do and then end up doing my original layout. We laugh about that a lot now.

That’s how Bel and I have worked for many years. I think it was good for both of us. She learned more about publishing and design; which made our jobs so much easier. Today, it’s smooth sailing when we are planning our next projects. She has pushed me in directions I never dreamed of, like doing event photography for instance. My titles at Latin Heat have run the gamut from Art director, Production Manager, photographer and to the “NO” person.

Her passion for the publication and what it stands for (in print or online) really drives her to make changes in this world we know as Hollywood. When you meet Bel and you listen to her talk, especially about things that move her or bother her about the industry she loves, you know she is a driven person to the causes she supports. That’s the true her…I don’t think many people realize how much she has supported many talent(s) in Latin Heat.

The more I’ve gotten to know her, the more I admire and respect her. She’s a great mom; she has a really cool hubby, Enrique Castillo. And on a personal note, I can call her a friend, a very good friend. And I love her.

Thank you, Elia for introducing us.

—Angela “Angie” Ortíz

Taught Me Tools of the Trade
Brenda Herrera with Latin Heat Publisher, Bel Hernandez 
I remember picking up Latin Heat at the bookstore as a student at UCLA and thinking, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for…” without even knowing it! I read through it from beginning to end and it was then that I decided what I wanted to do with my life.

A couple years later, I landed at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival where I had the good fortune of meeting and working alongside Bel Hernandez. I told her that I was a big fan of Latin Heat and would love to work with her. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship on several levels. She took me under her wing and showed me the ins and outs of the entertainment industry and gave me the opportunity to spread my wings. She trusted in me to explore and execute new ideas to help market Latin Heat. We made an awesome team and even better friends!

Bel has been a great inspiration to me for her tireless commitment to the Latino entertainment industry and I am honored to call her not only my mentor but one of my best friends! I couldn’t be happier for her to finally be recognized for her efforts after all her years of supporting Latinos in front of and behind the camera and never expecting anything in return. Besides showing me the ropes and handing me the tools to succeed in this business, most importantly Bel has taught me that when you are passionate about something, the satisfaction of seeing it come to fruition is reward enough.

—Brenda Herrera
Photos: Angela María Ortíz S. (Bel Hernandez/Brenda & Bel)
             Anselmo S. Ortiz (Angie and Bel)

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