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Celia Cruz’s ¡Azucar! Spirit and giving back to the Dominican Republic

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a fundraiser that brought together some of my favorite things: Celia Cruz, education, and art.  The DREAM Project held its annual benefit event on March 7th at the beautiful El Museo Del Barrio to celebrate the legendary Celia Cruz and raise funds for its inspiring work.  Thanks to the Celia Cruz Foundation, the event showcased an exclusive collection of some of Ms. Cruz’s fabulous costume dresses, hair pieces, shoes, and other memorabilia.  The event honored Sully Bonelly, Creative Director for Isaac Mizrahi and the designer of some of Ms. Cruz’s most famous outfits (remember that blue dress and blue wig combo at the 2002 Latin Grammy awards? – that was Mr. Bonelley’s creation), and Omar Pardillo Cid, President of the Celia Cruz Foundation and a two-time Grammy Award winner.  The event also hosted a silent auction full of amazing artwork by Latino artists, including some of the DREAM Project students.  It was a night full of movers and shakers in the local Latino community all gathered, to soak up a bit of Celia Cruz’s ¡Azucar! magic, and give to a worthwhile cause.

While at first blush, the connection between the Cuban salsa queen Celia Cruz and a nonprofit organization working with Dominican children may not be entirely clear, I quickly realized the work of this group was entirely reflective of Ms. Cruz’s spirit and passion for giving back.  Before her death in 2003, Celia Cruz already had laid the ground work for the Celia Cruz Foundationwhich today carries out her dream of giving back to disadvantaged Latino youth by providing them with financial aid to study music.

Like Ms. Cruz and the Celia Cruz Foundation, the DREAM Project believes that access to quality education is critical for improving children’s opportunities and breaking the cycle of poverty.  Like so many other Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic is still challenged by low education attainment levels.  On average 48% of girls and 63% of boys between the age 13-17 do not attend school and the country is still plagued by high drop out rates.  The DREAM Project seeks to combat these low education rates by providing education opportunities to over 3,000 children annually through 24 programs in 11 different communities of the DR.  Since its inception in 2002, the DREAM Project has established numerous initiatives to support youth, including setting up four Montessori preschools, an after-school tutoring program, music and sports programs, and a youth workforce development program.   Already, the Project has noticed an increase in the academic skills and abilities of the children it serves.

If the energy of the Celia Cruz inspired benefit is any indication of the future of the DREAM Project, then this organization has the potential to change the lives of thousands of children in the DR.  And I’m sure that Celia is up there somewhere smiling with approval and telling us all “No te aflijas, chico, ¡vive tu vida con sabor!”  (“Don’t worry kid, live your life with flavor!”).


By Being Latino Contibutor, Alexandra Aquino-Fike. 

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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