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This film powerfully tackles homophobia from a Latino dad's point of view.

The willingness of any parent to adapt their way of thinking to make their child happy is a beautiful thing.

When Santiago Vasquez's son told him he was gay, Santiago looked at his wife, then burst into tears of joy.

Santiago is featured in "El Canto del Colibri," a powerful and raw new documentary about Latino dads coming to grips with their children's sexuality in a culture that often has zero tolerance for it.

"Colibri" means hummingbird in Spanish. "Much like the seldom-heard song of the hummingbird, the voices of Latino fathers are rarely heard in addressing LGBTQ issues," the opening lines of the documentary explain.


So "El Canto del Colibri" is "the song of the hummingbird."

Santiago Vasquez and his son, Santi. Still from "El Canto del Colibri," used with permission.

In the documentary, Santiago said it was a relief for him to hear that his son was gay.

He saw an excruciating look of pain on his son's face when he said he needed to tell them something. Based on that look, Santiago, a police officer, said he immediately thought his son, Santi, was maybe on drugs or perhaps he had witnessed a crime.

But when he heard Santi's words, he asked to give him a big hug and a kiss. "Prepare yourself to fight for your rights," he said.

"El Canto del Colibri" is a big moment for the Latino culture, which has traditionally had low tolerance for LGBTQ lifestyles.

In particular, Latino men tend to have a reputation for being extremely homophobic.

Machismo, a common cultural phenomenon in Latino history, preaches an overzealous masculine pride among Latino men where they feel the man should make the rules and has the final say in any household. It's an outdated concept that many now feel has no place in today's evolving society.

But this documentary hopes to show how things are changing. Now, Latino men are moving away from machismo, leaving their homophobic ideals behind, and embracing their children. By sharing real stories of Latino fathers and their kids talking openly about sexuality, this documentary shows that things are changing, finally, slowly.

Still of Joaquin Lopez sharing a laugh with his father, Salvador, from "El Canto del Colibri," used with permission.

The emotion that comes across most frequently in the documentary is fear.

There's fear that society won't accept their child for being gay. Fear that he or she will be treated unfairly. And also fear that they'll be physically injured by ignorant people who don't agree with their lifestyle.

Some fathers in the film admit to blaming themselves somehow for their son or daughter's sexual orientation. One admits not being very affectionate with his daughter when she was young, as if that could've been a factor. For others, their kids' sexual orientation is almost perceived as a reflection on themselves.

"Parents think that their boy's sexuality, more than their daughter's, is a reflection of their own sexuality," says Jorge Hernandez, one of the young men in the film. "They feel that their sons represent who they are as people."

Alberto Salamanca, another father featured in the film, says that he first had to accept in his mind the fact that his kid was gay and then realize that — before all else — that's his child. And if he doesn't accept him, then how will society accept him?

Still of Cris and his father, Alberto Salamanca, from "El Canto del Colibri," used with permission.

The other key emotion is love: For many of these dads, their children finally shook them out of that deep-rooted machismo mentality.

Santiago remembers flying into a rage after seeing Santi being affectionate with his boyfriend in front of the family, including his youngest son.

It took his daughter saying, "Daddy, you're wrong!" and his younger son saying, "I know my brother's gay, and I don't care," for him to realize he needed to change his way of thinking.

Santi says he is glad he did the documentary. "Not only were my dad and I able to express our thoughts and emotions, but it also showed that even when you love someone, e.g., your son or child, you can still have prejudices and fears sometimes translates into anger because that may be the only recognizable emotion in that moment."

While the kids in this documentary were brave, I was actually most impressed by the fathers.

Initially, they frustrated me. But in the end, I realized that they, too, were brave. They were willing to adapt and to choose to love their children despite the cultural norms around them.

Still of Ricardo Hernandez with his son, Jorge, from "El Canto del Colibri," used with permission.

"As a gay Latino man, my hope is that Latino families can cope with the menagerie of emotions that they may have when their child comes out," Santi said. "It's OK to have fear and doubt, but please know that there is beauty in diversity."

Javier Bandera and Zizi Bandera, a father and daughter, said filming the documentary actually helped them heal.

"The most beautiful moments of healing for me happened behind the scenes, from my mom decorating the whole house with rainbow papel picado and streamers when the film crew came over, to coming out to my oldest brother live during the filming," Zizi said.

"It gave us the privilege to be able to help other families understand their LGBT children," her father, Javier, said. "Especially after the tragedy in Florida. It changed my life and helped me see that we have to think differently and be more understanding towards our kids."

Still of Zizi and her father, Javier Bandera, from the documentary "El Canto del Colibri," used with permission.

Director Marco Castro-Bojorquez says he originally set out to dismantle the idea that Latino men are homophobic, transphobic, or machista by nature.

He wanted to show how unconditional love has the power to change hearts and minds in our families and in our community.

I'd say he got his wish.

This film sparks a difficult conversation in a culture that needs it very much. It represents an important step in not only lifting up, but understanding and supporting the LGBTQ movement within the Latino community.

And by opening up in "El Canto del Colibri," these fathers have also become champions of the LGBTQ movement and strong allies for their children.

Who would have thought that a group of Latino fathers would lead the charge for embracing the LGBTQ community in the Latino culture? Certainly not me, but I love it.

Watch the film's moving trailer below:

The documentary is now available on Vimeo.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

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AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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