Today’s Latina Spotlight is on Vanessa and Veronica Cedillos, two incredibly talented violinists, and sisters, who set out on a road trip through ten South American countries with the mission to inspire children with their music.
What’s your country of origin or family heritage?
Vanessa: We were born in El Paso, Texas on the border of Mexico. Our parents are from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. There is a lot of Mexican tradition in El Paso. We grew up with a very strong Mexican culture and our family spoke mostly Spanish. In my elementary school years, I initially struggled with English and didn’t even realize how different the rest of the US is.
Veronica: I knew on paper that I was a minority, but I didn’t actually realize it until I went to Boston. It wasn’t until a friend described me as “Latina” that I thought, “I’m Latina? Oh, yeah, I am Latina!” My Mexican heritage is very important to me; both being Mexican and American. During our trip people would ask, “Where are you from?” It was difficult for them to understand that we are both Mexican and American, but it was neat to represent this very different face of America.
Education: Please list any academic degrees and colleges/universities attended:
Vanessa: I was very young when my father got me into music. I loved it and always did very well. I started realizing that I had a talent in music and decided that this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Music Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, and then my Master’s degree in Violin Performance at Longy School of Music Conservatory in Boston. It was a great experience being completely surrounded by music at the conservatory. I came back to El Paso and started teaching music to kids here. I like telling them my story and that where they are now is where I was years ago. I also play a lot in El Paso, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. Now that we are done with the trip my plan is to move to Austin and continue my musical career.
Veronica: I always loved playing as well, but starting in high school I was also interested in engineering; my father was a civil engineer. Leaving family isn’t something that is common, so I wasn’t initially encouraged to leave El Paso for college. I stayed in El Paso for the first year of my degree, studying at the University of Texas at El Paso. However, I soon regretted not applying elsewhere and felt that I had not challenged myself. I applied to transfer and went to MIT the following year, where I received my Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. I then moved to New York where I worked as a structural engineer. I liked my work but I wasn’t convinced that traditional engineering design work was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was deeply interested in somehow combining my academic interests with humanitarian work. I then went to Stanford University where I received my Master’s degree in structural engineering. It was during a summer internship in India that I first got the opportunity to combine engineering and humanitarian work. Now, through my work at GeoHazards International I focus on reducing the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis in vulnerable communities around the world.
What inspired your tour in South America for six and a half months, playing your music?
Veronica: It has been a combination of different dreams that evolved over the years. Vanessa, although she dreamt of long-term travel in South America, didn’t really consider it since she didn’t want to go too long without playing violin. I, on the other hand, was looking for a way to dedicate more time to my violin and also had the dream of long-term travel in South America. We realized the overlap in our dreams and decided to save up for this trip, in which we could both travel in South America and play violin.
Why did you decide to focus on visiting orphanages?
Vanessa: We wanted to reach an audience that didn’t have access to that kind of music. And most importantly, we really wanted to inspire children, and serve as role models to children who are in need of them.
Veronica: Playing for kids was a combination of our interests. Vanessa has worked with children and I’ve traveled abroad to work with communities. This kind of work gave us the opportunity to connect with locals, to learn on a deeper level about the communities we visited, and have wonderful experiences that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
What countries did you visit during your six and a half month tour?
Both: We visited ten countries: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia.
Of the countries toured, which was your favorite country?
What are some of your favorite anecdotes from your road trip?
Vanessa: We had a performance for over 300 delinquent teenage boys. At first we doubted that we could inspire them, but it ended up being one of the most beautiful moments of the trip. They came up to us afterwards and thanked us. Seeing those 300 kids cheering for us was really rewarding.
Veronica: My immediate reaction was ‘these kids can’t appreciate this music”, but I was completely wrong. One boy ran to our taxi as we were leaving to tell us that we inspired him and that he would never forget us for the rest of his life. It is beautiful to know that we inspired people that we thought we had nothing in common with. It was definitely a lesson for us, as well.
What has been your most important professional or social accomplishment, thus far?
Vanessa: I would have to say having made a name for myself in El Paso as a violinist. I have many performance opportunities in El Paso. I play with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, the El Paso Opera, and started a string quartet. I reached my dreams as a musician and I’ve even gone beyond them. I feel very happy with what I’ve accomplished here. As an orchestra teacher, I feel that I’ve given back to my hometown and that I am passing along what I’ve learned.
Veronica: I’ve had different experiences that I’m very proud of, particularly, my work as a project manager in Indonesia and Peru. Because of this work, I was the recipient of an award from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute: the Shah Family Innovation Prize, an award that recognizes promising young individuals in the field of earthquake engineering. One of my former Stanford professors that I highly admire received this same award a couple of years ago. I remember dreaming of one day winning this award. To now be amongst that list of recipients is a great honor.
Who or what inspires you to be your best?
Vanessa: Particular to this trip, we were both an inspiration to each other. We saw each other making difficult decisions and making sacrifices to take on this project and make our dream a reality.
Describe a perfect day off from work?
Vanessa: We’ve had a lot of days off [laughs]. I was always very dedicated and very busy, so during a day off I would definitely spend time with my family. Especially as a Latina, family is very strong and important to us.
Veronica: My family in San Francisco is my group of friends, so spending time with friends. To beat stress I love going for a run or doing yoga. Playing violin also relaxes me, and takes me to another world. If I’m having trouble disconnecting it is a guaranteed way to de-stress.
What has been your biggest challenge in life?
Vanessa: Particular to this trip, it was all the planning and giving up on opportunities and commitments to make it a reality. Even the trip itself, although really enjoyable, was a big challenge. We had to work a lot more than we had predicted in order to arrange performances during our travel.
What is your next Big Dream?
Vanessa: We have a performance together coming up this Sunday!
On Sunday, September 9th, Veronica and Vanessa Cedillos played as part of Marco Antonio Solis’s band for his joint concert with Marc Anthony and Chayanne, in El Paso, TX. For more information regarding Vanessa and Veronica, their trip, and videos of their performances follow the links below: