I was surprised this morning to see an obituary in the Post-Dispatch for Yolanda Salinas Hess. I wanted to share a little bit about her brief, but bright, impact on my life.
It started one morning late in Oct. 2002, when my dad told me to read an article in the Post-Dispatch about a new Hispanic bookstore that was opening in St. Ann. He said it had mentioned something about selling Bolivian music.
I read the story and headed over to “Librería Cultura Hispana” to see what sorts of Bolivian things they might have. I didn’t count on meeting a live, Bolivian person.
But that’s just what happened. Almost as soon as I entered the store, a woman descended on me and began chatting. Her name was Yolanda.
She was a whirlwind, extracting information from me: she learned about my Bolivian novia Yoli, and she learned that I designed websites. She told me excitedly that she was from Bolivia, but from La Paz in the highlands. Almost before I knew what was happening, she had talked me into designing a website for the bookstore.
I later sent an email to Yoli recounting my fateful meeting with Yolanda. Here’s how I described it:
She told me “Women from Santa Cruz are so beautiful.” I think she is right! Also, she said that “Bolivian women are like honey, they just stick to you, you never forget them.” … Anyway, she said I should come to her house some time.. She moved to the U.S. when she married an American man. She said it wasn’t easy because of the differences, but that it was worth it. … she also said sometime I should go to this meeting of Bolivians who live in St. Louis. She is going to bring another book about Bolivia to the store, and I will pick it up this weekend.
I spent the next several months working with the store’s owner to make a website. Over that time, I was in touch with Yolanda, too. She told me she had been a silent investor in the store. Unfortunately, the business didn’t last long. This would come back to bite me later.
In Dec. 2002 and Jan. 2003, I was preparing to travel for the first time to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Yolanda acted as a travel agent and secured the cheapest tickets possible. She recommended that I not eat too many lomito sandwiches and that I try some cuñapes.
Of course, this proved to be the most pivotal trip of my life. Yoli and I got engaged, and I needed to buy rings. But around the time we were looking at rings, a problem arose: somehow I had overdrawn my account. Among the reasons was that the bookstore owner had failed to wire me payment while I was in Bolivia for half of what he owed me for the website, which he had promised to do. Obviously there was little I could do thousands of miles away, so Yolanda helped pressure the owner to keep this promise. But she went further, knowing that he might not come through in time. Yolanda deposited what I needed in my bank account and that made all the difference. She went to great lengths for me over the small amount I was owed, when in fact, I believe she was owed much, much more herself.
Yolanda was well-connected to St. Louis’ various international groups. In 2004, a man was organizing a big World’s Fair Centennial Celebration in Forest Park. Yolanda was part of that, and she brought me in to build the event’s website. In fact, the more I think about it, I realize that almost every small-business Hispanic website I did in those early years can be traced back to that one fateful meeting with Yolanda. The websites are long gone, but Yolanda’s impact remains.
Yolanda was a founding member of the St. Louis Bolivian Society, and of course she invited Yoli and me to their events. Because of my work schedule, we couldn’t often participate. But we did enjoy attending many of the Society’s Easter Sunday celebrations. We looked forward to visiting with Yolanda, who was always warm and welcoming to us.
As our family grew and our lives got busier, we saw Yolanda less and less, but we did stay in touch. She once told me “I remember how I met you a long time ago and I still think of you as the young man with no ties. Look at you now, a great dad and wonderful husband.”
I’m sad to know she’s gone. We will miss her.