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Brayan Mendoza is only 24, but he has already experienced the American dream in some ways—through his immigrant parents and his own efforts to turn his love of movies into a career.

A resident of Desert Hot Springs for eight years, Mendoza was born in Palm Springs. He graduated from Desert Hot Springs High School and earned an associate’s degree from College of the Desert in English.

“I’d like to go back to school and study film,” he says. “Film did a lot for me. I was going through a rough patch and was close to the breaking point. I even thought about taking my own life. Then I found American Film Institute’s 100 Years …100 Movies and watched all 100 of them. I found so much happiness and joy in doing that. I credit film for saving my life and turning me on to that form of expression.”

Mendoza is currently hosting Flix and Picks on iHub Radio every Saturday afternoon from 1 to 2 p.m. (I also work at iHub Radio.) He not only discusses current films, including those on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also comparisons to classic American and foreign films.

“It’s really important to me to know that people are listening,” he says, “but I don’t want compliments just for doing a show … or for being good looking! I’d rather get compliments for who I am and having something intelligent to say. I feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation, and I want to be able to move people. I want to be able to give meaning to various communities, not only as a movie critic, but as a social communicator as well.”

Mendoza’s dad is from Chapala, Mexico, and his mom is from Guadalajara. The family includes three siblings from his mom, and three from his dad. He is second-youngest in this blended family.

“I’d like to write a book about my parents’ story,” Mendoza says. “I want to be able to show what a positive difference immigrants make in the United States. My mom came to the United States to find her place in the world. She married and had kids, but had to go back to Mexico. My dad had to steal food and started working at age 11. My mom and dad had known each other as kids, and he was also out of his marriage. They came to America, and he’s now a citizen. My younger brother and I are the children of their marriage.”

Mendoza hopes to marry one day (“a man or a woman—I’m bisexual, and I’m happy to say my family is very supportive, very open-minded”) and have children.

“I want a stable career, maybe as a teacher, but I want to continue doing radio, even though I don’t have what I consider a ‘radio voice,’” he said with a laugh. “I try to make up for that through performance. I did once take a class in radio; I got a D. I just felt it was very limiting. I really only do voice work for my own projects.”

Does Mendoza want to be a filmmaker? In a way, he already is.

“I’ve worked as manager for my dad’s gardening company, and I’m a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, but I’ve also done intern work for a local LGBT comedian; edited and did a commercial for one of last year’s Oscar parties; and did a short film for the local Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast,” which supports gay-straight alliance clubs and LGBT youth programs in the Coachella Valley.

“My favorite genres are noir, fantasy, drama and horror movies, and I also like comedies. But film noir is my favorite—black and white, beautiful women, corrupt individuals, duplicitous motives, and villains not that different from the heroes. You watch a film from the ’40s with beautiful cinematography and a musical score—and there’s something really romantic about those movies. But, alas, I’m not sure they would work anymore.”

How does Mendoza prepare to see a film?

“I like to go into a movie blind, without reading other reviews or seeing film clips,” he says. “I like to have some knowledge of the film, just so I can anticipate more about what I’m going to see, but I don’t want to go in with expectations. You can see a great advertisement for a movie, and it turns out to be horrible—or it can be badly promoted but be a great movie. I want the audience to know that. Besides, most trailers for movies give away way too much.”

Mendoza’s influences include Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (“Great sense of humor!”), Richard Roper, and YouTube critics Lindsay Ellis and Grace Randolph.

“Some write or do really long pieces,” says Mendoza, “but I try to do it in shorter segments. I explore the writing and acting, and what it means for the audience. I think of myself like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, discovering new things, and I take a little bit of that world with me when I go to see a film.”

Any advice for other young people in the Coachella Valley who hope to live their American dream?

“I want to be a good influence for LGBTQ youth,” Mendoza says. “My advice is to do life like a resumé—always looking to learn a new skill to improve yourself. Take risks; at least it will give you experience to learn for next time. Stay faithful to your career choices, but keep an open mind to what might happen. And work hard and network; get out and meet people, because you never know who can give you an opportunity.”

Brayan Mendoza is from a family that found the American dream—and he is living it into a new generation.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early.

McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school.

“I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station.

“I remember in the fourth-grade, my best friend and I terrorized the principal when we discovered they had video equipment. We insisted they let us make game shows. By the seventh-grade, a guy I’m forever grateful to—Dick Dunbar, who taught English, media arts and journalism—let us begin producing a TV show. KING-TV was the station in town, and we got to see behind the scenes. We did our own version of a show, and they came out and did a story on us.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, my uncle’s radio station affiliated with Mutual Radio Network. I wanted to build a high school radio station. I picked up the phone and called the affiliate-relations department at Mutual and asked, ‘If we build a station, can I get programming from you?’ They ended up donating studio gear to the project. I even got to be a guest on Larry King when I was 16!”

McMullen and his younger brother, Matthew, were raised in Seattle. His mom was a housewife and then became a human-resources manager.

“She taught me that we need to be kind to others, sensitive to people less fortunate, and respectful of others’ feelings. She was also a big influence in my being a Democrat,” McMullen says.

Along with McMullen’s grandfather, his father ran a hide-curing business.

“Dad was a life-long Republican, never intolerant but more about how government shouldn’t dictate what happens,” he says. “I watched his metamorphosis into voting for Obama, which blew my mind. It was such a positive thing for me to see him change about public policy out of sheer common sense. His main influence on me was about work ethic and the importance of family. He taught me to never judge a book by its cover.”

During his junior year, a teacher put a halt to the broadcasting.

“He said they were going to bill our parents for the equipment use, or I would be suspended,” McMullen says. “After spending Christmas with my grandparents, who were then in Tucson, they said I could come and live with them the rest of my junior year. I walked into the principal’s office and said, ‘I’m not going to pay, and you’re not going to suspend me.’ They gave me my transcript; I flew to Tucson; and I started school there in the media-arts program. I was in heaven.”

McMullen’s career began to take off while he was a senior in high school.

“A guy from the Seattle radio station was then running KMPC in Los Angeles,” he says. “He asked me to return to Seattle. He had a Christian station they wanted to turn into a Top 40 station, and he wanted me to come back and help him build it. I got to be operations manager for what became KUBE-FM. One of the best things I learned there was that when you think you know the answer to a question, ask it anyway.”

A turning point came when McMullen heard that a man on another station had committed suicide. “He had left a note mentioning that he was an old man in a young man’s game. It made me stop and think: ‘What would I do if I didn’t do radio?’

“I took a vocational test that showed I had an aptitude for desktop publishing, so I got a temp position doing user testing. When the company merged with Adobe, I got the chance to go to Europe for a couple months.

“That led to Reel Networks, which ultimately came out with audio/video streaming software where I got to create a project doing LGBT programming. A friend had just launched Planet Out, and I started doing five-minute drop-ins and a two-hour talk show, Hangin’ Out. Next, I started my own company and built an audience of over 2 million with all-talk for LGBT audiences. That’s when I fully realized the power of digital media.”

McMullen’s radio and media experience includes stints in Honolulu, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Diego and New York City, where in 2002, he became director of news/talk entertainment programming at what would later become SiriusXM Radio. In 2005, McMullen moved to Los Angeles, still working for Sirius, and in 2007 accepted the position of director of news, talk and sports programming with KNews Radio, then owned by Morris Media, in Palm Springs.

“At KNews, I was committed to building as much local content as possible,” he says. “Local advertisers want to reach a local audience. When I started, KNews had only three hours a day that was local; when I left five years later, we had seven to nine hours seven days a week.”

McMullen has now started iHubRadio, a streaming radio network with locally generated programming, in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), which helps entrepreneurs provide local jobs through their Palm Springs iHub “incubator” for startup operations. (Full disclosure: McMullen hired me to work at KNews in 2007, and I am now on iHubRadio.)

After spine-fusion surgery in 2014, McMullen had another health setback earlier this year: a mild stroke.

“I opened my mouth to speak and only heard gobbledygook,” he says.

Now fully back on the job, McMullen is building iHubRadio into what he hopes will grow and expand into other markets.

“My focus now that we’re up and running is less on the product itself and more on where it goes next. CVEP’s mentorship has shown me how much personal and professional growth I still need to do, like learn to delegate,” McMullen, says with a laugh, “but I could do this the rest of my life and be happy.”

As long as he can talk.


A PERSONAL NOTE: In my article about Jeanie Ribeiro, I accidentally transposed her age: She’s a vibrant 67 years old, not 76. My apologies.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m always pleasantly surprised when I realize that someone I thought I knew turns out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.

Shellie Meeks is my technical producer and board operator at iHub Radio in Palm Springs. I always feel supported when her face is on the other side of the console. Shellie is pleasant, diligent and determined to work around an often-debilitating case of fibromyalgia.

I thought I knew her—and then one day, I was blown away. My subject was witches, and I was quoting statistics about how many (mostly) women were killed in just a year’s time in Salem, Mass., at the end of the 17th century. Off the top of her head, Shellie asked if I knew that 60,000 so-called witches were killed throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

Who knows something like that?

Shellie Meeks, 40, has lived in Joshua Tree with her husband, Cary, for about two years. She grew up in a military family, and her early years were spent mostly in the Pacific—in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. Her mom, Annie, ended up at the Pentagon, and her dad (specifically, her stepdad who adopted her at age 8), a former B-52 pilot, settled the family, including Shellie and her two brothers, in Virginia.

After graduating from high school in 1995, Shellie had to work to be able to go to college.

“It took me 10 years to get my B.A.,” she says. “I attended George Mason University, and worked sometimes three jobs to pay for it. I was originally studying to be a photographer, but I had to take two art-history classes—and I got hooked. I switched my major to art history.

“I remember when I was about 11, in Guam, I had a teacher who showed us a film … that was set in ancient Egypt. I never forgot it. I also loved museums when I was a kid, and living for so long in the Far East, I really got into Japanese art and culture.”

A favorite professor contacted Shellie after she finished her degree, to let her know they were starting a master’s degree program for art history. She jumped back in. “It was hard and grueling, but awesome!”

A professor in the master’s program, whom Shellie describes as “one of my best friends ever,” exposed Shellie to East Indian art. “It was amazing to see such a different style than I’d ever seen before. He opened a world to me I could never have imagined.

“He was one of the first people who actually said how much he believed in me. It changed my life.”

Shellie’s work life has included a stint as a country-music DJ in Virginia while she was attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting, interning as part of her degree path. “I got part of my tuition paid by taking the placement. They told me it wouldn’t pay much, but would be good experience. The station was run by a guy named ‘Cousin Ray’ who had been in that industry since the 1930s and knew all the country stars from that period. It was interesting and educational, and I enjoyed it, but the pay was less than minimum wage. I was working two jobs just to survive.”

When her mom retired, Shellie’s parents started a business involved with government contracts, and Shellie worked with them for a time. While doing so, she met Cary Shaffner, to whom she has been married for 12 years. “We met in early 2006, and married that December.”

In addition to her work on my show, Shellie also appears on iHub Radio daily at 4 p.m. on The Laura Meeks Show, along with her dad—originally named Laurence, but now known as Laura.

“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” she recalls. “The day I found out about my dad was the same day I had just gotten fired. My brain was focused on that when I got home. I got to the top of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, and there was this blonde woman sitting at the table. I thought, ‘That’s my dad.’ I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘Blonde isn’t really your color. You should think about getting a different wig.’

“I had never heard of transgender, but it wasn’t like the world was ending. I just thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ It doesn’t really bother me. She’s still my dad. I found out what being transgender means, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’

“When I realized my parents weren’t getting a divorce—my mom’s been fine with it, and they’ve been married 35 years—I enjoyed that I could show Laura how to wear high heels and do makeup. It was actually fun. Dad was always very male, macho and military, and Laura allowed him to show his kindness and humor. It brought us closer together.”

Shellie finished her grad degree in 2013, and she and Cary moved to the desert area from Pennsylvania five years ago. She still plans to get her doctorate and wants to teach art history.

“They keep cutting humanities programs—art, philosophy, history—and I want to educate people about how important it is to study these disciplines. I value my ability to use my brain. We can’t progress and understand each other without exposure to the humanities.”

Shellie hopes to have the chance to see the art she has been studying for so long. “I want to see Europe and India, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Parthenon in Greece.

“We have ancient influences even in our current culture, from television to comic books, and we need to understand those influences and how they impact us, often without our even knowing it. We need to be able to see everything in a completely non-judgmental way. It’s so important.”

Shellie Meeks reminds me that we not only need to understand how the past has influenced the present, but also to be willing to expose ourselves to things we might not even know exist—and do it with acceptance and without judgment.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At the recent 2015 Coachella Valley Economic Summit, hosted by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), roughly 700 representatives of the valley’s elite businesses and employers listened to rosy reports about the current national, state and local economy.

According to presenter Michael McDonald, of Market Watch LLC, job growth in the valley in 2015 was at its highest level since 2005. Employment in the leisure, hospitality and health care sectors is at 15-year highs, while hiring in the professional/business services sector is higher than it has been since 2008. Median home prices have rebounded to match prices in early 2008, when they began the free-fall precipitated by the widespread economic downturn.

It was a good day for CVEP, founded in 1994 “to promote a diversified, year-round economy by facilitating programs that stimulate job creation in key industries through business attraction, retention and expansion, and unite business and education leaders to create well-trained and educated future workforce.” CVEP published its first Economic Blueprint, described as “an ambitious, forward-thinking, market-based strategy to advance the region through the downturn (of 2009-11) and position it for long-term growth and prosperity,” back in 2009.

“The Coachella Valley is kind of an oasis that’s friendly to business (in a way) that you don’t get in other parts of our state,” CVEP’s director of marketing, Steven Biller, told the Independent in a recent interview. “CVEP can do things as a group and as a region that the cities can’t do individually, because they don’t have the budgets or our negotiating leverage.

“The cities expect us to bring them business and create jobs. That’s how we’re judged. And we’re trying to get the valley workforce built up to be able to take those jobs.”

CVEP has adopted a three-pronged approach to achieve these goals: Workforce Excellence, an effort to improve the local workforce through advanced educational and career opportunity; the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which assists startup and established businesses with financial planning, capital, marketing, sales, human resources, technology and more; and the iHub, which launches businesses and hopefully creates local high-paying jobs.

CVEP officials claim these efforts are paying off. At the SBDC, since 2010, more than 355 jobs have been created, with 223 jobs retained and more than $25 million in loans and equity generated. At the iHub, more than 30 companies have received assistance, resulting in 100-plus new full-time jobs. Through the Workforce Excellence program, 136 business organizations have engaged with the valley high schools to impact career and college aspirations of 3,331 students—while providing 2,152 scholarships.

“We have a low college-attendance rate here in Coachella Valley, and CVEP is fighting that,” Biller said. “We give out between 300 and 325 college scholarships a year to kids going to community college and university. They all have to be seniors, and they have to demonstrate financial need. Right now, most people who apply and qualify are getting the scholarships, because we tend to have more scholarships available than we have kids applying for them. That’s a big story: There’s so much money being left on the table, it’s crazy.”

The average value of the available scholarships is $2,500 per semester to a student attending community college, and $5,000 per semester to a public university student.

While the local economy is doing well, however, not all is well in CVEP’s world. Back in 2009, five-year funding agreements were reached between CVEP and Coachella Valley’s nine independent municipalities. Several of the cities have since reduced their funding commitment to CVEP—or eliminated it completely. Coachella, La Quinta, Indian Wells and Desert Hot Springs discontinued the funding, while Cathedral City ceased specific support of the iHub program, but continues its $25,000 annual contribution to CVEP overall.

Representatives of Indian Wells, Coachella and Cathedral City expressed a recurring theme: City budget shortfalls forced the funding curtailments.

Indian Wells City Manager Wade McKinney told the Independent: “The city’s economic position has been significantly affected by the recession and by the loss of redevelopment, and so our support to many Coachella Valley organizations was eliminated. We created a community grant program with a fixed funding level of about $250,000, which increases consistent with city annual revenue increases.”

Would CVEP would be eligible to receive any of that available funding? “I believe they are eligible; you just have to be a non-profit, but I don’t believe they’ve applied to us for any grants,” McKinney said. “It’s certainly very competitive, and we receive lots of applications.”

CVEP’s Biller had a different take: “Indian Wells can find the money, but they just don’t want to,” he said. “Now they should, because what about all the people working in their resorts? Do they want good hospitality and hotel and restaurant work staff?”

Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez explained: “What caused us to make the unfortunate decision to opt out of CVEP for 2016 was the need for budget cuts. We had to cut our fire and police budgets, so we felt compelled to make cuts in other areas as well. Unfortunately, CVEP was one of those.”

Biller perceived a somewhat different cause for the Coachella City Council decision: “In the cases of La Quinta and Coachella, which just dropped their funding support, they’re more interested in retail business development, and we are not a retail organization except, through the SBDC. So those two cities are going to take the $10,000 each that they were giving to CVEP annually and make their own strategic choice to create a new entity they call the East Valley Coalition, and do their own retail outreach. The East Valley Coalition happens to be based in CVEP’s Indio office. So, although it sounds antagonistic, it’s not. These cities need to put their dollars where they think they’re going to get the most impact.”

Biller said he hoped cities would see the light and begin funding CVEP again at some point.

“Hopefully, in the future, people will understand that they should be part of a regional strategy, because a rising tide lifts all boats,” Biller said. “We’re not going to stop providing scholarships to the kids in Coachella and La Quinta. We’re not going to stop serving businesses that come to us. We’re not going to stop anything. That would be crazy, because it goes against everything that CVEP is about.”

Coachella’s Perez agreed with Biller. “This new East Valley Coalition’s main focus will be economic development in the eastern Coachella Valley, which is one of the priorities of the new Coachella City Council,” Perez said. “But we want outcomes that we can measure for success. It is my hope and the hope of the city that, after this year, we go back to CVEP. This is not a long-term decision.”

Published in Local Issues