De La Torre Grows Tulipanes

    HOLLAND — Deborah De La Torre began playing classical piano when she was four years old. Little did she know that the classical training also would be vocational training — sort of.

    But today, the founder and board president of the Tulipanes Latino Art & Film Festival is grateful for that progression. De La Torre’s achievement list is long and really did begin at the age of four when she began playing the piano. She went on to win multiple piano scholarships and put herself through lessons and, eventually, college.

    “My family didn’t have a lot of money and so the only way I could take piano lessons was to win them,” she said. “So at the age of seven I began playing to win and won thousands of dollars in scholarships and was able to continue lessons.”

    De La Torre received a music scholarship to the University of Miami and earned her degree, focusing on performance and composing, which is where her business focus remains today.

    “I am always five years ahead of schedule and that is where my head is,” said De La Torre. “That is where I like to be; looking ahead to see where we are going.”

    That vision has helped Tulipanes triple in size in just two years. The art and film festival is intended to celebrate the history of Spanish-speaking people from an achievement standpoint, while honoring the Latino impact on Holland.

    De La Torre has honed her forward-looking vision since early on, but she balances it with a practical side, too.

    Her piano playing and determination landed her in Philadelphia after college, where she worked in the insurance and finance field for Mass Mutual as the director of recruitment.

    She also spent time as a motivational speaker at local colleges and eventually was asked by the head of the National Association of Insurance Women to chair the national education committee.

    “It was a tremendous honor to be asked and to accept,” De La Torre said.

    Not long after that, her husband, Miguel, got some good news of his own: Hope College had hired him as a professor and the family would be moving to Holland. Deborah De La Torre is now an adjunct professor at the college as well.

    When the family arrived in Holland, De La Torre wrestled with what to do with her skills. Get involved in business? Maybe play classical piano? Or maybe she should work with the arts or in community service.

    It was then that Hope College invited her to play piano in a Cesar Chavez celebration. During a breakfast in her home with other people involved in the event, De La Torre began talking with members of the Latino community and discussed what Holland was lacking.

    “What we found was a negative stereotype surrounding the Latino population and that the true message wasn’t really getting out,” she said. “We knew that there were Latinos that had done wonderful things, but no one really knew there was a Latino astronaut or that the Hispanic culture had produced artists, intellectuals, architects and poets. So someone said, ‘Someone should do something about that.’ So I decided to. And I wanted to do something that would profoundly and positively affect the community on a permanent basis.”

    That breakfast meeting was where the idea for the Tulipanes Festival was born.

    De La Torre and others saw the lack of positive Latino images available through film and video as having a detrimental effect on the community, especially the youth, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic.

    “When they (youth) grow up to become decision makers, what images will both groups retain in their minds? What policies will be created and how will community relationships be forged based on these images?” she asked.

    With those thoughts, her past experience, and her drive to always create something new, De La Torre created the Tulipanes Festival.

    What is unique about Holland’s festival is that it is both film and art, something no other festival in the country is currently doing. And it is all family based.

    “Latinos want to attend events as a family. An overly eclectic fare might not interest this demographic,” she said. “Why not celebrate our legacy of accomplishment? The Tulipanes Festival uniquely taps into Latino mainstream viewing tastes with comedy, culture, education, pro-family and successful youth stories.”

    The Tulipanes Festival runs Oct. 4-10 with events occurring all day at various locations in the city. For more information on the film contest, celebrity appearances, films being show and art on display, check out the festival’s Web site,

    “We have already tripled in size from our first year last year and we are already achieving some of the goals in our five-year plan, so we are way ahead of ourselves,” said De La Torre. “This can have a profound impact on the community and I think that with 50 events at 11 venues last year, entertaining 3,000 people is a great achievement — and I think we will highly surpass that this year.”           

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