Children's magazine creator receives
Early struggles help motivate Nicaraguan refugee
Christianne Meneses Jacobs, a Scottsdale resident and political refugee from war-torn Nicaragua, has become the successful publisher of Iguana, the nation's only Spanish-language magazine for children.
Twenty years ago, Jacobs, now 36, was a teenager in a once-prosperous family that was forced to flee Sandinista-held Nicaragua and find asylum in the United States.
"One day you are rich and you are affluent . . . and you have maids, cooks, a driver and nannies," Jacobs remembered. "And the next day, you come to this country and you are poor and you have nothing."
Her father, Enrique Meneses, an internationally known lawyer, had been jailed many times for advocating democracy in Nicaragua.
But when Meneses successfully defended an American against Sandinista charges that he was a spy, Meneses' family feared his life was in danger, she recalled.
"Our family in Los Angeles got worried and sent us plane tickets," Jacobs said.
When they fled Nicaragua, the Meneses family was allowed to take only $500. Her father and mother found jobs checking luggage at Los Angeles International Airport.
"It was pretty hard for them to support me and my brother on less than $20,000 a year," Jacobs said.
But their sacrifice, she said, allowed her to "finally enjoy the opportunities of freedom (and) taught us to speak up when there is injustice."
Jacobs came to Los Angeles a few weeks before her family arrived. Although the family had been well off, widespread food shortages had reduced her to 70 pounds.
Still, she had the strength to polish her English, win college scholarships and eventually become a teacher.
For the past five years, Jacobs has taught fourth grade at Garfield Elementary School in Phoenix.
During that time, she and her husband, Marc, came up with an idea: a colorful Spanish-language magazine for children.
There were books in Spanish, but most of them had been translated from English "and the translations were horrible," Jacobs said.
The couple wanted something better for their bilingual daughter, Isabelle, who was 2.
Research showed the magazine would be popular, and the first issue debuted in May 2005, with a core of native Spanish-speaking contributors from the U.S. and Latin America.
The result is a colorful mix of short stories, poetry and articles on history, inventions, recipes, children from around the world, even Greek mythology.
The teacher in her wants "kids to be well-rounded," Jacobs said.
Iguana comes out six times a year, but production seems non-stop.
Her husband produces much of the work from home in addition to other jobs.
Jacobs said she joins him after her day of teaching, "and after I get dinner and put the kids to bed."
But the long hours are paying off.
She was recently awarded $5,000 as one of 10 honorees of the Anna Maria Arias Memorial Business Fund, which recognizes entrepreneurial Latinas.
"We put the money back into the business," she said.
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