Cuban-entrepreneur and philanthropist-mom Carmen Milian, on her bilingual and bicultural life #SpotLightTuesday

Carmen Milian became a #mompreneur as the young mother of three girls, and it all started with porcelain dolls. From her home in New Jersey, Milian would design the dolls, outfits and all, and would personalized them for clients and friends.

Inspired by their mother’s creations, all three daughters became interested in fashion, modeling and acting. The family moved to New York City and Milian became the manager of her daughters’ career in the entertainment world. That was 25 years ago.

Today, Milian keeps busy negotiating contracts, music, publicity and administrating tours and merchandise, as well as advising on wardrobe for movies and television. She is co-creator of an animated musical show for children called “Shelby Star” and was executive producer of her family’s reality television show on the E channel, “Christina Milian Turned Up.”

Perhaps the most impressive trait about Milian, is that in addition to finding a balance between work and motherhood, and the way she has managed to live a bicultural life, is her devotion to philanthropic causes. She is a sought out speaker and mentor for teen girls and is an ambassador for “Secrets to Self-Esteem” sponsored by the antiperspirant company, #Secret. She has collaborated with the Women & Children Cancer Research and with Penny Lane (a girls orphanage). For the last ten years, she has been an active fundraising volunteer for #Hands4Hope, an LA non-profit that helps single moms and families.

Here is my interview with the fiercely giving and dynamic Latina mom, Carmen Milian. 


MB: Where were you born?

CM: I was born in Havana, Cuba.


MB: How old were you when you came to the United States?

CM: I was 5 years old.


MB: Where you raised bilingual and bicultural?

CM: My siblings and I were NOT allowed to speak English at home. Our parents wanted to ensure that we continued speaking and living our Spanish culture and they were afraid we would forget the language. Plus, that was the only way they could communicate with us.


MB: Was it hard for your parents to adjust to the new culture?

CM: It wasn’t too difficult for my parents to adjust. We were lucky that my uncle and aunt (who had already been residing in the US several years before us) sponsored us, so they helped us find housing, work, schools and taught us how to use public transportation. My parents learned enough English at their workplace to get by. The children learned the English language quickly since we were all so young and adaptable. It helped that we moved into a predominately Latin area (Union City, New Jersey) This location had a large Latino population which made it easy for us to fit in.


MB: What is one anecdote you can share that instilled pride in your culture?

CM: I have a lot of pride in knowing that my parents came without a penny in their pockets. They never asked for a hand or relied on government assistance. Instead they took pride in working to give my siblings and I the best life they could, which enabled us to progress later in our lives. They left their families and their home behind. I’ve lived my whole life trying to be all that I could be (and more) to make them proud. I will forever be eternally grateful for their sacrifice.


MB: As a young mom, you had a porcelain doll business from home. Were your daughters the inspiration for a doll business?

CM: My children have been my inspiration for pretty much everything I do in life. Now I have four beautiful grandchildren who are the apple of my life. They now inspire me creatively as well.


MB: Your daughters were born in the U.S., was it a challenge to raise them bilingual and bicultural?

CM: It was extremely difficult raising them bilingual. Latin American children born in the US have a tendency of only wanting to speak English once they are exposed to schools and non-speaking neighborhoods. That’s why parents constantly have to practice and instill our culture in them from birth so they won’t forget their heritage.


MB: For over 25, you have managed their careers.  Has it been difficult to be a mom and a business partner?

CM: It’s extremely difficult working with family members in any sort of business but I think it can be a bigger challenge for parents in the entertainment business. Parents get a stigma that we are overbearing and demanding but in reality, we are just being protective. It’s difficult enough to get respect from your kids, so working with them can be even more stressful. That’s why you must remain twice as patient and have as much fun with them when you are not working. Have boundaries that way your children will love and respect you at home when they come off the clock. My daughters and I have mutual respect in the workplace and at home. Trust me, it’s taken many years to perfect that.

MB: In your experience, what is the hardest thing when balancing cultures and languages?

CM: I speak with a Spanish accent so it’s easy to realize I am Latina. I take pride in my heritage so I often speak to people about my country and my upbringing. Of course, the fact that I can cook Cuban meals automatically makes everyone want to come to my home.


MB: Favorite #bicultural activity you did with your daughters when they were growing up? Now?

CM: Cooking in the kitchen fusion Cuban meals and dancing to loud Celia Cruz & Beyoncé music has always been our favorite bicultural thing to do together.


MB: Tell me about your involvement with organizations that benefit young girls and health related organizations?

CM: Our family has been working with Hands4HopeLA for over 10 years. We’ve been providing them with food, school supplies, equipment as needed and we raise donation funds for them as well. We love the fact that it is a nonprofit program that provides after school benefits for underprivileged kids in need. The program felt so close to our hearts since we once had gone through hardship after my divorce and I also counted on an after-school program like this one to watch my kids until I got out of work.


MB: Recently, your family partnered with Got Milk? for their #CAthrivesonmilk campaign. Tell me about it.

CM:  When the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB) approached my daughter Chef Liz Milian and I to work with them on the “California Thrives on Milk” campaign during the month of June, I thought of #Hands4Hope right away as they have regular free educational wellness events. Collectively we could help educate the #Hands4HopeLA families by including them in activities and providing them information on the nutrition value of milk in their daily diet.

MB: What is your message for parents raising children with two or more #languages and two or more #cultures?

CM: This world is a melting pot, so the more languages you know the more advantages you will have in life and especially in the workplace. I recommend parents to encourage their children to embrace their heritage and be proud of who they are and where they come from but it is also equally important to expose them to different cultures by teaching them the beauty of their differences.


Carmen Milian, an impressive Latina #mompreneur, don’t you agree?