Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lithuania's Honorary Consuls: Daiva Navarrette, Los Angeles, California

Today, we begin a new series profiling Lithuania's Honorary Consuls in the United States. Thanks to Aiste Zalepuga who conducted the interviews with each Consul and collected additional materials. 

Daiva Navarrette has been serving as Lithuania's Honorary Consul in Los Angeles for three years. She was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and studied Economics at UCLA. After obtaining her degree, she worked for more than 17 years with investments and financial markets. 

Los Angeles, with a population of more than 18 million, is the 2nd largest city in the United States and the 11th largest globally. Among the biggest economic and culturally rich centers in the world, it is the epicenter of the entertainment and media industries. However, the city has also recently experienced a boom in tech startups, and boasts strong textile, garment, fashion, auto, defense, and advertising industries. International trade is significant as well. In fact, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are two of the busiest in the world. And tourism too plays a vital role in LA's economy; more than 41 million people visited the city in 2012. 
Much of the world knows of Los Angeles as the home of Hollywood, as a place dominated by the entertainment industy (television, motion pictures, video games, and music). In truth, though, while Hollywood's presence is certainly visible and no doubt contributes substantially to LA's economy, it is not without competition. Few people are aware, for instance, that some of the most rapidly growing and promising industries in Los Angeles are, in fact, technology startups (noted above) and the green sector.

The City of Los Angeles is strongly committed to expanding clean energy innovation and providing the assistance necessary for clean tech companies to grow and expand their operations. At present, LA produces more clean tech startups than any other region in the United States. Its vision is to build an entire CleanTech Corridor, a 4-mile strip of land, bordering the LA River, in the heart of the downtown Arts District. The Corridor will be home to a clean tech ecosystem that Los Angeles is building in order to better support the emerging "green economy." Simultaneously, Los Angeles is marking itself as a serious contender in the technology market. Though Silicon Valley has been dominant in the tech startup scene, LA's own Silicon Beach, a 3-mile area that stretches from Santa Monica to Venice, is quickly making headway. The site plays host to a rising number of Los Angeles's more than 600 tech startups.

Los Angeles is also home to a large and active Lithuanian community, and for many Lithuanian immigrants, culture plays a very significant part in their lives. Much of that cultural activity takes place at the parish grounds of St. Casimir's (located in LA). This Lithuanian Catholic Church, founded in 1941, is the only of its kind in California. Since its inception, it has served as the cultural, social and educational center of the Lithuanian community. St. Casimir's offers a Lithuanian Saturday school (one of three in Southern California), traditional folk dance classes with the group Spindulys, Lithuanian Scouts, the Catholic Youth Association - Ateitininkai, Sports Club Banga, concerts, exhibits by local and international artists, film screenings, book presentations, lectures on various topics, a Sister Cities program with Los Angeles and Kaunas, and more based on demand.
Lithuania's Honorary Consul to Los Angeles, +Daiva Navarrette, whose parents fled Lithuania during World War II and eventually settled in Los Angeles, grew in up in a Lithuanian household. It was there that she learned to speak the language, and there that a strong Lithuanian identity was instilled in her and her two sisters. But it wasn't just her homelife that prompted Navarrette's  interest in Lithuania. She also received a thoroughly Lithuanian education, spanning her primary and secondary school careers, and she was a member of the song and dance group Spindulys, the Lithuanian Scouts, and  the Catholic Youth Organization - Ateitininkai. Lithuania, then, was always a very real presence in her life. And finally in 1993, after the nation had regained its independence, she had the opportunity to visit; she has since become a frequent guest. 

So what exactly is an Honorary Consul, you ask? For Navarrette, it means focusing on commercial matters, like offering support to Lithuanian companies and business people; attracting investments to Lithuania; creating cultural programs; and collaborating with Lithuanian-American organizations. Primarily, though, she utilizes the opportunity to share her heritage with the United States. "The goal," she says, is to promote Lithuania "through projects like performance, seminar workshops, forums, exhibits, bazaars, festivals, fairs, cultural exchanges, and educational programs in schools, universities, and communities." This year- 2013 - will be the 27th year that the Los Angeles Lithuanian Fair takes place; it is the largest Lithuanian culture fair outside of Lithuania itself. Additionally, every four years, North America hosts a Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival. In 2008, this festival was hosted for the first time in Los Angeles, and more than 1,100 Lithuanian dancers from all over the world performed.

Tax incentives for film production in Lithuania is an upcoming issue, and one that Navarrette finds particularly critical to Lithuania's promotion within the United States. Beginning in 2014, it is "a decision that is intended to attract foreign filmmakers to Lithuania for both economic value and industrial development" purposes. "With this new incentive coming into Lithuania, relationships and presence in Los Angeles will be key to the success of capturing and developing this growing industry," says Navarretta. "There are significant opportunities for Lithuania within the international film market, which need to be explored. My goal is to pursue them."