SHE’S BACK! by Elaine Del Valle
The Girl: “I know. I want to live in Arizona… for the rest of my life! I love the weather. I love the pace of things. I just love it! I am an adult, and I know. I want to go to school there… and I want to stay there.”
The Mom: “You are a New Yorker through and through…We might be able to jump in anywhere… but not many places can keep us jumping for joy like the thrilling ride that is our New York City.”
But still, and against my better judgment
(that made me ache to call Rent-A-Center),
that new furniture I had just purchased
—y’know the kind that makes a little girls room into a young adults room—
that was all packed up, shoved into the container of a long haul truck and shipped along with all of her clothes, car and most cherished belongings, half way across the country and off to a nice two bedroom condo rental near Arizona State’s Tempe campus.
While she was away– I painted her room… I thought that it might give me some closure…Okay, I ended up needing to paint 9 rooms before I felt some form of closure upon me. We are talking paint brushes, ladders, and tape!… While listening to the Pandora stations of Adele and Elton John!…which by the way, have lots of songs that make you NEED to cry …On A LOOP!
As the paint smell left my walls, I got used to–the quiet.
Sleeping through the night without the house alarm going off as she came home every night… and every morning from the echo of her dropping her shaving cream in the shower.
And I knew she was
and so I never minded.
Used To It…
and I even
in ways that I had forgotten.
A semester has gone by. Facetime is giving me some face time with my girl. Actually more than I had with her when she was at home. Whole conversations are had, and I get to hear all about how she had to drop calculus but passed all of her other classes with A’s and B’s. Job is in tact. Wasn’t so in love with that condo area she chose to live in anymore though. Oh and broke up with her boyfriend. Not to mention the part where she is tired of the desert’s slow motion and the KICKER…
The Girl: “Mommy, I think…I need…I know…I want…TO COME HOME!”
The Mom: “I hate to say I told you so…OK I love to say I told you so! After all, the more I am right, the more you listen to my future advice…But YES…
PLEASE & THANK YOU, COME HOME!”
The Girl: “Oh and Mom, Y’know that dog that you told me not to get…the one that everyone in the house would be allergic to…”
Oh no she dit- int!
Yeah, she did!
The Mom: “We will make arrangements. Uncle Danny will agree to take the dog.”
The Girl: “I can’t live without the dog! I won’t live without the dog! She brings me happiness.”
The Mom: “Then you will do all of those things that you did in Arizona…for yourself…here…You will get an apartment, a job and enroll in school.”
Only this time– I get to see her beautiful face(any)time…
And be able to hold my daughter in my arms!
“WELCOME HOME! YOU WILL ALWAYS BE WELCOMED HOME!”
The Mom: “Y’know, the first of the month is coming and…”
The Girl:—REVISION— The Young Adult: “I know, I already paid my rent.”
The Mom: “You did?”
The Young Adult: “Yes, I had the money, so I just wanted to pay it. I’m trying to be a responsible adult, and I got my dog spayed too.”
The Mom: “You did.”
The Young Adult/The Girl (again): “Uh, Yeah! I just gave all of my money to the vet so… can I borrow $200?”
The (PROUD AND HAPPY) Mom: “No, you can’t…You can have it.”
The Girl: “Okay, I’ll be HOME after work, to drop off my laundry to you.”
And this my friends is a very happy ending.
So far, anyway. Until next time…XOXOXO
Making Me A “Believe”r
Making me a “BELIEVE”R
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS- LATINOS IN COLLEGE
I flew for 5 hours from NY while she drove for 5 hours from Arizona–An easy drive compared to the cross country road trip that bought her there just two months earlier.
The entire plane ride down I find strangers that I am bursting to share my joy with “It’s my daughter’s 21st birthday!”
Most of them respond, “I went to Vegas for my 21st”.
I am shocked. Vegas is the kind of trip that I never dreamed of for my own 21st. After all, by the time I was 21 my daughter was already 2.
Looking at the life that she has created for herself makes me so proud. Her bold choices, made possible by her confidence, and knowing that I always have her back.
I can hear the maturity in her when she confides that she is very happy that she arrived to an away four year college with the experience of community college under her belt. She is able to clearly see the immaturity of the younger women and their struggle to fit in.
She feels comfortable in who she is…A feeling I did not get to until I was 30–okay 37.
I was surprised and elated to hear that perhaps she misses home more than she expected to.
We marveled at Cirque Du Soleil Shows and I came to know that what happened in Vegas will not stay in Vegas, but instead with us forever.
And now suddenly all of our conversations have deeper meaning. Even the texts that we exchange are ending in I LOVE YOU and THANK YOU (OMG). Has someone taken my daughter’s phone? Do I recognize this texter?
Oh yes. I think I do. She is my Friend. Someone I admire and respect. She is the girl I always wanted to be. She is my daughter. She is the future of me and the future of Latinas.
At Ithaca College I found plenty of students of the “Brownsville Breed”… One young Latina was my liaison and the head of the schools PODER Organization.
PODER translated means “Can”, “able to”, “the Power”, “the competence”…All these words exactly right for the spirit I find within the Brownsville Breed.
I can look back at many of my hundreds of performances and think “that one will live in me forever”…
New York City’s Laguardia High School of the Performing Arts…started with the head of the Drama departments introduction in which she told her students that I was proof that “they” “CAN” write, perform, and produce on their own. It was in a half round with stadium seating raked up over 100 feet above that stage that the teens roared in a standing ovation, not for me, so much as for the faith that I had instilled in them.
BayShore Long Island’s High School Awareness Weekend…I was the ice breaker…a performance that marked the beginning of a weekend when students stay in school, sleeping in sleeping bags for the entire weekend, in a therapeutic setting, where they can say anything…and trust that nothing will leave the room. Brownsville was the right show and at the right time letting them know that whether it stayed in the room or not, nothing should be the barrier between them and their success.
Brooklyn’s North Shore Charter Believe School, when for the first time I was in an auditorium of mostly latino teens…Before the show started the students sang to the pre show Spanish music…it gave me chills, and made me hope that my every move shook them with the responsibility they have to themselves and to the future of Latinos.
At Ithaca the small stage did not allow for me to be in the wings or backstage…and so I sat in the audience waiting with them for the show to start…Watching the 90 second video that introduces Brownsville Bred as an audience member…I am usually backstage at this time dancing to the music, channelling its flow inside of me with exaggerated salsa moves that help me to warm my hips and ready my body to the intense workout its about to have…taking the last taste of a throat lozenge, and telling myself “REPRESENT, REPRESENT!”…this time I was just watching…When I rose from my chair it seemed the perfect way to start every show from then on…because I am one of them and they are one of me.
And We are all people that “CAN”, “Have the power”, “the Competence”, “The Poder”…When I ask the question “Are you of the Brownsville Breed?” I know the answer…The answer is Yes and in the asking…it is merely a reminder to accept that this power is within you, and within all of us…and that no one and no circumstance can ever take it away.
In the last few months, I have read countless articles on the hiring practices of African American females by Saturday Night Live. It all started in November with an open letter generated by the civil rights group ColorofChange.org addressed to SNL’s legendary producer Lorne Michaels, asking “Why Doesn’t ‘SNL’ Cast Black Women?”
In an Associated Press interview, Lorne Michaels responded to the groups outrage with: “It’s not like it’s a priority for us…It will happen. I’m sure it will happen…You don’t do anyone a favor if they’re not ready.”
Oh Lord…did he really say favor? Ay yay yay.
Since then, just two months after the sparring began, SNL has hired three African American females: two writers and one performer.
Great… Right? WRONG!
Not far behind was another open letter — this one from The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Their staunch complaint called the show’s lack of Latino cast members “segregation in the digital age.”
More articles surfaced, followed by other articles, followed by tweets, followed by status updates, followed by retweets, followed by op-ed pieces, followed by… You get the picture. Like a reality TV show, it’s hard to keep up with, but juicy enough to have to.
As the Twittersphere and the land of Facebook went LOCO, other ethnic groups weighed in as well, leaving such comments as, “Where are the Asians?”
Another comment I saw tweeted, “Latinos are jumping on the black bandwagon,” and that is what prompted me to write this piece.
It’s not that we (Latinos) are jealous of the progress of the black community. We are not jumping on any bandwagon. Rather, we are, and have been, pushing that same wagon.
We understand the importance of diversity in the media within our communities, because we too were little kids once looking for hope in the only place to which we could escape: our entertainment.
As a kid, I related most to Norman Lear’s sitcom, Good Times. Maybe because the buildings reminded me of the Brownsville, Brooklyn ghetto I was living in. Or maybe because the cast was comprised of black faces which I had all around me. But Good Times did not just represent blacks. It represented my family as well. I related immensely! It wasn’t like just being a fan of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, which I was. It was special. It was important. It was about me, and people like me. It was a comedy that in its truth made me cry! Turning poverty from shameful to righteous.
Our trials, our inability to get work, the feeling of inequality that loomed. Even at a young age, you can feel social inequality, prejudice, and injustice.
I was 11 years old when my Mom and Dad took me to see Scarface. Yes, that’s right, Scarface at 11… And while you might think it wrong for parents to take their 11 year old daughter to see that movie, first please consider that I lived in the crime capital of NYC and saw drug deals, shootings, etc. long before I saw the film.
I had no idea what Scarface was about going in. I wanted to flee during the opening scenes that looked like a documentary: A ship coming to shore and the Spanish speaking voice over of Castro. I was thinking, “Oh no! I have to see a Spanish language movie!”
But within minutes, I began to get lost in the story of Tony Montana, a guy just trying to make a better life. It had a profound impact on me, because I was so surprised and inspired by just the sight of a Latino on the big screen. The subject matter wasn’t important. I didn’t even know that Pacino wasn’t Latino (and thank God I didn’t). All I knew is that I could see people like my family, and me ACTING in a MOVIE. It gave me HOPE.
As an actress in my 20s, I remember being informed of the Mastro and Greenberg Prime Time Television study conducted in 2000 which found that compared to Caucasians and African Americans, Latinos were under-represented on primetime television, where they comprised only 3% of television characters.
In 2010, another study titled Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenberg Study a Decade Later found only 5% of all television actors observed were Latino, only a 2% increase from the prior study a decade earlier. Meanwhile, the representation of African Americans remained constant at 16% of all television primetime actors.
This while the US census, in that same year, sited the Hispanic population as the larger of the two.
Furthermore, the new study said, “Viewers still see Latinos as having heavy accents, with little articulation skills, and as generally not well respected—especially compared to either African Americans or whites.” The study concluded, “Latino representations have lost the most ground… Latinos continue to be in a distinct minority.”
Those facts stir this Latina to the core.
As a Latina actress, I have always struggled with casting people and producers. I am not ethnic enough to play the exaggerated Latina roles, while I am simultaneously not white enough to be seen for the non-ethnic parts. Which is it? Do you see me as white, or are you ready to accept my shade as Latina?
And I just love the auditioners who ask, “Where are you from?”
To which I respond, “Brooklyn.”
They continue, “No. I mean where are your parents from?”
To which I answer, “Brooklyn,” while thinking, “Wait… Are my parents up for this job too?”
“No, I mean, where is your Spanish from?” they so sensitively wonder.
According to the rules set forth by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation for Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) that question is DISCRIMINATORY!
Speaking of SAG-AFTRA. I am fortunate enough to have performed on camera for dozens of commercials…both Spanish and English language. You should know that organizations like the Hispanic Organization for Latino Actors (HOLA) has been fighting the pay scale for National Spanish language commercials versus their English counterparts for years.
It can be the same commercial, appear more times and on what Nielson determines to be the highest rated program of the night and still Spanish language commercial performers receive a “per cycle payment” rather than a “pay-per-play” structure received on the English language counterpart. The four major Spanish language networks are either paid as program use or Wild Spot. For Wild Spot residuals, the television markets are weighted differently than in the English language market to account for the cities with large Hispanic populations.
What’s all that mean? What does it say of our value…as Latinos in entertainment?
But our value is not only questioned by our onlookers…Let’s not forget those hermanos and hermanas that come to discount my Latino experience because of the lighter shade of my tan… It’s no wonder we are torn apart and have not ONE voice. We can’t hear ourselves over each other.
We are put into boxes and then thrown around. It’s enough to give you a pounding headache! That pounding is what led me to writing…Not just this article but my own truth, because no one can ever take that away.
It wasn’t until I wrote and performed my autobiographical one-woman play, Brownsville Bred that I got people to glimpse at my experience.
I had no idea the success that my play would encounter. I conceived and wrote it specific to my experience as a Puerto Rican girl from Brownsville, Brooklyn–a girl who never fit in. But the more audiences I performed for, the more I came to this beautiful realization: the more specific a story is, the more universal it becomes. We have more in common than we think.
My play garnered a book packaging deal with Parachute Publishing and I have been writing it ever since. Now as my packager and I wait patiently for a mass publisher to love and believe in the book as much as we do, I continue to do what brought me to that hard to find place of satisfaction: write.
And so now I write, pieces like this one when I NEED to release, and the comedy web series, Reasons Y I’m Single. The show which I also direct and produce as an affordable outlet to depict great women including the character of Doris Martinez, a Latina that is fervent about her Latinaness and yet equally discriminatory. Because the irony begs a question and creates the funny, I have to hold a mirror to it. She has my Latina zeal without my pragmatism or my observing ego.
Doris is not always right. In fact, she is often wrong, because in Reasons Y I’m Single, I don’t need Doris Martinez to be right. I just need her to EXIST. To prove we exist! She keeps me motivated and makes me proud. Reasons Y I’m Single is not a Latino show. It’s a show about three single women, who are lonely and just trying to find a place to exist. To fit. Each character is a fish out of water. Their experiences are sometimes paranoid, always triggered by our human experiences, and riddled with the best survival mechanism I have ever known: self-deprecating humor.
So there you have it. One more opinion piece born from the hiring practices of SNL and the importance of Latinos being represented in entertainment. And let’s not forget the Asians.
So let’s keep pushing the wagon… matter of fact, let’s ask others to jump on, so we can take turns, and provide needed rest in between, so the wagon never has to stop travelling until we reach our destination.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON REASONS Y I’M SINGLE, visit www.ReasonsY.com
For more about Brownsville Bred visit www.BrownsvilleBred.com
A Latina expresses opinions on the Presidential Debates and the state of our economy.