WHEN SHOPPING FOR POPTARTS ARE TRAUMATIC!- A DAUGHTER LEAVES FOR COLLEGE

WHEN SHOPPING FOR POPTARTS ARE TRAUMATIC!- A DAUGHTER LEAVES FOR COLLEGE

 
A Daughter Leaves for College
By Elaine Del Valle- The Country Club Chica
 
It has been less than a month since the last time I held my daughter’s little face in my hands, but not a day has gone by that I do not think of her and exactly how she looked before she went away to college.
20 years of raising this girl and then poof, she is gone.
I suppose I am lucky that she accomplished her Associates degree locally and while living at home, before leaving to a 4 year out of state college.
Not that my daughter was home much at all. Her wings sprouted on the day I gave her the keys to the car.  When she wasn’t in school, she was mostly either working or with her boyfriend.  But somehow, I felt so BUMMED. So truly sad that I couldn’t see her face, visit her at work or just know that her shoes would be there (where they shouldn’t be) to drive me crazy.
Doing groceries for the first time after she had gone was TRAUMATIC!  I now cry at the sight of Strawberry Poptarts!
I have been having dreams of my puppy flying out of my window to chase flocks of geese, all the while I am screaming, “Come back, Come back. You don’t have wings.”
Now suddenly, I feel the need to purge: The need to tell her all of the life lessons that I learned through trials and tribulations.
 
On Love– To love is never a personal sacrifice; Never a compromise.  Loving should feel good.  If you do not like something about the person today than you’ll really hate it after you are married. If a man ever raises a hand to you—RUN, don’t walk! If they do it once, they’ll do it forever. 
On School– Don’t waste a credit.  Get through it and always look to your future. 
On Time- Time goes by quickly.  Look back to a time when you thought that you’d never get over what you were going through. That school year you felt would never be over, that first break up, when you felt like your skin was pulled off of your body and even the air hurt, and your heart would never mend. Realize that you have made it to the other side.  Consider all of your hardships as that. Never let them bring you down. Know that you will get over it.
On Girlfriends– I heard someone say “Ask a friend which dress you should wear and always wear the other one.”  Ask your mother what you should wear and trust that it is what looks best on you.
Your Mother is your best girlfriend.  She will never steer you wrong. Your success is her success.
On Partying- First and foremost, always be safe.  Bring a buddy and watch where you put your drinks.
On Drinking- DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. Don’t be in a car whose driver has been drinking.
On Kids- Don’t have one until you are ready to forget about your own needs ENTIRELY. Diapers and feeding won’t be hard but it will be monotonous.  You will hunger for intelligent conversations and sleep. It’s this tiny little person you will fiercely protect in a way that you never thought possible.  You will crave for a dinner out with a “can’t wait to get away from the child for an hour” mentality, but later your need to get back won’t let you finish your dessert.
On Work- there should be a future in any position you take.  Whether it be owning the McDonalds you are currently flipping burgers for or running the firm whose mailroom you are just starting at…Always consider your positions a stepping stone to greatness.
On Charity- Dedicate your time to help causes that inspire you.  It will feed your soul and make you proud of yourself.
On Home– Keep clean and organized.  Clutter is a sign of chaos. A home should be your place for relaxation and peace.
On Health– Without health you have nothing. Exercise pumps those endorphins and can light you up. Eat well so you feel good.  There are consequences to everything you put in your body.
 
Looking back on this month, I know that I actually talk to my daughter now more than I did before she left.  She calls to ask me things. She calls just to say hi. She sends me photos. And best of all, we share HOW VERY MUCH WE TRULY MISS ONE ANOTHER. 

She’s Back!

SHE’S BACK! by Elaine Del Valle

 

December 2011—

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.

 

“Sorry, Mom.”

And I knew she was

and so I never minded.

 

And,

I managed

To

Get

Used To It…

and I even

got to

myself

in ways that I had forgotten.

 

 

Summer 2012– 

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!”

 

Yesterday– 

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

Brittany and Lily

Brittany and Lily

Making Me A Believe “R”

Making Me A “Believe”r

 

Making me a “BELIEVE”R

By: Elaine Del Valle

 
 
I have been performing my autobiographical 90 minute solo play for about four years now.  In that time it went from winning small festivals to rave reviews, regionally and then off Broadway.  When the New York Times called it a “Triumph”, there was a certain confidence that washed over me and made theatre’s little pay feel like I had banked millions over.
 
There is no argument that the story of “Brownsville Bred” is that of a Latina coming of age.  There have been many a non-believer…those that felt “how could any other audience get it?” or the better question for those artistic directors and theatre decision makers “How can I get my (non-hispanic) audience to want to be in those theatre seats?”
 
Those artistic believers, who went onward and with bravery into full productions, I thank them and am so proud to say, they never lost a dime and more than money…they expressed a great accomplishment, and pride in the faith that they put in both the play and their audiences.
 
Those producers and audiences were believers.  They believed that every human being has a sense of struggle with their past, with their circumstances, with their environment…They conquer and they laugh.  They want to be happy and they want to root for success.  People who thought they knew me saw the play and felt “I’ve never really known you at all?”, while those who had never met me felt as if they had known me for their entire lives.
 
After thinking I had seen them all, then came school performances.
The play, based on my childhood has reaped many rewards but none more than in its performances within schools.
 
It was never my idea.  It started with teaching professionals who found their way to my play as avid theatre goers but later felt compelled to share it with their students… The students that had much in common with the humble beginnings of this Brownsville Brooklyn born Hispanic ghetto girl as well as the students who thought that they’d have nothing in common with her and yet found so much.  
 
Environment, relationships, challenges and growth exist in every human circumstance, and finding this common ground find us all in a wonderful place…one where all teens, and adults of all ages strive to be…a place of… belonging.
 
There has never been a school that I did not enjoy performing at. A large audience at New York City LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts was one of the first.  They made for a loud and excited group in a theatre that was bigger than many Broadway houses…The Drama teacher invited me.  Before I took stage, she announced to her students “This is an example of doing it all…You can write it, you can perform it, you can produce it!”  Hearing those words before taking stage made the nerves that usually center in my heart quiet in comparison to the chills that coursed up and down my limbs.
 
There were kids of all backgrounds.  Teens who were already pursuing a career that I only started to dream  was possible in my early twenties…
At the end of the show, a standing ovation.  I have received many a standing O, but this one had a certain specialness that I cannot begin to explain.
 
Many other high schools and colleges have come after that school…All of which have been absolutely the best moments of my career.
 
After one such other performance at the Ethnic Pen Annual Conference of the BayShore School District on BayShore Long Island, I thought “nothing could top this”…This because the district is one of a very few that falls in the middle of both a very affluent and a very poor community. It is a place where black and white and rich and poor gather, but understand quite clearly the divide that still exists. After the performance those kids seemed to feel united. It felt better than I had ever felt before.
 
Just after that performance, I was fielding invitations from other schools from both East and West of the city.  It seemed many other district personnel was in house to witness the student response. One such request came from a school called The North Side Charter BELIEVE School in Brooklyn.  BROOKLYN, the borough from where I came… I did not know what to expect, but I never expected what I got.
 
As I entered the building with my stage manager, we had to be escorted by security up to the office.  There was a young hispanic girl in tears.  Her mother spoke in my native “Spanglish” and asked the 15 year old, “Who taught you to kiss a boy?”  The threat of punishment and being transferred from the school all told and seemed wrapped in the clench of the Mother’s fist holding back from the slap I thought inevitable.  As the Mom of a former teenager and playing a teenager on stage, I wanted to say “Human Nature…Stay.  Don’t leave! Watch my show…with your daughter…and know that she has every opportunity in this great country and so do you!”
 
Getting to the auditorium stage for set up, I kept thinking about that one girl and her Mom.  Thinking she may be the only Latina in this school.  This play could really hit home for her.  The mother would see herself in my mothers character and she would feel her own importance.  Her anger would be replaced by confidence in her daughters abilities.  I wanted to shake it but I couldn’t.
 
As the kids began arriving, from back stage I could only hear the chatter of the every day teen as I did my breathing exercises that precede my every performance.
 
In the first moments of my play, a 90 second film of the old neighborhood (Brownsville Brooklyn) plays with the scrolling definition of what Brownsville is according to Wikipedia.  The stats in bold typeface, are meant to hit home as the facts..the lack of expectation or faith.  In short it says everything that we are and nothing that we can be.  The film ends with my handwriting letter by letter, and spelling out, “But this is my story…I was Brownsville Bred and I will not be defined.”  
 
I am usually backstage watching these words scroll and absorbing the relevance of being living proof that otherwise exists…But in the NorthSide Charter Believe School, it was different.  There I had the unique pleasure of listening to the kids all together, as if they were being orchestrated to do so…Their chatter turned to song.  They were singing the words to the popular spanish song that plays during my video. It occurred to me that most of them were Hispanic.  They all became that girl I wanted to be there front and center!
 
I was on emotional overload and the responsibility that usually washes over me before first step onto stage..The one to myself, my community and to the underdogs of the world that the show represents was replaced by a PRIDE that is usually earned at the end of the show…The kind that grows gradually throughout the performance…when you’ve had them laughing, crying and in complete silence…For the first time I was not feeling any pressure to earn that.  For the first time, I felt the benefit of the doubt…I was Home and I became a “Believe”r!
 
Later, I asked the head of athletics, who had invited me to perform at The NorthSide Charter Believe School, how she came to the earlier BayShore High School performance.  It was to my amazement that she said “No, I saw you a few years ago, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, while you were self producing.  I saw it twice there and it stayed with me!”
 
This will forever stay with me!

What Happens In Vegas

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS- LATINOS IN COLLEGE

My daughter’s 21st Birthday… meant a weekend trip to Las Vegas!
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.

Finally when I see her, it feels different…like she is my friend. I am starving, while she just ate…and still she wants to sit with me.  Like it’s what she would rather do more than anything else.  And I feel fulfilled in a way that I cannot express…like she is someone I am just getting to know and like I respect her life as her life.

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.

Performing My One Woman Play, Brownsville Bred, at Ithaca College

Performing Brownsville Bred at Ithaca College

Performing Brownsville Bred at Ithaca College

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.

One More Opinion Piece on the Hiring Practices of SNL and “Latinos Hopping on the African American Band Wagon”–Que, Que?

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.Image

 FOR MORE INFORMATION ON REASONS Y I’M SINGLE, visit www.ReasonsY.com

For more about Brownsville Bred visit www.BrownsvilleBred.com