Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Eugenio & Salma”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Eugenio & Salma”

 

 

“Every man carries a bit of the personality of the Latin lover inside. If you have the energy, if you have the inner self-confidence, you can be a Latin lover. It’s not a stereotype. It’s a way of living!”

— Eugenio Derbez on his role as Maximo in “How to Be a Latin Lover”

¡Viva Mexico!

It was a sensational opening weekend for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER at the box office. The bilingual comedy lead by Mexican comedy titan Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell and a multi-cultural/multi-generational ensemble cast debuted in second place with $12 million from just 1,118 theaters. With Latinos comprising an overwhelming 89% of the audience and a “A” CinemaScore grade, this “Latin Lover” has plenty of seduction power and swagger to fuel its momentum.  

My colleagues at Monkey Deux, Inc. and I had the distinct privilege of working on the campaign for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER, crafting the broadcast and online publicity materials that began during production last Spring 2016 in Los Angeles. It is by far the most entertaining film that Pantelion Films, the Latino division of Lionsgate (with Televisa) has produced and perhaps the most enjoyable project we’ve collaborated on to date.

 As an American-born Latino in Hollywood, the opportunities to work on films that reflected my Mexican heritage were far and few in between. Since my association with Pantelion began in 2013, the door that opened into this world of Latino entertainment has been one of the best things to ever happen in the near 25 years of my career. Meeting and working with some of the most formidable Latino artists working today continues to add an exciting layer to my role as a producer/interviewer. More, the chance to express myself in two languages has allowed for opportunities I never thought possible.

I had to share a little of the memorable experience in speaking with Derbez and Hayek about the making of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER, interviews which were used to create the featurette that is running online and the production notes given to the press covering the film. I’d like to see how any wall would dare to keep out the unbridled creativity and cultural pride shared by Derbez and Hayek. If anything, their recent appearances on several leading morning and late night shows translated into something for everyone to enjoy at the movies.

 As we venture through a divisive time, where isolating those who are deemed not like “us” is acceptable, we need to continue to support diversity, especially in the arts. We all have stories to tell, stories that reflect our true face as a nation. You may not make films like HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER your priority. However, sooner or later, all of our experiences and perspectives will grace the silver screen without being listed as a “special episode,” a “woman’s picture” or crafted for a “niche audience.” That’s how we can stop the walls and project a saner future for us all.

An excerpt from my production story on the making of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER with Derbez and Hayek below:

Following up the global success of Instructions Not Included in 2013 was no easy task for Mexican comedy superstar Eugenio Derbez, who wrote, directed and starred in what remains the highest grossing Spanish film in US movie history. Capturing that sort of lightning in a bottle twice can be elusive. Still, the timing of Instructions Not Included proved fortuitous, playing a role in further illustrating the importance of diversity in Hollywood-produced entertainment. Derbez opted to flex other creative muscles while patiently searching for the right project to tackle as a filmmaker, securing roles in such features as the recent hit Miracles From Heaven and the upcoming action drama Geostorm. Being able to choose the project that best fit his established comedy brand was a serious task, so when Derbez and his 3Pas Productions partner Benjamin Odell heard the pitch about an aging gigolo, they knew they hit pay dirt.

“I was looking for a script for me that could fit my accent, my audience, my age, my everything,” Derbez recalled with a smile. “What I loved about HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was the fact that we could play with this image of someone who is beautiful and handsome like Julio Iglesias or Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin. Maximo is really aging, probably in the worst years of his life, and I think that’s the funny thing about this character.”

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Despite sharing a friendship that spans more than 30 years, Derbez and Oscar®-nominated actor/filmmaker and paisana Salma Hayek had often regretted that they’ve never had the chance to work together. That lifelong promise made good proved a formidable “get” for the film that all the filmmakers hoped would happen. As Sara, Maximo’s headstrong, burgeoning architect sister, Hayek said establishing that familial bond was hardly a stretch given her history with Derbez. (Fun fact: they share the same birthday of September 2.)

“I’ve been friends with Eugenio for a long time,” Hayek explained. “When I started my production company, one of the first ideas that I had was to do a show for Eugenio. But America was not ready yet, this was before Ugly Betty, to understand the power of the Latino market. We are very similar in many ways. I cannot think of a better fit for the characters than to be brother and sister. For me it’s a great opportunity to act in Spanish and to play a Mexican woman and to have fun, reliving a little bit our childhood. I got to relive my childhood in Mexico with a brother that in real life feels like a brother to me.”

For Derbez, other practical realites existed in wanting Hayek to join the cast, extending beyond the chance to work together. The duo even took to the recording studio later in the film’s post-production to capture their upbeat salsa version of the classic ballad “El Triste” for the soundtrack.

“It was an amazing good time because she’s lovable. She’s crazy. And she’s very creative. She’s always bringing new stuff. When we were acting in Spanish, we felt really good. It was like we weren’t even acting. We were like just playing around, like brother and sister. It’s not easy to find something like that sort of chemistry. It’s just so good to have two real Mexicans playing Mexicans because I’ve seen a lot of Hollywood films with supposed Mexicans that aren’t Mexicans. Another producer would have hired an actress from another place and probably some audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But for us you can absolutely tell when somebody has an accent from Colombia or Argentina or Spain. It was really important for us to have two real Mexicans portraying two Mexicans.”

Hayek further extolled the benefits of having a film populated by an ensemble of contrasts, which further enhances the humor found from the clashes of cultures and generations that are the film’s core.

“What’s great about the movie is that I think there’s going to be a lot of different audiences for this film,” Hayek said, “I liked the idea that in some ways Maximo also enjoys his job. It’s important to him to make these women feel special. It gives him joy. The minute they get older, they are abandoned or overlooked by society. I think that it’s a lovely quality of the character that is original in the film. Everybody gets to laugh about themselves in the way we laugh about the concept of the Latin lover. It has a lot of heart and that is extremely important. It’s a little naughty but it’s done in a clever way so that it can go over the kids’ heads, but there are still things they l get to enjoy.”

Shot on location throughout Los Angeles, Marino is proud that the film reflects more than just the iconic, glittering parts of the city audiences have come to enjoy on screen time and time again. Despite the often-raucous events that occur throughout the film, he wanted to make sure the face of the city was also a key player that was grounded in reality. The multi-cultural and bilingual sights and sounds of the city are also complimented by a soundtrack that includes a new recording from Grammy®-nominated star Carla Morrison.

“It was a blessing to shoot in L.A.,” Derbez added. “In this case, we could afford the luxury of shooting here. And it’s so good to see L.A. like it is.”

Timing again looks to be on the side of Derbez with the release of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER. In this era of exaggerated luxury and status symbolism, Maximo would feel right at home in the Instagram-documented age of certain reality TV “stars.” Derbez has worked hard to curate a comedy brand that’s ranks him as one of the top artists working in Mexico and Latin America today. While he’s made some inroads in the United States, HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER did provide him with his first ever leading role in English. The actor-filmmaker admitted that the process was “tricky” at times, even prompting him to wonder if his type of comedy would translate into a different language.

“I come from the Hispanic world and we are broad,” Derbez exclaimed. “We’re big! In this movie, I go to places that I’ve never been, but in a very contained way. It’s really been a learning curve. I feel so good about it.”

Upon seeing the finished film, Derbez is more confident than ever that the strengths of the material and its message will play to the widest audience possible. It is one more phase of an overall plan to continue bringing a unique slate of projects that will not only redefine his own brand of comedy, but do away with the labels associated with being a specific type of entertainment.

“It came from an original idea and it became funnier and funnier every single day,” Derbez concluded. “I’m so proud of it because it’s really different. We’re breaking all the stereotypes. Every time I work, whether it’s on my TV shows or my films, I love putting something for everyone. I like to work for the entire family. This feels really fresh and different. It also has such a nice and important message. Money’s not the only thing that’s important in life. Maximo had everything. Cars, yachts, helicopters, planes. He lived in huge mansions, but he does realize that life is about something else. Life is about family, about love, about taking care of each other. That’s one of the best things the movie has to offer.”

HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is now playing citywide. 

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cesar Chavez Day”

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. — Cesar Chavez

My family’s activism has never wavered since those first steps towards civic awareness, which took shape at home and in our classrooms at South Ranchito Elementary in Pico Rivera, California. I will never forget that moment in 1977, when those first uncertain steps led me to an encounter with the person who envisioned the path many Latinos remain on today: Cesar Chavez. As we honor this great man today, following is a remembrance piece I wrote for Desde Hollywood in 2014, which was timed to the release of director Diego Luna’s underrated “Cesar Chavez” film.

If you were a Latino (or Chicano) child of the 1970s in southern California, chances are you were part of a bilingual education program that was a glorious but short-lived experiment. Today, I can see it as a powerful opportunity to build a bilingual cultural identity. That wasn’t quite the image I had several decades ago. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were unusual in the sense that they gave their first generation American children a choice. We could either learn Spanish or not. Sadly, I did not take advantage of becoming bilingual until many years later. Yet, I never lost sight that I was part of something bigger. The question became not just about learning the language, but understanding the importance of preserving a multi-cultural identity. Today, many of us face an additional challenge in terms of what role we should assume as Latinos and as Americans with a voice.

As the rising power of Latinos continues to amass in our contemporary culture, it is thrilling to discover the community at a real crossroads. We will dictate the next election. Immigration reform has never been a more prominent and important issue. The national narrative is being re-written, but how do we make sure we get a chance to contribute to these next chapters in American history? It is about taking those first steps forward to achieve awareness, to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us all.

The arrival of “Cesar Chavez” was a significant achievement for many reasons. Some have to do with the hope of a changing film industry that remains in play, but others are decidedly personal. Hollywood loves telling the stories of ordinary people who stare down adversity to become extraordinary figures in history. We’ve witnessed the return of the Great Emancipator; a king’s struggle with speech, the rise and fall of an “iron lady” and the harrowing 12 years lived by an American slave. Yet, something unusual happened when I viewed “Cesar Chavez” for the first time. This time, it wasn’t a performance or scene that stirred an emotional response. To coin a much clichéd tag line, this time the movie was personal.

In 1977, my entire family marched with Chavez and the United Farm Workers on a sunny April day in the Coachella Valley against the lettuce growers. We all knew the importance of Chavez’s actions would remain far-reaching. By today’s standards of political correctness, the teachers at South Ranchito Elementary could have been charged with imposing their own political agenda on their nine and 10 year-old students. Yet, today hindsight reveals a different scenario. These educators were trying to instill in us the value of community and responsibility we shared in preserving its ideals. We were being taught the power of being connected, very much how Chavez himself went out to speak with individuals face to face. It was that connectivity that created the UFW and changed the political future for Latinos in this country.

I am ashamed to admit that the impact of that April day faded too soon. I was living a suburban life of relative comfort by comparison to the young field workers I met that afternoon in the Coachella Valley. They saw the world a lot differently, but they didn’t shame us for not understanding. We were interlopers from classrooms miles away; fulfilling a teacher’s hope the experience would change us in some way. My adult journey did allow for a sense of community awareness, overreacting to hot button issues, as do most of us. But none of this happened in the way my idealistic teachers hoped. I’m an average American who votes, adhering to moderate political views. As I reach middle age, however, I find I am now questioning much in our modern life. And it is spilling into the contributions I am making as a member of the media.

It would be easy to go off on a tangent about how the industry still cannot understand that a multi-cultural audience wants to see itself on screen in roles that aren’t stereotypes. It is no coincidence that instead of watching films about dead rock stars, films like Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” are playing favorably with more than just a Latino audience. But the Latino community showed its strength and they were heard. Now, “Cesar Chavez” the film needs that same grassroots support to sustain what should be viewed as a cultural movement.

After watching the marches and rallies depicted in “Cesar Chavez,” my mind went straight to the details of that hot April afternoon. The dusty walk of the countless supporters who joined la causa, their strong voices unified into a choir of peaceful civil disobedience, the annoying splinter in my right hand from the wood of the sign I held straight up into the sky. Even the hideous tartan pants I wore that day seem to take on a “Braveheart” glow. But most of all, I remember the walk to meet Chavez himself at the post-march rally.

My dad was with me, encouraging me not to be shy. We had been waiting for a break in the crowd, all wanting a moment to speak to him. Finally, we had our chance. I walked with the same purpose of my father, my shorter stride valiantly trying to mirror Dad’s more confident steps. Jorge Sr. spoke first, of course. Then, he introduced me to el señor Chavez. I was shaking the man’s hand, receiving that welcoming smile and a kind word of appreciation for being there that day. He went from being a photo in a textbook or news item into something out of a movie. Cesar Chavez was real and he was a real hero.

In early February (of 2014), I had the opportunity to sit down with Luna to conduct the interview that would be used for the “Cesar Chavez” broadcast press materials. He had just flown into Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he presented the film prior to moving on to its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. What should have been an easy 20-minute on-camera exchange for the electronic press kit became a 90-minute conversation that covered more than just the making of the film. The candor and sincerity revealed by Luna could not be tempered by exhaustion. Much is riding on the film and he is fully aware of what its success will dictate to him as he evolves from actor to director.

We are taught as journalists to never become part of the story, but this was a unique situation. It is hard to not see this as a full circle experience. Many people will be introduced to Cesar Chavez for the first time after viewing Luna’s film. It is an artistic risk for the Mexican-born artist, particularly with taking on this most American of subjects.

Still, the possibility of this cinematic meeting between Chavez and today’s audiences having the same resounding effect as it did with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stood by Chavez, his family and the UFW is tangible. Therein lies the power of film. The greatest lesson to be learned is not reserved for the immigrants or American-born Latinos who continue to revere him. All of us must understand the meaning and power of Sí Se Puede. It does not belong to any one era or people. Its purpose applies to all those seeking to make change happen.

To illustrate the point further, here are excerpts from my conversation with Diego Luna on “Cesar Chavez,” exclusive to Desde Hollywood:

JORGE CARREÓN: Cesar Chavez was a truly humble man. How would he have viewed this entire process of making and promoting the film about his life?

DIEGO LUNA: He never wanted a film to be made about him. When people got to him and said, “We want to make a film about you,” He said, “No, no, no. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot sit down with you to talk about what I’ve done. I still have a lot to do. So, no films.” He hated the idea of being recognized. If you wanted to give him recognition, an award, he would ask you to do in the name of the union. He hated to be on the front page.

CARREÓN: Even with the industry’s fascination with biographical films, does his reticence explain why a film about his life has taken such a long time?

LUNA: There’s a reason why there’s not been a biopic about Cesar like the ones normally done in this country. If I were going to come and do a film, why would I try to repeat something that also doesn’t belong to me? To the way I see the world, to the kind of films we want to do? I wanted to make a film that for a moment you could say; “Oh is this going to end right or wrong? Is this going to have a happy ending where they win or not?” I hate films that when they start and you know how they’re going to end it. I’m pretty sure that in the course of these 10 years we cover of his life, he woke up many times saying, “This is not going to work.” I wanted that to be part of the film. If I would have shown a perfect man, making just the right decisions all the time, then you know the end. Why would you pay a ticket to see that? The other answer I have, which is not as beautiful as this one, is because you guys never made it.

CARREÓN: How do you hope the impact of “Instructions Not Included” will increase the marketability of “Cesar Chavez” with a mainstream audience?

LUNA: I hope this film works in that way. Before “Instructions Not Included,” every huge success in Mexico was like a niche success here. But that one was unbelievable. Suddenly on both sides of the border people were saying, “I want to see the same film.” That means something. Things are changing. So it makes sense there’s a Mexican telling the story of Cesar Chavez.

CARREÓN: Hard to believe, but you can see how certain sectors of the Latino American and Mexican film communities may have a polarized view of what you’ve done as director of “Cesar Chavez.”

LUNA: We are two different communities and I have to say there’s a lot of prejudice about Mexican-Americans in Mexico. And there’s also a lot of prejudice about the Mexican experience today from the Mexican-American community. Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. This film is an attempt to bring that wall down. It’s ridiculous that we’re not connected. That we are not working for each other, feeding each other. I come here and I go to my favorite two places near my house. One is a restaurant. There’s a family from Nayarit that does the best pescado a la plancha that you can get in California. It’s unbelievable that they’re not in touch with those who cook the exact same dish every day on the other side of the border. Why do we allow this world to really separate us? It’s ridiculous. I think we would be strong, really strong if we would be connected, if we would feel as part of the same thing. It’s like what the film says, “You can think it’s all about you and your life is miserable or you can open the door and say, ‘He probably thinks the same and if he thinks the same, if we all get together we might be able to change things.’” It’s time that we see each other as part of the same people. We would be stronger. We would be able to say we want these films to be made. We want more films like “Cesar Chavez” that would represent us, films that are about people like us.

CARREÓN: The reality is many audience members will be introduced to Chavez’s life for the first time. It is a thrilling prospect to see what they will take from this introduction.

LUNA: I think Chavez showed something very simple, but very difficult to actually believe in, which is even though you think that person doesn’t care about you, he does. He does. We have to work that muscle so we don’t lose that ability to actually care about what’s going on with our neighbors. We’re learning to be around so much violence and injustice and we shouldn’t get used to that.

CARREÓN: With the film now being seen by a mass audience, what impact are you hoping the film is able to make? This is a bold move, away from how the industry views you as an artist.

LUNA: I want to inspire people to say, “Why is there not another Cesar Chavez today in this community? What’s going on? We could be that man.” His life was very difficult. Eight kids. Imagine convincing that amount of people to go back to live in the worst conditions in the fields to bring change for a community that you’re not part of anymore? We should be celebrating that this happened and hope this is the first of many films not just about Cesar Chavez but the farmworker experience and the Mexican-American experience. I truly think we just have one chance. If this film doesn’t succeed in the box office, if people don’t actually go watch it, I’m going to have to rethink what I’m going to do in life or where I’m going to do it. This one shot has taken four years of my life. My son was born here. I opened a company in the States. But my heart, my stories, my father and my friends are in Mexico and I need to be able to keep both things happening. The film is about that in a way. I really hope this shows that cinema should be representing this community today with respect. It’s a very complex community and the need of content is huge. Films like “Cesar Chavez” need to exist and it’s just not happening. So let’s hope it starts to happen.

#SiSePuede #VivaLaCausa

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 4 — “Resist”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 4 — “Resist”

Day 4

End of Protein Days

257.7 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 199

Despite booking first class, luxury passage on the Love Train yesterday, I was a bit reluctant to get out of bed this morning. Maybe it is the fear of knowing what democratic pillar #President Babyhands was going to decimate next. Perhaps it is the effects of four protein days messing with my head. I wanted to write some pithy little riff on how Lindora protein days are a privileged, overfed person’s descent into hell, but I lost the desire. Instead, I’ll let this little clip of an otter happily chowing down take its place. That’s going to be me tomorrow when I get to switch back to a regular menu of poultry, fish, vegetables and fruits again.

The notion of living in a parallel universe is starting to grow in my brain. I have these moments where the only thing I can do is shake my head. I joke to myself that all those years of reading post-apocalyptic fiction, watching nuclear war films and those dystopian epicsof yore like “Logan’s Run” and “Soylent Green” are actually going to pay off! I’m ready for whatever happens next! Then this fear grows in the pit of my slowly shrinking stomach. I have to remain and fight back the fear of letting it spread  further so I don’t just lock the door and never leave the house again. .

Today, #PresidentBabyhands basically unleashed a round of “Mextortion,” proposing a 20% tax on all Mexican imports. Comedian that I am, one thought that flashed in my mind was, “Since I am in the process of losing weight, this could be a very good thing!” But really, it is not. Crushing an economy because they won’t fund your windmill from hell, Don Quixote, is tyranny at its worst.

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Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz (of “La Cucaracha” fame) posted this image promoting a “California Resistance,” which is the lead photo of the diary entry. “Resist” is a powerful word for us all right now. It has taken root in my mind, from resisting the urges to consume things that can hurt me to resisting the urge to go full Howard Beale in public with rage. I can tell you this. I am losing one battle and it isn’t with food.

Restraint has never been a word I’ve been able to incorporate into my lexicon for living. Not as a kid, even less so as an adult. I am finally aware that “more” can kill. As we try to process the events of this week, more challenges will be brought to the American public in a way that will divide us and conquer other principles that must be defended to the bitter end. So, what does any of this have to do with a diet diary, you may ask? Plenty.

We are what we eat, people. And I am not going to subsist on a steady diet of lies and tyrannical chaos just because so many Americans hated having a black president for eight years. You ingest in trash food, you get toxic refuse that leaves your body in shock and prone to diseases that can kill you. The same applies to the Democratic process. We are what our elected officials represent. It is no coincidence that President Babyhands is an orange-colored menace. Cheetos are just as bad for me, too. Neither requires my attention to be healthy and strong, all the better to fight back.

#resist

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“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

— With the real Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013. Carlos and Alexa PenaVega portray the couple in the film, now playing.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film has arrived.

“Spare Parts” benefits from the momentum of this DREAM Act era, where the Latino voice has never been more urgent in terms of the national narrative. While the film relies on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

I had the privilege of meeting Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. Not only does the film entertain, it illuminates an area still unfamiliar to many Americans.

“Spare Parts” opens in theaters this weekend, so I hope you give it a chance. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the featurette produced by Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman, for Pantelion Films.

#ICanIDid #spareparts #lavidarobot

“Yo soy más que un aparador…”

“Yo soy más que un aparador…”

Dicen que la envidia es admiración al revés.
Soy lo que soy, soy lo que ves.
Especial y único de la cabeza a los pies.
Fluyo como un pez, me sobra lucidez…

…Yo soy más que un aparador.

“Vivir con miedo es cómo vivir a medias” (Cuentos de la vida real 2)

“Vivir con miedo es cómo vivir a medias” (Cuentos de la vida real 2)

 

En ver las imágenes desde Mexico últimamente, siento una tristeza muy profunda. Se ve miedo, rabia, caos y desesperación. Ha llegado el momento de enfrentar la corrupción y violencia que ha deteriorado la imagen del país.

Vivir con miedo es inaceptable en un mundo moderno. Pero donde hay miedo si se puede encontrar esperanza y el deseo de rechazar lo que nos agobia. No pretendo comparar mis propios miedos con los que se vive en México hoy. Pero si recuerdo el poder que se realiza cuando pierdes el miedo y empiezas usar una voz alta y clara. Es lo básico de nuestro ser.

Era el año 1977 y ese verano fue el momento que terminé mi primera decada como Jorge Carreón Jr. Durante casi 10 años, me quedé con la determinación de vivir al lado izquierda del centro. Solo pensé en cultivar los intereses que eran cualquier cosa menos lo que era normal en Pico Rivera. No tenía muchos amigos, pero eso no me importaba. Quería perderme en todos los libros y películas que podía procesar antes de regresar a la primaria en el otoño. La mayoría de los niños tenían ganas de ir al parque, tomar clases de natación o tener días lánguidos en la playa. Yo quería saber más del artista moderno Andy Warhol y leer mis libros de Nancy Drew. Pero mis planes se quedaron en supsenso cuando mi papá me dijo que yo iba con él y mi hermana a visitar a su familia en el D.F.

Era como si el pusiera un alfiler en el globo de mi sueño de verano.

Así que fui, inocente al siniestro plan que mis padres habían inventado sin mí. Papá sólo tenía dos semanas de vacaciones de la fábrica. Eso significaba que junto con mi hermana, quien mantuvo la primera de una vida de secretos, tendríamos que quedarnos con nuestros familiares durante todo el verano. ¿Y cuándo llego el momento que me enteré de eso? El día que mi papá se regresó a Los Angeles sin nosotros.

Me dio una rabia feroz. Le grité. Lloré. Lo seguí a la puerta de la casa de mi tía en la mejor manera que aprendí de las telenovelas: “¡No me dejes!” Nunca se dio la vuelta. Caminó con buen paso a la puerta sin decir otra palabra más. Nunca me sentí tan lejos de mi vida real en California. Fue demasiado. Casi no hablaba el idioma. Ne dejaba de pensar: “Yo no soy mexicano. ¡Soy americano!” Pero todo mis gritos cayeron en el vacío. Estuve en esta casa sin esperanza para el resto del verano.

Pensando en este momento, me doy cuenta que no sabía ese verano con mi familia mexicana sería un regalo. ¿Cómo podría saberlo? Yo era sólo un niño. No pude ver mucho con mis ojos llenos de lágrimas. Tenía miedo de lo nuevo, de enfrentar la fuente verdadera de mi identidad: México. Nunca paramos de enfrentar lo “nuevo”. Gente, ciudades, costumbres, situaciones, todo lo que nos une como la raza humana. Fue el primero de muchos miedos que tendría que conquistar en mi vida, pero sí los conquisté.

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Tenían que pasar 37 años para entender que la vida es demasiado corta para cualquier sentido de temor. Nacer latino es obstáculo suficiente en un mundo que valora la vainilla sobre el picante. Como ya he madurado, me emociona y me preocupa ver como nuestra narrativa nacional se conforma con la comunidad hispana. Espero contribuir a esta narrativa, para que refleje lo que realmente es ser un american en 2014. No tengo mucho espacio para el miedo con el fin de lograr ese objetivo. El miedo casi me dejo mudo durante todo un verano. Pero yo tomé ese paso que me llevó a un grupo muy especial en este mundo. Me convertí en un americano bilingüe, realizando el sueño de existir dentro de dos mundos que he llegado a representar con orgullo.

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Miércoles, 24 de noviembre. Escrito y subido desde Wayne Avenue Manor en South Pasadena, CA

 

“Las hermanas coraje” or “The novela that is my life” (War is…Family, Part 2)

“Las hermanas coraje” or “The novela that is my life” (War is…Family, Part 2)

They are known as Las Hermanas Coraje, two sisters who share one wicked heart. They are a perfect storm, fueled by malice, lies and unmitigated rage. So pure is their misery, they will destroy everything in their wake, especially if it involves your being  — gasp! — happy!

The younger sister lived in her spacious, made to order home in a land known for its arid, beige privacy. She took flight to this hamlet, putting as much distance as she could between her carefully composed life and her secret shame. She didn’t want anyone to know that she came from a world of immigrants parents, homeboy relatives and an iron maiden grandmother who spoke no English.

She wasn’t “nacida corriente.” She was the Girl with Olive Skin, almost Mediterranean, if you will. She had to have the right schools, the right friends, the right life she felt was her true birthright at any cost. Her family’s economic and social status be damned. She refused the middle class nightmare sustained by a coarse but charming father who ran a carpeting business, one he ran into the ground. She’d be damned if she ever let the evils of shag carpet ruin her destiny of blond wood floors and golf trips.

She would heed the lessons of a cold, embittered mother and rise above her station in life to marry a blue-eyed savior. She would fight to wear reversible down vests, ones that could repel any signs of a past she buried.  She would never dare to love her husband or anyone else for that matter. How could she? That would require a heart. And she would never risk having a forgiving or open heart because that would make her vulnerable to the world. And vulnerable meant weak.

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The older sister was a professional spinster, a tender heart since corrupted by the toxic build up of failed relationships, duplicitous men and dreams unrealized. She just wanted to be loved, to hold the attention of those in her presence, terrified of being forgotten.

She turned to the fantasy of acting because she needed an escape from an unfeeling mother who made her feel like she was less than of a woman, but more a misguided girl. She wanted to shine in the eyes of someone as her own derisive father would joke she was better off being a nun. It was her piety that gave her strength to create the greatest role of her life after running away from the confines of a crumbling family unit.

She would see the world through a camera lens, documenting world history by joining the military. But when she came home, she discovered that she still couldn’t stand center stage. She remained a bit player, despite her many accomplishments.  She was still being overshadowed by most members of her family. How ironic that she would foster a career of bit parts that mirrored aspects of her real life.

She had become a punchline for late night television, walking on as a maid, a role her own mother took on after the family hit a financial skid. The older sister couldn’t overcome being part the background, toiling as a glorified extra on daytime soap operas, always hungry for a chance to be on the other side of a camera. She created the illusion of honing her craft. Yet, what she was really doing was stewing in the juices of bubbling discontent, waiting for the moment to unleash her most God-less self against a world that refused to acknowledge she existed.

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Caught in between these desperate women was the older brother who strived to be a duplicate of the man whose name he carried. He existed as a text book case of arrested development. He may have inherited his father’s desire to tell a story, yet he did so with none of the macho swagger and charm that made Dad a legend within the family.

Despite his broad build, he swayed under the weight of his father’s legacy. He dreamed of a house by the sea, of an idealized singleton life and national media attention. Yet despite his being humbled by the racial politics of his career, he settled for an idealized, yet ultimately carbon copy of his parents’ life. The house by the sea was decidedly inland and he was marooned by his own inability to mature. Even cats called him a pussy. This was a man who chose being kept by his mother and sisters from evolving into manhood in the name of protecting the peace.. and his own sanity. They carried his balls in their sensible bags and he did nothing to get them back.

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These are the major players. These are the central roles in a drama that unfolds with increasing venom and selfishness. Am I embellishing any of this? That’s for me to know. But I have no interest in protecting the innocent as they are anything but deserving of protection at this point. I have been struggling to find a way to unburden myself of how I feel about my family of late. Not my immediate family, my extended family. Tough times are being experienced by the people I care about. We have reached an age where we are losing people closest to us. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Age. Mothers. Fathers. Brothers. Sisters. Uncles. Aunts. Cousins. Everyone I love. Life and death are happening to all of us and these assholes are actually fighting for screen time?

I’ve stopped and started this blog post so many times. I was just too angry to write and I never intended to turn this into a burn book. But, I hate having to reaffirm the reality that people genuinely suck. And nothing feels worse than having that validated by the people you call your “family.” Some of these people are just cartoon characters to me, variations of the wicked stepsisters or, more appropriately, the screeching viragos found in the Mexican telenovela.

If I close my eyes hard enough, I can see the humor of what we are living out these days. I see the wicked machinations of a Robin Wright in “House of Cards” or a Joan Collins in “Dynasty.” I have always praised such calculated deviousness as the best in high art or Nolan Miller-dressed camp. But when it is happening in real life to people you know, suddenly having a Lady Macbeth or a Soraya Montenegro in your midst is both sad, enraging and mystifying all at once.

In this week’s episodes, las hermanas y hermano Coraje wanted to make sure they aren’t lost in the swell of emotion as their aunt bravely fights cancer. One marriage is in trouble and they have taken to broadcasting their malice in the most extraordinary way. Hermano C, who during a brief visit to see his dying tia, makes sure to tell his grief-stricken tio that he’s disappointed she’s chosen the side of his soon-to-be estranged wife?

Really.

It isn’t that any of us is choosing sides. It is our reaction to his actually pulling focus away from the gravity of our aunt’s situation. What is appalling and what is so disappointing is: 1) the manner in which he’s chosen to handle his failing marriage, and, 2) the fact that he thinks this is the time to issue ultimatums on family loyalty. What. The. Fuck!

Meanwhile, las hermanas are in the background, stirring the pot like the witches that appear at the opening of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They have sprung from a special hell to unload the same message of enforced distancing to their nieces, who are also their goddaughters. All I can do is shake my head over their recent phone calls, peppered with such overripe novela dialogue as, “I choose to have only positive energy around me now!” or “I’m cutting out the negative people in my life!”  Again, how is it you can make such calls, which were supposedly made in the name of support, only to turn the entire conversation around to focus on you and your needs? All while your nieces’ mother is fighting for her life in the next room?!?

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But the worst part of this? The B plot, where las hermanas Coraje maneuver and plot the destruction of their brother’s marriage. This is where my cousin in-law needs to take a page from the Katie Holmes Playbook. Lord knows La Prima Coraje has been trying to repair whatever damage has been caused by her union with the Ball Less Wonder. But with the sisters Grimm making sure every avenue is razed, La Prima Coraje is running out of reasons to stay. Don’t miss this episode recap, where the younger Hermana Coraje (with her frigid husband in tow) take Hermano C to a divorce lawyer without his wife’s knowledge! Oh, and you’ll thrill to the cameo appearance of the elder Hermana Coraje, who makes sure to phone in to this pow wow so she can contribute her thoughts via speaker! (And, wait until you see the scenes for next week, when las hermanas counsel their hermano to, yes, text his ex-girlfriends.

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As one side of my family prepares itself for the loss of a parent, the other side of the same family is enduring the loss of their compassion and sanity. Somewhere in all of this, my immediate family is in the middle. Apparently they are dwelling on how everyone is choosing sides now, a state of affairs the saddens me to no end. Because it didn’t have to turn into this. From the conversations that I’ve had with my younger cousins, who are also my goddaughters, it appears we are part of the problem for being “negative people.”

I have run all of this information in my mind without pause. And I think I understand why Los Coraje feel the way they do. It isn’t the negative that they want to excise. It is the fact that we represent the truth about who they are, of their humble, complex origins. They are terrified that we will expose them. As if we would dare to pull the curtain on their Oz-like fantasy. Don’t they realize we don’t care about the positions they hold in this world? If they stopped to think about it, we are actually proud over how they took negative circumstances and turned them into positives. But they are hell bent in keeping up appearances, surrounding themselves with people who only feed their delusion. Syncophants, yes people, minions who do their bidding because that’s the way they’ve always lived their tragic, small, human lives.

I know we can be a very meddlesome unit. I don’t know how it is in your family, but mine can be a smidge overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion and it doesn’t matter the topic, either. From the outside, it can appear that we are rather antagonistic. Plenty of button pushing goes on this group, but there’s never any malicious intent. I like to think my parents created a tribe of too many chiefs and not enough indians, but that’s another story.

We are not always acting at fever pitch, screaming, “Sergio! Sueltame! Esta es mi hacienda!” or “Largase de aqui, babosa!” or “Vieja zorra! Te voy a dar una paliza que nunca vas a olvidar!” We have never resorted to pulling hair, slapping each other silly or plotting to destroy the Carrington family once and for all. Apparently, some of us do see the world in such terms. But my extended family has turned what should have been a defining moment into something that trivializes their humanity in the process. Here the sins of their parents have been internalized and manifested into something beyond cruel and narcissistic.

We will never know the truth behind any one family’s dysfunction. But I know enough of their complicated family history to postulate my own hypothesis. They are the perfect Orwellian family in that they have perfected their abilities to maintain a revisionist history. They have invested so much of their emotional energy in keeping up appearances, they really can’t discern between truth and lies anymore.

Is it my place to put all of this down in black and white? No, but I’m doing it anyway. I have always been the one to defend them, to not let the animosity boil over, to try and meet them halfway. But I can’t do it anymore. When you say the word “family” in the Latino context, it encompasses a large number of people. Several of my white friends have to remind themselves of that whenever I start a sentence, “My family is…” I still see them as my family, even with this line drawn across the sand.

They can declare that we are all just jealous and envious of their material lives. Yet, they can’t ignore the facts. My father helped them when their father needed assistance. My uncle took them in when they had nowhere else to go, offering shelter at great sacrifice to his own family. We were there when their father died without fail or judgment. We were there when their grandmother died, a woman who either ignored us or kept us at arm’s length when we were children. I delivered her eulogy, even though my own heart was conflicted. Why would we as jealous or envious people EVER take such steps to help them? Yet, the damage is done. All that self-editing has taken a personal angle. We are being erased, too.

I can list so much more, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter. They’d deny it anyway. I have already validated their perceptions of being negative at this point. We’ve lost them, probably for good this time. But I don’t want any of us to forget what made this entire family split in two, especially them. All we can do now is accept the terms of the dissolution, move on and stop these ridiculous confrontations. No one is going to win. There are no spoils to reap. We are going to lose something that is going to matter in the end. The question is who will be the ones strong enough to stand in the middle again because you know how life can be. Sooner or later, they will need us. And I am certain some, not all, will be there to lend them a hand.

We all need a moment to step and back see the big picture. We are losing one of our own in the most awful way as cancer doesn’t give a shit if the family is fighting. We were supposed to be better than this. Better than our parents. Better than the dominant culture that has warped our basic values and morals. Just better, period. Instead we have turned ourselves into something so shameful.

Being part of a strong family is such a gift. I couldn’t survive this world without my family, here and in Mexico. They are my reason to live. Because that is how I have been raised. My siblings and I may have our moments, but we’ve never plotted against each other.  But let’s just say, we may need to do some rewrites, too.

In the meantime, I am going to ponder how these days will affect the next generations. That’s going to be interesting, how the children of the Corajes will grow up after witnessing their parents’ own sizzling narratives. I already have my bag of popcorn ready, because you know it’s going to be good.

“Los hijos de los hermanos coraje,” coming soon.

Written, produced and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor in South Pasadena, CA