Hola, mi gente! Feliz Día de los Muertos from the Carreón Cinema Club.
One of Latin America’s most revered cultural traditions, the Day of the Dead, has infiltrated el norte with gusto. Even Target gets into it these days! However, what thrills me more is how a particular group of filmmakers endeavored to craft two fantastic animated films that have broadened the reach and power of these special days celebrating the dead.
First up, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s gorgeous and inventive 2014 adventure, THE BOOK OF LIFE, produced by Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Animated Feature Film.
If that wasn’t enough, Disney/Pixar wasn’t going to be left out of the ofrenda, creating the 2017 family classic COCO, directed by Lee Unkrich. But something tells me you already know a little something about that not-so little blockbuster. (Hint: It received two Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature Film.)
Both films remain heartfelt and poignant to me, but I have a special place for THE BOOK OF LIFE. The visual artistry devised by Gutierrez and team is so original, emulating the love and passion of Latino artisans in several mediums and multiple generations. The textures, the colors, and Mexicaness of it all live in the myriad details that populate the screen. If you haven’t seen it, please make an effort to add it to your family viewing choices.
Until next time, amigos! And por Dios, subscribe to the Carreón Cinema Club already!
In my first conversation with President Trump on Inauguration Day, I thanked him for the positive things he had said about the Dreamers. He looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t worry. We are going to take care of those kids.”
Despite many of the terrible immigration policies this Administration has put forward, I have always held out the hope that President Trump would keep his word and “take care” of the Dreamers. After all, the President told America, “we love the Dreamers.”
But today’s announcement from Attorney General Sessions was cold, harsh, threatening, and showed little respect, let alone love, for these Dreamers.
Starting this countdown clock will require Congress to act fast to stop rolling mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of young people—students, teachers, doctors, engineers, first responders, servicemembers, and more. Families will be torn apart and America will lose many of our best and brightest unless Republicans join with Democrats to right this wrong immediately. I first introduced the Dream Act sixteen years ago to ensure these young people could stay here, in the only country they’ve ever known. Now Congress must act on this bipartisan bill, and act now. These families cannot wait.
— A statement from U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration.
The intent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy signed by President Barach Obama in June 2012 was to allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. As of 2017, an estimated 800,000 young people, also referred to as “Dreamers” (after the failed DREAM Act), enrolled into the program. As for September 5, 2017, DACA is no more. Now, they face an uncertain future, whether they enrolled into the program or are no longer eligible for its protection.
Living in fear as an undocumented individual is just one of the many realities faced by millions of people living in the United States today. Historically speaking, to be an immigrant is to be responsible for all the societal ills and woes of a nation. We’ve seen what humanity can do when it vilifies and turns against “The Other,” that group of people who become the target of genocides and “final solutions.” How anyone can venerate such monsters, as witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia last August is beyond the pale. Yet, we have only begun to see the ramifications of a president who has inspired those living with white privilege to exact a sense of revenge, of taking back a country they feel has gone to the dogs. That’s what many of us are to certain sectors of America, animals unworthy of being deemed human.
Since Trump took office, he’s made an art of playing to the cheap seats, that coterie of angry trolls sporting those damn red caps with the legend “Make America Great Again.” His propagandist rhetoric continues to target journalists, Women, the Muslim community, Black Americans, the LGBTQ community, the Latino Community, anyone who just isn’t white. He targets anyone with a brain able to deduce just how dangerous his screaming brat mentality really is for us all.
Trump wants to be worshipped, not challenged, even by those he chooses to marginalize. He demands your respect, although he’s done nothing to earn it. To challenge him is to stir his pitchfork mob of fans while most the members of his political party of choice opt to stick its head in the sand or stay silent. All fear to lose their moment of power, even if it means sacrificing the greater good of the nation. I often wonder who will stand up for anyone if most of the nation is excluded from the bullshit Trump country club our president and his acolytes have chosen as its manifest destiny for our nation.
Our most treasured national icon, the Statue of Liberty, is an ageless beacon, offering shelter from the storms of inhumanity elsewhere. Trump has turned our borders into the frontline of class and racial warfare, its motto is “Keep Out. You Don’t Belong Here.” If we are now known for turning people away, mercilessly deporting the rest, how will that not stop the war on terror? How will it not inspire new groups to target this great nation with their own brand of wrath? We cannot keep punishing the many for the sins of the few who refuse to honor decency and peace.
This entire nation owes its very identity and soul to the millions of other immigrants who have risked life and limb for decades to secure a better life for themselves and their families. To believe otherwise is absolutely un-American. Perhaps if those who fear “The Other” understood that not everyone who dares to call America their new home is a criminal run amok. Perhaps they need to be reminded of the ones who come here for a specific reason, to find their version of the American Dream. Like my parents. Like many of my friends’ parents and families. Who knows what immigrants can offer this nation in terms of innovation, inspiration, and beneficial to us all lucky enough to be citizens of the United States. Perhaps they need to know that not everyone who comes here is looking for a handout or abusing the social welfare system. I offer one reminder for your consideration.
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, rechristened “Spare Parts,” was produced.
Directed by Sean McNamara and starring George Lopez, “Spare Parts” benefited from the momentum of the early DREAM Act (DACA) era, when the Latino voice had never been more urgent in terms of our national narrative. While the film relied on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it did not shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this ugly, paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.
I had the privilege of meeting journalist Joshua 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 first expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. However, their ultimate goal was to not only provide quality entertainment, it was to also illuminate an essential community still undervalued or unfairly marginalized by some Americans.
“Spare Parts” opened in January 2015, renewing attention on the lives of Vasquez, Arcega, Santillan, and Aranda. Over the course of a decade, the group from Carl Hayden High School inspired countless newspaper and magazine pieces. Writer Davis followed up his “La Vida Robot” article with a book, also titled “Spare Parts,” catching up on the lives of the boys. Director Mary Mazzio was inspired by the Hayden students to create the documentary “Underwater Dreams.” The quartet was also included in “Dream Big,” an IMAX feature-length documentary about engineering achievements. Even the team’s famed robot Stinky had its moment when it was put on display at the film’s premiere at the Smithsonian.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Yet, with all the attention and praise for their underdog story, life after high school for Vasquez and several of his classmates has not been without its complications. As of 2014, Vasquez was able to secure his American citizenship after a challenging decade that saw him return to Mexico at one point. His return to his homeland meant a 10-year ban of re-entry to the U.S. It was or the assistance of Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who helped overturn the ban, allowing Vasquez return to the States with a visa. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, Vasquez saw combat in Afghanistan before returning and finishing his college education. Now a U.S. citizen, he and wife Karla moved to Texas with their family, where he works in an engineering-related job with BNSF Railroad.
Aranda was already a citizen when the team won the robotics contest. Arcega and Santillan both attempted college careers but ultimately were forced to drop out due to the changes in Arizona state law that required all students without legal status to pay out-of-state tuition fees. Today, Santillan runs a catering company with former classmate Aranda, appropriately called Ni De Aqui, Ni De Alla. Translation? “Neither from Here Nor from There.”
“The Making of ‘Spare Parts'” featurette produced by Jorge Carreon @ Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman for Pantelion Films.
The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens. —
From U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions statement on the Trump Administration’s rescinding of DACA, September 5, 2017,
As of September 2017, the more than 800,000 undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents are awaiting the other chancla to drop now that “President” Donald J. Trump has announced the end of DACA. Its effect will be catastrophic, breaking families apart and ending opportunities, like finishing an education or gainful employment, that have been hard won. What we stand to lose as a nation, however, is on par with a lobotomy.
The hope generated in 2012 when President Barack Obama signed this bold piece of legislation into effect was designed to protect them from a growing sense of paranoia and fear stoked by members of the GOP, and especially, Trump. They don’t know who are the Dreamers affected, nor do they care. Trump’s campaign engaged classic fear-mongering tactics, stoking the fires of intolerance with his supporters. It didn’t matter if the facts were true or not. The lack of employment, our border safety, our homes, our lives, we were all under attack by this scourge of evil from Latin America or elsewhere. We smirked that Trump could never be elected on such a brazenly racist and xenophobic platform. No one was laughing as the election proved otherwise. Now we have the sound of fear and it is palpable. (That American-born Latinos even voted for him because they deemed “her” unpresidential and untrustworthy is a testament to self-loathing that deserves its own essay. I say to them now, “Look what you’ve done to your brothers and sisters in blood. Shame on you.”)
As the child of immigrant parents, I am beyond angry. As an American citizen, I am ashamed. I wasn’t raised to hate people. I was raised to believe in the innate good of humanity, because good can flourish, even in the direst of times. Yet, to be told that I’m not good enough to be an American because of my Latino heritage or my sexuality is enough to make me want to take up arms. This is not the America that raised me and I’ll be damned if I let it harm anyone else out of fear and intolerance. What Trump offers is not the American Way. It is HIS way. That’s not good enough, not for this beautifully diverse nation.
Immigrants are not here to eradicate white history or white privilege. Nor are they here to tear this country asunder. That is a total lie to keep the status quo of xenophobia. We excuse the horrors of white terrorism, but movements like Black Lives Matter are deemed dangerous, inspiring legislation to declare such movements as being illegal.
American history was never just white. It is every color and creed and orientation, no matter how hard people try to obfuscate it. We are at a crossroads that will have consequences for generations to still to come. What we lose by excluding the many undocumented individuals now forced to live in the shadows again won’t be felt immediately, but it will be felt. Nothing stirs up a public more than paying for the poor decisions of our leaders. And we will pay for the loss of DACA is many ways, socially, morally and economically.
We are deporting the wrong groups of people. To be silent is to be complicit in this cruelly interminable series of unjust and un-American traitorous political acts. If we continue down this path of eradicating those deemed unworthy of citizenship, we will cease to be the United States of America. We will become the Dishonorable States of Trump, a soulless and rudderless nation offering nothing but a smirk, hatred, and violence to the world that once looked to us for guidance, protection, and inspiration.
**Now that the DACA program has been shut down, here is a breakdown of the Trump decision and what people should know:
Some DACA recipients won’t lose their DACA on March 5, 2018: People who have DACA now and whose DACA doesn’t expire until after March 5, 2018, will continue to have DACA and the work permit that comes with it until the expiration date of their DACA.
It’s too late to apply for DACA: The president ended the program so from Wednesday (September 6) on no more applications for DACA are being accepted.
A deadline that shouldn’t be missed: People whose DACA expired Tuesday, September 5 or will expire Wednesday, September 6 through March 5, 2018, can renew their DACA, but they must apply by October 5.
The ball is in Congress’ court – or Trump’s?: Between now and March 5, 2018, Congress can draft legislation to revive DACA, come up with a substitute or even do away with what the administration has put in place. Some opponents of DACA disagreed with the program being authorized by the president but may support a congressionally created program. Late Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he may “revisit” the DACA issue if Congress doesn’t act.
Legal challenges could play a role: There’s always a possibility of a court case. President Donald Trump came up with the DACA phase out plan under threat of legal action by a group of state officials. A young immigrant and immigration group filed a lawsuit in New York Tuesday challenging Trump’s action. There could also be discrimination lawsuits as a result.
– From “Come Go with Me” (Lewis A. Martineé), performed by Exposé
I’m going to set the origins of this little journal entry to the past on the sodium bomb from the Slurpin’ Ramen Bar consumed in April in Koreatown. (Excellent place, fyi). Yeah, I did feel a little “up” afterwards. Also, I was correct in predicting that my date for the evening was going to cancel on me –again — so it is better to shift focus onto something a bit more joyful and avoid the desire to man bash. I was truly bloated, bothered and bewildered, the perfect state of mind for journaling!
It’s taken me awhile to shape this into something worth reading and I’m still not sure if I’ve cracked the code. I have to give credit where credit it due. Earlier this spring, my sister NanyG, sister-friend Helen and I were in the midst of another hi-larious confab, this time at the Pico Rivera Shakey’s Pizza, a cherished location located within our shared cradle of youth. It was a carry-over from ANOTHER HelJor outing (as we refer to ourselves), this time with our childhood compatriot, Anne. And yes, if you’re a member of those days at South Ranchito Elementary/Meller Jr. High/ERHS, we probably DID talk about you.
What I love most about our get togethers is the chance to look back with a clearer vision as to what it was to come of age in the 1980s. Some of the focus is starting to slip into a tepid glow as we have move on through our teen years into our sure to be golden era of 50+. (Well, I can’t speak for myself. I remember way too much, but surprised to know how much I never saw what was often going on right in front of me. I see the roots of my self-absorption are very much showing.)
Being a teenager. Oh, that’s a weighty subject. (Zing!) The pudding days of Meller, when I was stout, pimpled and experiencing a woeful state of style were replaced by something a lot cheerier, leaner and taller by the time sophomore year began at El Rancho. Sitting here with my lap top, it makes me smile to understand how the realities of life’s experiences hadn’t yet taught us how to deconstruct or process our motivations. Everything was so AMAZING until your find out years later that it wasn’t. The struggles we deal with as adults are variations of those classic adolescent tropes. We were the last of the Breakfast Club generation, spicier incarnations of the Princess, the Athlete the Criminal, the Brain and the Basket Case. In some cases, we were probably all five.
Some of us were wonderfully clueless. Others were – and, surprise, remain — mean girls and boys. We had our groups, our nicknames, our juries, our judgments, our hierarchies, our first loves, our first pains. And as divided we ultimately became as life lead us to our chosen paths, for a small group of us, we remained steadfastly united during the 12 years we followed each other to the edge of 18.
The time isn’t ripe yet to pen that “Whatever Happened to the Class of 1985,” but it is starting to germinate. Something happened to me during that transition years of childhood. I first embraced my peculiar sense of being a boy, only to quickly shun it thanks to bullying and the inner shame felt as a teen. I hate that it happened at all, compromising my true self in the vain attempt to be liked and popular.
But that’s a story for another time.
Right now, I want to remember what it meant to be young in Pico Rivera, where youths were a microcosm of the bigger trends happening inside of LA and out. Everyone had their fiefdoms of rule within the school and outside the city limits:
Poseur Cali Preps
The mods were growing in numbers as Madness and The Specials dominated the powerful KROQ playlists, stealing club time at Marilyn’s in Pasadena.
The punks were a smaller contingent, but followed X and Black Flag to Madame Wu’s in Santa Monica.
Poseur preps, the ones that had turned up collars along with their classist noses had the most money, bigger houses to match their attitudes and Atari consoles.
The heshers, most of whom were in band, were a fiercely loyal bunch that sported their KMET and KLOS stickers as badges of courage and pride.
Urban surfers held fast to their Jeff Spicoli uniform of Vans, OP and Lightning Bolt shorts.
Morrissey. Enough said.
As for the rest of us?
It was a sea of teen dreams and mall made looks. Girls had their fast fashion trends of jelly shoes, bolero hats, plastic purses and other styles culled from department stores or Judy’s, Contempo Casuals and Miller’s Outpost. God, those damn belts that rivaled the WWF championship bling! Some tried to rock the Mod look with tights that had the feet cut off under long tartan skirts and flats, but it rang false. Maybe it was because feathered hair can’t ever replace an asymmetrical bob?
The cookie cutter style of the boys was laid upon a foundation of Levis jeans, tee shirts and jean jackets — then and now. Jocks will never die out if letterman’s jackets are still able to be earned. My memory can’t seem to fill in the blanks here, an era where the Metrosexual, Lumbersexual and Hipster styles would eventually blur the lines of masculinity.
However, one group reigns supreme in my mind when I look back at that time now. I can’t help but smile at these style rebels of my teen years:
CHA CHA GIRLS!
I’ll never forget these hothouse flowers that found access with fake ID’s to such playgrounds as the Florentine Gardens, the Red Onion, Black Angus, Pepper’s & Wings, as well as private parties and any other place they could hold court to the tune of Exposé, Debbie Deb and Stacey Q. They rolled around in packs, each with their own special markings of bangs, spider lashes, streaks and nail tips. They oozed a female sexuality that was true power, which sometimes moved faster than they could understand or control.
(Fun Fact: Exposé lead singer Jeanette Jurado is a former El Rancho Don! Class of 1983. Represent!)
This is one group John Hughes would never include in his white bread parables of teen life. These girls weren’t always pretty, but they loved pink, the brighter the better. They played fast and loose with the rules of the time, carving out their own niche as the 1950s ideal of adolescence began its hasty decline.
How I loved these ladies, feathered, streaked and war painted, wearing heels that were higher than their standards, all squeezed into Technicolor fabrics that stretched with the blind optimism of looking good! I always viewed the Cha Cha aesthetic as a rebellion against the leading tropes of the era. These Latinas were way ahead of the Kardashian brand of flesh as fantasy and in your face womanhood. They were always named Letty, Lorraine or Denise, Nena, Pebbles or Candy. Sometimes you had a Monica, Yvette or an Andrea. Given the immigrant culture that was the foundation of aspirational Pico Rivera life, you might have a Socorro or Maria Delilah in the bunch, but she was always the one you made call her much cooler older brother or sister when shit got real. (“Shut up, Socorro!” could be heard whenever she offered the single voice of sanity.)
The soc’s (the popular girls) looked down on the Cha Cha’s as being trashy, but like all things unbridled, jealousy motivated their feelings. Hallway chatter about some of these ladies was nothing short of salacious gossip, especially if their boyfriends were jocks. This could explain why many of the Cha Cha’s of my era opted to date outside of the El Rancho walls.
Every Friday of my first year at El Rancho, or “The Ranch,” was littered with invites to the weekend’s parties. Mass printed flyers, emblazoned with Nagel girls, were events sponsored by mobile DJ’s that called themselves “The Men of Elegance” and groupies of females known as “The Girls in Freak Position” or worse, names that you know would piss off your parents as they demanded you to “Tira esa cochinada ahorita!” (I wish I kept one of these flyers. If you have one, let a brother know!)
Liquid Gold on a budget
They were the denizens of the house parties and clubs that rocked the San Gabriel Valley, Hollywood and beyond. They were free-style aficionados who ventured to the Mansion, a claque that was strictly “Members Only,” weekend warriors fortified by Shpritz Forté. For some reason, the men were Dippity Do’d and Drakkar’d into shiny and musky sameness. Despite their macho posturing and bantering, they were rather generic in attitude and looks. Most couldn’t grow a mustache to cover their top lip, but it was awesome to see that their girlfriends could!
It was with great delight that I found a short film I created with my one of my best childhood friends, Ed Castellanos. We invaded El Rancho a few years after we graduated, crafted a DIY masterpiece with a VHS camera. Family, friends, students all contributed to this opus, cheekily titled “Fatal Aquanet.” It was meant to be a trailer for a new movie, with audience reactions and testimonials. At 16 minutes in length, we probably could have used some judicious editing.
Our intent was to create something that was fun. The best part were the on-the-street chats with the Cha Cha’s we talked to on Whittier Blvd. one memorable night. This was a harbinger of the life I would eventually lead, of documenting interviews and questions, of capturing the stories of lives in motion with truth and verve.
Our destinies can be revealed at a young age if we just lose the fear. I wish Ed and I went on to document other things together. Who knows? “Fatal Aquanet” will live forever on YouTube and on this blog for a reason. (Ed, perhaps a reunion is in store for us? I have an idea!)
Since those chats with Nancy, Helen and Anne, I’ve been toying with another idea, of fashioning a series of posts around a fictional group of girls, Cha Cha’s all, representing a chapter in my angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican life. Perhaps I’ll use this device to frame a larger story, of what happened to the class of 1985 through the prism of one group of friends as their gay single friend approaches 50 and faces the prospect of marriage…to someone younger.
Nothing upsets the herd like a seismic shift in the group dynamic, with the rest of the couples questioning their own choices and relationships. Sometimes when we look back, the consequences have an unexpected on the future. Good or bad, it is always for the best. And it would have great style with a soundtrack to beat any mixtape or playlist you could devise.
I don’t know how that particular story will play itself out, but I only ask that you come go with me and find out.
“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”
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.”
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.”
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.
Why do I let myself worry?
What in the world did I do?”
— From “Crazy” (Willie Nelson)
I truly do feel crazy of late. Even this post takes a turn due to current events, so hang on.
I am crazy for being so lonely, despite the good that surrounds me at the moment. While my social media posts of late are of the #45 trolling nature, I actually do feel rather good about a lot things. My weight is down, dropping at a rate that is healthy and realistic. Sugar is WAY down from its epic high of the 400’s earlier this year. My eating habits are starting to adjust to what makes sense to eat at the moment as opposed to just eating all the things that numb my feelings away. Creating that soft blanket of armor is something best left on my bed.
So, why the unease? I’m tired of fighting these gusts of loneliness. It doesn’t help that our days of rain and road rage have colored the city a less appealing shade of grey lately. One drought may be in the midst of being repaired, while my dating drought seems to be holding on a bit longer.
Part of this mentality is fueled by the “Chicken and the Egg” mechanics of dating and meeting people today. A lot of it is driven by apps, something that already makes me wonder where the time went while I busy inventing the MediaJor persona. Forget about the chat rooms and Craig’s Listings of yore. We are even going beyond Scruff and Growlr. Now we have “MeetUp.” It is on my queue of things to try this year and I am sure the experience will inspire a diary entry or two. The existence of this app fascinates me while pulling the trigger on one my most defining insecurities.
I’ve always considered myself a very social person. Well, let me rephrase that. I was a very social person, completely secure as to what made me unique as a kid. That ended around third grade, which is when I took a major detour once I became hyper aware of the social hierarchies of adolescence. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to the awkward reality of being that Cole Porter kid in a sea of Chicanos with totally different interests. I thought all kids loved movies, musicals and books as much as me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that wasn’t at all the case.
When reality kicked in, I bid a retreat from what made me “Jorge” and tried to turn it around by being “George,” seeking acceptance and feeling devastated when I still remained a background player. Then I would couple my voracious appetite for popular culture with two or three more helpings of whatever Mom made for dinner. I see where I kicked off the chain of events that would be one of my biggest challenges to overcome: maintaining a healthy body image.
As a gay man, I know I am not alone in living with that vicious cycle of self-flagellation over how we look to the world. If having abs and a gun show didn’t matter, gyms would go out of business with our mass exodus. I still obsess over my appearance and how people perceive me. Any shortcomings were covered up with being more of a “personality” since I wasn’t so secure in my being a “person” people could care about, much less desire. God, this era of trolling for “Likes” is just a more insidious means of finding acceptance and validation, one that preys on the weak and insecure like a plague. It is so fucked up, seeing men turn into teenage girls. It’s all tattoos, jock straps, duck lips and mirror shots that are so filtered, even Doris Day would go, “It’s not supposed to be like looking through cataracts, dear!”
How do we inoculate ourselves from this virulent form of narcissism and self-absorption? I’m guilty of the selfie ritual, almost to the point of ridicule from people close to me who can’t bear to see the pics clog up their Facebook feeds. However, part of the process of reconciling an emotional connection with food includes restoring a positive image of yourself. That’s something I haven’t really had in over four decades of living.
When I step down from this wheel of “Oh, I am so lonely” long enough, I recognize the truth about what it is that draws people to the eye. Yes, aesthetics play a role. We’re a visual society, more so than ever. But it does matter to strike that inner spark of contentment, the one that is born from being secure with your true self. This is nothing new and it goes beyond the memes and magazine-speak that makes obvious pronouncements seem profound. Hell, even RuPaul has a version that drips with sequins and glitter, but it is true. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”
Better living through chemistry, rather, the pills I am taking have helped a lot in beating back the darkness that’s shrouded me for a long while. These last weeks of eating better and making better food choices have also returned some vim and verve in my step. But, lurking in the corners, like dust bunnies clinging for dear life, is that woe of being alone.
In speaking with a friend this week, whose own travails with matters of the heart are complicated enough to make me want to take a vow of celibacy, I found myself offering advice that I should heed myself. He isn’t ready for the relationship he is in at the moment. His BF is a very social creature who enjoys many of the trappings of gay life that my friend can barely tolerate, if at all. More, his own insecurities about being left and deemed unworthy have triggered a few flashbacks of from my own dating life.
I am reminded of what I did to my own Ex during and after our two splits. Seeing my Ex appear on the gay apps like Growlr hasn’t helped me much, either. It’s just another track on the “Being Left Behind” hit parade. This friend and I are kindred spirits in this regard and we both have grappled with finding the love for ourselves. I think I am making progress in the sense that I do love myself enough to want to be healthier, to release myself from the tyranny of food and take charge. As for the crazy love for another part? It does always read better on the page or seen on the big screen, so my focus is shifting to the rational on that front now that I’ve purged a little of this angst in this diary entry. But I don’t want to relinquish the crazy just yet. Hear me out.
Author Paolo Coelho stated, “I prefer to crazy and happy rather than normal and bitter.” We’re moving past bitter these days. Normal was never a word I’d ever choose to describe myself. Crazy is a given. Happy? I think I’ll continue to dine on that possibility for as long as it does my body, brain and heart good.
While composing this entry, it was announced that #45’s administration withdrew the protections implemented by President Obama on transgender bathroom use in public schools. I’ve never felt skilled in dealing with the political because my focus was too narrow and even superficial when it came to this blog. However, I find I can’t just sit in this space of looking inward without addressing what I see outside this bubble.
This diary on food and self-awareness began with a simple question: “Is my life worth saving?” In the current climate, where protections for the queer and transgender communities are being removed as we speak, it is trivial to sit here prattling on and on about the lack of love in my life. I can’t follow a linear course with my thoughts of late. I don’t think anyone can, particularly with the frequency with which #45 is systematically turning the US into a Russian outpost of hate.
Love is not something I lack, that’s obvious. But, the pressures of conformity are now coupling with the incredible fear that many in this country have to contend with on a daily level. Many are losing that battle, taking their lives because death seems like a better option over continued persecution. The question I find myself pondering is fast becoming, “Are all lives worth saving in America.”
I think about what it felt like being the chubby kid who wasn’t like the other boys. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I’ve been able to face the consequences of those years. It’s bad enough the body politics that rule within the gay community are discriminating enough. That’s a topic for another rant. However, I do recognize just how lucky I was to NOT be ostracized or isolated in college or the workplace. But that isn’t the case for many queer or transgender youths today, despite the progress that was so hard won and now faces a regressive era that defies basic human rights.
No one should ever want for love in this world. No one should ever want for acceptance and respect despite being “different.” But for change to happen, we must change ourselves from within. I recognize the power in shedding that which does nothing but harm me. Imagine if that same power can be shared with others in shedding that which does nothing but harm our way of living.
It is important to recognize that the loneliness I feel will be just one more layer that will be stripped away with the rest of that which ails me as I continue this journey to better health. What will be found underneath remains to be seen. However, the strength gained must be put to good use. Truth matters in a fight. And the lines are being drawn as I write these words. Because if we’re aiming for crazy and happy as a society, it will take vanquishing those bitter souls who dare decide what is “normal” today.
So, I’ve hit my first brick wall, the dreaded plateau stretch. It’s the phenomenon that occurs when you just can’t seem to drop another fuckin’ pound. Of course, maybe it would help if I moved a bit more instead of just rising from bed, going to work, returning home and going back to bed. It’s taken a lot of my will to just do the Lean for Life program. The idea of regular exercise is just that, an idea. When I’ll start to do more than walk a few miles is something I grapple with daily. But, I then remind myself, “It isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Then I want to punch the wall itself, wondering why I embarked on this journey again in the first place. It’s a dance I know all too well and even my sturdy legs are starting to resist the choreography a bit. To bend, but not capitulate. That’s my truest self.
I guess I have been a wee bit on edge of late. Temptation is staging a sit-in on the steps of my brain. I keep mulling overeating behaviors that I know are bad for me. I dream of pizzas and orange tabby kittens. I dream of cheeseburgers and those solitary runs to King Taco. I recall when I would wake up and see the empty wrappers and bags from the items I would consume during these food binges that would last for days at a time. The feeling of being an addict would then seep into my already beaten down conscience. I would chastise myself endlessly, determined to not do it again, but it would without fail that same night. I could never help myself. It is like daring myself to reach the lowest possibly point, just to see if I could.
Rotating through this vicious and destructive cycle is on par with total madness. The number of lies you will tell yourself to validate an addiction will mount exponentially to the point that you can no longer tell the difference between delusion and truth. You fail to see the damage you’re causing since it isn’t necessarily visible, but it is being done without mercy. The full impact of consequence is only felt when you reach a crisis point. Sometimes you can turn it back and be saved. Sometimes it claims you.
I think about the tyranny of a society that preys on the weak who grapple with issues of perception and maintaining a certain social status.
I think about the tyranny of a media culture that preys upon the insecure by shaming their body types or finding fault with their ability to cultivate an “appearance.”
I think about the tyranny of an administration that prefers lies to the truth to keep their tenuous hold on our country, callously deconstructing our hard-won democracy under the cynical guise of “Making America Great Again.”
The temptations we face, both with our bodies and minds, are an eternal struggle for many. It is a real tragedy that our places in the social hierarchy dictate what we are able to consume. Fast food exists because it is cheap and easy. It is consumption at its worst, disregarding the basic rules of nutrition because it knows people won’t fight for something better. That takes knowledge. That takes real money. Good health requires certain resources and patience to sustain and a lot of us can’t be bothered to look away by the quick fixes and band aids we seek to make our lives easier.
Fast food is a lie. We know the truth about what will elevate us and what will kill us in terms of what we put into our bodies. I’ve accepted this lie for years, giving it strength because I was weak to face it with any resolve. Tyranny takes many forms and after years of bubble and self-absorbed living, we are finally using terms like “resist” and “persist” again. And meaning it.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, recently posted a list of things we can do to counterpunch the tyrannical regime of #45. It has been making the social media rounds and it is being picked up by certain media outlets, too. In some ways, the rules apply to all things that dare tear us asunder:
We are complicit in our silence. We must feel the power that comes from the support of people we love. We must avoid helpless and hopeless talk. We must keep our messages, the ones we say to ourselves and to the people around us, positive. This is the power to be found in resistance and rebellion, to eschew the rhetoric that is not good for anyone. This is how we push through the plateaus of complacency and stagnation that do not allow us to shed the weight dragging us down. This is how we emerge strong, victorious and healthy in the purest sense of these words.
Are we crazy? Living our lives through a lens Trapped in our white picket fence Like ornaments So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble Aren’t you lonely Up there in utopia Where nothing will ever be enough? Happily numb So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Leave it to Miss Katy Perry to inspire this return of DAHFGM. Her performance at the Grammy Awards presentation was marked by a singular theme: To Persist.
With the first weeks of #45 leaving an acrid taste in our mouths, or at least in the mouths of the sane, I found myself losing a sense of forward momentum. By week 2, I was wondering if I was stupid for even trying to diet during a time where my emotional triggers were being pulled on the daily. By week 3, I was nearly laid up with a respiratory infection that had me coughing like an old Parisian whore with consumption. It was then that I started not wanting to document a damn thing.
My Facebook page was littered with a constant stream of my own rage against the #45 machine and it was gumming up my inner works. So, I shut down Facebook and I shut down my own train of thought to find some much needed clarity and focus again. In short, I needed to find the means to persist with this choice to improve my health.
It is the start of week 4 and here is the latest:
Glucose Reading: 156
I’ve managed to shed just over 10 lbs. so far. It was 12 as of Friday, but the return from my trip to Baltimore, a side trip to Palm Springs and the brunch celebrating my Dad’s 92nd birthday did prove to have its effects in the end. What it had going for me was my ability to NOT reach for “those foods which will not be named.”
I brought unsalted, raw walnuts, pistachios and pepitas along with dried broccoli florets with me as snacks to Baltimore. I ate fish or chicken, scrambled egg whites and veg for as many meals as possible, filling in the gaps with protein bars and fruit. And water, lots of water. To discover the joys of Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken in Maryland was enough to make me to click on Lyft for a lunch run on a really cold Thursday afternoon before I started interviews on a new film project. That heavenly steak at the Woodberry Kitchen on the last night with the EPK crew was the stuff of dreams, but also the fast track to feeling bloated for two days. Haha. But it was so worth it.
Saturday was my big, bold, bear adventure to Palm Springs and the IBC events at the Hard Rock Hotel. I jokingly referred to friends as it being “My Big Bear Puta Weekend,” but suffice it to say the only putas were the ones ignoring me and my attempts at being an object of desire. Instead, I was the object of one hilariously drunk senior’s determination to get the attention of the overwhelmed bartender at Hunter’s so I could have a club soda. This is after a young cub from Rochester told me that he was leaving my side to go get his “flirt on” — with someone else.
For a brief shining moment, this super hot gent from San Francisco seemed to prefer me to the evening’s SNL cold opening. Sadly, the thumping bass of 70s disco was the only bump and grind that was going to happen for me that night. SF Guy showed me a text from his ex, who also happened to staying in a different room at the Hard Rock: “I need my boy’s butt.” Needless to say, he and his butt answered the call.
Going home the next morning, I felt a bit dejected and adrift. It was a familiar friend, attempting to road dog with me with a determination that I take pills to eliminate. The pills put up a good fight, though. It ain’t easy being “good and bougie” in a crowd that prefer the exact opposite. I’ve always tried too hard to fit my particular brand of gay into a category that is so decidedly NOT me. Case in point, the first thing I saw when I entered the Thunderdome of the IBC pool party was a portly millennial sporting a tee with emblazoned with this legend: “I’m only here for the gang bang.” Yeah. I wasn’t about to add my own brand of special flavor to the bubbling hirsute smoothie that afternoon. I knew from that moment that this act of persistence was one that needed to be shed along with my obsession with King Taco carnitas burritos with salsa roja y queso cotija.
Celebrating Dad’s 92nd birthday at this fantastic eatery called Salazar in the Frogtown section of LA restored a lot of good. The tears that welled up in his eyes when we sung “Happy Birthday” were just wonderful to behold. Alzheimer’s Dad was not present. My true Dad was very much with us and cherishing every smile and kiss he received from my family. I couldn’t help but hug him for being the sentimental person he’s always tucked carefully inside his strict demeanor and Old World gentlemanly values.
Palm Springs faded into the past and I returned to my regular life of forward motion. And, eating that sugar free cake, plus the horchata with Stumptown coffee were well worth the splurge in light of the kale salad with grilled chicken, yams and queso fresco I consumed, despite the envy I felt eyeing everyone else’s choices at the table. (Dude, the chilaquiles that Dad enjoyed were TEMPTATION on a plate.)
Today is Monday, and a few things have rattled my own sense of self, which I don’t want to rehash as there is no point. Numbers were a little up from Friday, but all that rises does fall with little effort when I try. Especially when it comes to losing weight. The power lies in being able to persist.
Bringing this back to Katy Perry’s new track, “Chained to the Rhythm,” it is easy to find yourself trapped in a bubble of your own making. We get safe. We get lost. We free ourselves. We get scared. We return to the safety of the bubble. It is a very easy way to live. And no, we often don’t see the trouble until it is too late.
Last night, I slept in fits and starts, feeling this strange tightness in my chest. I still feel it now. Perhaps it’s one more tape of negative thinking I still need to purge in order to reach a peak of wellness, one that I will sustain for the rest of my life.
I hadn’t felt this sense of loneliness in a while. It’s on par with feeling left behind at times. This roller coaster we’re all on right now is shaking so many of us to our very cores. It is gratifying to see that so many of us are questioning our place in the world. At the same time, many of us are questioning our own journeys towards a revised self-awareness and true enlightenment. We want to break free of the bubble, to persist despite the efforts of many who prefer our silence. So I will continue with these missives, self-absorbed or not.
It should be so damn easy, being able to feel happy, healthy and eager to partake of this thing called life. Why hide? Why lie? Why feel lonely? Why be addicted? Why be the subtle shade of beige? These are truths I seek. Not for myself, but to share with as many people who have the same questions. At some point, I won’t think twice about the things I choose to ingest anymore, either. That is why it is important to persist. That is why it is important to resist.
It is time for the many to be amongst the already woke lions. Myself, included.
It is my desire Break down the walls to connect, inspire, ay Up in your high place, liars Time is ticking for the empire The truth they feed is feeble As so many times before They greed over the people They stumbling and fumbling And we about to riot They woke up, they woke up the lions
It goes without saying that I am having a better week than #PresidentBabyhands. I’m down six pounds in five days. Sugar readings are dropping to numbers under 200 from a record 401 a few weeks ago. What more could a person want? A little peace and sanity for starters. God, what a week. At least He/She rested on the 7th day. I’ll be glad to look out the window on Sunday and know that we’re not living in the atmosphere on a plutonium cloud.
Driving to an appointment with my boss today, I chatted with my boss about my progress with this weight loss program. One of the things we discussed was he correlation of food and our emotional states. He said, without hesitation:
“The only things we gain in life are weight and sorrow.”
I knew exactly what I was going to write about the minute he said it.
Update: He would like to contextualize his statement by saying, “I was kidding… thanks for the brutal attribution, hermano.” However, given my state of mind for a while, I found it rather poetic and true.
Depression triggered my desire to eat myself to death. The burden of sorrow caused by the loss of people close to me coupled with the current state of society was killing my desire to care about anything. The clarity that is replacing my previous opaque view of the world is certainly being challenged at the moment, as it is for many of us. Yet, it is also giving me reasons to speak up, or write up as it were, shedding the many layers of ennui and selfish woe in the process. If I allowed life to make me gain weight and bury me in sorrow, this same life can also inspire me to shed the pounds and reclaim my own contentment. Nothing has changed around me. My family, friends and livelihood are still very much in place and no less supportive and loving than before. It is my lexicon for living that’s changed. Now I want to live.
The Talking Heads have infiltrated my mental iPod of late because I have been fixating on this theme on the power of words and literacy. Since the media is suddenly obsessed with the concept of facts of late, check out this lyric from the Talking Head’s classic track, “Crosseyed and Painless.”
Facts are simple and facts are straight Facts are lazy and facts are late Facts all come with points of view Facts don’t do what I want them to Facts just twist the truth around Facts are living turned inside out Facts are getting the best of them Facts are nothing on the face of things Facts don’t stain the furniture Facts go out and slam the door Facts are written all over your face Facts continue to change their shape
In the last week, this new age of American Chaos has given way to the irrational normalization of “alternative facts.” I refuse to accept such a conceit, not when facts are being twisted into pretzels and salted with mendacity. Taken further, alternative facts do not exist in the fight for better physical and mental health. Ingesting meds for diabetes does not mean I can eat a chocolate cake. I know enough to push it away because it is bad for me. So how the hell is it good for any of us to hear Kellyanne Conway, that Consort of Lies, crow on television how calling out #PresidentBabyhands as a liar is “dangerous to…democracy?” We’re a sick nation, lady. What you and your ilk represent is the chocolate cake that can kill us all.
In this visual age, where people prefer to digest photos to reading text longer than 140 characters, we must scrutinize the words that are being hurled at us by the nanosecond. Education, literacy, these are our defenses to protect our civil liberties and a free democracy.
As I put down the fork to stop anesthetizing myself from the world, I am putting down TMZ and the gossip sites from my own information diet, too. Being educated and literate doesn’t mean you want to better than someone. It means you can best understand when any figure, political or otherwise, is trying to tear you apart for their own personal gain. It has nothing to do with you – only them. I compare it to having a bad boyfriend/girlfriend who only talks shit and makes you feel bad about yourself. Is is possible we really hate ourselves as a nation to let such people rule our lives? By that token, if we are able to dump such partners from our lives, why the hell are we standing behind leaders who want nothing else but bring us down?
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.
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.