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 — Week 10, Day 60 — “Fat”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 10, Day 60 — “Fat”

“The girls (and boys) that think they’re ugly because you’re not a size 0, you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly” – Marilyn Monroe

Weight: 240.5

Glucose Reading: 106

Body Fat Lost to Date: 6%

Hard to believe, but I am approaching the 10th and final week on my Lean for Life program. Time sure flies when you’re only eating egg white for dinner every damn night. To say that I have mixed feelings wouldn’t be me now, would it? The stagnation I feel has begun to set, anchoring me like a pair of cement shoes, albeit Italian ones. Not feeling so sparkly, either. Rather, I’ve been feeling rather morose of late. And I’m chasing that with healthy shots of: Tired. Annoyed. Fed up. I feel absolutely no joy about the progress I’ve made and that freaks me out.

Earlier this week, Nurse Maria told me the news. I’ve lost 6% of my body fat. The program usually sees patients lose between 2 to 3%. I should be elated. My clothes fit better. I sleep better. Luster has returned to my skin. I just look healthier, period. But all I felt was: nothing. Not like “A Chorus Line” nothing, but null and void. It is then I realized my body dysmorphia has taken a turn and I wondered if I’m always going to see myself as just another “fat boy,” no matter what I do to improve myself.

Last night, as I made my way to the Urth Caffé for yet ANOTHER first date, I started thinking about which of my comfort food venues I was gonna hit hard the minute I end my daily visits to the clinic next week. That’s not good, because I can’t process those foods anymore. The end result is too dire to contemplate even half-orders or a singular visit every other month. But the truth is I feel stuck and emotionally constipated.

I’m literally going through the motions.  I am missing something. A spark. Inspiration. Something to restore a sense of grace and a desire to stave off the demons of depression. Even the armor provided by the Lexapro is starting to show some dents and scratches. Is it my singleton status? Is it my approaching 50 in July? It could be that and more. All I know is that it’s as if covered wagons tented in mediocrity are circling me again. And don’t let me get started on the state of the American Union thanks to President Babyhands.

At times, I feel like I’m serving someone else’s dream. Other times, I get the sense that I’m just floating through life, buffeted from time to time by the obstacles I place in my own way. I just see “Fat Me” through it all because that all I’ve ever known, to be honest. It makes me think of that old Lynn Redgrave film from the 1960s, “Georgy Girl.” The reality of being the perennial schlub, no matter how much I may dress it up, inside remains the marshmallow center of “Fat Me.”

In the matter of being healthy, what you feel matters as much as much as how you choose to view your physical self. The only time I don’t succumb to any these dark swells on my mental shores is when I write. It shines a light on the boogeyman that is the childhood me, that pudgy soul who just wanted to be liked by the world.

As I reach this final week of the Lean for Life program, it is time to reflect on the road traveled before tackling the next journey. He needs to bid a quick retreat because it is when I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not, that’s when I use these fears to help me create and express myself with truth and clarity. It is only then I truly feel empowered and sane.

In no way am I ringing an alarm here. It’s part of the process of change. I knew that stripping away the layers of this unhealthy 40-something carcass was going to stir up some shit. These cycles of feeling woe and sorry for myself are destructive infidels determined to kick me off the course I’ve set for myself. I’m fighting back the best way I know how, this diary. It is my battleground to conquer. Each realization is the flag I will plant on the mountain I own, dammit. I just have to weather these moments of weakness to wrest the focus back onto what matters in this life.

Now, about my visions of those pinche Casa Garcia nachos…

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “And the Oscar goes to…”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “And the Oscar goes to…”

No one can be put in jail for their dreams.
Free country!
Means that you’ve got the choice,
Be a scholar! Make a dollar!
Free country!
Means that you get a voice,
Scream and holler! Grab ’em by the collar!
Free country!
Means you get to connect!
That’s it! Means the right to expect that you’ll have an effect.

 — From “Everybody’s Got the Right” by Stephen Sondheim

It’s Oscar Sunday. Mixed feelings about today’s show, to be honest. Some of it is politically motivated. I have a hard time grappling with the image of couture, Chopard and grandstanding on our current political situation, adding an awkward and surreal wrinkle to the distraction award shows also provide. But, it is hard not to feel nostalgic, particularly since my career features over 20 years of working on campaigns dedicated to the big prize. I think about the wonderful, hard working people I collaborated with for many years. More, I choose to look at it as bringing Pico Rivera realness to a world that features more people looking in than out. And yes, it is a small town boy’s dream realized.

My Top 5 Oscar Memories:

5. The Madness of King George & Eat Drink Man Woman (1995) — My first Oscar campaigns as a junior publicist. While I didn’t hit the carpet, I did get to spend the day with Dame Helen Mirren at her home to coordinate TV crews covering her nomination. Pure grace, class and a wicked sense of humor. I’d get my own chance to interview Dame Mirren years later on the set of Hitchcock in 2012 for the broadcast content. It was so worth the wait. And, true fact, she loves food shopping and hanging out in East Los.

My time at Samuel Goldwyn was important on so many levels. It propelled my career to the next level. It was responsible for some unforgettable moments that would replay later, particularly with my becoming a content producer. It was at Goldwyn where I first interviewed director Ang Lee for the Eat Drink Man Woman press notes in 1994, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film. We would meet again in 2011 in Taiwan, Taichung and Taipei to be exact, when I interviewed him on the set of Life of Pi for the international broadcast campaign. Best part? He remembered our first interview.

4. Slumdog Millionaire (2009) — Director Danny Boyle has been nothing but gracious, familiar and welcoming in the several interviews I’ve conducted with him over the years, which includes 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Trance and 127 Hours. I loved this movie, especially since I was one of the first to interview then newcomers Dev Patel and Freida Pinto when the film appeared at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. A great experience.

3. Juno (2008) — You just knew this film was special when it was in production in Vancouver. Writer Diablo Cody remains one of my favorite EPK interviews ever, along with Jason Bateman. Ms. Cody even taught me some stripper moves from her old days of dance. Second best moment?  Trading lines from Drop Dead Gorgeous with Allison Janney. (“I got some!”

2. Birdman (2015) — It was a polarizing film, but it remains an achievement in craft on all levels. Interviewing Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and the ensemble resulted in revealing and candid conversations about film, magical realism and, particularly, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It was my second project with AGI, the first being Babel. And it also played a role in my continuing conduct interviews for Spanish language content. It’s hard not to be a wee bit cynical about that, but I can’t negate how it’s also brought some welcome challenges to this half my career. That period was also when I hit the Mexican Trifecta of directors, thanks to interviews with Guillermo del Toro (The Book of Life) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity).

http://www.desdehollywood.com/alejandro-g-inarritu-michael-keaton-birdman-took-flight/

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1. Titanic (1998) — From production in 1996 to release in 1997 and the awards in 1998, this ship of dreams sailed through some choppy waters. But it journeyed into the history books. This entire experience was a microcosm of the film industry itself, good and bad. It’s unforgettable because it did cross through uncharted territory, first as a box office juggernaut and then as one of the most winning Oscar films in history. It is the ultimate in art and commerce. It wasn’t my first time at the big show. That honor went to Braveheart in 1996. But it was the one that brought me into the center ring, the one that made good on why I dreamt big as a kid, watching the telecast with determination to be part of the fray. I’ll never forget each set visit in Baja California and subsequent press days in LA and NYC with Kate Winslet and, especially, director James Cameron, who never failed to treat me with real respect. Heck, I even held his Oscars for him during a photo call. Haha. I’ve gone back to Titanic a few times since then. He’s never been anything more than a gentleman, a real showman.

I was part of some great teams in the 20 plus years. I learned from the best, individuals who truly shaped my role and reputation in this profession. It’s the ones who also made me a better person that I hold dear, which isn’t easy in a town that isn’t always so loyal or forgiving when you make a mistake.

I won’t be watching the show tonight. However, I do take great comfort knowing some chubby young Latino kid will be watching with equal determination to make their contribution and mark on this ridiculous, frustrating, inspiring and so very vital industry. Because he or she can. Because that’s their right. And everyone has their right to their dream, no matter how hard anyone — or any one president or political party — dares to tell us otherwise.

Si se fucking puede, mi gente.

I did.

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Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 3 — “The Language of Friendship.”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Day 3 — “The Language of Friendship.”

Day 3

259.2

Glucose Reading: 215

I’m half way through this week’s protein days, cranky as fuck, but rather elated today. I am down nearly 4 lbs. I attribute that spectacular number to not being weighed in denim. Let’s see how much it makes a difference over the coming weeks. Sugar was a bit of a “wah-wah” moment this AM thanks to the almonds I ate instead of the protein required as part of Day 2’s plan. At least I didn’t eat a bag of pork rinds (Lemon Juice! Tapatío!)  or whatnot, but note to self. Watch the items that cause the spikes or plateaus. But I digress.

The reason I was smiling like an Osmond brother this AM was to wake up and find the overwhelming amount posts of support I received from my first diet journey essay. I couldn’t help but feel like Eve Harrington as she breathily exalts in All About Eve:

If nothing else, there’s applause… like waves of love pouring over the footlights.

It is one thing to know you’re respected, but it is another thing to feel being loved in the way many of my friends and colleagues expressed their support and care in reaction to the essay.

“Weight has always been a struggle for me. I know what it feels like. I have been a Weight Watcher member for 16 yrs and made goal only a 1 1/2 years ago…”

“I am so incredibly proud of you. You have my support 110% ”

“Try not to get too caught up in the numbers and “progress.” You’ll know by your energy and the way your jeans fit and without a doubt, you’ll be back in the Levi’s that we purchased so long ago. I’m with you. Come over. Check out all my new shoes and I’ll make you a healthy dinner. Our door is always open to you, but not your chanclas. You keep those the fuck away from me…”

“I’m in the same boat as you are, buddy. Will be following your progress with interest. Starting my own journey up and out this very week.”

“You have more people behind you than you know, old friend. Take care and press on.”

“I love you.”

People messengered me privately with words of support, offering books and other resources to help smooth out the sure to be roiling journey ahead. Others shared with me their remembrances of losing close friends to one of the many ailments being overweight can trigger with devastating results. I wasn’t even sure how to respond to most of them, wondering if even hitting “Like” was enough? I knew that this diary entry would be one way to say to all of them, “I love you back” and “Thank you for being my champion.” Helen and I joke about #blessed as being the ultimate social media cliche of our time, but fuck me. Blessed is not big enough a sentiment to feel at this moment. My biggest thanks must be not failing any of them as I move forward to Day 4 and beyond.

Honestly, I may just read and record all of the posts I received and keep a sound file in my capes in case I start to feel my resolve ever weaken. (And yes, I do wear capes as shoulder pads would look so stupid and this isn’t the 1980s.) All kidding aside, I was reminded of a framed quote from Henry David Thoreau I was given as a gift a few birthdays ago. It reads, “The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.”

What I’ve come to discover is that it should not take us such a prolonged effort to find meaning in our lives, not when love is so readily available. We may bemoan our single status or our frustrations with people close to us, whether it is family, partners, spouses, co-workers or friends. But love can be found underneath the hornet’s nest of emotions we rile up from time to time. Love will always make itself known to you just when you need it most. All you have to do it believe in it, even when you are steadfast in your resolve to prove it is not there for you.

One thing I know is going to make a big difference is keeping a sense of humor, even when the days are filled with reasons to feel otherwise. This is not a great lead in, but stick with me on this one. We lost a great American icon today, the wonderful Mary Tyler Moore. I did get a little emotional at reading the news earlier today and  I was flooded with great moments of her work in television and film.

I flashed on her singing “Mountain Greenery” with Dick Van Dyke on their show together. I thought about her steely matriarch coping with the loss of her son in “Ordinary People” and the campy drama of “Just Between Friends.” But most of all, I thought of her role as Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The show was aspirational, adding a layer to my wanting to be a news person. The scripts were like music to me as a young kid. I loved how these characters spoke to one another. I learned that power could be found in making us laugh and cry. (The series finale is still one of my favorite episodes of TV ever.)

Laughter is cathartic, just as much as crying. Both are almost able to wipe the slate clean whenever we feel we can’t cope. So, as we face another round of presidential lies and executive orders that defy compassion and necessity, I offer a classic piece of laughter. It is one of MTM’s best moments, the funeral scene for Chuckles the Clown, four of the best minutes of TV ever produced. To quote another great female character, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Mar knew exactly how to prompt both with style, elegance and a beautiful smile.

Goodnight, Ms. Moore. A lot of us will forever find courage in knowing “We’re gonna make it after all.”

“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

Struck with the fever to clean my online house, I finally got around to deleting some files from my Drafts folder on MediaJor.com. These were unfinished essays that seemed like great ideas at the time but never really flourished for whatever reason. Imagine my utmost thrill to find one particularly glorious remembrance of days past. Oof. I guess I forgot about it or maybe I calmed down enough NOT to get involved in the escalating drama that inspired me to write something. It still makes me say, “Wow.” Reading it again made my skin crawl, particularly since it’s a fetid example of this Age of Rage we are living in. 

This post harkens back to the Fall of 2014, which was when I had the brilliant idea of writing a coda to the now infamous “Hermanas Coraje” series.  Coraje means “angry” in Spanish, itself a joke and a play on a famed Mexican telenovela known as “Los Hermano Coraje,” which I loved watching with Mom when I was a kid. 

The essays were intended to be a means to an end, of dealing with the painful consequences stemming from my aunt’s battle and demise from cancer in 2014. It seemed to help to turn certain relatives into characters in a Mexican telenovela. Adding fuel to the fire was the endless back and forth of these covertly shared texts and Emails from the so-called Coraje sisters, exchanges my warring cousins that personified Latino Drama and then some. I wasn’t at a loss for inspiration to keep this serial going for a while. However, this entire exercise proved to be anything but a laughing matter in the end. 

The essays I penned got angrier and angrier as my family’s situation deteriorated further and further. Each new text or Email was like a bomb going off and no one was spared from the shrapnel. Today, we’re still living with the injuries inflicted on both sides, which ultimately destroyed all of the tropes of the unified Latino family in the process. 

The first coda I attempted to write was an attempt to get away from Ground Zero, one that was a direct result of what became the last secret Email I would receive. I say “last” because the contents of this particular letter filled me with such contempt, I asked to be taken off the CC list altogether. I also decided to end my imagined telenovela on MediaJor.

The real hermanas Coraje were at their conjoined peak of “But we’re real the victims here!,” which was quite a feat since we had already buried my aunt. Make no mistake. These women were the actual instigators, the lead stirrers of one big cosmic pot of rancid menudo. The elder Coraje sister saw it fit to fire off a truly evil Email to her soon to-be ex-sister in-law, a punch thrown so low it hit the family at its lowest point. Our collective grief was turned into absolute rage again.

Given the way most families work, it was a matter of time before the contents of this destructive Email made their way around to the rest of us. We had an inkling as to the involvement of the sisters Coraje in wrecking their brother’s marriage. Their grotesque agenda of revenge and acrimony turned their brother’s wife into a member of our family. Yes, the family split and sides were taken. We sought to at least be a sounding board, but we turned into a means of emotional support as her marriage broke apart. Yet, we really had NO idea just how far the Sisters C were willing to go in ensuring her destruction.

Revisiting this letter, it was obvious that only making grammatical corrections would not be enough. Whether or not the entire family views this essay, it is just smart to only keep the emotional intent of the original note to protect the innocent and guilty and not retain any of the original text. So yes, I did rewrite the entire thing to best fit this essay. Also, note the “countersteps” have been fictionalized, too. While Hermano C’s ex-wife did offer her own rather pointed rebuttals, again, it would not prudent for me to air them out with the rest of the dirty laundry. 

To read the original post was to almost hear the elder Coraje sister slamming the keys on her insidious PC. Each hit nailed a coffin shut, forever keeping out any light, love and all things human from a couple’s union. Vengeance would be mine if I left it as is to give readers a better sense of the epic pendejismo of it all. Trust me, this collection of twisted maneuvers was devised by someone who has been burned by life one too many times.

In the two years since we ceased all communication with the Corajes, I’ve realized theirs is a house built on a foundation of resentment. They’ve done nothing but shift the blame for their imagined woes onto other people. I have zero respect for those who prefer to exist within the Cult of Victimhood. All of this makes me want to subtitle this post as “Own Your Shit!”  But, perhaps ours is a life lesson that can do us all some good, which is what led me to revisit this essay one more time…

They’re baaack. And not without leaving a few commandments behind for good measure. In fact, I should thank Las Hermanas Coraje for the wealth of material they’ve inspired me to compose. They’re web spinners and string pullers, the most cowardly roles to undertake when it comes to fucking shit up. These aren’t people who carry baseball bats to deal with shit. They prefer to do the side step as deftly as Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”

Regardless, no matter how you choose to meddle in people’s lives, wreckage will be left behind. A broken family will find the means with which to pull itself back together, but it is never really mended. The cracks are there to see forever, just like the words used to inflict the most damage possible in this digital age.

That said if you still want to know how YOU, too, can be a Hermana Coraje, follow their simple rules listed below. As for their ex-sister-in-law, bless her for having rebuttals at the ready, reminding us all that for every action you will experience an often equal or even stronger reaction:

Step 1: “Tell her to get back to work!”

Counterstep: I have NEVER stopped working. I am not sure what your brother, my husband, tells you. He’s probably — and conveniently — NOT telling you that I pay my share of thousands of dollars in household expenses, too. If either of you need a reminder, keep advising him in the manner you seem to think fit. I’ll show you the receipts.

Step 2: “Move your ass and starting talking to the lawyer and find out how you can protect yourself!”

Counterstep: That’s right, let someone else do the dirty work. As if no one will ever notice the stains on your hands.

Step 3: “DO NOT give her permission to exchange ANY information with the lawyer.”

Counterstep: What? Permission? Since you see fit to meddle in our marriage do you think I’m NOT going to know what crap advice you continue to give my husband? For the record, I’m reading this Email, too!

Step 4: “DO NOT reply to Isela’s email She’s either trying to flirt or dig up info!”

Counterstep: Isela is a friend, a real friend. She’s not part of the Vibora club like you and your sister. She’s just concerned about both of us as this entire situation goes from bad to worse. Honestly, why do you even care?  Or is all of this really about YOU?

Step 5: “DO NOT go to the meeting with the realtor. And for the record, why are you even thinking about going?

Counterstep: We have to deal with the house as that’s OUR home to deal with and not yours. It’s the house where you were welcomed but are now both having to LEAVE because of you.

Step 6: “Stand up for yourself! Move on!”

Counterstep: How can he move on when you’re the one writing the map?

Step 7: “Be a man! Don’t be some little boy doing what mama tells him to do!”

Counterstep: And what is it that YOU’RE doing now with this awful Email?

Step 8: “Tell her you will respond that text from the ex-girlfriend. The one we liked.”

Counterstep: Oh, that’s being mature. As if his texting his Ex is going to cause real damage. YOU made this happen, dear. Not me. YOU. Remember that.

Step 9: “Remember that everyone we know and knows you think you’re awesome. Just not your wife!”

Counterstep: I never stopped believing he was awesome until you and your sister poisoned the well and ruined us.

Step 10: “The marriage counselor said most of the money from your remaining sessions can be refunded. You won’t face a loss!”

Counterstep: We’ll never know. You took away any real chance for us to find out if we could fix things. All you’ve done is make sure they stayed broken.

Step 11: “She only wants access to your financials to mess you up. Are you stupid enough to just hand this info over to her?”

Counterstep: Spoken like a woman who’s never been in a marriage. I have a secret: Spouses are SUPPOSED to know each other’s “financials.”

I really hope you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve prided yourself on being an actress, another lie the family believes. You’ve been nothing but a bit player all these years, always in the background. I never would have guessed the best role of your tiny “career” was to be the lead player in ruining my marriage. Was it worth it taking center stage this way? You always referred to yourself as the big Catholic. Let this weigh heavy on your soul because I believe you will be paid back in full when it’s your marriage. That’s my curse for you.

Since you took it upon yourself to write this list of “steps” for my husband, I will make sure to keep them on hand for the future in case you or anyone in the family needs a “reminder.” Better yet, I’ll keep them in a safe place for our kids so they can read them one day. After all, isn’t what family does best, sharing everything?
You’re welcome.

Your sister-in-law under God’s law forever…

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Two years have passed. That note was the last we heard of Las Hermanas Coraje. In the end, this once star-crossed couple lost their house. No one earned a real dime from its sale, so the said “financials” were never improved. The ex Mrs. Coraje moved on with their kids to a new home and life.  Meanwhile, the entire bitter lot of siblings are now existing under one deluded roof, just like when their dad lost their business and was forced to move them in with an uncle, the very family they would turn their back on in the most callous manner.

I am loathed to report that they’re still playing their pueblito games, too. So much for growth and maturity. But, I will never forget the elder Coraje‘s parting shot. I still can’t believe the nasty tone and manipulation found in that note. But the worst part? It’s just pathetic to know the Coraje brother’s balls are still being kept by his sisters.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the final chapter. The Resurrection of Las Hermana Coraje? After all, writers are encouraged to “write what they know.” Well, the author of this family’s narrative is God himself. I suspect even he would need major encouragement to pen a revision.

“I Want to Break Free” (or “The Tyranny of Fear”)

“I Want to Break Free” (or “The Tyranny of Fear”)

“I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you
I’ve got to break free
God knows, God knows I want to break free…”

If my long-held fears were corporeal, I’d sing Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” to them at the top of my lungs. It is what you say to a lover who has kept you down for too long. The one who keeps you at arm’s length, the one who keeps you begging for a love that is on their terms and so not worth it.

The same applies when you’re locked in the grip of abject fear. Rejection. Failure. Unfriended. Unliked. Unbelievable.

For me, it is my connection to fear that has been my longest running romance. Time is slowing down in some ways and the quiet I’ve been experiencing  of late is granting an audience to my inner thoughts with unsettling frequency.

I go to therapy twice a month, but it is more a stop gap measure than a real solution. Do I see the enormity of fear? Yes, its features have taken their full form now. It is me as a kid, seeking attention from those who did little to try to understand me. I find that my most painful struggle is that of finding a partner in this life that understands me. My inability to do so is starting to anchor me deeper into this toxic morass of depression.

Why isn’t it enough to trust myself again? Why is it so important to see myself in the eyes of someone else and not provide myself with the strength to pull myself out of this bog? Part of me wants to see fear take on depression in an epic battle royale, but that’s assuming I can be a bystander. They are both a huge part of who I am as a person. If anything, I’ve allowed them both to use ME as their boxing ring.

Since coming home from Spain, a palpable sense of loneliness as returned and creeped into my mind again. That vacation was supposed to wash away all that was troubling me. Instead, it only drudged up more of what ails me.  I can’t allow myself to be washed away with it. As much as I love the ease and promise of stillness from slipping away unnoticed, the collateral damage would be too great. Running away from my personal ground zero is not the answer. But these six years of romantic drought and depression are starting to take their toll and the struggle to find some sort of peace is becoming a insurmountable.

Chaos. Uncertainty. Anger. Screaming. Rage. Optimism seems incapable to puncture through this era of disconnection and dischord. Writing the pain away helps. As to what I’m going to express next, I don’t know. But for the moment, I am going to keep shining a light on fear until I am able to run right into it and tackle it for good. I just need one good play, dammit. And break free…

 

 

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

 

Oscar winning director Danny Boyle earned his master status by never making the same film twice. In recent years, he’s been engaged by decidedly human tales with an edge of romance (“Slumdog Millionaire”) or harrowing survival (“127 Hours”). But what would audiences make of “Trance?” One word: Underrated.

Revisiting the moral grit that made “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” two of his best films, “Trance” emerged as its own entity. An unforgettable, old school psychological thriller that is beautifully sleek and modern, “Trance,” at least to me solidified Boyle’s position as a filmmaker of great muscle and nerve. And, if any actor was born to be part of a Boyle Ensemble, it is the fearless Rosario Dawson.

While Dawson has been firing up the Marvel Cinematic Universe of late as Claire Temple in the Netflix series “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the new “Luke Cage,” the bigger heat has been reserved for this year’s presidential election. A fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, Dawson has garnered headlines for her commitment to Sanders’s “party of the people” agenda during the DNC. Earlier this year, she was among the protesters arrested in April during Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. It is exactly this fervent desire for change and to continue the conversation of creating a civil and honest society that makes Dawson one of my favorite people to interview.

Whether it was on the set of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” in Vancouver or in a hotel ballroom in Santa Monica for “Unstoppable,” she has never wavered in terms of her candor, sense of humor, authenticity or grace. In this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault,” Dawson proved “entrancing” when she spoke about her role in the film during this interview from March, 2013 in Los Angeles.

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreon and edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.)

 

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

The groundbreaking vision of AMERICAN HORROR STORY may not be to everyone’s taste, nor has it remained consistent. But AHS has its legion of fans for very specific reasons and that loyalty was cemented with its dark and unsettling second season, “Asylum.”

No one can deny that AHS features one of the strongest ensemble casts assembled for any screen — silver or otherwise. With careful precision, filmmaker and television powerhouse Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Crime Story”) gathered a cast of players that not only committed themselves to the challenging, genre-driven material at hand, they elevated it to vertiginous heights. Next to the legendary Jessica Lange, no other AHS player proved themselves as fearless than Sarah Paulson.

As intrepid reporter Lana Winters in “Asylum,” Paulson brought a humanity and soul to the often soul crushing abuse she endures at the infamous Briarcliff asylum. What made Winters such an unforgettable character was Murphy and the series writers never allowing her to become a horror victim stereotype. Winters always has a plan, keeping her wits about her no matter how dire the circumstances. She may look like Mary Richards, but she possesses an edge and a survivor’s mettle that makes her all the more unique.

The contrast between Paulson’s contribution to the first season of AHS, where she played a moony psychic, to her role as a lesbian journalist in “Asylum” is a testament to her versatility and strength. While she also went full witch mode for “Coven,” she hasn’t been put on such vivid display in the subsequent installments of AHS. But, no fan will ever forget her steely control in the “Asylum” finale, when the last act of Ms. Winters’s harrowing journey proved to be appropriately mindblowing, indeed.

Being part of the Ryan Murphy Players has been quite good for Paulson, nabbing two Emmy nominations this year alone for her work on “AHS: Hotel” and for her searing turn as attorney Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The Emmy voters may need to be sent to an “asylum” if they don’t finally award Paulson with one of those darned statues already. In the meantime, take a look back and out what Paulson had to say to me in January 2013, right before the infamous series finale aired in this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault.”

UPDATE: Congratulations on your long-deserved Emmy win for your leading role on “ACS!” Ms. Paulson!

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreón; edited by Sara Gordon Hilton for The MediaJor Channel.)

From the MediaJor Vault: Javier Bardem

From the MediaJor Vault: Javier Bardem

If Fridays are for flashbacks, why not open up the extensive MediaJor interview vault for a new “Confessions” feature? First out: Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

No Bond film is ever complete without a villain — and there has never been a villain like Javier Bardem’s Silva in SKYFALL. As this most venerable film franchise hits a creative peak in its 50th year, actor Daniel Craig (who solidified his position as the new Bond benchmark) was only one reason why audiences have turned SKYFALL into such a success. It was also Bardem’s wicked cool that generated an equal amount of heat with fans. And he may just become the first Bond film actor to ever be nominated for an Academy Award, too. (Well, that didn’t happen. But the film did win an Oscar for its Adele-powered theme song.)

Bardem was most recently seen in Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” and will next be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s untitled film, co-starring  Jennifer Lawrence. He’s also starring in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which sets sail in 2017. And word is Bardem may be starring in a remake of “Frankenstein.”

In the meantime, watch me get shaken and stirred with Bardem as we “bond-ed” in this interview from 2012, which originally appeared on The MediaJor Channel.

Produced by Jorge Carreon. Edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.

Wasn’t It Romantic…? o “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo”

Wasn’t It Romantic…? o “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo”

Isn’t it romantic?
Merely to be young on such a night as this?
Isn’t it romantic?
Every note that’s sung is like a lover’s kiss

Sweet symbols in the moonlight
Do you mean that I will fall in love perchance?

“Isn’t It Romantc?” — Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

I hate to break it to Ella or the Messrs. Rodgers & Hart. It isn’t so romantic anymore to be young — or in my case “mature” — on any given day/night when you’re single in LA in 2016. Those “sweet symbols”of yore have been replaced by emojis and the art of flirting has given way to acts of narcissism, sexting, pexting and a strange paranoia that everyone is going to stalk you if you dare to ask for their phone number.

What happened to the fine art of seduction!? I think I can chart the course of our romantic Titanic to this famed opening from one of Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” columns:

“Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence. The glittering lights of Manhattan that served as backdrops for Edith Wharton’s bodice-heaving trysts are still glowing—but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember—instead, we have breakfast at 7 A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess?”

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And that was in the 1990s, way before we even reached this intersection of technology and dating that dominates us today.

To be fair, love and sex have always been risky investments and commodities to broker with during any given era. Yet,something changed in us in the 1980s, where we became enthralled with the art of the deal and every relationship could be viewed as a transaction that either paid off (or not) with (or without) financial gain or status upgrades. A pervasive layer of cynicism took root back then and I am starting to think it had an unforeseen consequence on subsequent generations of adults looking for love, sex or whatever passes for intimacy these days.

Behold this lovely message I received on Growlr today:

ROMANTIC

Yup. You read that right. “Love to be in bondage to you, Sir!”

Let that marinate for a minute.

Have decades of broken marriages, absent parenting and a steady diet of reality TV “courtships for the camera” warped or corrupted our ability to love and be loved? Why is it now okay to reveal your junk in the first 15 minutes of a text exchange, but the second we offer up a little sentiment or vulnerability, you shut us down? “Blocked!” Are we so distrustful of compliments that we confuse them with bullshit hyperbole or read them as code for an ulterior motive ? Again, “Blocked!” And don’t forget the ultimate sin of app dating: never ask for and suggest an exchange of phone numbers.

Now, back to the bondage comment.

Nothing exists in my Growlr profile that even remotely proclaims I have a desire for kink, fetish or any other alternative life style variation thereof. So what endgame did this gentleman even hope to achieve? It caught me so off guard, I didn’t even know how to react. Laughter was first, followed by “What the Fuck!” I mean, that text took balls, which I am sure are wrapped up with strips of leather at the time it was sent. Haha. I don’t begrudge anyone their tastes in terms of sex, but you have to KNOW your audience before sending any such missive.

In the days since that text, I can’t stop thinking about how the art of romance seems to be all but D.O.A. these days. I think of the American Songbook classics that have scored many of my favorite films, counterpointing what romance could look and sound like if given the chance. But love and relationships must live in a different world. And like any transaction, you do get what you pay for. So, why do I shop at the Growlr or Scruff store? Good question.

At times, I find myself at odds with the men I do encounter on these sites. The type of men I’ve engaged with, whether via text or in person, have changed a bit since I grew my beard, if you can believe it. Suddenly, my sexual desirability has manifested into something that is marketable and wanted thanks to my facial hair. Go figure. Some don’t seem to be put off by my observations or way of expressing myself. Others have stayed happily put behind their carefully built fortresses of solitude or indifference. I’ve gotten better about moving on and tapering back any level of persistence. If you’re receiving the most generic of comebacks, cease and desist and no one gets “Blocked!”

It is easy to denigrate the app experience as shallow, lazy and dehumanizing. Why take it at all seriously in the first place? Well, it’s replaced our concept of community, like most social networking sites. Since our lifeblood comes with Apple Care now, we have chosen to allow our dependence on smart phones and other devices to bring the world to us on our terms. Here we live in our shining iTowers, hoping to spare ourselves any indignities, awkward exchanges and diminished expectations from the safety of our own private spaces. It can all be deleted as if it never happened. What a marvel!

What a tragedy.

We will continue to swipe ourselves silly, never sure as to what we want, but darn certain as to who we don’t want to bring into our real time fold. In some ways, app life is like the old days of clubbing, where we would meet and dance with that possible Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now but always kept a close eye on the door should a better option walk in.

It makes me laugh still that we were so willing to take the bigger risk of calling those 900 or 800 number “meeting” lines where your prospective honey was only a voice! Now, your destiny is thumbnail size, for those of us who think nothing of posting our faces. (That people still prefer their own version of a closet reveals a lot of the stigma that still exists today for many men grappling with their sexuality.) The animosity against such “faceless” profiles is something to behold. Vehemence is a good word. So much for #strongertogether.

900-454-HULK

I don’t know how much longer I will continue sampling the gay buffet offered by the apps. This perpetual state of “speed” dating is exhausting and not very fulfilling. In all honesty, as I begin my journey towards 50 (and we haven’t even touched on the incredible ageism found on the apps, but next time), I think I am finally understanding that actively looking for love is not how it is found. And that’s okay because despite my reservations, something good has come out of all this Growlr-ing around.

I am able to put together my own community of gay men, men that are engaging and interesting to know as friends. It’s been a slow process, but it feels so great to be social with other men who even share some of my sensibilities. In fact, the line “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo” was crafted during one exchange with a supremely genteel and appealing Mexicano who just started his first term at FIDM in Los Angeles.

None of this may be romantic, but it is wonderfully human and real. If I had to answer the query, “Dating apps, friend or foe?” I would probably respond with “frenemy.” Like it or not, as with anything in life, it is all what you make of it. As for my woes about the scarcity of romance, I refuse to let go of my ideals in that regard. I’m just starting to love myself again, that’s one romance that’s been long overdue.

It is affirming to discover in small pockets that romance isn’t dead for all of us. For as long as we as gay men cherish the ideals of being treated with respect and care, romance will never be relegated to being a luxury item for the privileged few. Cynics beware, us new romantics are legion and our numbers can only grow from here.

Something tells me the best is yet to come…take it away, Ella.