Living in Hollywood is always an experience. As a social person. I love meeting new people from all over the country who move here for some reason or another. It’s pretty easy to talk to people here, just ask them about themselves. People love to talk about themselves in LA and they rarely ask about you. However, whenever I strike up a conversation, I always get the inevitable question. “Where are you from, I mean your parents, originally? I can’t quite place you.” Always stunned by this question, I answer the exact same way. “Eagle Rock. It’s in Northeast Los Angeles, between Glendale and Pasadena.” Not liking my answer, I get the same unsatisfied response, “No, what are you? Your race? Hispanic, Asian, Jewish?” This conversation still goes on wherever I go. When I was younger, I shrugged it off. But then I figured out the reason; I looked a certain way brown hair, olive skin, almond eyes. I think people expected me to have an accent like the sultry Penelope Cruz or maybe East Coast Bronx like JLo. But when I opened my mouth I could see the disappointment in my inquisitors face by the way I spoke; very much a Cali girl. Confused? I was.
It really became confusing when I was acting in my twenties. When I went looking for an agent, I was elated that I was signed right away. They said I was marketable since the Hispanic market is on fire. That was 1989. I didn’t care; I was going out on auditions. I auditioned for everything from a maid to a gang member, a hot salsa chick #5, you get the idea. The missing piece of the puzzle is that I’m half Mexican; the other half is Czech, Italian, and French. The real kicker is that other than the summer I spent in Spain and four years of Spanish classes at my local community college, I don’t speak Spanish. I went with it anyway. Little did I know that my big break would be me being cast as an illegal immigrant shouting “Ayudeme” loaded in the back of a truck with 40 extras being rescued by Blair Underwood (his arms are exactly what you think they are) as the policeman who takes me to safety. I had to go to a sun tanning salon for color and get fake boob inserts for the shoot. That was just the beginning. I auditioned for everything Latina. I auditioned for Selena, Mi Vida Loca and countless other projects. I was appalled Selma Hayek got the part over me after I made the director cry in the casting room. One time, I auditioned for a play at The Los Angeles Theatre Center. It was a HUGE audition for me. I came from a theatre background; I studied Shakespeare for God’s sake. I prepared for it and worked on my best Spanish accent. After my audition, they wanted an “East LA” type of accent and I realized I sounded like Maria from West Side Story. They would never call me in again.
Now that I have a daughter it gets even more confusing. My husband’s background is colored by the same blurred cultural lines as me; he is half Latin of sorts, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, and half German. Therefore, that makes our daughter a Global poster child. Recently, we were informed by her school that she would be an “Ambassador of the Week” and has to talk about her culture and bring in food that represents our roots. This stumped me. We really don’t have any cultural traditions. In my youth, I went looking for my cultural identity. I was cast in Latinologues as a Cuban prostitute, I joined a Chicano/a improv group, and I was cast in an El Pollo Loco commercial and did a Spanish industrial video. I wanted to immerse myself in all things Spanish. However, since I didn’t speak Spanish there was always this distance I couldn’t put my finger on; maybe it was from within but it was there reminding me that I was different. Living in LA, you are definitely stereotyped and I was started to question it. Who am I and where do I belong? Like Tarzan. Then I had an an experience that changed the way I looked at myself. I auditioned for the young ingénue at my theatre company and I was the most ethnic person there. The director cast me. I couldn’t believe it. There was no label on me, I had the freedom to be me for the first time and not cater to what anyone thought. No accents, no heavy make-up or tight clothes.
I have never looked back; I want my child to know that she is a viable, fantastic individual with a wonderful background and not let anyone put her in a category or label her as anything but the unique individual she is. I am equally proud of my Mexican/European heritage, every piece of it. One of the reasons I wrote my web series is that I don’t feel I am represented on television. Diversity in a way that is real to me. People with cultural heritages that go outside the lines.
After much thought about “Ambassador Week” and what to food to bring to the class we decided on In and Out, because we like it.