Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oaxaca en mi Corazon

For someone who talks the big talk about traveling everywhere, I really haven't been to many places. Sure, I've driven through half of the states in the U.S. but really, I've only been to two countries: the U.S. and Mexico.

Ah to be able to visit Europe and see the great Roman Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, and Big Ben. Or go to Asia and walk the Great Wall of China.

So far, these are just dreams I have. Because, frankly, I have very little money to travel, almost no time, and there is that little fear I have of flying. 

That hasn't stopped me from seeing some amazing places in the towns where I've set foot, and Oaxaca was no exception.

I went to Oaxaca for the 4th annual FilmFest as an officially selected screenwriter. Oh yeah, in case you missed it, or, as the kids say these days ICYMI, I'm a full-fledged screenwriter now. The baby that I've been carrying and slowly bringing up these past God-knows-how-many years is ready to see the world. So I submitted the script to competitions and film festivals and Oaxaca FilmFest was one of the first to pat me on the back and say, "You did a good job."

My initial plan was to take a week in Vallarta to relax, maybe grab a family member who wasn't too buys, and head to Oaxaca in week two. Lady Luck had other plans, however, and a month before my trip, I got a call from Clear Channel telling me I've won a weekend in Las Vegas.


I shit you not, I started to think that maybe God was sending me a sign that I shouldn't go to Oaxaca because Death was waiting for me. You see, I've inherited a bit of paranoia and it's a wonder I still leave my house every morning.

So now my plans were to drive to Vegas, enjoy two free days of concert-going and a free hotel room, drive back to Phoenix, pack, get on a bus and head South. I was to leave Phoenix late Sunday afternoon and get to Oaxaca early Tuesday afternoon.

Yeah, that did not happen. I want to interject here to say that the buses in Mexico are top-notch, luxury buses. This is no Greyhound. This is a plane on wheels. Totally comfy, with built-in WiFi, and televisions. I dare any airline to present me with a better seat at the same price.

The problem occurred once I was deep into Mexican territory. Puebla, to be exact. It was here, three hours from my destination, that the teachers' strike decided to close off the toll road. We were stopped, that means the driver actually sat with us and watched a movie, for three hours. Then we were detoured another three hours. After the smooth sailing I had experienced for almost two days, we have to climb up one of the highest mountains I've ever been on and face the aforementioned Death straight in the eyes. Holy fuckballs those are some scary curves at some insane heights. Our driver was frustrated, we were tired, hungry, and a little frightened. Luckily, we arrived in one piece.


Jesus, I made a total mistake not exchanging money at the border. Because, guess what, no one would take my dollars. I think everyone in Mexico knew the U.S. government was about to shut down and just basically said, "Yeah, let's not get involved." A very wonderful woman agreed to exchange $20.00 for me and I could not have been more grateful to her. Because of her I could pay a taxi to get to my hotel and pay for my dinner that night. I learned from her something that would prove true in the next five days: The people of Oaxaca are incredibly kind and generous. All of them.

It was finally time, six hours after I was supposed to arrive, to relax. But wait, the festival was going on. I'd already missed three events and if I'd stayed in, I'd have missed half of the events. So I decided to get out there and start shaking hands.

From the moment my script was chosen as an official selection to the festival, I started getting help from the organizers. They were helpful, professional, and extremely nice. When I arrived at the hotel, there was a package waiting for me with a map, itinerary, and my badge. Everything was organized down to the last detail.

That night I walked over to a bar where the shorts were being featured and the mezcal was running free. Yes, it was literally free. You don't want free mezcal. It's dangerous.

I made some good friends that first night. But I learned two things: One, I'm getting old and can't stay up past midnight anymore; and two, mezcal doesn't hit you 'til later. Plus, I wanted to explore Oaxaca in the morning and you can't do that tired and with a hangover.

Anyone who knows me knows that Puerto Vallarta is, to me, the most beautiful place in the world. That's because it's my home and it'll always be that small port where we caught fireflies and baby iguanas; the place where we'd spend Sundays out on the beach with a roasted chicken for a picnic; the place where my mom's childhood memories mix in with mine. Vallarta is no longer that place, unfortunately. It remains a small town only in my memory, because investors have come in and demolished the foliage and built their condos along the beach and into the sky. It's a tragedy, really. But this is the price of progress, I guess.
Oaxaca is still feels untouched by this. Or maybe it's because there is too much history that the town has been engulfed in protection. This is, after all, the place where the Zapotecs built their pyramids and where Benito Juarez was born. Though I doubt money-making scum have ever cared to crack open a history book, I'm grateful they've been left out of here. A woman at the market told me that they've fought to keep supermarkets and large companies out of the downtown area. Imagine a WalMart next to a 300 year-old church?

With a good pair of shoes and some change in your pocket, you can see all of the historic part of Oaxaca in a few days. My favorite place, of course, was the market. Walk in through the front entrance and stacks and stacks of bread cloud your vision. The women offered me several samples and, at first, I thought it to be too dry. As you continue to walk you're met by men and women showing you their menus and proclaiming that their spot is the best to eat at. I didn't doubt it for a second. I wish I could've eaten at all of the locations.

I tried three diners on separate occasions and the food was well-served, delicious, and made of fresh ingredients. All of them served me either cafe de olla, which is coffee made in a pot, or hot, foamy chocolate and a side of that dry bread which is delicious once dunked.

Sidenote: my mouth is watering at this very moment at the thought of such goodness.

Even the seafood cocktail I had was over-the-top fresh and delicious, I say this with amazement because we were at a six-hour drive away from the ocean.

The side entrances to the market are, well, a sausage fest :-) There were meats of every cut out on display and ready to be cooked to your specifications. Sausages, chorizo, whole chickens, etc. All of them just there for the taking. Perhaps a normal person would ask, "What about bacteria? Are there any sanitation inspectors here?"

I have no idea. I do know that around lunch time there were people lined up at all of the meat market posts buying. So I think it was all okay.

I can't express enough how good the food was in Oaxaca. My luggage was about 10 pounds heavier from all of the chocolate and mole I lugged back with me.

The festival itself was wonderful. The day after I arrived I dressed in my brand-spanking new business suit and pitched my script. It was nerve-racking.
About an hour before I was to pitch, I was informed that the video could only be 3 minutes long. I had researched for hours, taken down several notes, and prepared a 7 minute pitch. Luckily, I was one of the last people to go so I managed to trim it down.
We were told that we could look at our video and re-shoot if we wanted. I imagine myself sweating profusely, shaking uncontrollably, and outright mumbling for 3 minutes. So I opted for not seeing it and sending it off to the powers that be.
My pitch was the only thing I "had to do" during the festival. So the rest of my days were spent watching movies, making new friends, drinking, and talking about movies.
I absolutely love film festivals. It's the place where you can get together with other people who love films and the art of films and you geek out for days talking your film geekery.
I met directors, producers, and many of my fellow writers. There's no way the film industry will ever die if we give all of these brilliant people a chance to make their movie.

Among the people I met is a writer-director who presented his first full-length film at the festival. We are currently discussing how to bring my script to the big screen.

Totally worth the trip.

My cousin arrived two days after I did and we immediately decided that we were going to live in Oaxaca and never return to the States.

Right up until it was time to go, of course.

Maybe we'll still do it someday.

I love the fact that I had some family with me during the trip. We walked, we talked, we ate, and we partied together. I even got to play tour guide at Monte Alban, because I had been there the day before. Also, I got to take pictures after not being able to the because of stupid camera issues!

The final night was in a packed movie theater. Throughout the week, the event never felt like a competition. We were encouraged to see each other's films and talk to one another as colleagues, not competitors. I did meet a couple of the judges during my pitch, but other than that day, they were just people enjoying the festival with us.

So, needless to say, I was pretty shocked when they called my name for an award :-o

Yes, my first film festival and I won the award for Best Original Idea. That was quite a big, tasty cherry on top of my sundae.

And...like a big fat loser, I went back to my room right away. One, because I was wearing heels that hurt my feet, and two, I had to get up early to catch my bus.

I woke up early my last day in Oaxaca and ate breakfast in the Zocalo's plaza. The streets were quiet and the sun was shining. That's how I like to remember Oaxaca, happy and peaceful.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Good Intentions, Bad Decisions

I wasn't going to get too involved in this but since I can't get it out of my head I think the topic calls for a blog.

For the past couple of weeks I've been seeing ads on television about a new show from Eva Longoria called "Devious Maids."

First reaction: That looks dumb.

I hadn't noticed at first that all of the maids were Latinas (probably because I wasn't paying that much attention). It took two or three commercials for me to sit up and take notice...and get a little angry.
Angry on several levels. As a Latina; as a writer trying to break the stereotypes of Latina(o) representation in the media; as a supporter of Eva Longoria; as a writer!

Closer to the premiere of the show I caught a couple of blog posts. The first was by Tanisha Ramirez in the Huffington Post, here. The second was by Alisa Valdes author of "The Dirty Girls Social Club" (read it here). Ms. Valdes is trying to raise $250,000 to turn her book into a movie because, according to her, she doesn't want the characters to undergo the "Hollywood treatment." To see what she means by that, watch this:

Eva Longoria went on to defend the show. Wait for it...I'm posting another link...here.
Needless to say, she defends the show with as much passion as Ramirez and Valdes used in criticizing it.

I don't blame Eva Longoria. Well, not completely. The show wasn't created by her. She is simply an executive producer, which basically means that she put her name behind the show probably so that the creator wouldn't get the backlash.

You're a real gentleman, Marc Cherry!

But I am seriously disappointed in her. How the meetings went, I don't know. What pretty words they told her to convince her that this was a good idea, I don't know that either. But I am pretty sure they sounded like the words she is throwing at us to convince us that what is happening is the right course of action. She is saying: let's not concentrate on the fact that they are maids, let's concentrate on the fact that there are FIVE Latinas carrying a primetime television show.

Perhaps years from now there will be a retrospective on Eva Longoria's career and they will say "she was a trailblazer, she put out the only television show with Latinas as the main protagonists." Years from now I'll still have a problem with it. I will continue to ask: Why did the maids have to be Latinas?

That's my main problem. Ms. Longoria believes that maids' stories are worth telling as much as the stories of doctors and lawyers. Fine, why do they have to be Latinas?
Because they wanted to give the opportunity to underrepresented actresses to appear on a primetime television show as the lead characters. Fine, why do they have to be maids?

You see the problem? Any way you argue the show it comes down to this: it is a stereotype that we are trying to break away from and with this show it has been reinforced. Eva Longoria, a prominent and well-respected Mexican-American, WITH POWER, chose to back THIS show. Let me just throw something else in the mix: she has her own production company. She could've gone back and said "listen, let's tweak this a little bit." This didn't have to happen.

But wait! You say. What if the show is a success? What if I'm judging it just on a few ads that I saw and Eva Longoria is actually a genius that saw a diamond in the rough. What if this is the beginning of a new era?

For you, dear reader, I bit the bullet and watched the pilot episode of "Devious Maids."

Beverly Hills. The place where heartless, rich, doped-up White people live (according to the show). And some guy named Alejandro. Alejandro is there so that we don't rant about the fact that all of the rich bosses are White. The show, much like Marc Cherry's "Desperate Housewives" (a genius, this guy), starts off with a mystery.

Oh no, wait, back up, it actually starts with this lady threatening the maid with...wait for it...DEPORTATION because the maid is sleeping with the rich, fat, asshole husband. Got it? Because in case you didn't know, all maids are not only Latinas, but also illegal aliens.

Eva Longoria: "Actually, we are trying to show that this is what people THINK of Latina maids. If you keep watching you'll see a character declare that she is, in fact, an American citizen. Did I mention two of our head writers are Latinas?" *pats self on back*


So the maid gets killed. In "Desperate Housewives" the show starts when one lady commits suicide and then tortures the audience with her voiceovers from the beyond. The font colors of the title are the same on both shows?

Marc Cherry deserves and Emmy!

Let's meet the other maids. I forgot their names. Please hold.

Marisol is the new maid on the block. She speaks English without an accent. Literally the boss-lady says "I've never met a maid without an accent."

Marisol is also the above-mentioned American citizen, AND she went to college (actually, what the boss says is, "You sound like you went to college"). Which means that she can't possibly be a real maid. Which *spoiler alert* she's not.

No one saw the issue with this? No. One?
My blood pressure is rising.

At first I thought Marisol was a cop investigating the murder. Now I think she works in the legal field...and she's investigating the murder. Which means that sometime in the future Evan Longoria will say, "I told you so."

And we will reply with, "You're still missing the point."

Zolla has a boss that uses a lot of drugs (Susan Lucci, who should also be upset about the typecasting). Her daughter Valentina is in love with the boss' son and she makes us all proud by throwing herself at him in every which way possible. I can already tell you where this is going both for Zolla and for her daughter.

Carmen works for Alejandro and she is an aspiring singer. I don't know what Alejandro does or is but all he is seen doing is working out and being protected by some lady. The only African-American on the show works for Alejandro and has the hots for Carmen.

Ten points if you can guess where that storyline is going?

And poor Rosie has to work taking care of her boss' little boy, while her own little boy is in Mexico and can't come over. There so much irony in this story it would make Alanis Morissette's head explode. They also have an overly dramatic telephone call in the first episode, which did not melt my cold heart but rather made me roll my tired eyes.

Now that I think about it, these stories are stereotypical regardless of the maids' race. Which begs the question...say it with me, I know you can...WHY DO THEY HAVE TO BE LATINAS?

Did I mention the soundtrack? Let me just say that I don't know what goes on in your guys' head, but I'm pretty sure flamenco guitars and maracas don't play ever time I walk into a room. I like to hum the Imperial March sometimes when I walk :-D

PS - I know the pilot is a setup to the stories, but we only got to see one of the maids go home. Which means that those "stories to tell" are probably going to end up being workplace gossip. Curious, I wonder if they could've done the same setup in an office? hmmmm...

PPS - I just read a great article in EW magazine on Michael B. Jordan. He's a fantastic actor who starred in "Friday Night Lights" and "Chronicle." Mr. Jordan, an African-American, is on the shortlist to play Johnny Storm in the new "Fantastic Four" movie.

THAT is progress.