Josefina López is an award-winning playwright, poet and novelist who best known for her play, Real Women Have Curves, which was made into a motion picture which Ms. López co-authored. LATINOPIA interviewed Ms. López about what attracted her to playwriting and how she came to write Real Women Have Curves.
IN HER OWN WORDS:
I was first introduced to Chicano literature by watching La Carpa de Los Rasquachis which was a PBS special written by Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino. This was in 1984 and it was the first time story that had any thing to do with my life or the Latino experience or the immigrant experience…
So at sixteen years of age I remember using the word playwright. I told a friend, “I think I want to be a playwright.” After that I said, “Wow, I think I want to be a playwright, that’s what I am supposed to do.”
Oral tradition is really how Chicano literature came to be. I was not exposed to the written word, but I had the greatest teacher. I always tell people that my mother was my inspiration because she was the best chismosa, and she had the best stories. And if anyone taught me about drama, it was my mother because she knew how to tell a story. And my grandfather also told stories. One of the reasons why I waned to be a writer was because I was fascinated by stories of La Llorona, supernatural stories and things like that and I love hearing chisme (gossip).
I came to the U.S. when I was five years old. My father and mother were legal. I have seven siblings and six of us were undocumented. We were undocumented and we lived in Boyle Heights and I really had no sense of self or of entitlement. And in my household the understanding was that women, we were basically there to be servants. And that men were superior and that was the way it was and ni modo.
I had not entitlement at all and for me writing has always been about affirming my humanity, reclaiming my humanity. That was why I started writing to reclaim the fact that I was a human being and that I had inalienable rights. That I wasn’t an “alien” but that I was a human being.
I would say that anger was the motivator for writing my first play, Simply Maria or The American Dream. I grew up in a household where there was so much unfairness and injustice and I basically had to shut up and take it or do something about it.
So I would always speak up and my parents would say, “Mira, if you were back in the rancho, you wouldn’t complain.” I was basically told I had not right to be angry. So when someone is told you have no right to be angry, you swallow your anger and then you get angry at yourself for buying that B.S. So this created this momentum. This chain of anger, anger, anger.
When I was eighteen years old I wanted to go to college. And my parents said you can’t go because you are Mexican, and undocumented and we don’t have the money. They basically believed: “Look, you’re going to get married and it will be a waste to educate you.” I was so angry that I had to write something. I was going to commit suicide or explode. So I decided to put my anger down on paper and that became the play, Simply María.
After high school I wanted to go to college but I couldn’t because I was undocumented. I did qualify for the Simpson Rodino Amnesty Bill but I had to wait a year before I could go off to college so I decided to work in my sisters sewing factory. And it was a really unique experience because it was the first time I was surrounded by women. All women in a tiny little environment.
And I got a chance to see that my mother was really an extraordinary woman, that she was in third world feminist and that she was someone that the other women respected because she was a great storyteller, a great chismosa. But she was also the leader in this sewing factory.
Anyone looking form the outside might say Hay, pobrecita. She was undocumented and working in a sewing factory but it was such a great eye-opening experience about the power of women. The beautiful intimacy that women have and the bond that happens when women are together. And I thought you know this is really what I should be writing about.
I wanted to talk about our bodies because at that time I had a friend. And he was Asian and he asked me if I thought Asian women were beautiful. And the first thing that came to mind was that I didn’t think they were beautiful. I caught myself thinking that. And then he said to me. If you are always comparing Asian women to white women, then they are always going to fall short. Because you are saying that the white woman is the standard of beauty. But all women are beautiful and beauty is not something that is limited to one race.
And he asked me do you think that Latina women are beautiful and I realized that I didn’t think they were. I was not aware that I had these unconscious beliefs. And I said wow that’s terrible that I don’t think that Latina women are beautiful. So I asked myself why don’t I think that Latina women are beautiful? Why because we are short, we’re indigenous. All these seeds of racism in me. And so I said I want to write a play about the beauty of women. I’ve always struggled with my weight. I was always told Oh you have such a beautiful face but if you lost twenty pounds you’d be very beautiful. And I always wanted to say %$#% you! Because beauty isn’t about your weight it is about your essence. I wanted to write a play were I basically said #$$%$ you! ##$% You to anyone who says to me that you have to lose twenty pounds to be acceptable.
I had to write my novel Hungry Woman in Paris to show women that wouldn’t it suck if your greatest contribution to humanity was that you lost twenty pounds? How sad that so much of our life is wasted on how we look rather than how we can be of service to others, how we can change the planet, how we can transform the environment. There is so much that we can do as women but it is so taken away from us because we’re always trying to measure up to impossible standards that we can never get to.
PLAYS AND BOOKS BY JOSEFINA LOPEZ:
SIMPLY MARIA, OR THE AMERICAN DREAM 1988 Dramatic Publishing
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES 1992 Dramatic Publishing
UNCONQUERED SPIRITS 1995 Dramatic Publishing
CONFESSIONS OF WOMEN FROM EAST L.A. 1996 Dramatic Publishing
FOOD FOR THE DEAD AND LA PINATA 1996 Dramatic Publishing
WHEN NATURE CALLS 2006 Unpublished
TRIO LOS MACHOS 2008 Unpublished
BOYLE HEIGHTS 2009 Unpublished
HUNGRY WOMAN IN PARIS 2009 Grand Central Publishing, N.Y., N.Y.