News Column

Author Discusses Hispanics' Roles in Films and Books

Aug. 13, 2013

A best-selling author said Saturday at the second Wise Latina International Mujeres and Amigas: An Afternoon of Sisterhood event that Hispanic women are still being cast in stereotypical roles in films, television and books.

Hispanic women are mostly cast as sexy maids, gang members or second-class citizens, said Alisa Valdes, who wrote "The Dirty Girls Social Club."

For the past 13 years, she has brought the many different and more realistic lives of Hispanic women to novels and is planning to bring them to the big and small screens, Valdes said at the El Paso International Museum of Art.

Valdes is a University of California-Berekly and Columbia University graduate and worked at the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times.

But she said she has never seen a character in a book or movie that reflected her life and the lives of millions of other Hispanic women. She gave up her career in journalism and teaching at the University of California at Los Angeles to follow her dream of becoming a novelist and showcasing the real lives of Hispanic women.

The road to writing her first book, "The Dirty Girls Social Club," was very difficult because she went through her savings account. The experience changed the way she saw how Hispanics were really treated. This experience was a blessing in disguise and helped her on her way to making a New York Times best-selling book, Valdes said.

"I gave up a six-figure career as a journalist and professor and there I was four months pregnant with no health insurance or income," Valdes said. "So I had to get on state assistance, medicaid, which was really hard for me after having been very independent and had reached a certain point in my career. Then having to go to the Medicare office and to see the way the healthcare providers treated me when they saw a Spanish surname and a medicaid card. It was very eye opening and I am glad I went through it. At one point a social worker came up to me and asked if I needed help filling out a form. It was like she said 'Can you spell your own name? You poor little Hispanic women.'"

The lack of books about the real lives of Hispanics made Valdes want to write books that broke free from the stereotypes.

"I wanted to write a book that I wanted to read but couldn't find," Valdes said. "I felt like a lot of the so called Latino literature I was reading in English in the U.S. was about an experience that wasn't like mine. It was more like my dad's or grandmother's, which was about being an outsider or an immigrant or downtrodden and miserable, not like going to Columbia or being a newspaper reporter like one of my character is. Nobody had really written that yet."

While her book sold more than 400,000 copies, movie studio companies were fighting for the rights to it. She once again came up against the ugly stereotypes that surround Hispanics.

"Every time I would go talk to movie companies they wanted to change my characters," Valdes said. "They wanted maids, or cholas, or murder victims or prostitutes. So I wanted to make it on my own, which is what I am doing. I want to be in control of the film and make a movie that is true to my book and shows successful Latinas and their lives."

Valdes was the keynote speak at the event which featured various guest speakers and writing workshops. The goal of the Wise Latina International organization is to empower and educate women of all ages. About 30 women showed up for the event.

"This is a new organization, only about three years old, and we want to empower and educate women, especially young women, We want to show that whether you became pregnant at a young age or you were in an abusive relationship, you can overcome it," Wise Latina International board member and City Representative Emma Acosta said. "You don't have to be a maid, you can be whatever you want to be. (Valdes) is a great example that you can overcome hardships and make them a positive in your life. Bad things can become positive things. The important thing is when bad things knock you down, you pick yourself up and keep going."

For more information on the Wise Latina International organization, visit

Source: (c)2013 El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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