Published in KPBS On Air Magazine March 1994
“I want to be a Renaissance woman,” says Josefina Lopez. “I want people to say of me: ‘She does everything.'” At 25, she’s well on her way, having tried her hand at playwriting, screenwriting, TV writing and acting. She’d still like to take on producing and film directing, but she may not have the time.
In 1987, when she was a senior at the Los Angeles County High School for the Performing Arts, Josefina wrote her first play, “Simply Maria”. At age 18, she became a semifinalist in the New York Young Playwrights competition, and a winner of the California Young Playwrights contest. “Simply Maria” was staged in San Diego, garnering such positive response that it was produced on KPBS-TV. Now her third theatrical creation, “Real Women Have Curves”, her first full-length play, will be produced at the San Diego Repertory Theatre (March 30- April 23), following well-received productions in San Antonio, Houston, Seattle and Chicago. The piece was nominated for a San Antonio Globe Award as Best Play, and was optioned for a movie by Warner Brothers. Meanwhile, Lopez became a staff writer at Warners working on “Living Single,” and a segment producer for the L.A. TV weekly starring the hilarious Latino comedy troupe, Culture Clash. She wants to stay with TV for awhile, but she’s also applied to UCLA for the master’s degree program in film direction. And she keeps refining her one-woman show.
Not bad for someone who lived for thirteen years as an “undocumented resident.” Lopez was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico, the fifth of eight children. Her family moved to East L.A. when Josefina was five. “I always had a voice that spoke to me, gave me ideas,” explains the friendly, garrulous Lopez, who says she began writing at age three. “My parents weren’t educated, but they were very wise and supportive. They just had to get over the shock of seeing our laundry out in public.”
Lopez’ plays are clearly autobiographical. “As a young writer,” she says, “I write about what I know.” Both “Simply Maria” and “Real Women” feature a Lopez stand-in, a young girl who wants to break free from the downtrodden Latino life, and become liberated and educated. “Real Women” takes place in 1987, just after the amnesty law was enacted. (That law gave Lopez American citizenship). The setting is a storefront sweatshop in East L.A. (Lopez herself worked in a sewing factory for a time). The five females who toil, sweat — and strip down — in the hot, cramped quarters, churning out petite party dresses, are all oversized.
“When I acted in high school,” Lopez recalls, “a teacher told me I was too heavy, that I would never play a lead role. It hit hard. It hurt. As a Latina, I realized there wouldn’t be any roles with dignity, so I wrote a play about five large Latina women.” Sid Smith of the Chicago Tribune called “Real Women” “a memory play and a celebration of female bonding,” which “overcomes its considerable flaws by unimpeachable day-to-day truth, bubbling humor and journalistic accuracy.”
These characters “are” real women, and in their honest interactions, they confront myriad issues: big thighs, body image, wife-beating, codependence, contraception, “la migra”, equal pay, empowerment and the American Dream. “It’s not just a Latina story, and not necessarily a woman’s story,” Lopez claims. Nonetheless, she prefers the sensibilities of a female director. This will be a challenge for local Latino director Bill Virchis, who will mount the Rep’s production.
“Do I have to be Greek to do “Oedipus”?” asks Virchis. “These are women’s psyches and realities, but what’s really under this play is the social conscience of a culture. This is about a culture, and I’m pretty sensitive to that culture. It’s the music of the play, and I think I can conduct it. I think it’s a great challenge for me and for the play and for the playwright.” Lopez agrees. “He knows these characters,” she admits, “but I’m gonna have a good talk with him.”
Lopez has been accused of painting all men as creeps and villains. “Growing up, that was my reality,” she says. “I didn’t know any redeemable males until I met my fiancé (a Chicano medical student in Chicago; they plan to marry in June). Before that, I’d only dated white boys. When I met him, I gained a Chicana conscience and he gained a feminist conscience. I began to have a more balanced view of men… I used to be very angry. I was treated as inferior to my brothers. And I was told girls shouldn’t be angry.
“For a long time, I swallowed my anger. Then I started putting it on the page. I always felt ugly, invisible. I had low self-esteem. It’s important for Latinas to be validated. That’s what I needed as a child… “Simply Maria” sort of liberated me. I was depressed, angry, confused, and it freed me. Now I’m at peace with my identity, at ease with my weight and my sexuality. I’m still trying to balance my American side and my Mexican side, trying to live between the cultures… I wrote “Real Women” for myself, but I hope it appeals to everyone.”
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.