Rick Najera: Hollywood's Best Kept Spanglish Secret

Rick Najera

 

A few years ago, I had an idea for a book and a blog come to me while I was trying to fall asleep. Any writer will tell you that ideas are fleeting -- and that sleep is optional-- so I quietly slipped out of bed, tip-toed out of the room as to not wake the sleeping husband, and promptly grabbed my purse and my credit card before sitting down at the computer.

I had URLs to buy, dammit.

That's the night I launched Aspiring Mama and started working on the memoir I hope to publish one day. I didn't know any successful writers personally. I didn't even know any Pretty Shitty But Determined to Make it Happen writers. Hell, this was five years ago, people. That's a lifetime in the digital age. Twitter was a verb describing that noise birds make and Facebook was MySpace's slightly more respectable older cousin I didn't feel like wasting my time with.

It's okay. Obviously, I smartened up.

Back then, though, me and my Blackberry only knew how to make phone calls and I was still trying to figure out how to wash the used car salesman smell away from my soul after my previously brief (but highly convenient and yet utterly soul-sucking) foray into the world of blogging. The blog written from my dog's point of view was brilliant but I don't think the world was quite ready for that kind of genius. And the baby product review blogging phase means we scored free things like expensive car seats, but I walked away from it because I knew I needed the break to clear my head. My writing "voice", the one I had honed in the newsroom, had been lost in the free baby-carrier and teething jewelry carnage, you see.

Six months later, I was awake at 3 a.m. buying Aspiringmama.com and began working on the memoir I had titled "Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Weight Loss, & Trying to Stay Sane." (Think Erma Bombeck but with more "F" bombs.) It was this manuscript, coincidentally, that led me to Rick Najera and why I'm talking about his new book  -- Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood.

Buy it on principal, y'all. Because the title alone is fucking hilarious and that needs to be recognized.

 

Also important? I'll be speaking at Rick's April 3 reception celebrating his book launch in New York. Because that's not the kind of thing you almost forget to mention when writing about the event at which you happen to be speaking. But I digress...

I attended the National Latino Writer's Conference in New Mexico the following year and had been smart enough to sign up for a chance at a critique of the first 15 pages by two of the conference workshop teachers. I was already signed up for Rick Naerja's comedy writing workshop -- not because I knew who he was, mind you, but because comedy has always been a part of what I do -- so I figured, "What the hell? This guy might know something about being funny." And a few months later, there I was, sitting before Rick in our on-on-one session discussing my manuscript...and something amazing happened.

This Hollywood writer who, it turns out, is actually quite the big deal, told me I had a voice. And that it was a good one. Rick told me I was funny and more importantly, that I could write. I remember texting my husband frantically after my critique session to tell him that I had the potential to go mainstream ... because RICK NAJERA SAID SO.

I could feel The Husband smiling back as I read his response. He said he liked this Rick guy. He said Rick was smart.

I read between the lines. My husband was thanking Rick for giving me something he couldn't because This is GREAT, honey! is always suspect when sex is the end goal. While The Husband has told me from the beginning he believes in me and my words, the creative spirit in me needed the validation of an objective party. I needed to know the sleepless nights pounding away at the keyboard, the rejections, and the days where I kicked myself in the ass for thinking I could make something of this little dream, were all worth it.

It is worth it, by the way. I'm proud to be able to say to Rick that I listened, mainly because I don't do that very often. But this time, I did and I can say I'm Latina Magazine's Dimelo advice columnist because I kept at it. And y'all? Did you know you can actually get paid for telling people what to do while sitting on your couch without a bra on?  You can thank Rick for that visual, because he told me I had potential.

But I'm not the only one. Rick has played a crucial role in not only encouraging fellow Latino writers, actors, and comedians to not only fight for their dream, but also in creating opportunities focused on showcasing their talents. While picking up honors like earning a spot on Hispanic Business's 100 Most Influential Latinos in America, an Alma Award for Best Writer for the 2008 film Nothing Like the Holidays, and most recently, a nod from Latin Teen Heat Entertainment for being a Hot Hollywood Dad, Rick also has helped launch the careers of countless performers in his role as director of the CBS Diversity Comedy Showcase. The 2014 Showcase alone delivered three writers to Saturday Night Live and 16 series regulars to TV. I'm sure, of course, that Rick also serving as coach, mentor, and teacher during the four months of preparation has something to do with that.

It's because he makes us laugh. You know that, right? Comedic writers wield a power like no other, because it is through laughter that so many of us are able to process and discuss controversial or difficult subject matter. If you've watched one episode of In Living Color, you know what I mean. Rick Najera is a master of comedic timing and knows exactly which buttons to push so that when we get to the punchline, we aren't just laughing...we're thinking, too.

"Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood". I'll give you the short version because I know you're already planning on buying the book -- which -- by the way, was just nominated for Most Inspirational Non Fiction Book by Int'l Latino Book Awards. Basically, Rick says dream big or go home. The focus, of course, is on the Dreaming Big part, because Rick is inspiring and not an asshole. When you want something, you make it happen.

Since we're talking about change and forging our own paths, let's talk about diversity and Latino representation in Hollywood. I've always subscribed to the Write What You Know philosophy. For a long time I think I had convinced myself that every writer thinks like this, but the truth is that white males dominate in the writer's rooms. Without real world experience from which to draw upon when creating the Latino characters and culturally-themed story-lines the public is calling for, their attempts fall flat and are oftentimes stereotypical and offensive.

Jesenia, Co-Creator of The Comedy Girls (and apparently too fancy for a last name) is another Latino fighting for more diversity. She's made it her personal mission to get a Latin American FEMALE cast member on SNL. She says, and I quote, "Because Latin Americans are only represented accurately when we are representing ourselves, we need to not only continue creating high quality, non-stereotype content - we also need to step out of constantly boxing ourselves into the Latino category, and instead create work that speaks to all audiences of every race."
I'll high five you Jesenia for that one later. Because what she says here is that the responsibility in how we are portrayed in the media is not one we can just pass off on Hollywood. And that, my friends, leads us right back to Rick, being Almost White in Hollywood, and encouraging Latin American writers to keep knocking on those closed doors. If it never opens, we knock a new hole in another wall, pull up a table and some chairs, and write the stories that we know need to be told.
***If you're in New York, I'd love to see you there! Click here for ticket information. I'm driving four hours to the closest train station so I can not have to think for the remaining 6 hours of the trip, so I don't want to hear bitching about how traffic in the city is a nightmare. Suck it up, show up, and a good time shall be had by all.