I used to watch comedians like John Leguizamo and George Lopez in complete awe. While everyone else was laughing at the punchline, I was sitting there wondering what kind of hell had to be paid for penance back home for that last laugh in public. Either their families were just really understanding, lived under giant rocks, or somehow, these performers had learned how to honestly not give a fuck when it came to familial judgement. Forget Superman, because to me, the people who could write the words that needed to be written to share their truths in such a way that could draw in an audience of strangers and bring everyone together with laughter? These were the people I wanted to be.
Then I grew up and started writing seriously. I was self-editing myself too often, at first, and hating it. I wasn't trying to make anyone look bad, mind you...just share my own truth and experiences. Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it isn't. And it drove me crazy to keep taking out the good bits that I knew needed to stay in. These were the parts that brought it all together; the bits of my own story that my readers would be able to relate to. On the blog, it eventually became easy to just say FUCK IT and hit publish...no one reads I'm related to reads here, usually. Most times, if I have written something in which someone can identify themselves, named or not, I clear it with them first. Then I had to learn to pretend I had temporary amnesia every time I wrote a new advice column for Latina Magazine because relating with your reader about that time we were both The Other Woman tends to make for some awkward Sunday dinners with the Tias.
I'm finishing revisions on Book # 2 right now. It's going to be called "On Raising Wonder Woman: Reflections, Perceptions, & Well-Placed F-Bombs", and I'm here right now because I just had A Moment while revising. I had been re-reading a small portion of an essay and winced a bit when I suddenly saw the words through the eyes of every single family member of every single nonfiction writer and every single comedian, Latino or otherwise, and thought WHY DID YOU SAY THAT, M'IJA???? All Those People....they will think you are talking about me! Mi'ja, take that out, okay? That's a good girl.
I had the entire section highlighted...I almost hit delete. But I didn't. Instead, I asked The Husband to sit down and listen for a moment while I read him the entire paragraph for context, showed him where I could end with a period before the segment in question, and then proceeded to read through that part, too.
"I shouldn't use that, right? I mean, everyone will get mad at me, right? Never mind. Yes, they'll get mad if they read the book. But I'm not talking about them. It's more like an over-generalization with a ba-DUM-dum at the end because it's true."
"And it's funny," he said. "Don't get rid of it."
So I didn't.
I'm Catholic with an asterix, thereby indicating a footnote in tiny print at the bottom of the page. In the interest of time, I'll just get to the point and tell you that I have always described myself as Mexican-Catholic because it's exactly not the same as Catholic Catholic. Most Mexican-Catholics that I know are first and second-generation Americans, believe in God and make the sign of the cross whenever an ambulance passes by or they drive by a cemetery, and only go to church for Easter, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and First Communions. We grew up saying the Our Father in Spanish but have probably forgotten most of it by now, truly believe in God and Heaven and that our deceased loved ones will come to watch over us even if we don't celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, and roll our eyes skyward while forcing ourselves to remain silent when the generations before us start going on about things like gays and black people and how white people don't know how to raise their children while they themselves are preparing a bottle of Pepsi for the four-year-old sitting in the stroller in nothing but a diaper.
These words? They stay. Because they are part of a story larger than just my own. And suddenly, I understand exactly what the comedians I watched with my father were thinking when they wrote their material and the absolute freedom that comes with leaving in the bits that matter during the editing process.