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WomanOf the Month 8-05: Josephina Lopez, Author of Real Women Have Curves

We are more powerful than we think we are. Let’s define ourselves.” That is the message—just one of the messages—offered to women and girls by Josephina Lopez, acclaimed Latina playwright, screenwriter and activist. Author of the play Real Women Have Curves, for which she coauthored the screenplay for the successful movie, Lopez is a new mother, has another screenplay, Lola Goes to Roma, headed for production, and is working on novellas. She is involved in many causes such as resolution of the “maquiladora” murders in Ciudad Juarez , Mexico , where young Mexican women and girls have been brutally murdered; border and vigilantism issues; and more. “But the biggest issue for me is getting Latino representation,” she says. “That’s why I write.”

Lopez came with her family to the U.S. when she was five and lived in L.A. for 13 years without documentation, much to her despair. “I felt like a shadow,apostrophe she says. Her mother and grandfather’s rich oral storytelling tradition inspired Lopez to express her feelings of isolation from U.S. culture and other experiences in stories and plays. She completed her first play at 17 and credits the Los Angeles High School for the Arts for an “extraordinaryapostrophe education. “The teachers were wonderful and really supported us. It was a wonderful environment to be an artist. You felt so special,apostrophe she says. She graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a major in screenwriting.

Real Women Have Curves reflects the mixture of anger and humor that informs much of Lopez’s work. These are the ways her characters cope with injustice, humiliation, disappointment, and displacement. When Lopez was a teen she learned of her father’s infidelity, but her mother did not allow her to be angry with her father.

“‘My parents’ situation pointed out to me the injustice and the unfairness for women,apostrophe says Lopez. “One of the things women are not allowed to be is angry. We’re allowed to express emotions but anger is not considered a sexy emotion. It’s not a nice one. Men are allowed to express that one and not the other ones. Had I been allowed to express and feel that anger then I might have participated differently. However, I don’t regret anything. I took care of it the way I could and I love my father today. Now that I am older and married, I understand my parents’ relationship. Even though it wasn’t a great marriage, they had a partnership.apostrophe

Lopez was always convinced she would have a daughter to raise one day, but she has two sons instead, and she does not plan more children. An irony of Hispanic culture is that mothers play a large role in the machismo upbringing of men. Lopez remembers her brothers being allowed to eat before her at the table. “I realize now that one of my greatest contributions can be raising sons who love women and what we’re here for. I watched my mother get psychologically abused, with seven children and afraid to speak up or she would be sent back to Mexico …and I think in part I became a writer because I wanted to save my mother. We must have compassion for our mothers. We need to be bold in this moment and when the little voice inside questions us we need to stop and embrace that person inside who believes she’s unlovable. Mothers need this too. My mother was just repeating what she believed about herself.

“That’s important in my writing, that I don’t see my characters as victims. When I was working in the sewing factory, the women had dignity and no-one could take that away. There is always comedy, and they are always doing the best with what they have.apostrophe

Lopez suggests that women be careful about allowing issues of beauty and competition to come between them. “Beauty is the way women are divided,apostrophe she says. “So whenever I’m in a situation where I find myself looking at another woman and thinking, she’s more beautiful than I am, or she is thinner than I am, I just keep saying to myself: All women are beautiful, all women are beautiful, until those feelings go away.apostrophe

Eleven long years passed, with many rejections, before Real Women Have Curves became a movie. “At the time, no-one wanted to see a fat person on the screen,apostrophe says Lopez. “Sometimes when you are being bold, you will be ahead of the game. It took a woman at HBO who had power to say yes. But now we have a Latino mayor in L.A. , and everyone in Hollywood wants to be Latino! It’s a very exciting time.apostrophe

When asked for a final bit of advice or wisdom to pass on to women and girls, Lopez notes that she used to think men were in charge. “Then I realized no, if men weren’t so scared of women in power they wouldn’t have to be so controlling—this doesn’t apply to all of them, of course.,apostrophe she says. “I realized how scared they are. And I used to have issues with being beautiful and intelligent. I used to think you could only be one or the other but now I realize it’s men who have the problem with it, because they need to be able to characterize and simplify things. That’s why we have to define ourselves.apostrophe

For more information on Josephina Lopez and her work, go to www.josephinalopez.