Alumna nurtures love for community through writing

By Sienna Hennessy

Alumna playwright Josefina Lopez bleeds her life into her work to unite and steep her intertwined spirituality and Chicana identity.

For Lopez, writing is a direct expression of spirituality. 

“The greatest writing I’ve done is when it’s practically dictated to me by the Divine… I do feel that some parts of ‘Real Women Have Curves’ were written by the sacred feminine energy that flows through me,” Lopez said.

A Broadway-bound musical production of “Real Women Have Curves,” inspired by Lopez’s original play and co-written screenplay with George Lavoo, will be presented at American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University, Dec. 6 to Jan.

“‘Real Women Have Curves’ dealt with what we now call intersectional feminism. “It shows the” conflict of women being working class people, Mexican and having shaped bodies. I try to make my characters as complex as possible, given their humanity,” Lopez said.

Parts of the movie were filmed in Lopez’s barrio, Boyle Heights.

As a teenager in Boyle Heights, Lopez decided to combat existing narratives surrounding her identity by writing her own.

“I saw the show ‘a.k.a. Pablo.’ It was about Paul Rodriguez, a it was a comedy… When the show got canceled because of all the stereotypes and criticism, I was really disappointed because I really wanted to see a show like that… 

“At the age of 17, I saw a play by Luis Valdez. It talks about the stereotype of Mexicans as the bad guys in the white man’s story. That’s when I really decided to devote my life to writing stories of my truth, my authentic stories of being Latina,” Lopez said.

Lopez is passionate about creating and sharing stories that represent people who have had their voices oppressed.

“When a community has been oppressed… we can uplift ourselves through storytelling, through telling inspirational stories. We could have a renaissance and reawakening of who we are as a community, as a people,” Lopez said

Lopez celebrates her indigenous heritage through nurturing her family and community. She recognizes this as everything, as the source of happiness. 

Lopez started to embrace how much she values community after joining the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán once she transferred to university.

She said the group recognized the importance of education and their responsibility to share it with the community. 

“We knew that if we were the role models getting an education and only used our education to benefit ourselves then moved out of the barrio, the children in the barrio would not have role models… I took that to heart and I said, ‘I have to go live in my barrio,’” Lopez said.

Lopez currently teaches four classes at CASA 0101 in Boyle Heights: Intro to Dramatic Writing, the Brown and Out playwriting workshop, which is the Latino LGBTQ playwriting workshop, Introduction to Producing Theatre and Special Events and Mystical Dramatic Writing.

She helped co-found CASA 0101.

“I didn’t really need to be a professional screenwriter. I wanted to get an MFA “from UCLA” so that I could share the knowledge, the degree, with my community and say, ‘Hey, everyone can learn screenwriting and playwriting. I’m going to teach you how in the cheapest, most inexpensive way possible,’” Lopez said.

“What if  (Boyle Heights) could give birth to the 1000 Latino writers, female writers, people of color writers or disabled writers or people with challenges?

“I’ve seen all these amazing renaissances happen in communities like Paris and Harlem. We could do that in Boyle Heights, in East LA,” Lopez said.

Lopez not only views herself as a teacher in the traditional sense, but also as a community elder.

She views a community elder as someone people come to for their advice and opinion. 

She said she embraces the title as someone who has trained in shamanism and, “all sorts of healing modalities.”

“I am part of a lineage of (spiritual) women… I have to honor this part of myself… It really gives me pleasure to help people… I honor myself, even if it makes people have to challenge their reality,” Lopez said.

Lopez believes storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to honor one’s truth.

“I write stories that are… filled with my desire, my emotion and my pain, my wounds. (My stories are) not apologetic about being able to feel so fully infused with so much pain and joy,” Lopez said.

Lopez’s play “Queen of the Rumba” mirrors many aspects of her personal life through a story inspired by the life of Alicia Parla.

The play premiered at CASA 0101 on Sept. 22 and performances ended last weekend.

Parla was a Cuban woman credited with popularizing the Rumba dance in the United States.

Lopez wrote that Parla was a young woman who promises to stay a virgin in order for her conservative mother to allow her to dance despite her father forbidding it.

When Lopez initially encountered an article about the real-life Parla, she wasn’t able to find more information. 

She said she took creative liberty with the story and later realized she, “filled in the missing pieces in the story was my life story.”

“My father had forbidden me to dance… I remember how painful it was to not be allowed to dance… And how my father’s sexist views about women had imposed themselves on my body,” Lopez said.

Lopez felt like the play reflects how her own father, and men in her life, constantly tried to define who she should be.

She said when men shame women for the sexual fantasies they project onto them, they are trying to take away her power.

“Women are powerful for so many reasons, including the sacred feminine dance movement that women can bring into their bodies. Men feel powerless around this energy, and that makes them very scared because it reminds them they can’t control women,” Lopez said.

Lopez made clear that in “Queen of the Rumba,” the dance is not sexual for Parla. To Parla, it was a celebration of her body.

Lopez feels her work has consistently portrayed the full humanity of people beyond the gazes that seek to limit them.

“I started writing (‘Real Women Have Curves’) when I was 18. I’m 54 now, and that story has lived on because it has some beautiful words of wisdom about how we as women are powerful and valuable…. And not to allow other people to define us or censor us… I do hope that more people, especially women, understand the power they have,” Lopez said.

Two corrections for “Broadway-bound alumna premieres play in Boyle Heights” in issue 5:

The article incorrectly stated Lopez’s play premieres on Broadway in December.

A Broadway-bound musical production of “Real Women Have Curves” inspired by Lopez’s original play and co-written screenplay with George Lavoo will be presented at the American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center at Harvard University in December. 

The article also incorrectly stated Casa 0101 was the home of “Barbie” actress America Ferrara’s career.

Casa 0101 is the home of “Barbie” actress Belissa Escobedo’s career.

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