Rick Najera. You know that name? Probably. If you don’t, you do know his work. Te lo prometo.
He wrote the popular Latinologues, which played long on Broadway and after 15 years still plays theater stages across the country. He also wrote for Mad TV, In Living Color and he wrote the movie Nothing Like the Holidays with John Leguizamo and Debra Messing. His credits for TV, stage and film are very long.
Najera’s latest work is called Daddy Diaries: Diary of a Dad Man. It is his take on fatherhood from the Mexican-American experience.
“My children are of Mexican and Irish heritage. I thought about them not being of pure Mexican heritage. I did think that. Mexicans are very proud of their heritage,” Najera said. “I wondered what they would learn. I started to examine it and it is about them being more, not being less.”
Najera, a San Diego native, said he has thought a lot about how he was raised as he raises his own children, ages 7, 5 and 2. Their childhoods are very different than his own. His father worked five jobs, his mother worked two. Unlike his wife’s Irish-American family, his never took vacations. And, while his family kept Mexican customs, his mother was raised in Boone, Iowa and traditional American customs and foods always were part of his life.
“I grew up on ham, corn on the cob and ambrosia salad — all wrapped up in a flour tortilla,” he said.
What Najera says he emphasizes with his children is the Spanish language. While learning Spanish was not as important to his own generation, he wants his children to speak Spanish and his oldest attends a Spanish immersion school.
“I look at my children and they are so light no one would necessarily identify them as Latino and I want to make a point that they would look like they were posessed by a Mexican for a second or navigate both cultures,” Najera said. “I sure don’t want some Mexican kid to call my kid a gringo.”
In Latinologues, Najera has written about gang-bangers, Cuban prostitutes, janitors, pregnant “virgins,” traditional religious mamis and narcos. He captures the essence of people, and the funny in being Latino, so very well.
“Stereotypes do exist,” Najera said. “They are part of our culture, but I always turn it upside down and I give them a heart.”
“I think my characters are all very truthful,” Najera added. “At times even Latinos don’t like them.”
Najera says he appreciates how open people are with him in sharing their stories. He believes it is because everyone wants to be understood.
“That is why we try to keep culture alive,” he said. “We want our children to be able to relate too us too, we want them to have our shared history. Duality is very much a part of our lives.”
Look for Daddy Diaries, Latinologues and other Rick Najera projects in your city, or on TV. You also can watch two full episodes of Latinologues on YouTube. The characters are rich, touching, funny, and tragically truthful.
Here is Latinologues Vol. 1 and a link to Vol. 2. (Cubanos, be sure to watch la jinetera in Vol. 2)