I’m just going to say it—the movie Lady Bird, which will win awards this awards season, is plagiarized. It’s the white-lady Real Women Have Curves — a Latina themed movie that came out fifteen years ago in 2002.
A busy mom, writer, and community college English instructor, I finally got a chance to see Lady Bird the other night, and I sat in a row with two other women who, like me, came to see it alone and late in the season. Even though I laughed in all the places, writer/director Greta Gerwig, would have me laugh, I also felt underwhelmed and I didn’t know why until a near copy of a scene from Real Women Have Curves flashed up on the screen, and it hit me. I’ve seen this movie before and a better version of it. To be fair, I will concede that I might like Real Women Have Curves better because it resonated with me both as woman and culturally. I am a Xicana; I was born in LA where the movie is set, and I rebelled against my mom’s favorite activity sewing, opting to play drums in a punk band instead. However, none of that excuses plagiarism. I’ll still argue that Real Women Have Curves is a better movie and that Greta Gerwig stole it, colonized it, and will get all the recognition for creating something new, something unique, “one of the best reviewed movies of all time.”
Once the movie was over, ending quite similarly than Curves with the protagonist, Lady Bird, having gotten into college in New York even after her mom said that she would only go as far as the local community college. I had time to kill since I was waiting for my son to finish up a gig he was playing at a nearby hotel. I sat down in the movie theater lobby to think more about how I was feeling: confused, guilty for not liking a movie that got a near perfect rotten tomatoes score, angry that it seemed no one else saw what I saw, or worse, they saw it and nobody was saying anything because whiteness still rules in Hollywood. I pulled out my phone to do a search; surely the internet could tell me how to feel. Someone else out there must have seen the similarities, I thought. Someone else must have saw what I saw in that movie theater, a movie written and directed by a white woman who was clearly more than inspired by Real Women Have Curves, a white woman who copied the film written and directed by Latinas, a white woman who is now going to win awards for a movie that I’m sure has many autobiographical aspects, but is basically stolen from the plot of another movie –plagiarized. “A la chingada!” as my grandmother used to say.
Of course, it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who saw it Matthew Rodriguez points it out in his article for Into, and he expresses a thought that was simmering around inside me, “Curves doesn’t get quite the reputation it deserves. It doesn’t get cited like it should, though, at the time, it did something for Latinas — and women, in general.” Rodriguez doesn’t go as far as to use the P word, plagiarism, to describe Lady Bird, but he does urge readers to write about Curves and to tweet about it too to “allow it to live longer.” Enter this critique, only, I won’t be spelling out the similarities because I wouldn’t want to appear plagiarize Rodriguez who did that already in his article, and college English instructors don’t like plagiarism or lack of creativity. I will, however, quote my friend and fellow writer Anna Armstrong who helpfully watched Real Women Have Curves and assured me that I wasn’t being petty or just going mad with the community college English instructor privilege: “You’re not crazy,” Anna wrote on my Facebook page, “It’s the same skeleton of a story. And the characters are so similar – the loving but hardened mother, the spirited daughter who years for independence, the quiet understanding father who mediates – it’s all there. And Lady Bird completely plagiarized that last scene when Ana is leaving for college and Carmen refuses to come out of the room. The fact that Carmen makes an attempt but fails makes the scene more poignant than the one in Lady Bird.”
This kind of plagiarism by Hollywood and the ripping-off of unique ideas by peoples who it continues to largely ignore or only feature in caricature has happened before. One example that comes to mind is Kimba the Lion, the Japanese anime cartoon that Disney seems to have ripped off in the form of The Lion King. And then there’s the caricature in the terrible depiction of Frida Kahlo as narcissistic and self-absorbed in the recently released Coco, a movie that boasted several Latino advisors, advisors who somehow allowed the depiction of the dead to be required to go through border patrol and “show their papers” on their trip back for Dia de los Muertos to get a laugh. Ay, Hollywood, when will you ever get it right?
Had Gerwig only cited her source, I wouldn’t be, as my students like to say, “putting her on blast” nor would I be giving her an F. And in not citing her source she did plagiarize, as according to my college’s academic honesty one generally recognized aspects of plagiarism “is defined as… Overusing the ideas of a source, so that those ideas make up the majority of one’s work.” And by “overusing the ideas of a source” we’re talking about the movie Real Women Have Curves directed by Patricia Cardoso, and whose screenplay was written by Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo, based on a play that Lopez wrote about her own high school experiences.
Now, if only the film industry was held to the same standards as college students all over the Americas. Until then, I’m happy to serve as the Latina turnitin.com .
In America, we get these months to celebrate ethnic heritage, among other things (dogs, pizza, ice cream). Schools and libraries often create very meaningful programming around these months, but sometimes these celebrations feel like a tourist’s view of a culture. If you didn’t know, we are currently in the midst of Hispanic/Latino Heritage month, a month of Latin American people’s focused literature in libraries, public TV programming, and Latino Heritage month commercials sponsored by Coca-Cola or the NFL.
Since I write about Mexicans all the time, it’s Latino Heritage month all year long on this blog, but as always, I do have a little story to tell.
I wouldn’t say I dread Latino Heritage Month, and I recognize the opportunities (even for me) that the month presents, but I think many Latinos have mixed feelings about why a month to celebrate Latino heritage is necessary in the first place.
About two years ago, I was invited to a reading in San Francisco as a featured reader, me and another Xicano author. As soon as I walked in the door with my Mexican born husband, someone told us someone was going to play music, and that they’d be singing in Spanish, “De Colores,” and would we please sing along. Moments later, someone began practicing their Spanish on my husband. Later, as I listened to others invited to read, I realized there was a theme, one that had not quite been communicated to me. Each poet who read, one after another read about humble migrants, cultural misunderstandings, brown people who who worked the land, picked our food, and one reader pretended to be John Steinbeck and read from “Harvest Gypsies.” I began to wonder if those who invited me to read thought I was or had been a migrant worker, and then they sang “De Colores.” I’m surprised that my husband, who was already agitated, didn’t get up and walk out of the place. Our two friends who came to the event with us watched wide-eyed as the seen unfolded around us, a group of well-meaning older hippie poets, swaying as they sang, begging us to join in.
Later at home over the course of several days, I tried to work out what had happened, why it had happened, and it brought up all sorts of feelings about related experiences that I tried to capture in “What’s Up With White People Singing De Colores,” a piece that has offended/hurt/worried a few friends because it struck a nerve, but also, I guess, because “De Colores” is such a beloved song.
What’s Up With White People Singing De Colores?
What’s up with white people singing De Colores? Do they know it’s a children’s song? Do they know how embarrassing it is for us to sit and listen? Yes, we do know the words. Doesn’t everyone? And no we don’t want to join in.
We don’t want to kiri kiri ki like roosters or to listen to you do it. We don’t want to hear you sing using all the wrong vowels sounds, and we don’t care if the song was sung by Cesar Chavez and the American Farm Workers Movement. Yes, we knew that already.
And we don’t care if you love our culture, all the flavors and colors. We don’t care if you think we are the hardest working people in America. We don’t care if you think we’re the laziest. We are those things and everything in between. We know you love Mexican food. Who doesn’t? We know it’s your favorite. Mexican food is like pizza – it’s everyone’s favorite.
We also don’t care if you’re learning Spanish. Some of us don’t speak it either. Assimilation beat it out of us, beat it out of our parents. But you want a prize for taking a Spanish class, the one where you learned to say pio pio pio pi. Please don’t practice your Spanish on us either. If we’re fluent, we don’t want to hear you proudly mangle every other word, and if we’re not, we don’t want to have to pretend we’re better at it rather than explain because you made an assumption. We’d rather carry on a conversation like we did cuando podiamos ser amigos.
What’s up with white people singing De Colores? Do they know how predictable it is and how grating? It’s like old people saying “bling” or white girls with dread locks. And we don’t care if you celebrate Dia de Los Muertos or make tamales for Christmas. We’ve been buying advent calendars and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas all our lives. We’re glad to see you finally adopt and appreciate some of our ways, but now you want our approval too!
What’s up with white people thinking that we’re stuck in time? Do you think we sit around singing folk songs all the day? Did you know that some of us like death metal, Morrisey, Joni Mitchell (who, btw, never recorded De Colores) Bhangra, The Clash (even though they sang in terrible Spanish too), and Kate Bush?
What’s up with white people singing De Colores? No, we don’t want to join in. Sure, it’s a step up from “La Cucaracha,” “La Bamba,” or “El Jarabe Tapatio,” which you call the Mexican Hat Dance, but is there no other song to represent us, and why just one song?
Yes, De Colores is all about colors and unity, and yes, I get the song makes you feel good about embracing diversity, finally, and multiculturalism, but it’s never as easy as one song, not for us.
What’s up with white people singing De Colores? You can stop anytime.
I got Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk less than 24-hours ago, and I read it in two sittings, finishing this afternoon, crying over the climax at a table in my neighborhood café.
I have never wanted to hold a book in my hand more than my own book The Spitboy Rule, until I learned about First Rule of Punk. The First Rule of Punk is a middle grade novel. I learned about it from Bustle online in February. It got a lot of early buzz months before its scheduled release, I think, because a book about a punk rock Xicana in middle school in the era of Trump gives dems, leftists, feminists, book nerds, zinsters, ex-zinsters, librarians, Xicanas, punx, ex-punx, punk parents, and perimenopunxs hope.
I also cried when I read this summary of it: “There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.”
On February 28, I wrote this on the Spitboy Rule Facebook page: “This book looks awesome and like the middle grade version the The Spitboy Rule!” Twenty people shared the Bustle link straight away, the post reached over 35000 views, and I got excited and reached out to the author on Twitter.
She responded with this tweet:
I was smitten right away and we began following each other on Twitter and Instagram, and we recently became friends on Facebook where she promised to send me an advance copy of the book when she got them. Not too long after, I began seeing people post copy of their books, their advance copies (probably straight from the publisher or a conference), and I began obsessively checking my mailbox. I haven’t checked my mailbox so religiously since I was single and had a crush on my Puerto Rican neighbor who I eventually learned was engaged to be married (but that’s a whole other story!).
Yesterday, I checked my mailbox, hoping to find some stickers that I ordered, and out popped a recycled manila envelope, book-shaped, and with Celia’s name and address. I tried to open the envelope carefully, so as not to rip the book, but I was excited. Out flew the book, a FRP book mark, a FRP button, and two Sherman Alexie zines!
“Move,” I told my 15 year-old son who was sitting on my spot under the reading lamp on the couch. “Don’t anyone bother me until dinner time.”
I turned the bright yellow book over in my hands, looking for things you can’t see in picture of the book online. I saw pan dulce, a sugar skull, an anarchy symbol, and a quetzal wearing a Walkman.
I read the back cover, and then I took a deep breath, and opened the book to Chapter 1. I cried twice in the first fifteen chapters, once because I was touched, and the first time because I simply could not contain my joy over the existence of a book written about a girl like me. I am 47 years old, 48 in October, and not once in my life have I read a book (fiction) about someone so much like me. There are books by Xicanas about Xicanas who have had many of the same experiences and feelings that I have had, like Teresa in Ana Castillo’s Mixquahuala Letters. Still, last winter on Facebook, it was a thing to change your profile photo to a character from a children’s book character who was most like you, and I wanted to play along, but found I couldn’t think of any character who was like me or who I identified with. I posted a photo of Speedy Gonzales. It was all I could come up with and I wanted to make a point, but it was the first time that I realized that something seemingly trivial on Facebook could make me feel so sad.
Growing up, Speedy Gonzales was literally the only children’s character who was anything like me. Kids at school used to scream, “Arriba, rriba, andale, andale,” when I walked by.
But now, at nearly 50 years-old, I have Malù, but most importantly, kids all over America get to have Malù too – brown kids, comic book or zine nerds, punk or rock music fans (since electronic/digitized music has taken over the airwaves), budding activists, kids who break the school dress code, tough girls, and unladylike girls who want to pour drinks over the school mean girl’s head (I actually did pour beer over a trendy girls head at a party, which Malù would never do because she doesn’t drink beer).
Since you probably haven’t yet read the book, you might be wondering now what else it’s about, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say that Malù makes zines and is keen on lists, like the one on the back cover. You might also be wondering how I’m like Malù besides the Xicana punk connection. Here’s my list:
Thank you Celia C. Pérez for writing a book about someone like me, for making it happen in my lifetime, and for giving me a character to use in my profile pic next time I need a children’s book character to identify with, for making us visible – you’re my hero.
In George Orwell’s 1984, Orwell’s governmental agencies are given ironic names, names that might have you think that they responsible for one thing, when in fact they do the opposite of what you would expect given the name – the very definition of irony. For example, the Ministry of Plenty is responsible for wartime rationing, which is to say, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rationing because Oceania (the super state that is the setting of the novel) is in a state of perpetual war.
Before I go any further, let me state the obvious. If you haven’t, yet, read 1984, now would be the time, if you can find a copy given its recent surge in popularity. I can’t tell you everything about the novel, but I will tell you this: dystopian novels like 1984 are satires, satirical works that employ heavy irony to make a point. Most dystopian novels are also cautionary tales – texts that attempt to warn us about abuses of power in hopes that we’ll do something about it before it’s too late. They are novels that look at history, to what has happened, to show us what is possible, and they look forward to a future, that the author fears, is possibly looming.
Not my president’s top advisor, Kellyanne Conway is a one-woman-Ministry-of-Truth. She who coined the term ‘alternative facts,’ in an attempt to justify the presidential press secretary’s explaining away the very real fact that way more people turned out to witness Obama’s first inauguration than Trump’s. Of his assertion, Spicer later said, “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”
While it’s not stated explicitly, it was presumably Oceania’s Ministry of Truth that created concept of Doublethink. Through 1984 protagonist, Winston Smith, doublethink is described this way:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again … (Orwell 35)*
Might our current administration want the American people to do just what Winston describes here, “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic,” and that Conway and Spicer are “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.” Could the entire Trump administration be emboldened by the fact that most Americans cannot discern real news from fake news? It sure seems that way to me. And I’m not talking about the so-called legions of ‘un-educated’ folks who voted for Trump. In “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” a NPR article by Camila Domonoske, a Stanford study of nearly 8000 students in twelve different US states reveals that students in middle school, high school, and college (even Stanford students) had trouble discerning a fake website from a real one, fringe sources, or the difference between a sponsored and non-sponsored site. Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are betting on the very real possibility that most Americans adults are as easily duped.
* Orwell, George. 1984. Signet Classic. New York. 1950. Print.
I can understand the urge to boycott things as a form of resistance, but I forced myself to listen to and watch — not my president’s—first press conference since the election because as exhausting as it is and as it will get, I need to get angry and stay angry. We all do. “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”
All that said, I’m not the first person to point out how Orwellian things have gotten in American politics, but having read 1984 with my students just about every year for the past 13 years, and having the ability to recite several parts of it by memory, I feel it’s my duty not to simply make the comparison, but also to point out that Orwell’s chief concern in writing 1984 was to warn readers about authoritarian rulers and the tactics they use to manipulate, confuse, trick, and control. As a disciple of Orwell’s, I realize, all this comes a bit late bit. I should have started writing this sooner, but as a disciple of Orwell’s I also know that one must continue to resist – to keep a record, to remember, to stay focused, vigilant.
If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? (Orwell 43-44)
‘I didn’t say shut down immigration.’ Donald Trump
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ (Orwell 44)
The day after the Brussels terrorist attack (3/22/16), Trump said in an interview with CBS “This Morning,” “I didn’t say shut it down. I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.”
On December 7, 2015, Trump issued a press release that begins, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He read and reaffirmed his statement at a rally that day.
Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell 44-45)
Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate
Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he “never once asked that (Kelly) be removed.”
We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”
Link to “This is My Fucking Country” up at hipmama.com
“This is my fucking country,” I said this to some colleagues at work on Friday, November 4. It felt like the thing kind of statement that I should expand into an essay, but I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. 1001 Black Men artist, Ajuan Mance, wrote on Facebook on election night that she told a friend that she wasn’t going anywhere either, least of all Canada. She said, “With a Black population of something around 2.5 percent and some really wonky race politics, the neighbor to our north is really not happening for me. No matter who is president, I’ll stay right here, continuing the legacy of celebration and resistance established by my ancestors.” It’s the kind of statement that I would expect from Ajuan, who was my American Literature professor at Mills College.
I wasn’t planning write anything after the election, even though I knew that I should. I just didn’t think that I could harness all my thoughts and emotions, be articulate/surprisingly articulate (*wink*), or say anything fresh. But then Ariel sent me a message, and in it were the words “resistance “and “punk,” and I was off.
I say all this to give credit to my community, my teachers, friends, and all the people whose ideas meld with, inspire, and buoy mine.