Perseverance, Courage, and Talent, The Story of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of alisa-valdes-rodriguez.com

The Dirty Social Girls Club, is one of the many books written by best-selling author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. It is a precious book that imprints its words on the mind of its readers. Curious and hungry, these page-turners devour a world created by Valdes-Rodriguez that depicts the lives of six women and the intricacies of their friendship and rejoice in the sweetness — especially for a Latinx reader — that all the friends are Latinas. 

The storyline is of an inseparable group of friends — 20-something graduates from a prestigious university — who defy the expectations of what the Anglo world considers to be “Latina.” 

With this story, Valdes-Rodriguez single-handedly pulverized the idea that the Latinx community is a monolith and can be explained with just one broad brush.

She knew this way before pompous scholars decided to act “woke” enough to denounce the perceived uniformity of our community. 

Valdes-Rodriguez knew it then and certainly knows it now. 

“Now, people are starting to notice the importance of these topics,” she told BELatina News recently. “And the majority of them are like:‘Okay, so you all don’t just talk about being Latino?’”

Without a doubt, this book, published in 2004, was ahead of its time. And, somehow, it still is ahead of ours, now.  

The sucias, the name of the girls’ friend group in The Dirty Social Girls Club, outgrew its setting and made its way into the reality of our society. I know it weaved itself into my reality. It’s hard not to when there’s a character or characters that will act as your mirror. It’s almost as if you are reading it naked, if that makes sense. Unless, you do read naked — no judgment here.  

The book does a phenomenal job at punching you in the heart, but amazingly enough, making you laugh even if you had sobbed into your partner’s arms moments before because of the storyline. Well, at least this was my experience. 

The Dirty Girls Social Club Alisa Valdés-Rodríguez BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of amazon.com

I’d love to gush on a particular character, but Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is so effective and knows her women so well, that I found myself identifying with most of the friends in the book.

Though a fiction book, a subculture of readers was born out of it (it’s not just me) and people sewed themselves into the storyline. It was no surprise that it became a guide of strength and perseverance — attributes that are often missing from the narrative pertaining to the Latinx community. 

In our conversation with the remarkable Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, we discussed her multi-hyphenated career, the challenges she faced after having a celebrated and top-selling book, and the need to advance the Latina voice in the media, among other things. 

Taking chances has always been her M.O.

The acceptance rate for a Hispanic and/or Latinx student into an Ivy League school has been historically low. Nevertheless, she defied disheartening statistics and made her way into Columbia University School of Journalism.

“I didn’t think in a million years I could get into an Ivy League school,” she said. “I was living in New York at the time, so I was planning on going to NYU, but remember my father saying: Why are you going to stop there? You should go to Columbia.”

Valdes-Rodriguez said it was crucial for her to have a supportive father. 

Her father, who is an immigrant from Cuba, is an exile. He endured what it meant to be uprooted from his homeland, but he made it work — because that was his only option. He instilled in his daughter the significance of risk-taking and it paid off. 

However, once she was accepted to Columbia University, she had to walk on territory unfamiliar to her as she was growing up in New Mexico. 

The Latinx population in New Mexico validated her existence. People were interested in knowing about her as a person in her hometown. Yet in Boston, she became a phenomenon but not in a way one might enjoy. People were asking her “what” she was rather than asking her “who” she was. 

“No one ever asked me ‘what are you?’ in New Mexico. But suddenly in Boston, I’m a what,” she said.  

Never stalling on her growth

Being ever-eager, she throws herself into projects. Valdes-Rodriguez is currently writing her first stage musical, which makes total sense since her undergrad degree is in music. In fact, she’s a saxophonist and a composer. 

“Urban Theater in Chicago has given me a contract to write a musical that’s a prequel to my first novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. So, the musical is called Sucia the Musical. And it takes place 10 years before the book,” Valdes-Rodriguez said. 

Battling the film industry

In a world where the Oscars continue to be as disappointing as the existence of flat Earthers, we must remain hopeful for a spot at the Hollywood table. Yet, we receive nothing but crumbs, if any, most times.  

The success of her book, The Dirty Girls Social Club, allowed Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez to enter the Hollywood spectrum without much fuss. But getting it adapted for the big screen has taken her 15 years in the making. (How can a sure hit like that take so long!) 

“It’s been very frustrating. But I learned along the way that the movie and film industry is probably 20 to 30 years behind the book publishing industry,” she said.  “And when it comes to women of color and particularly Latinas, they [the executives] still don’t get it.”

Though the wait was long, her dream is finally coming true. 

She recently received news that her book was finally being adapted for the big screen. Even though in its initial stages, there is movement in the right direction. 

The strength she’s cultivated is ever-growing

Entering any professional industry will beat you down harder than any chancla ever could. However, to ward off the slings and arrows of naysayers people, especially Latinas, build an armor that would be the envy of ancient Romans. 

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez began to build her own armor as she experienced the inconsistencies of the film industry.

“Well, I do try to see obstacles as opportunities, especially when I know the audience is there,” she said. “And what I learned along the way is that there just aren’t that many Latina screenwriters that they’re willing to hire.”

This is why she had to dive in herself to materialize her dream. 

“I took the last few years off to learn how to write scripts, so I could adapt it myself,” she said.

And it’s turning out her way, even if it’s taken longer than anyone would have expected. What does that matter? Dreams don’t have an expiration date.

Imposter Syndrome vs Pissed-off Syndrome

It’s no secret that imposter syndrome is a condition that many from underrepresented communities endure. Yet, she’s managed to maneuver through it. 

“I sometimes still feel imposter syndrome, but not as much as I used to. Now, I just feel impatient, or pissed off syndrome,” she said. “ I know what I’m doing.”

I don’t know about you all, but feeling pissed is better than feeling like you don’t belong (even if you do!).

Her advice to us

“Don’t buy into this idea that you’re not good enough,” Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez said.  “We are erased from pop culture. But that doesn’t mean we’re not here. It doesn’t mean that we’re not as good as everybody else.”

You have to believe in yourself even past the point that most people would consider reasonable and you can’t take anything personally.