“The Hebrew Mamita,” Slam Poet Vanessa Hidary on the Complexity of Jewish Identity

So welcome everyone to the first event of
the University of San Francisco 2015-16 academic calendar of the Swig program
in Jewish Studies and Social Justice. Where tonight we will hear
from Miss Vanessa Hidary. Founded 2008, the USF Jewish Studies and
Social Justice program is the first and only program in the history
of the United States, formally linking Jewish
studies with social justice. In addition to offering numerous courses
related to this interdisciplinary field, our program offers a minor in
Jewish Studies in Social Justice, as well as a number of annual events. A fall speaker series
related to Jewish identities, a spring social justice lecture,
a spring human rights lecture, and a spring social
justice Passover Seder. In addition to partnership with a number
of different Bay Area-based organizations, we also offer unique educational
programs related to ways to end and transform ethnic and national conflicts,
such as our Beyond Bridges Summer Program. Which takes place in Israel and Palestine
which we are re-offering this coming up summer, and in which the director
Oren Kroll-Zeldin is in our midst, and he’s,
a number of you already know him. This fall,
in addition to tonight’s exciting events, we have three other JSSJ events planned. First, all of them are on Thursday night
6:30 here, so that simplifies that. Two weeks from tonight on
Thursday October first, Oakland-based activist artist performer
playwright and scholar Ariel Luckey will perform a one-person play
focused on raising awareness about the many injustices surrounding race and
immigration, called Amnesia. The show integrates theater,
dance, spoken word and an original score inspired by hip-hop,
klezmer and Mexican folk music. While telling the story of the family’s
migration from a small Jewish village in Eastern Europe, through New York City’s
Lower East Side, to Phoenix, Arizona. Only to find that the identity-based
violence his family fled cannot easily be so forgotten. Two weeks later, Thursday,
October 15th, 6:30 p.m. We will premier Little White Lie, a powerful documentary film telling the
life story of Lacy Schwartz, who grew up in a typical upper middle-class Ashkenazi
Jewish household in Woodstock, New York. With loving parents and
a strong sense for Jewish identity. And despite the open questions from
those around her about how a white girl could be so dark. When her parents abruptly divorced,
her gut starts to tell her something about a potential African American
heritage that she didn’t know about, which sends her down a fascinating journey
through her multi dimensional past. Following the film screening,
Lindsay Newman, a Jew of color and program manager at Be’Chol Lashon,
a local Jewish not for profit organization working towards
societal ethnic, cultural and racial inclusiveness, will lead us
in a discussion about the film. And last but not least, on Thursday,
October 29th, also at 6:30, we’re going to show another documentary
film called Saved by Language. It tells the story of Moris Albahari,
a Sephardic Jew from Sarajevo born in 1930 who spoke Ladino,
a Judeo-Spanish dialect, his mother tongue to survive
the Jewish genocide of World War II. Following our simultaneous showing of this
film with English subtitles in this room, and Ladino subtitles in the Xavier room. Which, if you understand Spanish and read
Spanish and Spanish Studies program in and a number of other like-minded
programs that are promoting that, you will be able to understand
though that language. Thereafter we’ll all join in
there with the filmmaker and director Susanna Zaraysky with
a special Q&A about the film. Flyers regarding these four amazing events
can be found up there where there’s also a list for our Jewish Studies and
Social Justice listserve. So now let’s begin tonight’s
program officially. For much of recorded history, human beings
have been grappling with ideas such as right and wrong, justice and
injustice, and responsibility. From Adam and Eve,
to the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, these issues continue to play a central
role in many of our lives today, whether in San Francisco or Damascus,
New York City or Jerusalem. For Abraham Joshua Heschel,
one of the greatest modern-day prophets of the Jewish community of the last century,
social justice is about the balance between one’s individual
identity and one’s human identity. Tonight’s speaker epitomizes this tension. Someone who lives and identifies as a Jew,
and as a human being. Someone who has insight into the
ever-changing notion of social identities, far beyond most of our own understandings. Miss Vanessa Hidary, native New Yorker,
AKA the Hebrew Mamita, grew up on Manhattan’s culturally
diverse Upper West Side, graduating from La Guardia High School
of the Arts and Hunter College. Her experiences as a Sephardic Jew with
close friends from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, inspired her
to write one of her first acclaimed nationally toured solo shows,
Culture of Bandit. Which chronicles her coming of age
during the golden era of hip-hop and her dedication to fostering, understanding,
and friendship between all peoples. Culture Bandit was originally produced
by LAByrinth Theater Company, whose artistic directors were John Ortiz
and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. This solo show has since played as part of
famous festivals around the country and beyond. She has also aired three times at Russell
Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on HBO and is featured in the acclaimed
short film The Drop, which has appeared at Sundance
among other festivals. She has performed in countries around
the world from Canada to South Africa, and went to Poland. Some of her positive press coverage
include reviews in The New York Post, Time-Out New York,
The Jewish Week, The Forward, The Los Angeles Times, The Jewish
Jerusalem Post, and Lilith Magazine. The author of a collection of poems and
short stories, titled The Last Kaiser Roll in a Bodega,
Vanessa is currently developing and directing a performance
production called Kaleidoscope. A multimedia project and
monologue showcase highlighting Jews of diverse racial ethnic
backgrounds and observance levels. Jews identifying as Moroccan, Jamaican,
Ethiopian, Libyan, Panamanian, Puerto Rican, and more, all in a challenge
and embrace of a question core to our own Jewish Studies and Social Justice program,
what does Jewish look like to you? Please join me in welcoming Vanessa.>>[APPLAUSE]>>Good evening, everybody, how’s everybody doing? Good, you’ve gotta give me a little bit
more excitement, how’s everybody doing?>>Good!>>I love having my bio read, then I actually feel like I’ve
done something with my life. I was like yeah, I did do something.>>[LAUGH]
>>I think I need to hear that every morning, thank you.>>[LAUGH]
>>So thank you so much for coming. How many of you were in the class
this morning when I came and spoke? Okay, thanks for coming, again to hear me, and so a little bit about myself. My name is Vanessa. I was born and
raise on the Upper West Side. Any New Yorkers here? Okay, thank you. And for me, my neighborhood growing up
was always a very mixed neighborhood. All my friends from all
different backgrounds. And I never thought it was really
a big deal until I started leaving my neighborhood and
stuff from all of the country and realizing that that was
a really special experience. So when I started my poetry, the very
first poem that I wrote started like this. Baruch atah Adonai, Viva Puerto Rico! Haolam hamotzi, Fight the Power! Mien ha eretz, Amen. And so that was my little Hebrew Mamita
prayer to represent my neighborhood and to represent all these different
cultures that were around me. So I’m going to start this
evening with a piece that was, any of you guys seen
Def Poetry Jam on HBO? Okay, okay.>>[LAUGH]
>>Well, it hasn’t been for a very long time. But it was a show where they
had lots of different poets and well known artists come and read poetry. And it was a really amazing experience for
me, and I’ll tell you a little bit after I do the poem what my experience
was like doing it in that venue. So this piece is called Hebrew Mamita. I meet a guy in a bar that’s cute. He asks me out to dinner for
the following Tuesday. I decline, Tuesday is Yom Kippur,
I will be fasting. You’re Jewish? Wow, you don’t look Jewish,
you don’t act Jewish. And he says it in this tone that
sounds like he’s complementing me. And I say, and I say, Nothing. I say nothing with which combined with
a flirty smile, translates to thank you. I say nothing cuz I’m
drunk on denial coladas. I say nothing cuz I got a contact high
up someone’s antisemitic crack pipe. I say nothing because somewhere
along my life’s craft, I’ve been swayed to believe that being
Jewish is not too cool, not too sexy. I say nothing cuz I’m in a deep sleep,
a Snow White coma, destined to meet my prince five years later in the form of
stone in Jerusalem in the Wailing Wall. Our lips press flesh to cool granite. I placed folded paper with written
prayers for the dead in a nook. In a nook in the wall next to
a woman with concentration camp numbers tattooed on her forearm. Surrounded by fervent praying and
body swaying, I am far more awake than
I ever thought possible. I suddenly remember the exodus of
the Israelites, and I walk barefoot from the wall in the desert to the bar,
and look for the guy with the duck boots. He’s not there but
I have something to say to him. He’s not there but
I have a response to his statement. He’s not there so I make a soapbox and
reenact the scene. Bartender, tell me I don’t look Jewish. Tell me I don’t act Jewish. Cuz I’m thinking, I’m saying,
what does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a fucking roof for you?>>[LAUGH]
>>Should I humor you with oy veys and refuse to pay? Cuz you know how we like to Jew you down. Jew you down, I’d like to throw you down. Cuz I walked here long miles on hot
sand to publicly repent my sins. Cuz I’ve almost forgot, six million died without any
option of giggling on bar stools. Almost forgot the concentration camp
survivors are now a dying generation that my children may never have
the sensation of seeing in person. And if you must see me as
that blood-sucking Jew, see me as that pesky mosquito that bites
and sucks the prejudice right out of you. Don’t get it twisted cuz you might live in
New York City where you can buy kinishes at stands for a dollar fifty. We only make up 2.2% of
the American population, you see. Many in other parts of
the country are not feeling me. I’m not trying to compete
in a contest of oppression. Just feel the need to mention
the miserable tension I feel in my heart when people say things like, the Blacks
and the Jews, they just don’t get along. Just feel the need to say I can’t
be the only exception to the rule. Just the one right now,
using my poetry as a tool to maybe change just one heart tonight. Cuz I’m the Hebrew mamita,
long lost daughter of Abraham and Sarah. The sexy oy vey, matzah-eating,
Chutzpa having non-cheeping, non-conspiracizing, always questioning,
hip-hop listening, Torah scroll reading, all people loving,
pride filled Jewish girl. Bringing up all people who are a little
miffed cuz someone tells you you don’t look like or act like your people. Impossible, cuz you are your people. You just tell them they don’t look,
period.>>[APPLAUSE]>>[COUGH] So I always tell people when I
wrote that piece, I wasn’t working in the Jewish community at
the time, I was just doing it down, at Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in
the East Village, in a poetry spot. And I really wrote it for anyone that’s
told that they don’t look like or act like their people. I wrote it from my voice, my experience,
but it’s really a poem for anyone. Cuz I realized a lot of
people are stereotyped and I was happy to know that other people
could relate to that experience, just telling it through my story. And it was really interesting cuz
when I started performing it, people were definitely not used
to in the spoken word genre, people talking about
being Jewish in that way. If I had planned that, I probably, like, I had no idea that I was doing
something different that way. I was just getting up and
doing my truth and performing. But it was an interesting doing
that in the hip hop world, in the spoken word genre,
getting up there and doing that. And the greatest thing about
doing that in Def Poetry Jam is that it got to hit
people all over the world, where I couldn’t just do it
in front of them kinda thing. Has anyone ever been told they don’t look
like, or they don’t act like their people? Anyone? Yeah, definitely happens a lot. So the next piece that I’m
gonna do is a piece or a short story that I did this morning and it’s about a nice Jewish girl gone awry. It’s called Blanquita,
which means white girl. I’ve had only two Jewish
boyfriends in my life. My mother claims they’re both the most
un-Jewishy Jews in the world.>>[LAUGH]
>>One was a vegan who denounced circumcision, gave me a book titled
Salt the Silent Killer for my birthday. And dragged me down to
the Anti-Tax League on Lafayette Street. My mother found the brochures and
said, enough is enough of that stuff. I’m putting my foot down. The other un-Jewishy Jew was a drummer, a Palestinian activist whose parents
were atheists and alcoholics. But his mother was Jewish, so
by Jewish law, I was dating a Jew.>>[LAUGH]
>>My mother doesn’t care who I date anymore. I say anymore cuz maybe she might have
once, in the deep forest of her mind, had a miniscule and
original blueprint for me. But now, she just wants me to meet
a nice young man that’s not depressed. Depressed is one of my
mother’s favorite words. It’s the reason why
everything is everything. The books on our shelves growing up were,
When You Just Can’t Get Out of Bed in the Morning, The Dance of Anger,
and I’m Deaf and Dying. Now, she stands anti-self-help books. This life change all happened when
mother started dating Patrick, an Irish Catholic from Connecticut. My grandma did not talk to my mother for
one whole month because of Patrick. My mother said,
I had my kids with a nice Jewish guy and look what he turned out to be? My grandmother said nothing and she cooked
a full course Syrian dinner for Patrick. And only cursed under her breath once, when he put ketchup on the sambusa,
a fine Arabic pastry filled with kashkaval cheese that was now as she
growled reduced to a french fry.>>[LAUGH]
>>I never spoke to my grandmother about dating outside my religion, outside my
race, outside my age range, outside, outside. Only once did she mentioned she
thought marrying outside would be hard when you decided to have children. I guess she assumed that people who grow
up with parents of the same race and religion grow up with no confusion,
anxiety, or questioning of the world, like me, a perfect example of someone
who’s completely secure and happy.>>[LAUGH]
>>That’s a joke, guys. As I said,
my mother doesn’t care who I date anymore, she just wants me to be happy. I could date a Muppet, if that made
me happy, she’s gonna be happy. I told my mother I was
happy when I met Frank, my first boyfriend in Hunter College. I met him on the bridge, the long walkway
that connected the two main buildings, and served as a hangout spot for ambitious lasses like me,
who were still cutting classes in college. Frank was Dominican, his full name
Francisco, a name that always made me think of those explorers that you
read about in the third grade. He lived on Dykeman street in
a low-ceiling basement apartment with his dad who was the super. He had a pit bull named Cyborg that was
housed in a little gated area outside and ate leftover pasteles
when dinner was over. Frank was my first real boyfriend,
we always held hands, wrote our names in hearts, and went out to Dallas BBQ when
he got his Pell check from financial aid.>>[LAUGH]
>>Everyone thought Frank was a real cutie. He use to date this Colombian girl,
Damaris from Queens. But Damaris smoked cigarettes, and was what Frank called a bochinchera which
I think is kind of a Spanish yenta. Frank and I used to get pictures
taken of us on 42nd street in front of a large airbrushed backdrop adorned
with fake Gucci and Louis Vuitton logos. Frank posed gangster style, his arm draped around me while
I clutched big stuffed animals. Frank was obsessed with
giving me stuffed animals. He gave me stuffed animals for every
holiday, every fight we made up from, every season change. They got bigger according to
the importance of the occasion. For my birthday I once got a bear
in the size of a small adolescent.>>[LAUGH]
>>There were stuffed animals he won from Great Adventure holding metallic
Balloons that said I love you. Stuffed animals with cards around their
necks where he filled in the blanks, Dear Shorty, I love you, Francisco.>>[LAUGH]
>>I gave him stuffed animals with suction cups that stuck to the rear
of his car window. Frank had a car, which for
a Manhattan girl, was so fly. Let alone a car with a Dominican flag,
a pina colada air freshener, which made me gag, and a glossy bookmark with Jesus Christ on
it dangling from the rear view mirror. I watched Mr. Jesus sway from side to
side and wondered if he was watching me. If Mr. Jesus thought I was the enemy. Frank and I drove all over the Heights. We drove to Fort Triumph Park and
made out in the car. We drove to his boy Ernie’s house with a
bottle of Cisco and made out on the roof. We drove up to the Chimichuri truck and
bought, as Frank described, them Dominican hamburgers and
lemonade, and we went shopping. But we didn’t shop at regular stores,
we shopped at apartamentos, apartments that sold
clothing like bootleg CDs. Stolen? Nah. Just detoured clothes. GAP, Polo, Nautica,
Benetton, Coca-Cola, and Armani clothes for
half the price of Macy’s. On a lucky day, they might even have Timberland boots and
Michael Jordan cologne. We sifted through Hefty bags pulling
out baggy jeans and goose down jackets. The fancier apartamentos had
makeshift dressing rooms and racks. Merengue blaring, steam hissing,
Frank wanted everything orange. I look terrible in orange or anything
in the orange family, like mustard. I can sometimes get away
with a creamsicle hue. Frank tried to convince me to get
an orange Triple Fabulous jacket that pulled in with elastic at the waist. I looked like a fat Starburst.>>[LAUGH]
>>But Frank looked amazing in orange. He had that caramel complexion that looked
good in every color of the rainbow. Frank would stand in front of the mirror
and dance with his projected goods on. That was the only way he could
tell if he liked something. He would make the guys, owners, whatever
they were, turn off the merengue and put on his tape of hip hop house
from his Walkman, and he danced. The guys at the apartamento loved Frank. They’d set aside rugby shirts for him. And when he danced, they’d laugh, and
serve us coquito, Spanish eggnog, in thick crystal glasses. One day, Frank stopped taking
me to the apartamento. He had some beef with this guy,
Caesar, who said to stop bringing up the blanquita, the white girls,
from downtown to this spot. Cuz, they didn’t want any
problems to get DK shut down. Frank got so mad he whipped his
sweatshirt in Caesar’s face and said, you don’t know shit about my girl. Fuck you and your cheap-ass shop. So Frank never went back
to Caesar’s apartamento. He found a new one on Dykeman but
he never took me. I remember for weeks I bugged Frank, do
you think Caesar thought I was gonna tell someone, like I was gonna call the cops? Like I betrayed the apartamento mafia? Frank didn’t wanna discuss it anymore. Coño stop stressing that shit. Stop thinking about that
motherfucker before I get heated and crack that hick in his fucking mouth. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Caesar. I felt so bad that he didn’t see
me as a loyal apartamento patron. I was a potential betrayer, a spy. I was a blanquita, and even being Frank’s
girl could not change that status. Frank’s mother Rosa only
spoke three English phrases. Hi Vanessa, thank you, and Frank no here.>>[LAUGH]
>>Every Saturday night, Rosa would sit on her yellow velour couch
and watch this Spanish TV show I found oddly fascinating called, Sábado Gigante It was like nothing
I’d ever witnessed before. It was hosted by a very colorful and apparently popular character
named Don Francisco. A four hour variety show, filled with
skits, talent shows, game shows, interviews, and the most gorgeous women dancing in
tight sequined clothing I’ve ever seen. Like Saturday Night Live, Jerry Springer,
The Price is Right, Star Search, Solid Gold, Showtime at the Apollo,
all wrapped up in one. Where had this show been all my life? It was amazing.
Sometimes, when on Saturday nights, Frank would leave me to go
driving around with his boys. I could sit with Rosa and watch Salvador. Rosa would bring out plates of warm rice
pudding while we played a game of virtual charades in an attempt to communicate. She seemed thrilled to have company. Apparently, for some crazy reason,
no one else in the house enjoyed the show. Rosa really liked me, so much so that she gave me a gold crucifix
on a delicate chain for Christmas. It came in a bright gold cardboard box. Rosa had slipped it in my chair
while I was in the bathroom, but as soon as I pulled away the little cotton
mattress that covered it, Frank was livid. Mierda mami, she’s a Jewish. They don’t wear crosses, they wear. Coño, what do your people wear? I stammered, well,
sometimes a Jewish star. See mami, un Jewish star. Frank snatched the box and
placed it in our rubber place mat. And I don’t remember what Rosa said back,
but she looked so sad and embarrassed and I just said Frank, it’s okay, I like it,
it’s beautiful, maybe she didn’t know. And then time stopped. I took the crucifix out of the box and
had Frank clasp it around my neck. And as the lightning bolts roared,
Rosa just beamed. Mira, que linda. And there it was, a shiny crucifix
dangling around the neck of who’s proudly Bat Mitzvahed at the Society for
the Advancement of Judaism. Standing in the mirror in Rosa’s powder
blue bathroom, it was, it wasn’t that bad. I mean it didn’t have Jesus himself on it,
no naked body, no wrist or nails, no head of thorns. Just a simple feminine gold cross. And I wore it. Everywhere. I wore it outside with the sun
beaming down on my collarbone. I’ve worn it to the bodega and
ordered bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll. I wore it to the Hunter dance with Frank,
and he had a big fake rope chain with a cross
on it that used to scare my mother, but now we look like such
the cutie crucifix couple. I was Frank’s shorty. It was my new costume. And I never felt so pretty. The only time I didn’t wear
it was when I was home. I would religiously, discretely remove it when Frank hit the windy 96th
Street bend on the Henry Hudson. Winter came, and
it seemed like Frank spent more and more Saturday nights driving
around with his boys. And then, after regularly watching
Sábado Gigante with my crucifix and Rosa, the inevitably happened. I began to understand Spanish. This became unfortunately apparent when
I heard Frank on the phone with his boy Oscar telling him they were gonna
all go out to Coco with those girls. Fucking asshole I screamed,
you can’t understand me Frank said. I’ve been home every Saturday night
watching Sábado Gigante with your mother, what did you think would happen? Frank reached for my arm. Leave me alone, déjame tranquilla!>>[LAUGH]
>>My God, I was practically fluent! All those hours of walking around
with Rosa, and Don Francisco, and my costume in the Heights had paid off. I eventually broke up with Frank in
a McDonald’s on 178th Street and Broadway. For two months I thought I
might die of heartbreak. But Rosa took it just as bad. Turns out for two months, she told every
girl that called the house Frank no here. She even told Frank to tell me
I could still come over and watch Sábado with her whenever I wanted. I was tempted. I missed Rosa’s rice pudding,
and Don Fransisco’s booming box. It wasn’t the same watching
it by myself on 88th street. I took off my crucifix and put it in
that private drawer every girl has. Alongside condoms, cigarettes and a naked picture of myself I
had taken back from Frank. I’m sure that’s sacrilegious, but it felt like it should be there amongst
things my mother shouldn’t find. Thank you.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>So, one thing I like to tell everyone after that piece is that
>>I didn’t know this before I wrote it, but that Don Francisco is Jewish. And I didn’t know that when I wrote the
story, but it turns out that he was born in Eastern Europe and then his family
emigrated to Chile where he grew up. So that was just a really
interesting little tidbit and now the show is ending and I still,
every time I go somewhere, I’m like is someone gonna
introduce me to Don Francisco? It hasn’t happened yet so
I’m just putting the energy out there. Anyone knows him.>>[LAUGH]
>>Don’t you think it’d be cool for him to hear that, the story?>>Yeah.
>>Yes.>>So I’m gonna do a little expert from my show Culture Bandit. A lot of this show is talking
about what my experience was. Some of it growing up
on the Upper West Side. And going to La Guardia High School. So La Guardia High School
is this school I went to. It is like the movie
Fame what it’s based on. Yeah, so everyone like dancing
on tables and all that stuff. So kind of a little exaggerated. So, okay, here we go. This section is called Diamond D. It’s La Guardia High School and
he is dreamy. He sits in front of me in
Miss Gibbelman’s class and I’ve memorized every crevice on his head. We call him Diamond D. He has a diamond shaved into
the back of his bumpy skull and his flat top was smooth like
a perfectly clipped golf course. Diamond D has a solid gold
knuckle ring that runs across four of his fingers
that says Diamond D. He laughs like Scooby Doo
with a toothy smile. [NOISE] Wears maroon Lee
jeans with a perfectly ironed crease down the front,
Giselle glasses and Gucci socks. Everyday before third period,
I’d linger on the girl’s bathroom, smoking clove cigarettes, hoping he’ll
be seated by the time I get to class. Then I can pass his desk,
and study him face forward. He looks at me barely, and continues chewing on a pen and
drawing in his notebook. You see,
there’s just one tiny complication. I’m white, I never see D
hanging out with white people. And to make matters worse, I’m a victim
of the antique-clothing explosion. I wear flapper dresses and poodle
skirts with Doc Martin combat boots. And creepers, rhinestone roaches,
black rubber bracelets up to my elbow, and at one low point a black lace
cut off glove a la Madonna. I tell my friend Tracy about my love for
Diamond D. Tracy’s one of my best friends, we met in
home room, she lives in the Bronx, and her building Patterson Houses is
mentioned in the KRS-One song. South Bronx, South South Bronx,
Patterson and Melbrook projects.>>[LAUGH]
>>Kind of an old song. Tracy reads me my daily horoscope and does games with my name and
D’s to see if we were meant to be lovers. Turns out we’re meant to be
married with two kids and live in a brick mansion, [LAUGH]. One day at our house as we’re scotch
taping more New Edition posters on the wall, I asked her do you think
Diamond D will ever notice me? Yeah, he just doesn’t know that
you’re a white girl that’s down. From that day on that was my title, white girl that’s down, cool, it was
a position with no job manual no training. Training classes. Remember this is pre-white hip hop love, pre-Britney Spears with hip
hop background dancers. Before Pumas and Adidas were retro.>>[LAUGH]
>>There is another white girl, Mary, who hangs out with all
the Puerto Rican girls. She wears tight acid-washed jeans,
talks with a fake Puerto Rican accent, and tells everyone her
dad is 1/16th Dominican. Tracy said, that’s bullshit, and
her father once smacked her in the face when he saw her on Queens Boulevard
with her boyfriend, Ricardo. Mary is said to carry a blade, and
has a particular hatred for me. Tracy says she’s just jealous because
she has to pretend she’s something else to be down. And to make shit worse,
she has a flat ass.>>[LAUGH]
>>I am so grateful to have been
spared flat-ass syndrome.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s true, Mary’s ass is flat and wide, and no matter how tight her jeans are,
a little material sags. My ass, that all the white boys and Jewish wives at sleep away camp had
called fat, is now called healthy.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s round, and it puffs out in the back, and my thighs
once called blubbery are now called juicy.>>[LAUGH]
>>The wop, I have to learn the wop. It’s the freshest dance around, a unisex head bob that molds
itself to different personalities. There’s the guy with headphones to
the subtle subway platform wop. There’s the wop with the accompanying
hand movement done solo or with a partner in unison. And my personal favorite,
the wild wop that my girl Ichiana does. Every time I do it, they say I
look like a Bon Jovi fan, so lame.>>[LAUGH]
>>Every Friday night we get together at Sandra’s house and
dance in her living room. Nicole got the slide thing,
the cabbage patch, the Pee-wee Herman, all the moves in like the first try. I’ve now developed a spastic over
caffeinated version of the wop. When Nicole said its an improvement, you’ve got moves Vanna,
you just need to have more attitude. Vanna is short for
my new nickname, Vanna White.>>[LAUGH]
>>The next night, a house party at 93rd street. We walk in, the crowd is going wop crazy. The lights are low, the vibe is playful,
sexy, liberating, passionate, raw and and most of all real. And I feel the wop in my heart it says,
you feel me, you feel me? Then I feel it in my hips, they’re saying,
you’re beautiful, unconditionally.>>[LAUGH]
>>Then I feel it in my neck, it screams, fuck everyone, I’m doing my thing, and
I feel more at home than I ever have.>>[LAUGH]
>>Suddenly I’m in the middle of a dance floor woping with Anthony Santiago and I don’t even realize
a circle’s formed around me. Go Vanessa, go Vanna,
go Vanessa, go Vanna. Vanna White ripping up all
her fucking cue cards.>>[LAUGH]
>>And I got a smile, but it’s more like a smirk, with altitude. Knowing there are few things
in the world better than this, doing the wop with my girls at
a house party on 93rd street. D and I begin passing notes in class. He asked me what are you, Italian, Irish? Jewish I write,
a Sephardic Jew to be exact. But when he asked me if my
dad wears those little curls, I think I better stick to
explaining Hasidic versus Reform.>>[LAUGH]
>>D, finally asked me for my digits and started calling me late at night. I lay restless,
phone cradled up to my bosom, listening to 98.7 Kiss,
Love Jams After Dark.>>[LAUGH]
>>Hello, no I’m not sleeping. He’s just come in from the Latin quarter. Said his cousin got him in and
they were chilling with the fat boys and practically the whole
cast of Crush Groove. Okay, bye. D is such a smooth operator. How does he find the time to iron his pant
creases and get to first period on time? Sherlock Tracy found out Diamond D is
seeing another girl, Michelle Davis. Michelle is tall with smooth skin the
color of a Werther’s butterscotch candy. Long hair tinted red, sometimes pulled
back tight into a gold wired bun holder. Face framed with perfectly curly cued
baby hairs that she smooths out with a toothbrush in the bathroom mirror. Thin eyebrows perfectly arched,
cheekbones chiseled like a jaguar. Full maroon lips gracefully suck Newports. Airbrushed fingernails that
could easily rake lawns.>>[LAUGH]
>>And she has a great ass. I see them together outside of
school leaning on a cement pillar. A Louis Vuitton bag
slung over her shoulder. D is drinking Welch’s grape soda doing
that Scooby Doo laugh in between slurps. Tracy pulls me aside. Don’t stare Vanessa. Yo, if she finds out you and
D are talking, she’s gonna go buck wild on your ass. Buck wild on my ass. I picture Michelle going buck wild,
steam ejecting from her nostrils. Her little cat leather heels spitting
sparks of fire, grinding in the concrete and finishing you off with a slap
with Louis Vuitton leather. I picture the moment
she will get the news. Did you hear D is talking to
that white girl, Vanessa? I stopped sending D notes in class. I tried looking up at the blackboard,
but it’s too late. What was once geometry
is now hieroglyphics. I scroll my bubbly jap handwriting
on college ruled paper to D. Do you have a girlfriend? I resist dotting my eye with a teardrop.>>[LAUGH]
>>Nah, she used to be my girl now we’re
just talking to each other. This talking to each other,
is this synonymous for what white people call seeing each other? Are they getting busy or what? Does she know about me? Stop worrying, it’s all good. I stopped worrying. I continued talking to Diamond D
pretending I’m the only one, imagining us intertwined on
a West Side Story fire escape. D starts coming over to
my house after school. I don’t know if it’s because of Michelle,
or because we look like Molly Ringwald meets
Slick Rick walking down the street. But our excursions are top secret. We ride the train separately and meet in front of William’s Barbecue
Chicken on 86th and Broadway. A quick trip to the liquor store for
pink Andre champagne, D never gets carded. And we sip and
laugh on my pink flowered bedspread. I put on James Taylor’s Country Road,
which D calls hillbilly music. When we kiss, D tastes like green
apple Now & Laters and champagne. Lunch room, fourth period. Yo, Michelle wants to go behind
the school with you after school. If you think I’m white now, you have not
seen the color drained from this face. Tracy, he told me they were
just talking to each other. Don’t worry, V. If she fucks with you,
she’ll have to fuck with me first. Tracy begins taking off her jewelry and
smearing vaseline on her cheeks.>>[LAUGH]
>>Tracy, you don’t have to do this. Vanessa, I don’t mean to diss you, but
I think you’re out of you’re league here. Besides you’re my girl,
I always got your back. That’s the way we roll,
in the broken down, just jump in if her posse gets stupid. God, please don’t let
the posse get stupid.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s set, the crowd forms at 3:15 behind the school. I’m on a bench watching Tracy and
Michelle with one eye and Michelle’s posse with the other. [SOUND] I don’t know how, but I know down
to the bottom of my Doc Martins that I will jump in if so need it, [SOUND]
>>[LAUGH]>>It’s over, Tracy comes over with a clump of
Michelle’s hair in her palm, let’s go.>>[LAUGH]
>>Thanks, Tracy. Stop thanking me, Vegro, you just better come with me to
the West Indian Day festival, and then letting my moms tie a little
sarong around that fat ass of yours. I went to the festival and held on to
Tracy’s waist with a bright orange sarong and ate meat patties with
orange crust out of tin pans. Tracy was right,
it’s kind of like a spicy knish.>>[LAUGH]
>>Trying hard to stay away from D, I know one day we’ll be together. It’s just not the right time, and most soul mates must sometimes
struggle to manifest their destiny. Besides, I’m not sitting
around waiting for him to call me anymore,
I’ve been going out myself. So senior year, don’t worry,
I’ve got it all under control. I can still make it to my Sunday morning
SAT course straight from clubbing.>>[LAUGH]
>>I don’t even know if I wanna go to college. I went to visit University of Maryland and
all the white people sit at one table, and all the black people at another,
it’s so whack. Tracy says I should apply to Howard but
my mom says, there are some limits Vanessa, whatever.>>[LAUGH]
>>All of the sudden there are a lot more white people listening to hip hop. White girls are starting to rock gold
bamboo triangles in their ears, but Diamond D takes off his knuckle ring. Now he wears leather medallions with
the continent of Africa on them. People are starting to call him Ali, and one day he pretends he doesn’t
see me in the hallway. Turning the corner after lunch, all I
caught was a glimpse of his t-shirt with big bold letters reading,
it’s a black thing, you don’t understand. The red, the black and the green. 1988 Public Enemy,
Jungle Brothers, De Law, Louis Faracon, Spike Lee, and
big Flava Flave clocks around next. The Daisy Age, the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Street corners tabled with African
medallions, incense, oils, Malcolm X buttons and
intricately woven hats. Locks and braids replacing flat tops and
fades, extensions out, head wraps in. Another passing t-shirt reads,
Black by Popular Demand. I cut out an article
in the New York Times, Professor Griff a public enemy accused
of antisemitic antics in an interview, stashed it in a drawer to listen harder,
longer. Friends off in college taking black and
Puerto Rican studies learning about the Dieno Indians, and Marcus Garvey,
me Hunter College taking the same courses. Mid way through semester courses changes
to African American and Latino studies. Next semester studies of color. My friend Tiesha comes over and start
calling every white face on TV, a devil. I wonder if she see little horns
busting out of my mouse drenched hair. Not you, she tells me. But a guy on 34th street with a mic and
a black robe, says otherwise. He hands her a pamphlet,
sister, watch them, they’re sneaky, looking straight at me. Israelites, it says on the pamphlets. Israelites, Israel, the homeland,
I thought I was an Israelite too. I’m confused,
someone tell me what’s going on here. I read over Tiesha’s
shoulder on the train. All Caucasian descendents are the wicked
seed on Earth according to the Bible, regardless of what false nationalities
they now go by, they are all one nation. They are all Edomites,
the wicked descendents of Esau, shit.>>[LAUGH]
>>This doesn’t sound very good, Edomites sounds like termites. Tiesha laughs at me but
reads on, calls them extreme but puts their literature in her bag. 1988 a mini revolution,
a witness not participant. A mini revolution,
I sit on the edges in anticipation. 1988 a mini revolution,
I see my friends bloom like tulips. 1988, can things get any
more difficult in my life? Tiesha started talking to this guy Khalib. She met him in her Race Politics and
Persistence class at Baruch College. Khalib carried himself like no other man
I’d ever met, regal like a sphinx with beautiful skin, perfectly coiled locks,
and zero body fat. When Khalib spoke, he never said,
yeah, well, or like. Everything that came from his
mouth was a clear, definite and perfectly articulated thought. I always felt like an off-center
Carol Burnett character around him. Khalib thoroughly examined everyone and
everything in his path. He had a pound for every one of his boys,
and a willing kiss on the cheek for all of his girlfriends. He was the first to give up his
subway seat for pregnant women, and say hello to fellow black
men that he didn’t even know. The epitome of suave strength,
love and fear. I was nervous around Khalib. He didn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t give me that same
hello kiss on the cheek, nodded to me instead, and seemed to
always wanna be alone with Tiesha. I was used to being cool
around my friends’ boyfriends. Bugging out, puffing an l,
all of us going out to a club together. Khalib didn’t drink, smoke, go to clubs,
or bug out in the slightest way with me. I asked Tiesha if he didn’t like me. And she just blew me off
telling me to stop worrying so much cuz it made me look like that crazy
bitch that shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco. You guys are too young to know that.>>[LAUGH]
>>One day I met Teisha after school, we were going to go down
to Urban Outfitters. Khalib was outside with her, he was going
off to his friend about the teacher of the race class saying he wasn’t
stepping up to the plate, and that it was a shame that
he was just another Uncle Tom. I had never seen Khalib that perturbed
before, playing with his beads and compulsively twisting his locks. Tiesha said she had to go
to the registar office, and before I knew it was Khalib and
I, alone for the first time. What happened Khalib? Nothing you’d be interested in. I couldn’t take it any more,
what is it about me you don’t like? What did I ever do to you? And at that moment Khalib turned to me,
and for the first time, through silence
I could actually see words, exclamation points, paragraphs, and
periods spitting from his torso. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled,
no, you can’t handle this. I’m not going there with you,
go there, I challenged. And Khalib finally looked me in the eye,
you wanna know what happened? Why I’m so angry? I’m angry because I’m tired of the
shackles around my wrists and feet, and the gag in my mouth. I’m tired of black professors being
scared to teach reality because they might lose their jobs. The Panthers call people
like them boot lickers, because even though it’s a class about us,
its still ruled by you, them, Caucasians. Caucasians sounds worse than white,
like an insect again. Im tired of so much shit, Vanessa. Im tired of our neighborhoods being
targeted, bombarded with cigarette ads and malt liquor billboards. Billboards with the white man’s
fingerprints all over it, the white man disguising himself
with our people’s faces. I bet you don’t see a big ass poster
of Billy D drinking Colt 45 in the Upper-West Side? Do you know that malt liquor has
more alcohol in it than regular Bud? Do you know they won’t even list
its ingredients because God knows what’s in there? Everyone’s joking around calling this
stuff liquid crack, it’s no joke. Just look at the names,
Colt 45, Magnum, Guns. Just look at the size, 40 ounce portions
versus the 12 ounce Tall Boys you guys are drinking, like drinking a fucking
cannon that will blow your head off My mom is smoking a pack
of Newports a day. Yeah, white people killing themselves
with the smoke as well, but who do you think runs
the tobacco industry? Well, I’ll give you a hint. He’s not a shade darker than Elmer Fudd, so don’t come to us about killing
communities, go to the source. They don’t like our skin black, but
they like our lungs blacker than black. So when you see me,
Khalib, you see poison? Pause, pause, deathly pause. Vanessa, when I see you,
I try not to give you too much thought. Cuz I’ve gotta focus on
my own people right now. And no matter how close you and
Taisha are, you will never walk in her shoes,
and she will never walk in yours. Maybe you can live in this country and
believe in liberty and justice for all, but for me to stand up and salute a flag
that waved over the colonies that enslaved my people, will be a slap
in the face to my ancestors. And so you can call me a racist,
a separatist, whatever you please. I just say I want my hard earned money,
my personal love and energy to go to my people right now. So in terms of what you can do to help, he must have read my face,
nothing, nothing. This isn’t the civil
rights movement blacks and whites linked arm in arm
singing we shall overcome. This is our revolution now. And when I see a white boy wearing
a medallion of Africa around his neck like it’s some fashion trend, I ask
him to have some respect for my people and take that off. I mean, Vanessa, how would you feel when
people with no affiliation to Judaism just start wearing yamakas on their heads,
just to be a part of some fashion trend. I got the point. Besides, Khalib had asked me
all rhetorical questions. And that was a good thing
because I have no answers. Khalib walked away. I stood numb, heavy, like an X-ray
apron had been draped over my chest. Khalib was calling to me, Vanessa,
there is one thing you can do. Educate yourself. Unlike what you’ve learned in school, we have a rich history
that began before slavery. And question authority,
always question authority.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>So as you can see that was a very
interesting time for me in high school, and it was when that,
have you guys heard about Public Enemy and all those political hip-hop
groups of that time? So it really shaped the culture of
what people were talking about. And I would say that being
proud of being a Jew really came from watching
my friends of Black and Latino communities becoming
proud of their background. Which a lot of people don’t know, but all my friends were just really
becoming politicized and really finding out who they were and
going to all these meetings and stuff. And it really forced me to look at who I
was and say well, what’s my background? And can I really go into my history and
then also love other cultures. So it was a really interesting time for
me. And I know it’s really dated, but I hope you guys were able
to get something from it. Okay, we’re gonna do two more pieces
of something a little bit more fun. I did this this morning. So this is for
anyone out there who has just gotten a little bit too hung up on someone. I’m the only one?>>[LAUGH]
>>You guys are amazing. So I have, but
at least I’ve got a poem about it. If I counted up all
the hours I’ve studied, read, focused on, cried over, cried over,
gotten up and been resilient about, not given up on,
believed in, loved, hated, so believed in, ignored my friends’
advice about, talked about, talked about. Did I mention talked about?>>[LAUGH]
>>I’d have a PhD in him. By now I could of had a PhD in philosophy,
internal medicine, Middle Eastern studies,
stem cell research, but no! I have a PhD in him. Funny how he brings me no income,
no pension, no future, no future. Did I mention no future? Funny how he brings me no Roth IRA funds,
no medical plan including dental, no sense of security, no sense of
security, funny how he became my career. Yes, he became my career,
my daily ambition, my goals, my homework, my to-do list today read him,
him, him, him, him. So don’t ask me what I did this year. I’ve been writing plays, writing books. I do some responsible shit,
like pursue a back up career. I was fully employed in the fury of him. The fury, the passion,
clocking in 80 hour weeks. Graduated valedictorian at the tippy-top
of my class magna cum fucking laude and a waste of fucking time.>>[LAUGH]
>>Hours upon hours spent figuring out his equations, riddles, word problems,
crossword puzzle treatment, cracking his codes, philosophizing
his constitution over Grand Marnier, wine, vodka, vodka, did I mention vodka?>>[LAUGH]
>>By now, I could’ve been a brain surgeon,
a novelist, a Pulitzer Prize winner. I could have fed undernourished children,
fought terrorism, volunteered at soup kitchens. Fuck that! Built soup kitchens! But instead I have a PhD in him,
wasted hours in the library of man. So quiz me,
I know him better than he knows himself. I’m that matriculated doctorate hoe,
paid full tuition, at it’s all about him university. Ladies have you visited, I’m actually
asking you, ladies have you visited. [LAUGH] See they pat you down at
the gates for self esteem, and your course syllabus is a well
crafted list of cockamamie lies. Study hard, bitches.>>[LAUGH]
>>You’ve got a paper due Monday morning titled my man wants to be treated
like a man, but won’t act like one.>>[LAUGH]
>>Who’s hiring? Any other fools want to
sit in my lecture hall? See, I’m licensed to teach and preach, sparing my pride in hopes some
other women might read my dissertation. See I have a PhD in him and my transcript
is rolling off my wicked tongue. Not sure of how my most difficult
degree might serve me, but think one day I’ll thank him for reminding
me how fierce a pupil of life I really am.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>How are you guys doing, you guys still awake, everyone’s good?>>Yeah, [LAUGH].>>That’s a little breather there. So I am gonna go on to doing another piece about women. This is called Wild Women. For all you crazy, loud, fiery,
passionate, romantic, stubborn, angelic, smart, talented, pulling your fucking hair
out wild child, artist women out there. This is for you. I am you, you are me. We are fire. We are high heels and hoodies. We are belly laughs and risk. We are classy yet silly, we are wild. Not every guy is for us, we attract ones
who are initially enthralled by our spice, but then become suddenly
scared of our prickly. We are not perfect, and
in case anyone didn’t know, we know this. Sometimes our cup runneth over with
passion, sometimes we use our hands and overly loud gestures from
whatever culture we have. But unfortunately dear lovers, we cannot be spiced to your particular
tongue, you must swallow us whole. We know we confuse you, one moment we
exude sass, the next we purr with sweet kisses, part playful girl, part wise
woman, money makers, vision masters. Mothers love us, polite and smart, your
boys think we’re mad cool, we can hold a conversation with anyone anywhere,
Madonna whore, we got it covered.>>[LAUGH]
>>Many can’t believe God created women this diverse, so they suspect it’s a trap. They turn us upside down and shake us,
trying to see if a clue will fall from our beautiful mouths dumbfounded,
many crawl away. This pains us deeply, we feel pain and
joy like knife-strokes on bellies. But we must let them walk. It’ll never forget us, but
they can’t hang with us, we go hard. We end up with the men, we end up with
the men that were smart enough to know they found the winning ticket,
and they are cashing in quick. They are never the men we
pictured ourselves with. Their strength is ninja like,
chill, familiar, secure, like summertime stoops in the past,
we always fell for dark alleyways. But even you, dear ticket holder,
might need a guide to our species’ habits. Here goes, we are fiercely loyal. Sometimes to a fault, hands will be
bit if you mess with our kin or man. We argue with our girlfriends,
then make up with them crying. We all have at least one
crazy friend in our clan, who we’ve known forever that might
crash on our couch for a night. Okay, maybe a week.>>[LAUGH]
>>They are family, they come with the package. Some nights, just out of nowhere,
we’ll burst out crying. And you’ll say, what the hell happened,
you were fine a minute ago! And we’ll say, I don’t know,
I just I just need to fucking cry okay? We just need you to be there, then we’ll
go sing, dance, paint, or write, and fuck you like you’ll
never know what hit you. We think that’s fair exchange for
a minor flip out.>>[LAUGH]
>>Just because we aren’t divas, we are divas, doesn’t mean we
aren’t old fashioned and domestic. Our strength doesn’t excuse you
from chivalry and Valentine’s day. We are girl, feminine,
hopeless romantics, we want doors opened, we cook and
clean if we feel it’s deserved. Remember we are doers, not followers. We wanna be claimed but not owned. We know our unruly asses
sometimes need to be lassoed in. We want you, our capacity to socialize is
nothing you’ve ever seen the likes of. Don’t be alarmed by our tolerance
to liquor, coffee, smoking, food. We are made of some other shit.>>[LAUGH]
>>We carry grown ass men to the car, grown ass men out of bars, and
kick amateur girls to the curbs. But you get drunky girl one night,
don’t be surprised. Sometimes we slip. That’s all for now. We appreciate your patience and passion. We know it’s complicated, but
you seem like a quick study. My wild, crazy, unruly,
artsy, firy, sweet, smart, talented sisters I am you,
you are me, we’re not for everyone but
we live vigorously, carry on.>>[APPLAUSE].>>So guys hear that poem are like I’m so
confused.>>[LAUGH].>>I don’t know you’re so
many different things. [LAUGH] Yes, it’s complicated,
right diverse. I’m gonna stop here for
a little questions, and then I’m gonna go out with
another piece or two. But I just wanna see if anyone
has any questions they wanna ask me about any of the work I did,
what I do, anything, yes?>>What was the name of that piece,
the one you just read?>>Wild Women.>>[LAUGH]
>>Anyone else, any questions, yes?>>I guess, what does your writing process
or your creative process look like?>>My writing, that’s a good question,
I ask myself that all the time. I’m not one of those people that, though I should,
sit down every single day to write. But usually what I would do is
create a deadline for myself. I only really write with deadlines. So I’ll book a show and say,
okay I’m doing this show on this night. And I have to have new pieces for this,
and then the days will start going by and I’ll start freaking out so
much that it will actually get done.>>[LAUGH]
>>I know that’s not a great process, but it’s like the torture
procrastination process. But that’s what I do, and
I usually go out of my house to write. If I’m in the house I get very distracted
by television, food, and napping.>>[LAUGH]
>>So I usually go to a coffee place, and sit down, and just. Some people, for them,
noise bothers them but for me, it actually keeps me inspired,
and awake to do that. And I usually, a lot of times,
I’ll have an idea about something, and the piece won’t be formed yet, but
I’ll kind of just write it down. And then, maybe two years later, all of
a sudden, that piece will come to life. You know what I mean? I have the idea in my head, and I’m,
like but I don’t know what it is yet. And then, later on, it will come all to a short piece of
something later that happened from that. So that’s kind of,
that’s my process that way, yeah?>>Roughly when were you
in high school and college, I’m trying to get an idea of that
through a couple quotes earlier?>>Are you trying to ask me how old I am?>>[LAUGH]
>>About 1980.>>Yes, I graduated then,
yes I know it’s a long, long time ago.>>[LAUGH]
>>Not so long>>Yeah, so that was a, really, but so I was talking about the time of it
is very important, in that way. That the climate of what was going
on really does make a difference. Even when I wrote that piece, I would have
never thought that we would have a black president, that all those things that have
happened like ever since I wrote that. But I think it was important for me at
least to have that experience of sometimes being the insider or outsider so
that pieces is important in my journey of talking about race and
culture, things of that sort. I know that wasn’t your question but I’m just adding little frills
to it to distract from age.>>[LAUGH]
>>Do you use real names of people that you know?>>I well,
actually I was caught this morning. The blanquita story, like Frank, that
really is his name and I just don’t think he’s ever gonna find me, but-
>>[LAUGH]>>If he does, I don’t think it’s so bad. You know what I mean? I was like that’s not really a bad thing. But other one’s I do
change names of people. And even though there
are sometimes people who probably know it’s about them, and well.>>[LAUGH]
>>What are you gonna do, you know? So I mean that’s kind of like
a thing in this spoken word scene. It’s like people break up and they all
like write poems about each other, and there’s always some guy in the back, like.>>[LAUGH]
>>I should have never been with the poet.>>[LAUGH]
>>Should have never been with the poet.>>[LAUGH]
>>Yeah guilty of that, but I try to do that change names. Yeah.>>When you sit down to write,
who are you writing for?>>Good question. Well, I definitely don’t
feel like I’m writing for myself, even though I know that
will be a really zen answer. But I feel as though I try to write
stories and things that I feel are my personal experiences, but I want to make
sure that other people can relate to them. So it doesn’t just come off as a dear
diary entry, of what I think is so, and there is stuff that I write
that I go off on some rant. And then I’ll read it back and
it’s just really me complaining. You know what, this isn’t really hard. This is just you complaining about stuff,
so I try to find stories and thoughts that other people
can resonate with and how I do that is picking up and
listening to conversations. So for example, PhD and Him, that was
from years of being with my friends, I mean, and I think a lot of females and
maybe men relate to this, too. But I mean, just talking for
hours and hours on the phone, analyzing something that guy did, and then
all the sudden having this realization that I can be like fluent in Japanese with
all the time that I spent doing that. I was like, holy shit, like,
women we spend so much time on this. So it was really terrifying but
also funny, but also something that I hoped
other people could relate to. And then you just have to
take the risk and try it. And there’s some stuff
that is not as relatable, and I’ll kinda go back and fix it. So do something one night, and
then a line that I thought was hysterical the next day I’m like that didn’t
work too much, so cut that out, so. Yeah?>>So
what started your interest in spoken word?>>What started my
interest in spoken word? Well, I went to, I got my Masters
in acting at a conservatory. So really, for me,
acting was the whole track that I was on. But what happened was,
when I was doing the acting, I found it really hard to cast myself. Like people would always like, well, come
up with a monologue that’s like your back pocket monologue that really represents
you, and it was always so hard for me to find that. So I started writing monologues for
myself, and I would go to auditions and I wouldn’t tell people that I wrote them. I was just writing something
that I thought was for me because I didn’t at that time think
it was cool to also be a writer actress. I thought I just wanted people
to see me as an actress. And so I started writing these
monologues and things like that. And then I went to go see,
Def Poetry Jam was just coming out and they were doing a show at
this museum in Brooklyn. And I went to go see their performance and
I was like, my God, this is it. This combines my love of like hip-hop and
my love of monologue and poetry and also being able to not
have to be in a mold of casting. Like for me, the whole acting role
of showing up to an audition and having to look a certain way. Like, even if on the outside
I looked that way, I couldn’t,
I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. It made me so crazy. So, I was like I can talk I can talk about
things I care about, I’m passionate about. I can be fat, I can be thin. I can be this, I can be that. No one is on top of me telling
me what to look like, and it was such a relief to have that. I was like, okay,
now I can just do my art. And so
I think that that’s how it came about. So just kind of unfolded. Anyone else, yeah?>>Just out of curiosity have you
ever featured any of your pieces or samples on any song material?>>Yes, I did actually. There’s a Latino singer,
Sarah Aroeste, do you know her? do you know her stuff? And Wild Women I did,
she’s singing and then I come in. I don’t know, it’s always really weird for
me, I always feel, cuz a lot of my stuff is funny so it’s always weird to
hear me like wow, one minute I don’t know.>>[LAUGH]
>>Like a lot of poets like to have jazz bands behind them and stuff and
I always just feel like Lucille Ball. I’m like this is weird, I don’t know. I’m too Ricky for this. But I did do that and I actually really
liked the way that one came out.>>What was the name of that singer?>>Sarah Aroeste, A-R-O-E-S-T-E. I can give you my card afterwords and
I can email it to you if you’re that interested,
I mean it’s the extra mile, but yeah.>>[LAUGH]
>>Anything else before I finish up? Yeah.>>I read this quotation once that said
a poem isn’t really done, you just stop. And since you do spoken word,
since it can be so fresh, how does that work for
you if that happens? If you feel that way about-
>>Keeping it fresh in that way?>>Or do you change your
work every time you say it? Or do you just keep it the way it is?>>I would say I pretty
much stick to the script, like I’m one of those people that I
pretty much stick to what I wrote. But over the years pieces will morph, like there’s some lines that I
wrote years ago that I’m like no, that’s old Vanessa, it’s kinda corny,
like we’re gonna take that up now. [LAUGH] Do you know what I mean,
you change as a writer, and so there are some things that you change. And, but
I would say my performing of it changes. I do a lot of the same movements and
stuff, but that story about Gita that I did,
that has changed so much. Like I keep finding little nuggets in
it that I didn’t have at first, and it’s actually, by me finding that, there were lines that I wrote
that the audience never got. And that now people are getting because
I finally learned how to perform it, if that makes sense. Like I was kind of,
my writing was ahead of it and I was just like,
I need to learn how to do that. And then I’ve really taken, whoever,
like that Hebrew Mamita poem I’ve done so many times, I could do that sleepwalking, I could do that anywhere after
not sleeping for like 12 years.>>[LAUGH]
>>But, I really, I try to keep it fresh by thinking
about who I’m doing it for, so that’s like my job as
a performer to keep it fresh for you guys, so I’m not just like,
pumping it out as they say. Yeah?>>Just how did you develop your, style?>>Develop what, sorry?>>Your style of the book work.>>I think it came from, I mean people
always say that they don’t listen to other people’s stuff, but I definitely believe
that you have to listen to a lot of people, and then find your own style. So I listened to a lot of people, but
like I said my style was always in that there are a lot of spoken word artists
that are very a lot more rhyming than me. Like I don’t rhyme that much. Some of my work does, but they’re very
rhymey or they do a lot of word play. Like playing on all different ways
a word can be, who are masters at that. That’s not really me. I’m more of a story teller and I think that just comes from
my work acting and stuff. So mine is more prosy. Though it will have moments in it as more
like what is considered slam poetry. So I would say that I just kind
of kept developing that and not being scared of it because
there was a while that I felt like everything had to kind
of be a certain way and also had to have a certain subject matter,
I was like it has to be political and it has to be this, or
people are not going to be into it. And then I just started writing
goofy things, and I was like, well I’m just gonna be the goofy one
kind of doing that, and it worked. But I had to trust my voice in that way,
and not everyone’s gonna like it all the time. There’s people who like
completely different styles. Okay, so I’m gonna finish off with, just because I said I was
gonna do that thing that. This is so weird I can’t believe I’m
just doing this out of context, but I don’t really care.>>[LAUGH]
>>I’m talking in my head guys, okay. So, for example, I had this idea of this girl’s like voice in my head,
and I wanted to write about it. But I didn’t know how I was gonna do it,
so I kinda just put down a mental note in my head that I wanted
to write something about this. And then I wrote about wedding season,
which I kind of hate.>>[LAUGH]
>>So just a little bit, it’s wedding season, woo hoo. I go to a wedding today in Westchester, where every bridesmaid gives a speech
with what I call the jaw voice. So the jaw voice has become my
new suburban girl pet peeve. So I don’t know if you guys have ever
heard any girls that talk like this. But the jaw voice is like this. Hi, I’m Jess, I’m Jess. It’s all in the jaw like this, everything. I’m Jess, I’m Jess.>>[LAUGH]
>>So, every speech went like this for two hours at the wedding. Ally, Ally.>>[LAUGH]
>>[LAUGH]>>[LAUGH]>>I know you thought it would never happen. [LAUGH]>>[LAUGH]>>I made this collage for you, it’s all our pics from camp,
and our trip to Club Med. Cuz what happens at
Club Med stays at Club Med.>>[LAUGH]
>>Anyway, we love you, and we know you thought
you’d never find the one. But you said by 30 you were
gonna have the husband and the career, and you did it,
by 27, with three years to spare. We can’t wait for
Little Ally to be on the way soon, because everyone knows when Ally says
she’s gonna something she does it.>>[LAUGH]
>>My God, I promised I wouldn’t get emotional. So, I’m just going to leave you
with our little favorite quote, don’t worry about a thing, because every
little thing is going to be all right.>>[LAUGH]
>>Ally, I love you.>>[LAUGH] [APPLAUSE]>>Okay, awesome, so I’m going to end on one quick
piece that’s my usual closer. And it’s for anyone that has ever
imagined, what if they were someone else? Who could find their script?>>[LAUGH]
>>Okay. What if? What if I was a different kind of girl,
quiet, tame, knew my place, shut the fuck up? Didn’t let my tongue get loose after
whiskey, didn’t say pussy on stage.>>[LAUGH]
>>What if I quit performing, became religious, wore an Orthodox wig,
chopped cucumbers for Shabbat? What if the Orthodox rejected me
because I had a busted hymen and head full of crazy thoughts? What if I believed I was beautiful? Focused on the four guys who wanted me,
and not on the one who clearly doesn’t. What if I hadn’t laid in his bed
like a heroin addict when he said he didn’t want me? What if I had the self
love to walk the fuck out? What if, if, if I had the same
strength with men that I do onstage. What if I didn’t beat myself up for
slipping, falling, wanting, fucking, eating, grabbing, loving? What if I was a groupie? What if I watched men perform and
thought they were gods? What if I didn’t have more fans than him? Would that make me more feminine? Would you love me then, claim me then,
fuck me then, feel more manly then? What if I was 22, what if commitment
was not in my near future? Would that make me more desirable,
less complicated, less intense,
more digestible to you, you, you? What if I’m confessed? I’m one of those chicks that likes to
be fucked with hair pulled thrown up against a wall? Then wants to go out to brunch
with your mom the next morning.>>[LAUGH]
>>Would you rather I just lay there on my back like a snow angel,
a virgin, a puff of cotton, and wasn’t woman enough to
tell you how I like it? What if I didn’t ever talk
dirty in your ear baby? What if I was young, fresh, and green? Would that make you wanna keep me,
cherish me, marry me. Make you want me to be
the mother of your first son. What if I was one of those cold bitches
that played harder to get, cheated on them, made them pay for everything
because I didn’t have my own career? Would I bring out the hunter in him, make
me an irresistible damsel in distress? What if I was tiny, so tiny, tiny, tiny,
he could fit a bracelet on my thigh. He could slip me in a glove compartment, he could carry me on his
shoulders like a toddler. What if I never thought about race or
politics. What if I was one of those white girls
that only hung out with other white girls that did white girls
things in white girl land.>>[LAUGH]
>>What if I just dated my own kind, played by the rules. What if I didn’t know
more Spanish than Hebrew. Yeah, yeah, yeah! What if I was more traditional like that? What if you took me all grown up woman? A freaky loving girl gone bat shit crazy,
with a masters degree and a mic, talking smack out the side of my mouth. What if, my God, guys. What if I wasn’t even
really Jewish after all?>>[LAUGH]
>>What if after this whole Hebrew Mamita stint, I was really a Dutch baby.>>[LAUGH]
>>Yeah, what if I was suddenly Catholic, bought him a Rosary, we baptized a little
baby like in the Godfather movies, would he connect with me more? Would I not seem so Jewy, so loud,
pessimistic, neurotic, so sarcastic, so Jewy?>>[LAUGH]
>>What if I came with a warning label, heart might explode upon abandonment, would you have left me on the shelf
before you turned me out. What if I didn’t have to worry how you
will all see me after you hear this poem? Didn’t worry you’ll think I’m
an exploding mess of a dish. What if I could just own this delicious,
finger licking madness that is me. What if I told you I’m fine,
just a female hunchback, a grotesquely honest heart as my hump. What if, what if I was myself, and that was good enough?>>[APPLAUSE]
>>Thank you guys so much for coming.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>My website is hebrewmamita.com, I have some cards with me if
you wanted to pick one up. And I really thank you all for being
such a great audience, I appreciate it, thank you.>>[APPLAUSE]

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