Your Woman on the Scene

The Hungry Mouth of Creativity

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His theatrical career began because his dad’s truck wouldn’t start.

Luis Valdez’s father was packing up the family, who would be taking down their tent and moving on after they’d finished picking cotton in the San Joaquin Valley. Instead, they watched as all the other migrant workers left for the next location. While Mr. Valdez figured out how to repair the truck, Luis’s mother decided to send her six-year-old son to the local school in Stratford. Each day he took his fish taco lunch in a paper sack and, as instructed, carefully brought the sack back home to reuse the next day. One day the sack was missing from the classroom shelf, and he asked his teacher if she knew what had happened to it.

The teacher explained that she had torn it up. She led the frightened boy into a room and showed him something magical that would change his life: she was using his lunch sack to make a paper mache mask of a monkey. “Why are you doing this?” he asked.

He had attended Stratford for only 30 days, but by the time this conversation was over several important things had happened: first, Luis had discovered the arts; second, he had learned that his first-grade class was putting on a play; and third, Luis agreed to star in this production as the monkey, wearing the mask made from his lunch sack.

He eagerly anticipated his moment of glory when the play would premiere in the old school’s auditorium on the coming Saturday, with the band playing and the community watching. On Tuesday, however, he learned his family had been evicted from the labor camp and would be leaving town the next day to look for work.

Luis ValdezLuis remembers driving away in the fog, brokenhearted at leaving school and missing his theatrical debut. “During that moment a hole opened up in my chest which never closed, and I have poured into it my plays and stories. It became the hungry mouth of my creativity.”

His family of migrant workers remained on the move, but whether they were living in a tent or a barn, they always carried with them the complete set of Encyclopædia Britannica his father had purchased. Neither parent had received the opportunity for much formal education, but they encouraged their children to read.

When Mr. Valdez found steady work tending to orchards, the family was able to settle down in East San José. Later Luis graduated from James Lick High and then pursued his dream of attending San José State. He landed a scholarship for math and physics, planning to follow his older brother in becoming an engineer.

In the mornings he’d walk over to meet his cohorts at Winchell’s Donuts on Fifth St. before all of them headed to their 7:30 class. He took a short cut through Hugh Gillis Hall, and soon he was peeking around backstage. The flickerings of his early dramatic career—and its painful demise—surfaced. “I decided I can’t deny this part of myself—I have to give it a try.” During Luis’s sophomore year at SJSU he changed his major to English with a playwriting emphasis.

Fifty years later a plaque on the SJSU campus reads: “This site is a landmark in the history of Chicano/Latino theatre.”Luis Valdez

In the Hal Todd Theatre, Luis Valdez, 1965 San Jose State graduate and world famous playwright and Father of Chicano Theatre in the United States, directed his first full-length play, The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, on January 14-15, 1965. At the suggestion of Dr. Harold Crain, Department Chair and mentor, Luis became a playwright-director, which led him to create his company, El Teatro Campesino* (The Farmworkers Theatre). Founded in 1965 on the Delano Grape Strike picket lines of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union, the company created and performed “actos” or short skits on flatbed trucks and in union halls inspired by the lives of their audience. Luis Valdez went on to write and direct successes such as Zoot Suit and La Bamba, becoming the first Latino to present a play on Broadway.

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Your Woman on the Scene

It’s About the Power

A few years ago a friend of mine, I’ll call her Janet, came over to my house and after several glasses of wine she told me that in the 1970s Bill Cosby had raped her. Here’s the story in her own words:

Along with others in the news right now, I was drug-raped by Bill Cosby. This was in the early 70s when he was doing stand-up comedy in Lake Tahoe at a casino. A girlfriend and I were on vacation there, standing at a blackjack table when Cosby came up and invited us to be his guest at his show. We left our small children at a babysitter, never dreaming we wouldn’t make it back for them that night. And I might add that Cosby knew we had left our children with a sitter. What a guy!!!

My girlfriend Gloria and I had front-row seats at the show, and he invited us to come backstage afterward. Then he said there was a private party nearby and (being stupid) we went. But we felt safe, we were honored to be in his company. He made drinks for us and soon my friend was falling asleep and I was flying high!

The rest was a blur but I know what happened. At one point I remember going outside naked in the snow and I couldn’t even feel it. The snow was not cold! What kind of drug was that?

I wanted to call the police when we woke up in the morning, but my friend said no, just forget about it. Instead we called a cab.

How to face my son, now, who felt abandoned at the babysitter? He was so young that I couldn’t tell him I’d been raped. In fact, I never told anyone about the incident for 20 years. Rather I went into therapy for five years to deal with my depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

My son remembers well the trauma of his mommy not coming back. I told him about ten years ago what had happened as he seemed never to get over having been left. He had this to say about that night: “I remember Gloria telling us that Bill Cosby had chosen you two to be his special guests for the evening. I still didn’t understand why you would leave us there at the sitters’ way beyond their allowable hours…no overnight kids. We wondered why Bill Cosby didn’t send a car for us.”

I realize I am not a celebrity but want to speak out anyway, as I often wonder how many other victims there are like myself.

****

I remember being so stunned by my friend’s secret disclosure that I scarcely knew what to say. The next morning I questioned if that whole conversation had really happened.

It was clear that Janet wasn’t lying, and I’m guessing part of her decision to tell me grew from the fact that she knew I was writing about women’s issues. And yet the incident she described seemed so surreal that it was difficult to process—a reaction I’m sure she felt in spades for decades to come.

And I’m convinced this is the reason so many women have never come forward: if you pretend like it didn’t happen, maybe it will go away and leave you to return to your normal life. But for Cosby’s victims—26 have accused him of raping and/or sexually assaulting them to date—feelings of shame and paranoia were now their new normal.

Then there is the fear of being called a liar publicly, as Cosby’s hired mouthpiece, his lawyer Martin Singer does on a daily basis. (How’d you like to have his job?) This was especially true in the 1970s, an era when women had far fewer rights in the United States than they do today…and Bill Cosby was one of the richest and most popular entertainers in America.

Which brings me to the biggest question of all: why would a man who was a handsome millionaire Emmy-winning TV star drug women for sex? He could have probably taken his pick of partners, and paid for a harem full of prostitutes. There is only one explanation: it’s about the power. A drugged woman is completely in his control and this is clearly an obsession of his.

Ironically during the same time that Cosby drugged and raped my friend, he released his Grammy-winning album: Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs. Well, he warned them, didn’t he?

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If you’d like to learn more about Bill Cosby’s history of rape, see this timeline.

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Your Woman on the Scene

Women’s Advocate: Hillary Clinton

hillary on stage

 

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Hillary Clinton speak at the San José State University Event Center on my campus, and I must say the experienced politica—a former first lady, New York senator, and secretary of state for Obama—possesses quite the presidential presence.

While researching Champion of Choice, the biography of Dr. Nafis Sadik, I interviewed Nafis about her work at the UN Population Fund and her collaborations with Hillary. Nafis talked about her admiration of Clinton’s speaking ability as the two women both headlined at the Beijing Women’s Conference. Nafis said to Hillary, “I notice that you never look at your notes.” And Hillary replied, “Yes, after a time, one does develop a knack.”

That knack was clearly in effect last night as Clinton spoke extemporaneously with nary a note in sight. In fact I will go so far as to say that she is the best public speaker I’ve ever encountered, including her hubby, who while President Bill Clinton, gave a phenomenal commencement address when I graduated from Penn State. For those of us who speak for a living, like any craft, its practitioners analyze the skills of others and Hillary ruled the packed 7000-seat auditorium, receiving two standing ovations.

When her host, Santa Clara County tax assessor Larry Stone, (described as an old friend of the Clintons), asked if Hillary had any announcements to make—i.e. that she was running for president in 2016—the crowd roared.

I was curious about Hillary’s choice of theme last night: women’s rights. But she was no doubt speaking to her base, as the crowd was predominantly female. Accommodating her message for her Silicon Valley audience, she made note of the enormous gender disparity in high tech, noting that only 20% of the workers are female. That disparity exacerbates as the stakes rise, with only 11% on the boards of technology firms being women.

Last night Clinton seemed intent on establishing her long-standing record as a women’s advocate—showing she’s not a newcomer to the game—as she continuously referred to her participation at the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995. While everything Clinton said about her participation there is true, she didn’t mention that all the work she and the U.S. team did at Beijing was based on the diplomatic successes of the previous year at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where 179 governments reached an agreement on females’ rights to education and reproductive health. In Beijing the Americans’ greatest goal was simply to protect the advancements for women made the previous year.

Actually Hillary was not well-received by the Chinese in Beijing in 1995. Then First Lady, she arrived at the conference hall to great fanfare, wearing a pink suit, her shoulder-length blonde hair styled into a smooth wave framing her face. In her address Clinton touched on many of the human rights abuses for which the Chinese had been excoriated in recent years; her comments clearly disparaging them were not well received, considered improper behavior for a guest in their country. Yet Clinton boldly addressed the issues head on at this global summit—with the international press corps recording. She referenced China’s one-child policy and their coercive tactics toward women to enforce it. That takes real guts when you’re on stage under the spotlight of the nation’s capital.

Last night, Hillary quoted her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt’s line: “Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros’s hide.” That trait will no doubt serve Secretary Clinton well if folks continue to lob shoes at her—as they did in Las Vegas last week. But she just ducked, cracked a joke, and carried on…acting very presidential indeed.

 

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