Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez And Her Amazing Rants
NEW TIMES LA had an excellent summary of Alisa's meltdown in its March 8, 2001 issue:
"The Times has long been a hotbed of egomania and backstabbing, but we didn't realize how bad things had gotten until we read Valdes-Rodriguez's marvelously snotty, 3,400-word resignation letter (which was, of course, e-mailed to almost everybody in L.A. media). She opened her tirade with a semicoherent attack on the Times for trying to commit "genocide" against Latinos by labeling them as such, thereby denying their true ethnic and cultural heritage as Native Americans. She then quickly moved on to her real point: that she's brilliant but underappreciated while the paper's other feature bunnies are overpaid chuckleheads. "At the risk of sounding boastful, I can say I am regarded among my peers an excellent writer," she wrote, mangling her grammar a tad. Valdes-Rodriguez directed particular bile at columnists Augustin Gurza and Sandy Banks, saying they're "simply not smart enough to write columns" and that she's tired of their prattlings about "their personal lives, the foibles of their children, [and] their narrow and uninspired views on race and ethnicity." She also took shots at fellow Calendar writer Geoff Boucher (he "never finished college, while I have a master's degree from Columbia") and newsroom fossil Robert Hilburn ("How can the Los Angeles Times have a man who can't tell a major scale from a minor scale as its head pop music critic?") Now, we certainly agree that the Times employs some of the dullest, most predictable columnists and critics in the business (think Kenny Turan). But jeez, Alisa, did you have to go and kick poor old Sandy Banks in the head? That's like shooting Bambi."
Born around 1969, Alisa Valdes grew up near the University of New Mexico where her dad was a sociology professor. He was a rare Cuban exile who admired Fidel Castro. Alisa's mother was "a beautiful 20-year-old hippie" when the couple married. They divorced when their daughter was 12. (Chicago Tribune, 8/22/02)
Just before Christmas 1998, Alisa wrote a feature article for the Boston Globe about her family. She described her father as middle-class stolid and her mom's Irish side as "white trash." One cousin on her mother's side was in prison for stealing cars and checks. Two other cousins were in jail for murder. "My brother and his wife are crack addicts and high school dropouts. My mother, when money was tight, worked as a prostitute," she wrote.
Valdes-Rodriguez says she exposed so much about her family to make the point that contrary to expectations it was the "white" side of her family that had social problems, not her Latino side.
"I don't think it's a child's responsibility to protect a parent who hurts her," she says. "When she was doing that, I was 14. She'd say: `That's all they want anyway. They might as well pay for it.'" (Chicago Tribune, 8/22/02)
Alisa's mother now works as a legal secretary and has a master's degree in creative writing. (Her brother and sister-in-law have also cleaned up themselves, she says.) "I was young," she says about writing the piece. "I have a little more respect for my mom's feelings now." (Chicago Tribune, 8/22/02)
Alisa's 10th grade English teacher at Albuquerque's Del Norte High School, Shirley Smith, helped Alisa become "aware of writing and the love of writing and how that was connected to the giant sky." (AP report, 7/3/02)
Alisa tells the AP that she draws inspiration from the sky and landscape of New Mexico. She enjoys riding her bike among the volcanoes to the west of the town and roller-blading along the bike trails of the Rio Grande. "There's an energy here -- a lot of artists and writers feel it. I connected with it," she said. (AP)
Valdes-Rodriguez got a bachelor's degree in saxophone performance from the Berklee College of Music. Later, in New York, she earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. In June 1994, she joined the Boston Globe.
In 1999, she joined the LA Times. After her 2001 flame-out at the LA Times, Alisa planned to write a book about hispanic singing stars but couldn't find a publisher. So she wrote a novel about six latino women who stay close after college, where they met. The Dirty Girls Social Club eventually sold to St. Martins Press for $475,000.
St. Martin's Executive Editor Elizabeth Beier told the AP that when Alisa's book came in, "People all over the company dropped everything they were doing and read it. The characters dance off the page. I can see women all over the country adoring this book."
Valdes-Rodriguez claims she wrote the book in six days.
Alisa married a student ten years younger than herself in 1998. She gave birth to her son Alex in the year 2000.
Patrick T. Reardon writes for the 8/22/02 Chicago Tribune:
ALBUQUERQUE -- Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is irritated. "I hate this ghetto," she says, her brown eyes sharp and hard.
It's her name -- more specifically, the tendency of many Americans, as she perceives it, to categorize her on the basis of her Hispanic heritage.
"There's a part of me that wants to vomit to be called a Latina writer," she says. "Why am I identified as part of a Latino movement and not by my mother's Irish background?"
What made it especially hot was the belief among publishers that Valdes-Rodriguez could be the long-sought "Latina Terry McMillan" -- a writer whose work would jump-start Hispanic book buying in the U.S. and create a new profitable publishing niche, the way McMillan's 1992 "Waiting to Exhale" did for African-Americans, selling more than two million copies.
Valdes-Rodriguez was a volatile colleague. "She had a lot of anger and unresolved issues, particularly having to do with race and gender," [Globe features editor Nick King] says. "She would speak out in ways that would make you cringe,"
One of those moments came in August 1998 amid a controversy over misdeeds by two Globe columnists, one white, the other black. In a story the Globe ran on the mood of its newsroom, Valdes-Rodriguez was quoted as saying the white writer had been retained, unlike the black writer, "because of the color of his skin." She also said the Globe was "a racist institution" that paid only "lip service to diversity."
And, as a Latino and a woman, "she always felt she was being held back," [Los Angeles Times Daily Calendar feature section editor Oscar] Garza says. "I'm Latino, and I would counsel her about it. But the whole cycle would start again. She'd get something under her craw, and there'd be another hullabaloo."
Her goal in writing "Dirty Girls," Valdes-Rodriguez says, was to shatter what she believes are the stereotypes of Latinos -- that they're brown-skinned, poorly educated and Spanish-speaking.
"My mission in the book," she says, "is to prove that the [Latino] category does not exist."
Here's the interesting case of journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez who claims her hormones made her viciously lash out at her colleagues.
I don't get it. Women whine and scream to be treated just like men. Then when they're held accountable for loony behavior, they cry that their hormones made them do it. If women's hormones make them do loony things, then women should be discriminated against for certain jobs that require objectivity and self control.
Chaim Amalek writes: "What an epic and amazing personal rant! I would hire her JUST to hear her rant. (Luke, this is your chance to provide her with some much needed exposure AND boost your web site. Offer her a job as House Hispanic.) And her excuses - face it fellas, women have the best excuses for everything. When was the last time a man could blame a screw-up at work on hormones?"
Cathy writes: "I do know from experience that it's entirely possible to endure months of throwing up and a difficult labor and post-partum hormones and calls from editors for rewrites three days after you're home from the hospital and still NOT write wacky, 3400-word resignation letters. What I wonder is where she got the energy. Still, poor Alisa. Yeeesh."
Check out Jim Romenesko's page. He first posted a link to this letter at the top of his page, then pulled it, out of pity for Alisa and her family. I quote from Jim's earlier page:
"I got sick and screwed up -- and I'm sorry"
By Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
You've got me. I'm pinned, face to the mat, arm twisted up behind me, tight to the point of cracking. Your sharp knee is buried in my ribs, your angry onion breath suffocating me. And my heart? That's it, right there, Jell-O on the floor. You want to step on it? Get in line.
Two years ago I was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, courted by the Washington Post, Miami Herald and People Magazine, and formerly on staff at the Boston Globe. Now my very name strikes terror in the souls of editors. Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez.
Once an award-winning reporter with, in the words of Matt Storin, a great future, I am now irresistibly destructible. Rumored to be off my rocker, difficult, pugilistic, ungrateful. Dangerous. Volatile. Untouchable.
Did I invent people and places, like Patricia Smith? Did I steal words from George Carlin, like Mike Barnicle? Did I write a column of lies as if they were the truth, like Liz Balmaseda? Did I invent a crackhead and win Pulitzer, like Janet Cook? No, no, no, no. So what did I do? I threw up a lot and quit my job.
Let me give you a little history, though apparently many of you won't need it. A year ago I quit my job at the Los Angeles Times. I wrote a long, arrogant, mildly obnoxious resignation letter that I now regret and despise. I gave it to four people. One of those four, I don't know who, sent it via e-mail to some other people. They did the same, and so on and so on. Eventually, bloodied bits and pieces of it landed on the computer of Mike Wilson at the St. Petersburg Times. He published unrecognizable scraps of it, without my permission and out of context. He never tried to contact me to see if I had even written it. He incorrectly said I was a "pop music critic" at the Times in his introduction to the piece, and incorrectly said I earned $80,000 a year. Where he got this information I do not know, but it's wrong. That should tell you how reliable the piece was. Nonetheless, it initiated the darkest chapter in my life.
Let me now give you the history no one knows, which I didn't want anyone to know because I mostly just wanted to crawl in a hole and die with a tub of ice cream, but which now I think people ought to know because the letter has apparently caused me to be blacklisted in the journalism world.
At the time I wrote the infamous letter I was several months pregnant and on extended sick leave due to a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This is a fancy way of saying I puked up everything I ate for months and months and had essentially no will to live. While this sounds quaint and cute to those who have never been there, it is not. Hyperemesis is not your average "morning sickness." It's a severe, debilitating illness most often compared to the feelings associated with deep chemotherapy treatments, and one that essentially ruined my life.
With hyperemesis, I had to be hospitalized for fluids. I couldn't work. I was ten days without food at the time I wrote the letter, frenzied, sweaty and crazy-eyed, wearing the same moldy nightgown for a week, smelly and sad and psycho in the loft of my condo, paranoid, the world spinning as it only does for people with frat-boy alcohol poisoning or, well, hyperemesis gravidarum.
I never wanted to talk about this, especially in front of all of you, because in our industry if there is anything worse than being an arrogant little snot who writes a stupid resignation letter at one of the top newspapers on earth it is being a whiny little woman who blames hormones for her behavior and derails her career to have a baby. But it's true, and I want to be judged fairly, if possible, in the future, if I have one in this business - and I hope I do.
There's more to it. I had just bought my first home, a condo in Orange County, on the second floor of a building. I hadn't bothered to see if the woman downstairs smoked. She did. If she was awake, she was smoking and screaming jokes about "Chinese" on the phone; when she wasn't doing this she was playing "Heart and Soul" on her out-of-tune piano with a drunk friend. To call her a chain smoker would imply she had cut back. Twice I staggered down the stairs, circles under my teary eyes, and begged her to stop. She took a long pull at her Marlboro, eyed me up and down, and replied, "I been smokin' for 25 years. I lost a fiance over it and I ain't about to quit f' yous."
This, of course, did not help. Suddenly day was night, night was day, I was wailing in the loft, begging my magazine editor husband to leave work to come home and feed me peanut butter waffles just so I could hyperemesis them all over the cute little (smoke-filled) bathroom. He eventually quit his job because taking care of the disaster of me was a full-time job at that point. So I ruined his career too. And, right, I wrote the letter. Stupid letter.
In it, I inexplicably took aim at people who had been nothing but kind to me. People whom for two years had been like my family. People like Robert Hilburn who had had nothing but kind words and support for me. Anyone who knows Bob knows only a sick person would be mean to him. He's the sweetest man working in the business, and used to call me "pal." Pal! But me, I was a wild pit bill in the city animal shelter, caged by vomit and hormones and dizzy and ready to kill. I'd say I was foaming at the mouth, but whatever it was at my mouth smelled significantly worse than foam.
In this letter, I took issue with Chicano/Hispanic/Latino/Indian/Mexica/Aztecdancer/Godknowswhat identity politics, a topic that before and after hyperemesis bored me to death; I let petty identity politics, the nuances and tiniest meaningless pockets of semantics and description, lead my urge to purge myself of a career at the Times. So, so stupid.
Media hounds like Catherine Seipp descended upon my stupid, arrogant letter, which, I may have mentioned, was arrogant and stupid, and particularly so out of context, truncated and published in Florida without my permission. Seipp said she was sorry to watch me self-destruct. I responded by insulting her, too. Seipp said I was a good writer and she was surprised by my lack of diplomacy and self-preservation. I vomited all over her. Stupid.
The e-mails came, hundreds of them. Some in support, some wishing I would just be spanked and sent back to wherever women like me used to go 50 years ago. I became larger than life, a symbol of different things for different people. I ceased to be human and became a bonfide journalism pariah.
Cornered, I fought back - like an idiot. I engaged people in insult-fests on Romenesko's site that were neither productive nor kind. My letter was praised and lambasted in every corner of our industry. I watched as I, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (what a damned memorably byline, God) exploded all over the Web and our insular little journo world like a watermelon at the hands of my old mallet-wielding buddy, Gallagher. Game over, stupid.
A year ago, I cried a lot about this. Agonized. Lay there in my bed, feeling the first stirrings of my son Alexander's little embryonic knees and elbows jabbing at me. Should I tell the world I did this because of a sort of steroidal version of PMS? That, in a fluke of technology, the whole world became privy to something I intended only a handful of supervisors to see? Did I dare try to save myself from being seen as a volatile weirdo by admitting I was a hormonal female? Which was worse?
I hoped people would forget the damn letter and I went away to have a baby. I hoped by the time I was no longer pregnant I might be able to humbly start over again.
I had him, the baby. He was so enormous, at nearly 10 pounds and 22 inches tall, that I had to have a C-section. The C-section led to nearly fatal blood clots in my legs. I was hospitalized for that, too, then finally sent home with blood thinning shots I had to give myself in the blubber of my post-baby tummy, and orange pills that made it life-threatening for me to so much as get a cut for six months.
I'm only mentioning these horrors so you will all see how I paid for this extreme medical care: Medicaid. That's right. I fell so low after freaking out that I could not afford health insurance. I became a loser. One month I was a condo owner in Orange County, highly paid, happy, surrounded by kind colleagues. The next I was riding the bus in Albuquerque, the largest city in the poorest state in the union, a city my friend's husband recently and accurately described as a hick town with a thyroid problem. I was shopping at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night, hearing Lynard Skynard on the speakers. I asked myself, what the heck happened? Hyperemesis happened.
Alex is a joy, by the way. I've never known a baby to smile so much. He's happy and beautiful and has a laugh that makes the world stop. I feel great now that I've healed. I will never have a child again, as it might kill me, but the one I have is everything to me. Not that you care, of course, but I just don't want him to see this years from now and feel responsible for mommy's career tanking. It's not your fault, sweetheart. It's mine. All mine.
I bragged in my arrogant, stupid letter that I would write books in the mountains, like some kind of frolicking, literary Julie Andrews. Yuck. That might have been appealing when I was 15, but now it feels like slow death. I miss the newsroom. It gets in your blood like a neighbor's cigarette smoke. It changes you. Once a journalist, there is really very little else you are qualified or happy to do.
I prayed that people (meaning all of you) had forgotten about my little letter. I put together beautiful packages for newspapers like the Denver Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Then I waited and stared at the phone and watched as the state took away my Medicaid and my bank balance went to zero. Nothing.
I put together beautiful, strong packages for newspapers like the Albuquerque Journal and the Oregonian, for the Associated Press and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for the Indianapolis Star, Arizona Republic, Miami Herald - anywhere and everywhere. I got a couple of calls back, mostly from recruiters and editors wanting to know why I thought I could possibly be qualified to work in a newsroom after publishing that letter.
I tried to explain it. I hadn't published it. I wrote it, regrettably, for only four people, and wished I hadn't even done that. It was changed, as messages are, in a giant game of Internet "telephone." I had apologized to those people I'd hurt, begged, literally begged, forgiveness, and, in most cases, got it. I wasn't a bad person, just an unlucky woman who got really sick and stupid. Nothing.
The last thing I wanted after all this was to put more personal babble out there for all of you, especially those of you who are hateful to the core, to read and revel in. But I had to let you know. I regret it. You win. Uncle. I suck at writing books. I'm only good at one thing, and that thing is journalism. I miss you.
Regret. I never really knew what it felt like. It's the orangest of emotions, sickly and 70s, a Brady kitchen orange that glows and won't leave the inside of your eyelids when you try to sleep. I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have. Shouldn't have self-destructed like that. What an idiot. Shouldn't have. But did.
I didn't want to have to continue this conversation, the one about my arrogant resignation letter, but I have no choice. I want to work as a reporter again, but no one can get past what they think is my letter, and no one knows the whole story behind it, or how I feel about it now.
I guess I feel the need to explain myself. I wish I didn't. But I do. I'm not a bad person. I'm actually pretty nice when I'm not pregnant. I have had the worst year of my life, borrowing money from family like some college student down on her luck, shamed and sad.
I don't want you to feel sorry for me, exactly. I'm not trying to be, oh how do you say, obsequious. I just want you to know I am filled with regret. That I've finally learned why so many people along the way used to take me to quiet corners and pat me on the back and say, you know Valdes, you're pretty good, but you gotta learn to pick your battles, you gotta learn it don't matter as much as you think it does, you gotta learn to let stuff go. I learned.
The hard way.
I am now the nicest and most diplomatic person you'd want to meet. And I will never, never, do something this stupid again.
The Denver Post recruiter just called. She thinks I am talented, loves my work. But, she tells me, many editors in her newsroom fear that if hired I would, I don't know, be this horrible, difficult, nasty person. It's the letter, she tells me.
The letter. Ah, the letter.
She also tells me there is a rumor circulating on the Web that I used to publish unedited versions of my Times articles on my own Web site. This is a complete lie, and it is the first time I have heard it. I tell her it terrifies me that an industry based on truth telling actually believes everything it reads on the Internet. The only unedited things I ever published on my now-defunct personal Web site were passages from my really bad novels, for critique by people like my mom.
Tom Harmon of the Albuquerque Journal also saw the letter. He was all set to interview me for an assistant features editor position until he saw it. Then he never wanted to speak to me again. Not only that, but also he, or someone pretending to be him (he denies it) phoned Brad Hall, who had hired me to teach journalism at the University of New Mexico, and told him he was crazy to hire a loose cannon like me. Mark Oswald, also of the Journal, used to write back when I e-mailed him. After seeing the letter, he doesn't.
Ann Scales, recruiter for the Boston Globe, also called me back. She and I spent some time together on Martha's Vineyard one summer chasing Bill Clinton as he chased, well, I think we all know what he chased. Anyway. We had a good time. Laughed a lot. She said she followed my stuff in the Times and thinks I'm one of the best writers in the business. (Not trying to be arrogant, just reporting.) She suggested I apply for a couple open jobs. I queried editors. Peter Canellos, Scott Heller, Fiona Luis. Some who used to be my friends and asked me not to go to the Times. Now, nada. Peter tells me he discussed my letter at a symposium at Columbia, that everyone found it very interesting, but that it had upset enough people at the Globe that, even though he would like to hire me, I would pretty much never work there again.
I hate that friggin' letter.
Many of you think I asked for this. I think of the guy, I apologize because I don't remember your name, who wrote and said he hoped I like waiting tables because I'd never work in journalism again. It looks like he's right, I guess. He's probably really happy right now, and that's fine. I don't blame you. From where you sat back then, it certainly seemed that I asked for it. In our journalism ethos, there is joy in punishment, in justice meted out, in holding the microscope over the evil ant until she burns like a bacon bit in the sun. We are gossips and storytellers stuck on good vs. evil, we are avengers, and all that is our particular calling. Trouble is, I'm one of you, I born that way.
I don't ask you to forgive me, to feel sorry for me - though I will welcome both responses. I ask you to be fair. To learn the whole story before jumping to conclusions. To meet me and look in my eyes before deciding I'm nuts. I ask you not to believe gossip and rumor, to not let Web-crap half-truths and untruths about me color the way you deal with me now and in the future. I beg you to believe hyperemesis is the hell on earth it actually is.
Did I make a mistake resigning from the Times? Huge one. Did I make a mistake resigning with an e-mail that could be easily passed on and tampered with? Really big. Biggest one of my life. Do I regret it? Oh, yeah. Should I be punished for the rest of my life, or have to switch careers for it? Probably not.
Am I a better prospect for hire now than I was before? I think so. For one, I've learned to pick my battles (preferably none anymore, thank you) and I've come to appreciate the life and opportunity I so arrogantly pooh-poohed before. I've come to miss the newsroom so much it literally hurts. Where else are you surrounded by so many bright, curious, articulate and clever people? Nowhere. There is no profession like it in the world.
So, I cry uncle. I'm conquered. You win. I was wrong. I'd buy all of you flowers and a box of chocolate if I had any money. But I don't. And I guess that's the point.
Some of you will no doubt roll in my misfortune like cats in warm dust. But I write this in the hopes that some of you have a shred of compassion left in you, empathy perhaps. I write hoping there's one recruiter or editor out there who has actually had hyperemesis gravidarum. I write hoping all of you who knew and liked me before remember me the way I was and am, and not the way I became with child.
I'm a journalist. I got sick and screwed up. And I'm sorry.
TO: Supervisors and selected colleagues of Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
FROM: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, staff writer
This is my resignation from the Los Angeles Times. My reasons for leaving the Times range from the personal to the political, but in the end it is all political. Even the personal. The following are my reasons for leaving.
I came to this newspaper as part of something called the "Latino Initiative." At the time, I was not awake enough as a person to understand the horror of such a thing. I was not enlightened enough to realize that in the name of "diversity" the newspaper was committing an atrocity.
Now I am.
In the process of covering so-called "Latino" issues, I have stumbled upon a simple and disturbing fact: There is no such thing as a Latino. I have also seen this newspaper - and most others - butcher history and fact in an attempt to create this ethnic group.
When the Los Angeles Times writes of "Latinos" it often characterizes them as brown. It happens several times a week, usually. Most people in this area accept this interpretation. I do not. After all, my Navajo cousins from New Mexico are often approached on the street and spoken to in Spanish. They don't speak Spanish. They are brown, and, I am sure, would "look" Latino to most of my colleagues at this newspaper. But recent colonial history dictated they be born north of the Mexican border. They, like most of the people we call Latinos at this paper, are Indians. . . .
After extensive study of history, I believe "Latino" - as used in the Los Angeles Times - is the most recent attempt at genocide perpetrated against the native people of the Americas. I also posit this new genocide is far more dangerous than the old fashioned murder and relocation efforts.
Now, we simply rob people of their heritage, and force a new one upon them.
They are no longer Indians, with a 30,000 year claim to these lands; they are now immigrants, and "Latinos." . . .
By referring to the brown Indians in the U.S. who happen to come from Spanish speaking nations as "Latinos" we eradicate their ethnicities entirely, and pin to them a new set of stereotypes and expectations that in most cases simply do not fit. By perpetuating the myth that Indians who bear Spanish surnames are simply "Latino" - and that Latino does not refer to anyone else - we also deny Indians from Latin America a natural kinship to American Indians. DNA testing and blood type have shown most of the "brown" people in the Americas - whether they live in Montana or Mexico City - are descended from a small band of people who came here from Asia tens of thousands of years ago. Yet the Times has convinced itself and the general public that there is a "Latino" race of brown people, separate from this nation's Indians. It's idiotic. . . .
When I attempted to write a commentary about the animated film The Road to El Dorado in order to address its misrepresentation of the genocide committed by the Spaniards against the native people of the Americas, I was told by the film editor my comparisons to the German holocaust were unjustified. (By some estimates, the Spaniards killed 10 times more people than the Nazis did - most of it documented in the Spaniards' own journals.) He told me "holocaust" was too strong a word to use when talking about American Indians, and told me the word pertained only to the German holocaust. Any dictionary would have shown him that "holocaust" refers to any genocide committed against any people. The Los Angeles Times is located in perhaps the nation's largest Indian city, yet we deny there are Indians here. . . .
I am now carrying a child whose father is a Native American. His ancestors hail from the U.S. Southwest and from Northern and Central Mexico. I cannot in good conscience work for an institution that denies my child's inheritance to this land. I will cringe to see my child labeled "Latino" or "Hispanic" by virtue of a colonial last name and a brown skin color. I can no longer pretend to believe in the existence of "Latinos" when common sense and logic and an understanding of history point out there is no such thing, especially not in the way the Times uses the word.
Race. . . . Every day the Los Angeles Times runs an article about races of people the dominant class consider to be "other": Blacks, Asians, Latinos. Even as several other newspapers and news magazines make strides towards thinking of "race" in a new way, the Times is stuck in an outdated modality. The Miami Herald and the New York Times now make an effort to state regularly that "Latinos" may be of any "race"; while not an ideal portrayal of humans, in my opinion, it is still light years ahead of the racialist view of "Latinos" perpetuated by the Los Angeles Times.
To me, it is telling that the Times rarely, if ever, writes of those people categorized as "white" while identifying them by "race" for the heck of it. While we endlessly profile "Asian" authors and "Black" celebrities, we never classify the "white" people we write about as "white" unless they have committed a hate crime, or are being compared in a poll or study to "others." . . .
I cannot continue to lend my brain and efforts to an institution that so readily and shamelessly discriminates, stratifies and needlessly classifies people based upon what I - and many social and physical scientists - believe to be a false paradigm.
I love my salary. My benefits. I love the prompt response I get from people when I call and say I am a writer with the Los Angeles Times. But I do not love any of these things enough to sell my soul any longer in order to get them. I have tried to inspire change and enlightenment from within the newspaper, and have been met with confusion and snickers at best, and fierce opposition at worst. So, as long as the Los Angeles Times paints a daily portrait of the nation in terms of race, I cannot work there.
Lack of support. At risk of sounding boastful, I can say I am regarded among my peers an excellent writer. Yet I do not feel I have been embraced at the Times for the talents I have. In fact, I feel an effort has been made in some instances to squash the one thing that sets me apart in this field: my voice.
Daily, I read columns by people who are simply not smart enough or talented enough to write them. . . . I read about these people's personal lives, the foibles of their children, their narrow and uninspired views on race and ethnicity - and nowhere do I find Los Angeles, or the nation, or the world, nowhere in this newspaper's columns do I find insight, or epiphany. . . .
I am not an idiot. And I know a hopeless battle when I face one. To stay at the Los Angeles Times and hope that my talent and ability and accomplishments will be fairly acknowledged and rewarded is unrealistic. This newspaper continues to reward mediocre men while insisting outstanding women jump through more and more hoops before ever getting similar reward. To stay under such circumstances would be to set myself up for failure and battle, two things I am no longer interested in. . . .
Mortality. How does the cliche go? Life is short.
At 31, expecting my first child, my life has suddenly come into brilliant focus. Since I was 15 years old I have written in my diaries of my dream: To write novels and live in the mountains outside of Albuquerque. For 16 years this dream has never changed. . . .
Is it vain to say I was born to write? To say journalism, daily journalism, has nearly beaten the innocent sort of love for the craft from me?
I wrote my first poem at 8, my first short story at 9. I stumbled onto journalism because writing was the only thing I did well enough to be paid to do it. And now, every time I write a profile of a celebrity who doesn't need the publicity, simply because that's how things are done, or every time I write about record sales or the Grammy awards or "Latino" artists, I pimp the very most sacred part of me.
Will I get paid to write novels? Maybe. Maybe not. But at this time in my life, I would rather get paid to do something completely unrelated to writing - say, wait tables - and write for the pleasure of it, than to be paid to write the way the dominant class believes I should write, about a world I don't see but they do.
So, one month from today, I will no longer work for the Los Angeles Times. I will work for my conscience, my soul, and my heart, and my child. If that means I live in a small room in the back of my father's house, so be it.
I will be happier there, writing my truth in "fiction," than I am here, writing your truth in "fact."
Posted November 10, 2000
Which paper will Valdes-Rodriguez slap next?
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a feature writer and a member of the staff for four years, said the decision means that a newspaper in the business of telling the truth has learned the fine art of evasion.
"People will beat around the bush here, but the facts, to me, are obvious. I think Barnicle was not fired because it would have been too expensive in terms of advertising. He was not fired because it would have cost us subscriptions. As much as people believed Pat Smith was given a job because of the color of her skin, I believe that Mike Barnicle was allowed to keep his job because of the color of his skin. A lot of us believe this. Not many of us are stupid enough to say it in print. I am one of the few who puts my integrity above my paycheck."
Valdes-Rodriguez flatly called the Globe "a racist institution" that pays "lip service to diversity."
"There is a cost to all of this that the paper seems to have not considered," she said. "There are many of us here who take this very personally. There are many of us here who know that if it had been us causing lawsuits . . . or just generally screwing up in the paper, we would not have made it. We are generally darker than Mike, or we have Spanish surnames, or our families come from Haiti or Vietnam, or we are female. Not only would we not have made it, we would have been held up as fine examples of why affirmative action is wrong."
Don't make him scream
Posted November 12, 2000
In search of racists under every footstool?
What I didn't know when I wrote my column, but I think is worth noting as long as we're talking about integrity, is that she's one of those reporters who don't mind putting direct quotes around words someone didn't actually say. The Boston Globe had to run a lengthy correction to a piece Valdes-Rodriguez -- then Alisa Valdes -- wrote about a speech given by Mass. state Board of Education chairman John Silber. Obviously, she had an agenda, and it wasn't Silber's:
BOSTON GLOBE CORRECTION, March 4, 1997
Valdes-Rodriguez: Here's more on my "tampered" resignation letter
Second, she said I was a talented writer who was sadly sidetracked at the Times by my undying desire to write about race. Huh? I never wrote about race at the Los Angeles Times. My beat was the Spanish-language music industry, also known as "Latin music." That was my official beat, Ms. Seipp. The two pieces she cited of mine as ones she liked were two of the three I ever wrote off my beat; I suspect she liked them because they were about people she had actually heard of.
I think Seipp probably looked at a few headlines, saw the word "Latin" in them, and decided I was writing about race. Fact is, Latin music is simply the term used by the Recording Industry Assn. of America to describe music with more than 51% of the lyrics recorded in Spanish. The L.A. Times is the only mainstream English daily with a Latin music industry beat.
Besides, even if I WAS writing endlessly about "Latinos" I would still not have been writing about race, as Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race. Don't believe it? Check with the census bureau. They invented the word Hispanic in the 1970s, and have always said Hispanics can be of any race. This was a central thesis in my resignation letter, in fact. Amazing how poorly media reporters seem to understand the written word, man.
What is really fascinating to me is how Seipp, Romenesko, Wilson and everyone else who has seen fit to edit and publish my private document overlooked the only real "ism" I ever accused the Times of: Sexism. [I never edited and published your private document. I linked to a newspaper that excerpted your memo. Romenesko.] They paid a less-qualified man (he only has a high school diploma) who was the only other pop music writer at the paper more than they paid me. Much more. Until I complained about it. Then we made the same for a while, until they gave him another raise. For some reason, no one thinks this is news.
Seipp and others do think saying I'm "crying race" is news, though, even though I never did it. In fact, I wrote that no self-respecting anthropologist believes in the notion of race, because it is scientifically impossible to prove where one group of people begin and another end. Why would I be obsessed about writing on a topic I think is false to begin with? Oh, and for anyone who is interested: It would have been impossible for me personally to suffer at the hands of racism as it is understood in this country anyway, as I am what people like Seipp would call "white." If we lived in a matrilineal society, my last name would be McGrath, and we wouldn't be having this discussion. The Valdes side were the white Cubans who owned slaves. The only points I've ever made about the media and issues of race have to do with my desire to see journalists be smarter about how they label people.
What else? Seipp also says I took my personal web site down. I never did. What was taken down was the Romenesko link to my web site, after I added text about how disturbing I found all of the media coverage of a tampered, dinky little resignation letter to be. Seems Ms. Seipp forgot to write the URL address for my site down, and then, when she was unable to find the link on Romenesko's site she decided it was because I had taken my site down. Ms. Seipp, a little advice: It's called reporting. You should try it.
Seipp also implied I got my teaching gig thanks to nepotism. Wrong again. My dad works at the same university, yes. But it's the only large university in the town where I grew up and want to live. The good people who hired me in the communications department did not know my father taught in another department. I didn't tell them, and neither did he. It did not matter.
Finally, she and everyone else in the world seems to think I made $80,000 a year at the Times. I did not. I had a figure of $80,000 up on my web site as what I was leaving behind in Los Angeles in order to move to New Mexico to try writing books. The $80,000 was a combined income from the Times job, teaching at UCLA extension school, and freelance articles for in-flight magazines and others. Again, all any of these "reporters" had to do was ask. But they would rather slam what they see as an uppity colored girl who made more than they do. Sad thing is, none of it is true.
Posted November 15, 2000
The Seipp and Valdes-Rodriguez feud, con't.
Subj: Re: This letter is only for you and off the record
You mention four facts I got wrong:
1. That you took your website down. I said "apparently" you did, which is perfectly accurate, because for a few days I could not access it anymore -- after typing in the URL address, trying it various ways from search engines etc. So apparently you did indeed, perhaps to update it, because now I see you changed the "scum of the earth" part to "a so-called media critics," etc.
2. That you gave up an $80k a yr job: that's what you said on the website, and that sounds about right for just the Times job (not including freelance, teaching etc) although a bit on the low side for them actually, so I can see why you're mad about the unnamed male writer with the high-school degree.
3. That you "never wrote about race or racism" at the Times. The one piece I remember (and which was cited by many who emailed me) -- besides the Woody and Gallagher ones -- is the first-person feature story you wrote about your reluctance to desribe your missing friend to the police as Hispanic, because that's not a race, etc., etc., etc. It doesn't matter if Latino is a race or not: you write about it in the context of racism. Then there was the "Road to Eldorado" incident you describe in your resignation letter. So yes, it appears you did get sidetracked. I'm aware your beat was Latin music, but only those who are interested in Latin music read about that. What most people remember is what you wrote off your beat.
4. That you have indeed contacted the Nat'l Writers Union. According to them -- and I checked 3 times -- you hadn't.
"Sweetheart" used to get him rewrite
Why she won't go through Seipp's articles archive
Catherine Seipp, after royally botching her column about me with no fewer than five factual errors in it, responds by saying lots of people have been following my "troubled" career for many years. She then cites John Higgins (whoever the heck that is) as a reliable such source. Oh, yeah, He's a great source. The dude didn't even spell my first name right when he wrote a letter about me to this web site. He called me "Lisa."
Then, perhaps sensing everyone might figure out she is actually Liz Smith with a thesaurus, Seipp drudged up the only major correction that has ever had to be run in a story I've written in all seven years of my "troubled" career -- a correction that ran in 1997! I guess to her that balances the fact that she made five major mistakes in one column last week. It's almost...sad.
Poor Seipp. In another lifetime, I might have started digging through her writings the way she has dug through mine. But I won't. For one, her writing is too awful and needy to read for more than two minutes. And two, one of the reasons I don't much want to be a reporter anymore is this: It's not fun to pick apart other people's lives. It's much more fun to live one of my own.
Former LA Times journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is back in a big way. From the 6/26/02 LA Times:
St. Martin's Press won a six-publisher auction earning the right to pay $500,000 for "The Dirty Girls' Social Club," the first novel by journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a former Times staff writer who is feature editor at the Albuquerque [Tribune]. (Valdes-Rodriguez, in her early 30s, has described herself as "half Cuban American and half Irish/Mexican/English/Portuguese American.") "It's an absolutely marvelous book," said Elizabeth Beier, who will edit the manuscript for St. Martin's. "It's utterly fresh and the people here who read it literally could not put it down."
Valdes-Rodriguez describes her novel as a story of "middle-class, assimilated Latina professionals, who may or may not speak Spanish. It is about six women friends and is set in Boston, where they all go to Boston University. The premise is that it is the first time there are so many Latinas in the school's communications program and they make a pact to meet every six months for the rest of their lives. We catch up with them 10 years after their first meetings."
"All the chapters are written in the first person and each woman is struggling with different issues," she said. "I tried to show the diversity of that part of the Latino community, so there's a blond blue-eyed Cubana Jew from Miami and a black lesbian from Colombia. There's a Southern California girl raised to think she's Chicana. The hard part was keeping the various voices distinct."
Daisy writes: I have worked with Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez 1995-1996 (before she was a Rodriguez) and I don't think the word diplomatic could ever be used to describe her then. There was a sense of dissatisfaction to her that was palpable to anyone near her. Several of her colleagues at the Globe now believe that working at small paper and gaining some empathy might be the best thing for her. I do. And I really hope she's changed.
As for the book...I'll make a catty comment. Hasn't that plotline been done by every women's fiction writer known to the English language? I do hope Alisa gets some money for this but I somehow doubt it will be $500,000. And if I'm wrong, I hope she laughs all the way to the bank.
I received this email 6/28/02 from Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez:
"Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez holds the exclusive copyright to everything in this e-mail. No one else has legal permission to reprint any part of it anywhere, including the Internet.
"Luke, I'll ask nicely now, and in court later: Please remove me and my copyrighted letter from your Web site. Remove the links, and the metatag. Not only is it illegal for you to publish my writing without my permission, it is slanderous to refer to me as blacklisted. I have a very good lawyer looking into the matter; hopefully I won't need him. I'll wait to hear from you before contacting Google and Netscape. There are plenty of other ways for you to get attention, I'm sure."
Actor Woody Harrelson wrote to the LA Times 4/5/99: When I got back to L.A., I read an article in the Calendar section written by a woman I shared a taxi ride with in Havana ("An Accidental Island Tour," by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, March 30).
She described Cuba as a gigantic stage production of "Lord of the Flies" where all the men have gone insane, painted a picture of my Cuban journalist friend, Jorge Smith Mesa, as a whimpering, Cameron Diaz-obsessed >simpleton (which seems a more apt description of me), and described me as a pipsqueak in yellowed knee socks and stained T-shirt, thinner and balder than she would imagine, eating fistfuls of peanuts, mouth open, my teeth yellow and snaggled like a dinosaur's, spitting peanut paste on my Cuban friend who was too polite to wipe it off and mentioned my soft white underbelly and exposed butt crack as well as my overall lack of athleticism. In short, she described me to a T.
After I read it, I was still bathed in that warm afterglow that any good writing gives you, when Michael Franti called. He had just read her article from the previous day ("U.S., Cuban Musicians Jam in Havana," March 29), which described a song he had written and performed at the concert, "Can't Stop This Bus," as a condemnation of the Cuban political and social systems (particularly the transportation system), when in fact it was a song about reconciliation. She even misquoted the lyrics. We agreed that her interpretation was miles better than the original intent.
However, her interpretation and failure to feel the warmth of the Cuban people was what I really missed in her writing. I politely suggest a return trip with maybe a more open heart.
Jennifer Lopez Interested In Dirty Girls Club
From 8/12/02 Daily Variety: Laura Ziskin and Jennifer Lopez are teaming to develop the novel "Dirty Girls Club" for Lopez to topline. Pic would be based on unpublished first effort from Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a former features writer for the Boston Globe and more recently a Latin pop music writer for the Los Angeles Times. Story concerns six college friends -- Latina women of different national extractions and economic strata -- who reunite 10 years after graduating and continue to rendezvous every six months thereafter.
Amy Alexander writes on Africana.com: The narrative St. Martin's has fashioned for its 34-year-old first-time author is both disingenuous and insulting. It is also being swallowed whole-hog by arts writers as the story of an aggrieved Latina newspaper reporter who found the racist dictates of mainstream editors too much to bear, and who subsequently received a $475,000 advance for her stereotype-busting debut.
The publisher is wisely banking on the fact that most critics won't bother to dig too deeply into Valdes-Rodriguez's professional background. It is a cynical bet that so far has paid off handsomely.
For starters, Valdes-Rodriguez is not a trained journalist, something that has been pointed out but not followed up on, in early coverage of the book. A mixed-race Latina — she refers to part of her family as "white trash" even though her website, having it both ways perhaps, touts that branch as descending from a founder of Harvard University — Valdes-Rodriguez studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music before trying her hand at journalism. Her lack of professional journalism training didn't impede her ability to land jobs at mainstream newspapers, despite the limited technical skills she displayed. But her short turns at The Boston Globe and at The Los Angeles Times were notable primarily for her artless complaining about race and gender issues, not for her outstanding journalistic chops.
Thus, St. Martin's publicity plan for The Dirty Girls Social Club is one big ball of irony: they are billing Valdes-Rodriguez as "the Latina Terry McMillan," even though the author herself bridles at being the called "the Latina" anything. They paid a daughter of a Puritan New England family nearly half a million dollars for a semi-autobiographical book that is in part the story of a brown-skinned newspaper reporter struggling with her editors' perception of her as a cross between "Charo and Lois Lane."
Cathy Seipp writes: I hold no truck with the entire concept of trained journlists, but Alisa does have a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. Which doesn't impress me, but should impress someone who cares about that sort of thing and has gripes with reporters who don't get their facts straight. Also, about that "brown-skinned newspaper reporter" character: much is made in "Dirty Girls" about this Alisa alter-ego (who is, like Alisa V-R herself, half Cuban and half Anglo) being fair-skinned and white, not brown.
From Media News:
From the Miami Herald 6/10/03: She can't help bad-talk her former lover. She says much of what has been written about her is inaccurate. ``To the point that I'm considering defamation of character lawsuits against certain publications.''
Her big beef is that some newspaper called her unemployable even though at the time she finally got the book deal, she was also finally employed -- as features editor of The Albuquerque Tribune. She says she wasn't dead broke, as some newspapers said, because she was running a public relations business with her husband. And that there were no magical six days at Starbucks.
``I had about 100 pages and then an agent asked me to finish it. So it was more like two weeks from the time she asked me to write it to the time I had a first draft 300 pages long.''
The way Valdes-Rodriguez sees it, all the buzz surrounding her book has little to do with her ethnic background and everything to do with her past life as a journalist. After all, she is a story unto herself: A former staff writer for the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, Valdes-Rodriguez famously destroyed her own burgeoning career when she capped her resignation from the Times with a vicious e-mail to superiors that attacked colleagues by name and accused the institution of discrimination and racist attitudes. Much to her fury, the e-mail was posted on the Internet, giving her an industry-wide label of more trouble than she's worth.
Pregnant, out of a job and practically a pariah in the industry just two years ago, she now has the sweetest revenge: a big check, a bestseller and a national book tour. And she's clearly enjoying every minute.
"Journalists find the actions of other journalists fascinating," she tells the audience at Vertigo Books.
Then adds: "In a really bad way."
Let's just be upfront about it: It's not easy being a journalist in the presence of Valdes-Rodriguez, because the contempt she has for her former profession is not something she hides. Mention that to her -- her contempt -- and she'll swear it's not true, even seem a bit shocked.
Then, a few days later, she'll post this on a journalism Web site: "Jayson Blair is not the only one inventing his stories," she wrote. "He's just the one who got caught. There are hundreds just like him, googling and snickering away in their cubicles right now, and many hundreds more people out in the world whose mouths are being stuffed with words they never said in order to help the reporter overcome his/her personal issues. Is it any wonder the public trusts used car salesmen more than they trust reporters?"
Or there's this, from her book, which includes a depiction of a big-city newsroom populated with racially insensitive colleagues and an idiot editor: "I flip through them all, read the made-up quotes that are nothing more than approximations of things I've said, written in ways I would never say them by people too lazy to take thorough notes or use a tape recorder," she writes in the voice of Amber, who has just made it big in the music industry.
Outspoken Author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez Speaks Out Against The Miami Book Fair International
MIAMI – Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the outspoken author of the N.Y. Times bestselling novel “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” says the Miami Book Fair International is guilty of ethnic profiling and discrimination with regards to U.S. authors of Hispanic origin.
Valdes-Rodriguez, who will sit on two panels at the book fair this weekend, says the book fair’s Web site and press materials list her as an “Ibero/Latin American” author, and only list her among the Spanish-language writers, even though she is an American writer who writes in her native tongue: English.
“No one expects Toni Morrison to show up speaking and writing an African language,” says Valdes-Rodriguez. “And no one expects Lauren Weisberger to present her thoughts German. But for some reason organizers of this fair assume I will speak and write better in Spanish than English.”
The Miami Book Fair lists Valdes-Rodriguez’s home nation as “New Mexico,” the U.S. state of her birth and residence.
“Are they really this ignorant?” the author asks.
Valdes-Rodriguez complained to the book fair through her publisher, St. Martin’s Press, but got no reply.
“I’m not the only U.S. writer the Miami Book Fair International has decided to label a Spanish-speaking foreigner,” says Valdes-Rodriguez. “They’ve done it to almost everyone with an obviously Spanish surname. It’s shameful.”
Valdes-Rodriguez, known for speaking out against ethnic and gender discrimination at her previous employer, the Los Angeles Times, considered canceling her appearance at the festival, but decided to attend in order to speak out about continued ignorance about U.S. Latinos.
“My novel was written in part to combat stereotypes about Hispanics, including the ones that say we all speak Spanish or come from somewhere other than the United States,” says Valdes-Rodriguez. “How ironic that the Miami Book Fair’s organizers still don’t get it.”
“The Dirty Girls Social Club” is about a group of six friends in Boston, and has been optioned by Columbia Pictures with Jennifer Lopez and Laura Ziskin as producers.
Valdes-Rodriguez recently sold her second novel, “Playing with Boys,” to St. Martin’s for a high six-figure deal. Valdes-Rodriguez is also creating, co-producing and writing a sitcom for NBC.
WEST HOLLYWOOD BOOK FAIR:
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez writes to her Yahoo group: "It has come to my attention that a hostile entity has somehow infiltrated our little group. I believe he joined, took everyone's email addresses, and is now sending you personal, nasty email. I apologize for this. If someone has sent a kind email to my web site, they get an invitation. This person apparently had nothing better to do than pretend to be a fan. From his email, I get the sense he is a bitter journalist. No surprise there. Lots of them are bitter and nuts about the fact that I escaped newspapers. Probably a frustrated novelist, or a neo nazi. Just delete his email and ignore him. Incidentally, I personally hear from this kind of lunatic all the time."