As part of a belated Mother’s Day post, comedian Cristela Alonzo took to her blog to reflect on her mother’s tribulations, as well as one of her own recent upsets. The post mainly revolves around Alonzo’s ABC show Cristela, which was canceled last Thursday, but it also delves into some of her career’s hardships. “I wish I could explain the pressure I’ve had to deal with this past year,” she writes. “I used to dream about what it would feel like to have your own show. As a little kid, I imagined my face on a billboard; a big sign that had my face on it. … After having a show named after me on network TV for a year, I can tell you that I still don’t know what it’s like to have a billboard with my face on it. I never got one.”
Alonzo also writes at length about where her characters came from and why she chose to write about the scenarios she did. “I was very protective over what I wanted to do in the show and what I didn’t want to do in the show because it portrayed real people from my life,” she writes. “I thought it was important to show my family because there had never been one like that on TV before. … I wish I could’ve written a show based on my life that showed my family kicking butt … like we were Latino Huxtables but that wasn’t my truth.” The essay not only comes on the heels of Mother’s Day, but it actually comes exactly one year after her show got picked up by ABC.
She wrote on Facebook last year: “It’s been such a hard life. And through it all, I’ve always had faith. It’s a weird thing but what I said in my last post just happened: My mom watched over me and I just got good news: It’s official: My show got picked up! Cristela will be on ABC this fall. God knows for how many episodes.” It would be for 22 — surely not enough, but it seems like the comedian is taking the result in stride and endeavoring to move on to the next hurdle.
Here’s her full post, which ends on a triumphant note:
You know those commercials about sponsoring a kid for the price of a cup of coffee every day? The ones where the guy with the beard walks around and shows you how bad the living conditions are and pleads for you to help but never in the commercial does he offer these kids a sandwich? Well, here’s the story of a little Mexican girl that lived just like that. She barely bathes because water is so hard to get. She’s the youngest of a large family and because of that, her clothes are always old because she’s the last one to get the hand-me-downs.
She likes to explore. She likes to walk along the edge of the dirt path and eat little fruits and berries, not knowing if any of them are safe to eat but she’s hungry. As she’s walking, she comes across a piece of cardboard lying on the ground. She picks it up and reads it. McAllen, Texas. She doesn’t know where this is but she finds this place so exotic-sounding that she tells herself that one day, she’s going to live there.
Cut to fifteen years later, the little girl (now woman) is in McAllen, TX. This woman, whose life has been full of such struggle and hardships, is in McAllen, TX. She accomplished her childhood dream.
Her dream can be considered so simple to people. She loved having running water and electricity whenever she wanted it. Even though she lived in poverty in Texas, compared to where she came from, it was a big step up.
The Mexican girl I was talking about was my mom.
Dreams are what you make of them. I’m a true believer in that. You can dream and dream your entire life but if you never do anything to attain those dreams, then sometimes those dreams can become frustrations.
I once had a show named Cristela. By once, I mean up until Thursday night. I said ‘once’ because it adds dramatic flair and I think dramatic flair is funny.
It was a multi-cam sitcom that SOMETIMES aired on Friday nights. I say sometimes because a lot of times we were pre-empted for more important things like an Easter egg hunt happening in real time. Kidding. In reality, we were preempted for other things like a documentary on a parade and some other things I can’t remember. I think one night was a show about Christmas lights?
On May 10, 2014, exactly one year ago today, I got the call that my show had been picked up and would be part of the ABC schedule that fall…I didn’t remember the date exactly but Facebook reminded me of it today of all days. Facebook has a newer feature that basically serves as a time capsule. It will show you what your posts were from the past.
Today, I log onto Facebook and there it is…my post from one year ago, today. It’s kind of bittersweet since today is also Mother’s Day and the post mentions my mom.
I was walking back to my hotel room Thursday night after my stand-up show in Fort Lauderdale when I saw the call. I knew it was bad news before I answered it because I had gotten a text from my Executive Producer that said, “Call me when you get this.” If it had been good news, she would’ve started mentioning it in the text. Since I was raised as a good old-fashioned Catholic, I braced for the worst. And that’s what I got.
When I heard the words “we’ve been canceled”, I can’t tell you how I felt. I was kinda sad, angry and other things. Since the show was named after me, the first thing I thought about was how I let the cast and crew down. They were out of jobs. I thought to myself, “I should’ve done more to promote the show. I could’ve done more.”
I hung up the phone, went to have a beer and my phone started lighting up with texts. I answered as many as I could. Some I still haven’t gotten to. I found myself sounding like a politician, saying the same thing to everyone: “Thank you so much. I’m doing ok. I’m doing fine.”
After the beers (I had two), I went up to my hotel room and laid in bed.
You learn a lot about yourself and others in times like these. I also think the truth comes out in moments like that; sometimes you realize you’re feeling something you didn’t think you were going to feel. I did.
I laid in bed, looking up at the ceiling and let out a big breath. I felt relieved. I wasn’t expecting that. At all. What the hell was I feeling relief about? The show had been canceled. What? I’m relieved I don’t have a job anymore? But, why?
I’ve learned so much this past year, both good and bad. I’ve learned lessons that I never thought I’d have to learn.
Making a show out of someone’s real life is so incredibly hard to do because you’re not doing it alone. There are so many different hands involved that sometimes it gets exhausting and frustrating. And that’s understandable because the show was based out of a real person’s life. My life.
If this show had been something that had been created out of thin air, I don’t think it would’ve been as difficult for me because I would’ve been playing a character not named Cristela, which gives it less of a connection to me but that’s not what this show was. This show was VERY personal to me.
The setting of the show took place in a real time in my life, a really sad time of my life. I had dropped out of college because I couldn’t afford it. My mom got sick. My sister needed help with her kids. I ended up moving in with my sister to take care of my mom and the kids. In real life, this leads up to my mom dying. I chose this era because while it was the hardest time of my life, it was also a time that I thought a lot of families could connect with, especially now. There are so many families that have a lot of people living in one house to get by. I’ve met those people on the road when I do stand-up. I thought, “If I could tell MY story about what happened to me, maybe others can connect to it.”
I was very protective over what I wanted to do in the show and what I didn’t want to do in the show because it portrayed real people from my life. The boss character (Trent) was based on a real boss I had that used to make racial jokes to me all the time. The daughter of Trent (Maddie) was based on an old college friend that came from an affluent world. We were friends that taught each other about each other’s worlds. The character Josh was based on someone real: My first boyfriend. I came from a different world than he did. When people saw us together, we didn’t make sense but we ‘got’ each other. The sister character (Daniela) was based on my sister Julie. She really worked at a call center and she really did get laid off like we wrote in the show. My brother-in-law (Felix) was based on my real brother-in-law Sergio that really has his own business installing floors. And then there’s Natalia. The mom you saw in the show (or according to ratings, didn’t see) was like my real mom. She could be harsh, sarcastic, judged everyone and I loved her with all my heart. When we were coming up with names for the characters and got to the mom character, I asked if I could name my TV mom after my real mom…so that it felt like she was always around. And that’s how we got the name: Natalia.
I thought it was important to show my family because there had never been one like that on TV before. A lot of the time, Latinos are shown as cholos/cholas that ride around in lowriders. I didn’t grow up that way but I always respected authentic stories that (as you’ll find in movies like Mi Vida Loca) showed that life because that lifestyle is someone’s reality.
I wish I could’ve written a show based on my life that showed my family kicking butt…like we were Latino Huxtables but that wasn’t my truth. And maybe I will create that show one day, who knows. A lot of people think that the way I grew up and the way my family is, seems outdated and old-fashioned, which is weird because back home in the Rio Grande Valley, I know a lot of families like mine. I think it’s because they’re not familiar with that kind of life and maybe if they haven’t seen it with their own eyes, they refuse to believe that it exists. Latinos are so different from each other. It’s so hard to generalize them. Even Mexicans are so different from each other. I grew up in Texas and when I moved to Los Angeles, I quickly noticed that the Mexican culture was VERY different in LA than it was in Texas. But apparently, to some people, Latinos are all alike.
I wish I could explain the pressure I’ve had to deal with this past year. And I’m not talking about the show. I’m talking about people that watch the show or people that supported the show. Take for example, this weekend. I was doing six shows in Ft. Lauderdale. On Friday, the day after I learned I was canceled, I didn’t feel like putting on makeup because the area is humid so I wore my Justice League t-shirt and jeans. After the first show, this woman comes up to me and tells me she’s Mexican. She had never heard of me; a friend brought her. She continues to tell me she’s become a fan. She then grabs my arms really tight and said, “But you need to class it up. You’re Mexican. I’m Mexican. You’re representing us. Have some pride.”
I didn’t know what to think. I asked her what she meant by that. She said that as a Mexican, I was representing Mexicans and that I should try to look good. Wear make-up and dress up. I told her, “Oh, I do that on occasion but really, this is who I am. This is what I like to look like. This is me.” She continues to repeat the same thing over and over again. “Yes, but you’re representing us. Please, have some pride.” Again, I told her, “But this is who I am. If you think I’m representing you, then maybe you should consider the part that would involve me not trying to pretend to be something I’m not. Maybe you should accept me for who I am and know that I am not going to change.” She STILL continues to tell me that I need to make more of an effort….and finally I told her that she had to go. I told her, “Look, I know you think you’re being helpful but you’re rude. If you can’t accept me for who I am then maybe you’re really not a fan or a supporter…you have to go now.” And she left.
Throughout the course of the show, I got messages from people that said I need to add ‘that crazy chola cousin we all have’ or telling me that I sold out my culture because my mom has a thick accent. So how do I make everyone happy? I didn’t have the ‘crazy chola cousin’ so I can’t write about that. And my mom had a thick accent on the show because she was from Mexico and couldn’t speak English.
I don’t want to specifically talk about the problems that existed because the cancelation is recent and still fresh. I don’t want people thinking that I’m making excuses or that I’m a sore loser of sorts. Maybe one day it’ll make a great chapter in a book (maybe I’ll work on one next, who knows, maybe I’m already working on a book as we speak). For now I’ll say that from each experience, we come out wiser and I for sure, have definitely come out wiser. Boy, the lessons I have learned.
I will say this though.
I used to dream about what it would feel like to have your own show. As a little kid, I imagined my face on a billboard; a big sign that had my face on it. I always wondered what it would feel like to drive down the street and see your name on a billboard. Something that kinda said, “HEY WORLD! I’m here! Check out this show with me in it!” After having a show named after me on network TV for a year, I can tell you that I still don’t know what it’s like to have a billboard with my face on it. I never got one. But I can tell you what it feels like to have your face on some bus benches and the backs of buses.
I will say that the best thing to happen to me this year was meeting the people that I wanted to reach with the show. My favorite things to hear were when people would tell me that FINALLY there was someone like them on TV and that they loved that it was a show they could watch with their parents or children. They felt like finally someone was representing them. I loved that.
So like I wrote in the beginning, you know those commercials about sponsoring a kid for the price of a cup of coffee every day? The ones where the guy with the beard walks around and shows you how bad the living conditions are and pleads for you to help but never in the commercial does he offer these kids a sandwich? Well, here’s the story of a little Mexican girl that lived just like that.
She has to bathe by standing in a metal washtub and pouring cups of water over her body. She eats when she can, not knowing that sometimes her mother doesn’t eat to make sure her kids do. This little girl is left on her own a lot because her family has to go work and try to make ends meet. She’s a latch-key kid that spends hours alone with nothing but TV to keep her company. TV becomes her best friend.
The Mexican girl I’m now talking about is me.
And just like my mom back in her village, we’re both little girls that have dreams that seem impossible to reach but because we don’t know any better, we try to reach them. And we do. I guess when your dream is fueled with a genuine love of it, you realize how powerful that makes you. It makes you able to say no to things with ease, to wait until you’re inspired to write and tell the next important story.
Thank you to everyone that has sent me messages of support. You guys don’t know how much that means to me. To see how many of you loved my family is overwhelming. This past weekend, I’ve also gotten messages from people that told me how much my show inspired them to do something with their lives. People told me that they decided to go to college for the first time, others told me they’re going back to school. I have people telling me that their Latino kids are joining the drama club at their school. I have to admit, I cried at some of those messages. It took me by surprise. I cried because it made me so happy. YES! Go to college, get that education that you thought was impossible to get. YES! Support your kids, let them go into drama. YES! YES! YES! If these people made these changes because of Cristela, then the show has served its purpose.
My goal is to make my family proud. My goal is to by tell stories that entertain and speak for the unspoken, along with maybe a trip to Price is Right to do Plinko.
It’s kinda fitting that I write this blog about my show getting canceled on the one-year anniversary of when it got picked up. Especially being Mother’s Day because I accredited my mom for the pick-up in that FB post up at the top of this blog and here I am saying goodbye to it.
Trust me, Cristela the show might be done…but Cristela the person has just started.
Read more from her blog here.