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Wiseacre Latinas

A soap disturbs the ethnic hornets’ nest.

Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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The lengthiest and most sweeping denunciation of all came from a thoroughly expected source: Alisa Valdes, the mid-40s author of the bestselling chica-lit novel The Dirty Girls Social Club (2003), who is even better known, at least on the Internet, for her series of bridge-burning tirades against former bosses, former men in her life, and practically everybody who has ever tried to work with her during her decade-long (and so far unsuccessful) effort to bring Dirty Girls to a screen, large or small. Valdes’s article, posted on NBCLatino.com, is a worthy addition to her already extensive online polemical oeuvre:  

[Devious Maids] is about the way the Latina maid stereotype beautifully cleaves to the time-honored imperialistic way this country has dealt with its Spanish-speaking neighbors in the Americas. .  .  . You cannot colonize or occupy the lands of human beings you respect or view as your equal; it is better to simplify them in order to dehumanize them.

Ironically, Valdes, for all her talk of American imperialism and dehumanization of the Spanish-speaking, is, like me, only half Latina. Her father, a retired sociology professor and self-proclaimed Marxist at the University of New Mexico, was born in Cuba; but her mother hailed from an Irish family that had lived in New Mexico for seven generations.

In 1999, Valdes, a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, took a job covering Latin music for the Los Angeles Times. Two years later, she abruptly resigned from the Times via a 3,400-word email to her supervisors that flew from computer to computer among amused editors across the country, was excerpted in huge chunks on the St. Petersburg Times website, and lives on electronically to this day as a textbook example of how to torpedo your career. 

In the email, Valdes belittled her fellow Times feature-writers (by name) as incompetent, overpaid hacks; she smeared herself with self-pity because she, an “excellent writer,” brought home a smaller paycheck than another Times critic who hadn’t even graduated from college; and she trashed the Times for using the word “Latino” to cover a range of different ethnicities, some with only a tangential relation to Spanish culture. “There is no such thing as a Latino,” Valdes wrote, even though she herself had been hired at the Times as part of a “Latino Initiative” program. 

Later, though, after Valdes returned to New Mexico, she decided it was all right to be a Latina after all, and started on Dirty Girls, a beach read about the love lives of a group of career women with south-of-the-border roots. The novel sold a half-million copies.

After that, Valdes’s life took a downward turn. In 2005, she divorced her husband, a sometime student 10 years her junior whose main job had been taking care of their son while she supported the family. She subsequently described him online as her “sociopathic ex-husband” who was being “investigated” for “cyberstalking” her and “abusing” their son. She blasted through her $475,000 advance for Dirty Girls, plus a reported six-figure advance on a 2008 sequel, Dirty Girls on Top, that did not sell so well, plus royalties, plus sales of some young-adult titles.

Her Lexus was repossessed, and she had to short-sell her half-million-dollar house. Meanwhile, she optioned out the rights to The Dirty Girls Social Club four times, including to Jennifer Lopez for a movie deal—and every option failed. By Christmas 2010, she had moved with her son back in with her father in Albuquerque and was sitting in front of her computer churning out blog entries, Facebook posts, and Twitter messages accusing Ann Lopez (the NBC producer of the fourth and final failed option) of racism, sexism, and lying for changing around the plot and characters in Dirty Girls—to the point that NBC sent Valdes a cease-and-desist letter on Christmas Eve. 

Just in the nick of time, Valdes managed to swing yet another book deal: a quickie memoir, The Feminist and the Cowboy, about her budding romance with a six-foot-four, good-looking, politically conservative 53-year-old bachelor ranch manager she had met on an online dating site. The cowboy made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t having any truck with Valdes’s feminism, temper tantrums, progressive political views, indulgent child-rearing practices, or anything else she’d learned during her stints in high-end graduate school and journalism. He also made it clear that he was the one in charge. 

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