Archive for December, 2010

Another installment of Franky Benítez. For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents

Franky had never seen so much dead pork dangling around in his life. Don Octavio Benítez had always imported two crates of freshly cured sea-salty serrano ham from The Palace of the Ham in Madrid for the family’s annual New Year’s Eve party, but Franky had never actually seen or tasted these fatty, crimson treasures. This would be his first time.

While Franky headed towards the hams and the bar near the Benítez family pool in Diamante to get his father another Cutty Sark and ice, a crowd of neighbors, friends, and associates of Don Octavio danced to Ruben Blades and Willie Colon records that Franky’s cousin Ismael played from his new two turntables and speakers.

Life will give you surprises, surprises will give you life, yes, sir.

The music blaring, Franky waited for the bartender to pour the drink by taking the knife tied to one of the dangling hams. He cut a slippery chunk and chomped into it. Right then, Franky Benitez fell in love with Spain.

This was Franky’s first New Year’s Eve party at his grandparents’ home. Turning ten years old earlier over the summer had earned him the privilege to stay awake until 4 am, revel with his older cousins, and deliver Cutty Sarks on ice for his father, Fracisco Antonio. Franky had begged his mother Linda since last summer to let him get on a plane by himself and fly to down to Puerto Rico for New Year’s. Linda relented, since the last thing she wanted from Franky was more resistance from a smart-ass preteen who would dangle her divorce from Francisco Antonio like one of the hams at Don Octavio’s party. And since she was seriously dating again (an NYPD homicide detective she met on her nights shifts at the ER), a happy Franky could make her own situation more promising. So off she sent Franky to JFK via a car service, while her daugther Veronica, now five, stayed with her and a broken radiator in her frigid Bronx apartment.

With the sea salt and ham fat still wedged in his mouth, Franky headed back to his father, who was dancing with Azucena Fabrizzi del Santos, a former Ms. Ponce who had just returned from a sabbatical in Barcelona to spend the holidays with her family on the island. Azucena was still in college, almost ten years younger than Francisco Antonio. They had met two nights before at Leonardo’s discotheque on Ashford Avenue in Condado. Azucena was with two of her girlfriends, and she wore an ivory white dress with high black heels, her straight dark hair reached the top of her slender waist, her blue eyes were the color of the Caribbean. Francisco Antonio saw her saunter into the disco, sent a bottle of champagne to her table, and was mounting her in the back of his car three hours later.

Franky watched his father and his new friend gyrate around the dance floor. Sweat dripped from Francisco Antonio’s silk shirt, his whoops of joy timed to each note from Willie Colon’s magical trumpet. Azucena clung to het partner’s waist, her hips pressed and locked onto Francisco Antonio’s trousers. There was no way that Francisco Antonio would be worried about getting another drink from his son right now, so Franky held on to the Cutty Sark and walked over to Ismael’s DJ table.

Ismael, one year older than Franky, had a set of headphones wrapped around his afro, as he pulled Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall from the record sleeve and lined up a needle to the 12″ remix of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.'” The Blades/Colon song was still spinning on the other turntable, and Ismael was timing the beats between the two songs so that Jackson’s voice would hit the rhythm at the exact transition point.

“It’s disco time!” Ismael shouted into his microphone. “Happy 1979, everyone! We are playing music all night!”

Franky smiled at his older cousin. Ismael had picked up his DJ hobby earlier in the year, when he heard Donna Summer singing on the island’s new disco radio station. His parents gave him the DJ equipment for his eleventh birthday, and Franky, who spent his summers in Puerto Rico, remembered when the cousins went that very same day to the local DiscoMania store to buy LPs of Kool and the Gang, Chic, and the Sugar Hill Gang. (Franky had suggested “Rapper’s Delight” to Ismael, having heard the song for the first time walking down Jerome Avenue in The Bronx.) Since that time, Ismael had bought close to two hundred records, and had asked his grandfather for permission to play the music at the party. Don Octavio, always encouraging his grandchildren’s talents, agreed without hesitation.

“Franky? What do you think?” Ismael turned to his younger cousin. No one who didn’t know they were cousins would think Franky and Ismael were related. Franky had his grandmother Luisa’s lighter Spanish skin and his mother’s brownish-blonde hair while Ismael, whose mother married the great-great-grandson of a former slave, had Don Octavio’s North African moorish features.

“It’s cool, Izzy.” Franky said as he stopped watching his father dance with Azucena and turned his attention to his cousin.

“Sugar Hill Gang is coming up next,” Ismael said. “I said a-hip-hop-a-hibby-to-the-hibbity-hip-hop…”

“Rock it, you don’t stop,” Franky chimed in, sloshing around a bit of the Cutty Sark onto his arms.

“Now what you hear is not a test,” they rapped together.

Franky put his arm around his cousin and smiled. And making sure no one saw him, he took a sip from the Cutty Sark. He then gave a sip to Ismael.

The whiskey didn’t burn, as he had expected, it didn’t taste like paint or poison. It tasted like warm honey. Maybe it was the sea salt of the ham, the drum machine pumping through the woofers of the speakers, or maybe it was because Franky just wanted to just ignore what was right in front of his face: his father was with another woman.

No one really knew why Franky drank the rest of the Cutty Sark with his cousin, while the Sugar Hill Gang bragged about their macho prowess. The truth is that this wasn’t the Bronx, this was Puerto Rico, and the sight of a ten-year-old boy drinking whiskey on the rocks and dancing around the house like a frenzied jitterbug didn’t seem so strange. Yet every family member noted that they had never seen Franky dance, and the pride filled the dance floor for the little sad boy they had lost from the island three years earlier. “Long live Franky! Long live Franky!” Ismael shouted from his microphone. Within minutes, Franky was dancing between Francisco Antonio and Azucena, leaping and hugging each of them.

Yes, Franky thought, The Bronx is not Puerto Rico. That borough so distant from the pulse of Manhattan had kept him shy, reserved, resentful, and withdrawn. At his first New Year’s Eve party back home on this island of enchantment, Puerto Rico had released him, set him free. He was unshackled forever. This party, this home, this family that danced until 6 am and then shared the first Benítez breakfast of 1979 in crumpled party clothes was where Franky belonged.

Life will give you surprises, surprises will give you life, yes, sir.

Or so he thought.

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After stating two days ago that she had made all the statements she needed to make and would now focus on legal action, author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who claims that the TV script adaptation of her book, The Dirty Girls Social Club, is racist, sexist, and promotes Latina stereotypes, continues to tweet and post updates on her public Twitter and Facebook sites.

The award-winning author, who revealed last week on her blog that she obtained a leaked copy of the NBC script being developed by Ann Lopez’s Encanto Productions and written by Luisa Leschin, called the script a “bastardization” of her book and started sharing her thoughts on social media. Web outlets, such as PerezHilton.com, The Frisky, JezebelFishbowlLA (MediaBistro), and The Boston Globe, have written about the content of her blogs.

Fox News and CBS Early Show Interested?

Among her many tweets today, Valdes-Rodriguez hinted earlier this evening that major TV outlets are inquiring about her story:

Fox News and CBS Early Show both inquiring about me coming on to talk. Interestinger and interestinger she goes.

In addition, Valdes-Rodriguez today changed her profile picture on both Facebook and Twitter. She also changed her Twitter bio to read: Writer. Social Critic. Mom. This is a common occurrence with social media profiles, but it suggests to us that Valdes-Rodriguez is committed to sharing her point of view to her social media networks.

As for the other principals in the story, there has still been no public comment by NBC, Lopez, Leschin, Encanto Productions, or Creative Artists Agency (CAA), whom Valdes-Rodriguez claims stopped representing her on Sunday for her young adult book. (We have contacted each principal through email, but have not received a response.)

In the meantime, Valdes-Rodriguez has been active with her public social media network (her Twitter stream is public and her Facebook profile is also public with no privacy settings), sharing updates such as the following:

  • “You cannot stand for something important without making enemies.”
  • It is from my amazing immigrant father that I learned: Just because a thing is always done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s right. #think”
  • “When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, there were five synagogues in Havana alone. Seems silly to make the Cuban Jewish character on a show “American” for seeming “Jewish” to you, doesn’t it? And, no, I don’t care who it confuses. Facts are facts.
  • “There are 47 million Latinos in the US. Media wants them. But media ignores 56 million Latinos in our hemisphere who are black. #fuzzyassmath”
  • “I never thought I’d utter these words, but… I love my lawyer.”
  • 84% of Dominicans are African. Dominicans were the largest immigrant group to NYC in 1990s. 1.5 million in the U.S.; seems silly to therefore get rid of the only Dominican character in a show aimed at Latinos because she ‘seems black’ to you, doesn’t it?

Valdes-Rodriguez has stated in her blogs that she finds the script’s intention to change the ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation of key characters in the book to be extremely offensive. Her current tweets and updates suggest that these issues need to be accurate and true to her story, and not to the examples she claims are included in the script she obtained.

As this story unfolds (and we think it will only gather more momentum), there is no doubt:  Valdes-Rodriguez believes in the power of social media. Will that power translate to a resolution in her favor?

UPDATE, January 1, 2011: The Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez blog posts referred to here no longer appear on her site. Valdes-Rodriguez hinted that certain blog posts would very likely be deleted in accordance to the statement she published at Please Respect NBC.

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I am a part-time blogger, writer, author, and believer in social media. When I am not working, celebrating #LatinoLit, or developing my manuscript for Franky Benítez, I dedicate my time exploring and sharing my thoughts about why social media has leveled the field for everyone who has web access.

Which leads me to the social media saga of author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for Being Latino. There is no question in my mind that Valdes-Rodriguez has shown courage in shedding her news to light. Her unfiltered blog posts, tweets, and status updates have generated interest and awareness, even during the holiday season.

Alisa Valdes-Rodríguez

So, yes, social media is an effective way to get your message across online. And if people choose to listen, it is really effective.

Nonetheless, I did want to add some commentary to the Valdes-Rodriguez story, since as a blogger who has seen more traffic about this topic than any other topic I have ever written about or covered, people have asked for my observations about how effective Valdes-Rodriguez has been in using social media.

Here is a list of pros and cons I can conclude from this story. I do believe they can apply to any story, campaign, or issue that you are trying to share using social media.

PRO: Social media allows you to find your audience and converse directly with them. Valdes-Rodriguez communicated to her reader base on her Facebook sites, her Twitter account, and her blog. The message came across quickly. Interest was generated, and I think her story is very close to getting picked up by a major news outlet (besides The Boston Globe, which has already written about it) all because of what she has accomplished with social media.

CON: Once you get that initial “rush” from the follower base, you can still run the risk of communicating too much and turning people off. What is the right balance? For many, there were a lot of people who wanted to hear what Valdes-Rodriguez had to say. For others, that balance might seem too one-sided and excessive, as I started to receive questions about what other players in the story were doing to respond. There is still a desire to get the complete story from a group of readers.

PRO: Social media allows you to engage directly with people, with no walls or barriers. Your message is unfiltered. Valdes-Rodriguez made (and keeps making) an effort to thank her supporters and respond to them. Her fans feel like they are part of her fight, which in essence they are.

CON: Social media takes up a lot of your time. To truly establish the relationships you need to establish, social media can become a drainer of time. Once you commit, you can’t turn back. Which leads to the first CON we listed: how much is too much? Each individual needs to decide about that one. There is no right way.

PRO: Your public world is accessible to anyone. Valdes-Rodriguez has been very active in her social media world. Her public profile has gained her more followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook. More numbers mean a much better chance of having those people share content related to the story. Story gets bigger, awareness grows.

CON: Being public has its problems. Now everybody knows what you are doing, and there is a public trail of information that can be traced. Social media can get frenetic as you push your message across, and that could also reveal too much. You could say things you regretted saying, and run a greater risk of getting criticized or called out on something. That puts you in a cycle of constantly responding and adds to the time commitment factor. It could also hurt your online reputation.

With that said, I think that Valdes-Rodriguez is a fighter, and is someone who has passion, conviction, and stands for what she believes in, whether you agree with it or not.

The other pro of social media? With so many topics and options inundating you each day online, you also have the option to not listen to any specific message. That could be a pro for you, but a con for the person trying to communicating that message.

However, just like different flavors of ice cream, there is always another story to follow and there will always be another person to follow. Social media will never grow stale, because it is still organic and diverse. We all have the choice to do whatever we want or say whatever we want, understanding that there are consequences. Such is life.

I wish Valdes-Rodriguez the best of luck in her efforts, and I will still be watching to see what happens next.

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