osefina Lopez has an amazing story: she grew up in a modest neighborhood in the heart of the city’s east side and went on to co-write a hit movie that made America Ferrera a star. Since then, she has harnessed her success to give Latino youth a space to explore – and succeed – in the performing arts.
In varying states of focus and creative chaos, the performers milled about a brightly-lit stage.
“I can’t find my costume, that blue sweater!” an actress wailed. Two young men practiced dance steps, mirroring each other’s moves and making jazz hands, as a stage manager stacked several large puppets on a nearby prop table. “Where is Erick V.?” the director shouted from the audience. “We need Erick V. for the transition from the wedding to the soap opera scene!”
For Lopez, the co-author of the hit film Real Women Have Curves, presenting Simply Maria at her nonprofit theater is her latest way of giving back to her community.
Simply Maria tells the story of Maria, living in what she calls ‘the little house in the ghetto,’ and how she rebels against her conservative parents by pursuing her dream of attending college. When her parents insist that she become a secretary or get married “to survive,” Maria snaps back, “Surviving isn’t living!”
Aside from being the original “J-Lo,” Lopez was, in a sense, one of the first DREAMers. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a child and she was undocumented for 13 years.
While Lopez was waiting to adjust her status under the 1986 amnesty program, she spent one year working in her sister’s sewing factory. This experience was her inspiration for Real Women Have Curves; Lopez later co-authored the screenplay of the film that gave America Ferrera her breakout role.
Lopez founded Casa 0101 in 2000.
“When I was growing up on Boyle Heights, I wanted a place like my theater to exist, but it didn’t exist,” she told NBC Latino. “I wanted to give the community what I wish I had when I was a little girl.”
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