SELMA – Even though Selma Arts Center’s latest production centers on a group of five Mexican-American women working in a tiny sewing factory, director Haley White says “Real Women Have Curves” tells of experiences women of any culture can identify with. Even men in the audience will be able identify the women in their lives in the show and will hopefully gain insight into women’s relationships, she said.
“I think the audience, especially women, will see women they recognize in their real lives. I think it’s special for Latinas to see themselves, but there are moments when Yvette [Montijo] is doing her role and I see my mom. This is based on real women who are full-fledged, real women with flaws and strengths and beauty. They have their own individual personalities and then there’s the dynamic with everybody else.”
“Real Women Have Curves” was written by Josefina Lopez and made in to a movie starring America Ferrera as Ana in 2002.
The story tells of full-figured women racing to meet nearly impossible production deadlines in order to keep their tiny factory in East Los Angeles from going under while also fearing deportation. Their work banter bounces from their husbands and lovers to their children and dreams for the future. Ana is the youngest among them and having just graduated high school, she dreams of escaping the barrio and heading off to college. This takes money and although Ana doesn’t like working at the sewing factory, she takes the work and finally has to make a decision of whether to leave or stay.
Ana chronicles her experiences in a journal and slowly gains an understanding and appreciation for her co-workers and their lives and experiences. An essay she writes lands her a journalism fellowship and that’s her ticket to New York City.
Juan Luis Guzmán and White are directing SAC’s production and Fresno’s Julia Prieto has the role of Ana. Prieto said since her character is opinionated and strong minded, she reminds her of herself in many ways.
“We were born at a different time than our parents. We have different ways of thinking and how we view the world. Even the world itself is different,” she said of the relationship Ana has with her mother, Carmen in the show.
“[Ana] is flawed for sure, but in the play we see how she understands where all these women are coming from better. Each of these women has something they are struggling with and they all learn something. I think it’s very powerful.”
Prieto is excited that the author of the show, Josefina Lopez, will attend one of their performances on Sept. 13 and will take part in a question-and-answer at 6:30 p.m. with Guzman before the show.
“I really hope to do her words justice,” Prieto said.
Yvette Montijo has the role of the overprotective mother Carmen. Montijo said she’s long been a fan of Lopez and stepped way out of her comfort zone to audition for a role in the show. This will be her first acting experience. She wasn’t really prepared to audition, but she decided to do so anyway after a friend encouraged her to go for it.
“I said, ‘I can't help it feel I am the embodiment of Dona Carmen.’ So they gave me something to read and that I’d hear back from them and they called me.” Montijo said with the recent passing of her grandmothers, Catalina Chavez and Elena Alarcon, she’s dedicating her performance to them.
Montijo said she sees her character as a woman from the old world who’s struggling to adapt to modern life and modern society, especially when it comes to her daughter Ana’s ambitions.
“Through the play you'll gain insight into why she is the way she is,” she said of her over-protective nature. “It’s not unique to her. I think it exists in all cultures. It’s universal and the kinds of conversations we have in the play are universal to all women across all ages and across all times. The audience will hear it and it will resonate with them.”
Selma’s Fermina Martinez plays the character Pancha who unbeknownst to her factory coworkers is dealing with an abusive husband at home. Martinez said she prefers to be involved with productions that have an empowering message or a make a social statement. She especially prefers shows based on true-life stories.
Since “Real Women” is based on Lopez’s experience working in a garment factory before she went off to college, this is a real as it gets. Martinez said she appreciates that this play deals with issues that are sometimes hard to talk about – family relationships, self-image perceptions and the trials in marriage. Aside from an abusive husband, Pancha is also dealing with infertility issues as well.
“I feel like in the Hispanic culture, we don’t talk about things that go on behind closed doors,” Martinez said. “So I wonder, ‘is this a Mexican thing or is this a typical life thing?’ Like with my mom, we're always butting heads and I go through this at home every day. Mexican mothers are like Dona Carmen. She’s the typical blunt Mexican mom who says how she feels, says stuff about your weight and tells you you’re not going out dressed like that.”
Martinez realizes those statements may come from a sense of protection, but it’s still difficult to hear.
“I’ll ask my mom and she’ll say she just doesn’t want people making fun of me. It’s really about overprotecting you and them not wanting us to get hurt. Maybe they went through something and it comes out harsh and cold, but maybe there’s a meaning deeper than that.”
Montijo agrees as she’s the mother of both sons and a daughter and at times during the play, she realizes she has said some of the same overbearing things to her daughter.
“We all just want the best for our children, so it all stems from love and concern. Parents think if they can spare their children any heartache and trouble, that’s why we tell them what we tell them,” she said.
Although the show focuses on women’s experiences, each of the actors and the director said men would gain a great deal of insight if they come watch one of the performances.
“It’s crucial that men see this so they can gain insight into women’s thought processes and feelings,” Montijo said. “They’re going to see love, disappointment, happiness, joy, anger and heartbreak. And you’ll see that all in 90 minutes. We plan on taking the audience on that emotional rollercoaster and immersing them to use all their senses. We want you to see it and hear it and smell it and taste it. We want you emotionally hooked and invested in these characters.”