Josefina Lopez has lived an incredible life—and that life has inspired her acclaimed work as a playwright and now as a novelist.
She’ll be appearing at Café Aroma as part of the Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13.
Lopez is best known as the award-winning writer of Real Women Have Curves, a play which went on to be adapted into a film. Her personal story, in some ways, is one of living the American dream: Lopez was 5 years old when she came to the United States with her family from Mexico. She grew up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, was part of the first graduating class of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
During a recent phone interview, Lopez discussed the shock she felt when she learned she was undocumented.
“I didn’t know I was undocumented until I was about 10 or 11,” Lopez said. “My father came to the country as part of a work program and decided to stay. Eventually, he brought my mother, and then we all came along. I grew up undocumented, so I grew up very afraid of being deported and separated from my family. Eventually, when I was 18, I got legal residency through the amnesty program. Even now as a grown woman, I realize that being undocumented was very painful.”
She said her backstory leads her to write about immigration. Her first novel, Hungry Woman in Paris, was released in 2009. The story focuses on a journalist, activist and bride to be named Canela who before the age of 30 finds herself unhappy. She uses a ticket intended for her honeymoon to escape Los Angeles for Paris, where she enrolls in a prestigious culinary institute and rediscovers her passion for life.
The story is somewhat autobiographical, she said. Lopez and her French-American husband spent time living in Paris after she became unhappy with being a Hollywood writer. After giving birth to her second child, she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, in part to give her writing a direction.
“I was there as an older woman, so I feel I wrote the novel for myself,” Lopez said. “It was the kind of novel I wish I would have read when I was 20 because of the pressure of being a Latina and a woman. … I wrote the story affirming to women: ‘You know what? It’s OK if you don’t ever want to get married.’ I feel that I didn’t have permission to do that, because I grew up in a home where you have to be married in order to be part of a family.”
When she looks back on Real Women Have Curves, she said she’s still surprised by the success she achieved after the play was published in 1996. The film version was released in 2002.
“When the play opened and it had success, I was really surprised,” Lopez said. “… I was so amazed by how many men and how many people who weren’t Latino responded and connected to it. I’m very happy that it’s a universal message.”
While Lopez is a successful playwright and author, she’s also a dedicated activist on the subjects of Chicago theater, women’s history, immigration and various other issues. She said her passions have a common thread.
“I realize now that what I’m fighting for is for all people to realize they were born free,” Lopez said. “That includes not just civically free, but in their mind and in their spirit.
“No matter what I do, that’s what I’m trying to show people. We are born free, and we are more powerful than we think we are. Some of us settle for being comfortable, but others, we fight for being free, being big, being grand and getting out of our comfort zone. I think every fight is the fight between love and fear. When you’re afraid, you seek comfort, shelter and survival. I just want all people to know they are born free and that they are powerful.”
Josefina Lopez will appear as part of the Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13, at Café Aroma, 54750 N Circle Drive, in Idyllwild. Admission is free. For more information, visit idyllwildauthors.com.