The Dirt on a Latina Bestseller

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez? novel captures diversity of U.S. Latinos, Vista LA on December 14

By Jose Mayorquin
Published on LatinoLA: December 11, 2003

The Dirt on a Latina Bestseller

There have been many attempts to capture the diversity within the U.S. Latino community, but few have succeeded like Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez? ?Dirty Girl Social Club?. This story about six modern, middle-class Latinas spent an impressive three months New York Times? bestseller list. Valdes-Rodriguez?s debut novel generated so much talk that movie rights were optioned by Columbia Pictures, with Jennifer Lopez on board to produce.

Q: Did you write the book in English or Spanish?

A: I wrote it in English.

Q: Who translated it? Did you have anything to do with the translation?

A: Well, we had a few translators. St. Martin?s Press is my publisher and this is the first novel that they?ve published simultaneously in English and Spanish. They had some translators audition for them by translating a chapter and then I got to look through those translations and I got to choose who I felt most accurately reflected my voice in Spanish.

Q: I thought the title in Spanish was a little more accurate than the title in English, because when you think of the dirty girls social club, temerarias means more of a social kind of thing.

A: It?s interesting that you say more accurate because it was written in English, obviously. They are college students when they meet, these six women, who are all Latinas and they jokingly call each other ?sucia? which means dirty girl, but it?s the furthest thing from what they actually are. So the dirty girl social club is a title that reflects the fact that they call themselves the sucia social club, which was a joke. But it is interesting because in Spanish without that context, if you were just to see ?sucia? on the cover of a book, especially if you were from Mexico or you speak Mexican Spanish, it can be somewhat offensive. So we tried to be sensitive to that with the translation.

Q: How would you interpret ?temerarias??

A: Temerarias is more like ?fearless? to me, which in English, that is what it means. The dirty girls social club, they?re being kind of fearless and jokey and funny and modern and everything else. So we tried to pick a word in Spanish that reflected that.

Q: This book covered both coasts. How were you able to do that? Is your experience growing up bi-coastal?

A: No, but what did happen for me is that I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a Cuban father. So from the get-go I had a broader definition of what Hispanic could mean. I knew a lot of people growing up who really just thought it meant Mexican-American in Albuquerque. Now there are 3 or 4,000 Cubans in Albuquerque so it?s changing a little bit. When I went to college in Boston, that broadened my horizons a little bit more because less than 1% of the Hispanic population of Massachusetts was Mexican, a very small percent was Cuban and a large percentage were Puerto Rican and Dominican, mostly first and second generation. I realized again that in a different city that word meant something totally different. And then I spent some time in Miami and it was different there, I went to Texas, it was different there. Then I came to Los Angeles to work at the L.A. Times to cover Latin music. I had been covering merengue and salsa in New England under the Latin music umbrella and I got here and the top three FM radio stations at that time were all Mexican regional music. So once again, I realized that what Mexican-American meant in Albuquerque did not mean the same thing as what Mexican-American meant in Los Angeles. I just started to really think of the diversity of the people who fell under the Hispanic umbrella and I tried to put a little bit of that in my book.

Q: How did you come up with your character Amber?

A: Amber is my character who is from Southern California. She is a mix of a bunch of people I knew. There is a girl I knew growing up, who is actually a friend now, but when I was in middle school she was a chola, kind of a gang member. They jumped me after school because I wasn?t hanging out with those kids but I had a Spanish surname. They?re like ?what?s wrong with you?? Then over the years, she and I have become friends and she?s sort of gone through this Mexica awakening where she has decided that she?s not Hispanic or Latino, she?s Aztec. Her life revolves around these dances, learning Nahuatl, and Mexican history. That really intrigued me, just sort of watching her go through this process throughout her life, shifting identities.

Also when I lived in Los Angeles, there was quite a big awareness of people?s indigenous background, a pride that I didn?t see very much in New Mexico that I felt here. I got to interview people like Shakira and sort of that music world. I covered the Latin music industry for the L.A. Times and I was really taken by Shakira in particular in just her energy and her intelligence and that inspired me as far as the musical side of Amber, who is a musician. But her family, from Oceanside, is very much drawn from my in-laws. So she is just a lot of different things for me.

Q: Tell me about the success that you?ve had with this book.

A: It?s been very unreal. There is still a part of me that sits back and says, ?This isn?t happening.? I started writing the book in the mid 90?s and put it away and kept on with my career keeping in the back of my mind. A dream I?ve had since I was 15 years old, and I wrote it in my diary, that I would to be a novelist.

I was a newspaper reporter because it is one of the few jobs that you can get paid to write but then two years ago I said, ? I don?t want to do this anymore. I want to do what?s in my heart and go be the novelist I always wanted to be and I?m going to take my chance.? So I quit my day job, and took out all my savings and moved back to New Mexico with a very supportive husband and an infant son, a newborn son and wrote it, not knowing what would happen. I was totally prepared to just start waiting tables if I had to. But I was very fortunate. I found a great agent and she found interest from five publishers for the book, there was a bit of an auction. I was also blessed that I had been a journalist and I knew a lot of journalists and they covered the heck out of the book when it was published which really helped get the word out. And the book spent about three months on the New York Times bestseller?s list this year and is being turned into a major motion picture and it?s kind of cool.

More on Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez and other Latinos in the creative arts on ABC7?s Vista LA this Sunday, December 14 at 11:00am.

Vista LA airs Sundays at 11:00am on ABC, Channel 7. For more information visit

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