Queer Latinas With Surfboards!
Getting wet with Monica Palacios
"Queer? I love that word . . . a one-syllable word that speaks for all the so-called oddballs, all the so-called people on the fringe. I really feel that."
In contrast to her impertinent, goofball stage presence, writer/performer Monica Palacios is remarkably soft-spoken and serious. We're sitting outside a Starbucks close enough to the street that I often have to ask her to repeat herself because of the traffic. We're chatting about her life and the OC premiere of her 1999 one-woman comedy, Greetings From a Queer Señorita, opening Friday at Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble.
"When I'm onstage, telling my own stories, it's a persona," she says, between sips of iced chamomile. "I have this exaggerated version of what you see today in front of you, but I was really a shy kid, quiet from fetus to 10 years old. I was observing. I was doing my research."
Palacios began struggling with her sexuality in college during a year-long stint at Chico State. She was studying to be an art major when she hit a bump: "My art teacher pulled me aside one day and said, 'What are you going to do with your art degree?' I said, 'Uh, ooh. I don't know . . . paint? Make portraits?'"
The instructor gave her eight blunt words of advice: "If I were you, I'd find another major."
She took his advice and went on to San Francisco State, getting a BA in film. "If the art teacher was being a jerk, it doesn't matter because he gave me that big push. . . . I think my work is now very filmic."
What was it like growing up lesbian in a Latino family?
"The funny part was my sister, who is 10 years older than me, came out at the same time," she recalls. "My parents thought, 'Is it contagious?' I think they saw two women—their daughters—who were happy, who had their life together . . . They would always tell us, 'As long as you're happy, we're happy.' Very good friends of mine got kicked out of the house, got disowned. I can't even fathom that."
Sounds like a charmed life, I tell her.
"Every once in a while, I think to myself, if I'd stayed in the closet, I'd probably be richer. But I'd be so unhappy," Palacios says.
"When I started doing [standup], I started as a person wanting to do comedy, not make any statements about my nationality or sexuality, but once I found out about this club (San Francisco's Valencia Rose Café) that catered to gay and lesbian comics, I thought, 'What the heck, I'm coming all the way out.' We tried to do the straight clubs, but they didn't want to have anything to do with us. They were afraid that we were going to change their clubs, we were gonna bring the gay clientele."
After an aborted attempt to get into NYU, Palacios moved to LA. SoCal's warm climate and vibrant surf culture quickly inundated and revived her.
"Growing up, I'm 20 minutes from the beaches in Santa Cruz, but it's always overcast. We're wearing parkas. . . . So when I come to LA, I see all these Latinos in bikinis and Speedos. My people! Scantily clad! It was a new concept to me . . . Latinas with surfboards!"
She put her spin on it, coining the phrase "surfer chola."
"I dig seeing people out of the stereotype," Palacios says. "Making tortillas in the kitchen? We go beyond that! We can make tortillas on our surfboard!"
An opening spot at the Comedy Store six months later turned into a disaster and a blessing. Gay-baited by a bouncer moments before she went on, she bombed. "That night made me say, 'I don't want to do that anymore. I don't want to be in a lineup of 20 comics. I don't want to go into their space. I want to do my thing. On my time. In my space. In my way.'"
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Latin Lezbo Comic (1991) was her first solo production. She has written and performed six one-woman shows since.
Palacios has updated and reworked Greetings From a Queer Señorita for 2008. What can audiences expect?
"First of all, they should come down to Breath of Fire and support the work of Latina artists. I don't know any other theater organization in the country [doing this kind of work]," she says. "Second, they're going to be doubled over in laughter, and laughter is a good for your soul! It's me, the storyteller, and the things I usually deal with: culture, food, chicks and revolution. They will be changed for the better, and they may even walk out with a new guacamole recipe."
Greetings From a Queer Señorita at Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, 310 W. Fifth St., Second Floor, Santa Ana, (714) 540-1157. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through Aug. 3. $20.