By Jorge Amaro
The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) equality doesn’t stop at the signature gathering canvass outside the local grocery store or the hours leading up to Election Day. Likewise, the healing process for the pain LGBTQ people experience is not isolated to the confines of a multipurpose room inside a community center or the office space of a certified counselor. For queer Xicana actress Adelina Anthony, laughter and performance is not simply an art form, but a healing process that breaks silence and speaks out loudly the necessary truths of love, pain, and trauma.
When Adelina moved to Los Angeles in the 1990’s, there were very few opportunities for Latinas in Hollywood. Yet while astronauts, doctors, lawyers, presidents, governors, entrepreneurs, and justices of the Supreme Court now include Latinas among their ranks, none of these leading roles were being carved out for Chicana and Latina women in film or television. If she wasn’t auditioning for a role as a maid, Adelina was encouraged by her talent agent to audition as a sexy and sultry beer commercial model.
But at 24 years old and just out of college, Adelina had already experienced the rigid and taxing Hollywood machine. “I understood I was never going to have a voice if I followed that path. I realized I wasn’t going to do Hollywood.”
A native of San Antonio and the oldest of eight siblings, Adelina grew up at a time when President Reagan’s draconian policies vilified struggling working-class mothers as “welfare moms,” the LGBT community was demonized as the cause of the AIDS epidemic or the “gay disease,” people of color (POC) communities experienced heightened criminalization and incarceration under the fallacious “war on drugs,” and the middle class was dismantled under “Reaganomics.”
For Adelina, home was not a fixed location as her mother moved the family around because they couldn’t afford to pay the rent or needed to get as far away from her abusive stepfather as possible. And while domestic abuse was prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s, as much as can be expected from any child, Adelina was not sure what to make of the hostile circumstance.
“That’s how I became a runner.” Because of the abuse her mother endured at home, Adelina, “at seven years old I was the first one running out of the house, and asking for help.” It was that violence that taught her to become an outspoken person.
But it was at school where Adelina discovered her real talent. There, she felt “safe;” she excelled in class and was encouraged by her fourth grade teacher to try out for the school’s play because she could “cry on cue.” It was then that she learned she wanted to act. Yet for Adelina, her school experiences made her feel as though she “was living a double-life. I was encouraged to identify with the white kids. I sat at the white kids table. At school, I was never exposed to Chicano culture.”
While Latinos were the dominant community at school, “counselors were okay with us just graduating, going to a community college, or joining the military. I only ended up in college because one of my teachers pulled me aside to tell me ‘you need to apply to college.’”
For Adelina, the four years at the University of Dallas were transformative. In college, she immersed herself in theater: acting, producing, and directing plays in Spanish. She used the skills gained during college to catapult her into the world of theater, traveling to Mexico, moving to New York, studying for a year at UCLA, earning a Masters of Arts (MA) in Drama from Stanford, and solidifying herself as a premier, and truly a tour de force, queer POC performer of our time.
“What saved me [from a violent past], was theater, was access to the arts. All of this came through after school programs. I feel that I have had experiences that a lot of mujeres have gone through. Violence is so endemic and prevalent that many people can identify with it.”
On stage, Adelina speaks of the liberty she is able to take, not simply from performing, making the audience laugh through the element of hyperbole, but also the ability to speak to the truth in the trauma women, POC, and LGBTQ communities have experienced.
Today, Adelina speaks of the reason why, as a young child in elementary school, she was able to “cry on cue” so easily: “it was because I could access it from memoria.”
Despite the disenchantment Adelina faced when finally reaching Hollywood, “the only reason I didn’t give up on the acting career is because I wanted to give back to the community. My mother passed almost 10 years ago, but I always see my mother in the audience.”
Adelina Anthony’s new play “The Beast of Times” will be staged during a special encore performance at the Renberg Theater at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood the weekend of Friday, January 31, 2014 through Sunday, February 2 2014 at 8 p.m. To purchase tickets, please visit: www.lagaycenter.org