Aida Rodriguez, a rising star in the stand-up comedy scene whose appearance on Netflix’s Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready, is quickly becoming a household name as she continues to use her voice to talk about topics others refuse to touch.
“I think it’s important to talk about controversial topics, specifically dealing with taboo issues that have to do with women and children, because so many people are silenced through their shame,” she told HipLatina. Using the medium of comedy, Rodriguez shares her own experiences to release other people of the fear of speaking up about mental health issues and therefore encouraging real conversations about healing.
“We can start creating a culture of people who speak up about the things that happen to them,” she said, adding that it could also help to hold the people who take advantage of others accountable for their actions. In the Netflix special (Rodriguez appears in episode 3 of the six-part series), the 42-year-old comedian uses the platform to bring international awareness to some of the difficult experiences she faced growing up and the taboo topics that took her a long time to feel comfortable talking about like generational trauma.
“We’re all a result of [trauma],” she said. “When you talk about sexual abuse. When you talk about racism. When you talk about sexism, those are all generational traumas.”
It can be complicated to weave in issues of generational trauma into comedy. However, Rodriguez explained that “like any other issue that’s heavy, if you don’t know how to properly craft a joke around it, you know you’re just doing a TED talk.”
The South Floridian of Puerto Rican and Dominican parents started reading at a very early age. Accepting “readers are leaders” as a personal mantra, she said that reading allowed her to go “places that I couldn’t go physically and learn about things that I would never have access to.”
All of this reading helped her realize, as an adult, that she similarly could also learn how to deal with her trauma. She began to wonder why grownups walk around with pain and shame, and why we blame other people for what’s happened to us but seldom take responsibility to help ourselves heal.
“Being able to confront that is probably where the solution lies,” she said while discussing how going to therapy taught her how to be more open and honest about her own personal experiences. The number of Latinos who attend therapy still pales in comparison to other ethnic groups in the United States. Research on Latino mental health from the National Alliance of Mental Illnesses (NAMI) shows that approximately 33 percent of Latino adults seek treatment compared to the U.S. average of 43 percent. More don’t do so, due to a lack of information and a misunderstanding about mental health because of the stigma of being labeled a loca and the shame associated with seeking help.
However, Rodriguez, a mother of two college graduates, realized that getting treatment for her mental health struggles would help her — not hurt her. Actually, it empowered her and became fuel for her comedic material. In her stand-up routine on Netflix, Rodriguez described her close relationship with her late grandmother (who once kidnapped her to save her life) and with her gay uncle who was murdered in a hate crime two months after the death of the matriarch from cancer in 2013. This was a very difficult period for Rodriguez who grieved their loss while she continued to do stand-up.
Yet, despite the greater opportunities she’s being given since the release of the special They Ready, for Rodriguez, the most important change in her life is the opportunity to bring her lost family members to life in a very colorful funny way that makes people laugh. This has also allowed her to heal.
“That’s how I keep them alive, through the comedy,” she said. Now she plans to use her position as a role model to help the voiceless and to help more Latinas get into stand-up. Through comedy, Rodriguez has learned to navigate those spaces of trauma, shame, and grief because she keeps a clear objective in mind: To make people laugh, not just to think, she shared. That’s how she sets herself apart from any other speaker — and comedian.
“Being able to say there’s something wrong with me doesn’t mean I’m crazy, it means that there’s something that needs to be addressed like any other illness,” she told HipLatina. “Being able to confront that is part of your power. So why not get the help that I need for my mental well-being?”