For a lot of Latinas who grew up in the states, seeing characters in films or movies that reflected our experiences were hard and rare to come by. That lack of reflection was what inspired Dominican-American writer, director, and actress Paloma Valenzuela to create The Pineapple Diaries, a web-series following a group of Latina BFFs — mainly Dominicans — living in Boston.
Valenzuela created the show’s first season in 2015 after moving back to Boston after living in the Dominican Republic for five years.
“I graduated from college and moved to the Dominican Republic because a lot of my inspiration came from my experience as a Dominican-American living in Boston but I also felt like I wanted to connect with where my dad is from, I wanted to connect with my family, and I wanted to improve my Spanish,” she tells HipLatina.
After five years of working in the Dominican film industry, Valenzuela who identifies as both Latina and bi-racial (her mom is Jewish-American) felt it was important to create a show that spoke to the diversity and different experiences within the Dominican-American experience.
“I wanted to create what I wasn’t seeing. It was important to me to be real and keep it real for any Dominican-American who was watching, I wanted people to get that. If you think about all the Latinas you surround yourself with, do they all look like Sofia Vergara? Do they all have or wear their hair straight? No, we’re all different within the culture and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she says. “I think the more mainstream media recognizes and embraces that there are a lot of Afro-Latinas and Indigenous Latinas in Latin America but also living in the states, that will open doors for us to be able to see ourselves reflected. You can have a Latina character in a film played by an Afro-Latina actress. It’s time for that. There’s so many of us that don’t get to see ourselves in a real way in shows or in film, so I thought, why don’t I just do it? I wasn’t setting out to make a show where all of us look the same. I wanted to create a show that showcased our differences and our varied experiences and captured the beauty in that.”
The majority of the cast members on Valenzuela’s shows are Dominican-American and the leading character Maite Lopez is played by Nigerian-American actress, Adobuere Ebiama. The show addresses a lot of things many Latinas could relate to — not just Dominicans — from catcalling, growing up with a Latina mom, and the colorism issue that still very much exist within the Latinx community.
After two successful seasons already available on YouTube, Valenzuela has spent the past year writing and filming season three. After season one, the crew discovered the power in fundraising and are currently fundraising for their next season.
“When I was in college I thought it was one of those things where I’d come up with an idea and someone would give me the money to do it. Then I graduated college and during the recession and I realized, okay things aren’t going down like that,” she says. I was like you know what, I don’t really have the money but I still really wanted to create. When I was in college YouTube wasn’t what it was by the time I graduated. It was a great opportunity to write, create, and publish something on YouTube. My family encouraged me in 2014 when I was working on the first season, to crowd-fund. We made $3,000 to create the first season. Then for season two, I started applying for grants. The New England Foundation for the Arts accepted The Pineapple Diaries and gave us a monetary grant from the City of Boston to use towards the project. That combined with close to $5,000 we made in crowd-funding, allowed us to shoot the second season using better equipment and I was able to pay my actors and my team.”
Just last week, Valenzuela was named one of NPR Boston’s 25 Millennials of Color Impacting Boston Arts and Culture. Representation is everything for her and because of that, she’s very unapologetic about the fact that the show is very Latina and very authentic to the Dominican-American experience.
“I think you’re entering a danger zone once you start feeling like you need to white-wash things. In addition to it being a Latinx show — a show about Dominican-American women — we’re also going to keep it as real and as authentic as possible,” she says. Yes, I’m Dominican but every day of my life isn’t just about my struggle, so not every episode or instance on my show is about the struggles that come with being Dominican or a woman of color, it’s also just about the things we go through in our every day lives because we go through different things that are not just our struggle. Our struggle is part of who we are but it’s not all of who we are and by not only focusing on that, that’s one of the ways I’ve been working towards eliminating a lot of the stereotypes that we see about the Latinx community that are exhausting us.
She also wants folks to know, while this is a show by Latinas and for Latinas, it isn’t exclusive to Latinas. Valenzuela believes this is a show anyone regardless of their race or background should be able to enjoy and relate to.
“Shows with majority white cast aren’t worried about if their shows are too white so why do so many of us worry if our shows are too Latinx or too Black? The idea that this show with an all Latina cast should only be for Latinas can’t be true and we can’t let that happen anymore,” she says. “Because what we’re saying is that people of color have to sit in an audience and put themselves in white people shoe’s when they watch a film or show with a majority white cast (which is still a majority of mainstream film and TV), but white people never have to do that for us. That’s not right.”
As for the shows she’s watching these days. Valenzuela is a huge fan of HBO’s Insecure and a huge fan of the genius behind it — Issa Rae. In fact, Issa’s YouTube series Awkward Black Girl, is part of what inspired Valenzuela to take the plunge and create her own web series on YouTube.
“I love insecure and I love Issa Rae. In 2011 I started watching her YouTube series, Awkward Black Girl and that’s when I realized you could utilize the platform as if it were a network to tell stories,” she says. “I love the characters on Insecure, I love that it’s all women of color, I love that it’s also funny, and that it’s so relatable. It really spoke to me.”
If you’re interested in seeing more shows with Latina casts that speak to the Latina experience, feel free to donate to the Indiegogo Campaign in efforts to help fund The Pineapple Diaries season 3.
Shows like this are proof that there isn’t just one Latinx experience and this is why we need to continue to have our stories told and represented in media, film, and television, because all of our stories matter. Check out the show’s pilot episode below!