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Maria Hinojosa: This is Latino USA, the radio journal of news and cultura. It’s Latino USA. Welcome to Latino USA. 

I’m Maria Hinojosa. 

We bring you stories that are underreported, but that matter to you. Overlooked by the rest of the media. And while the country is struggling to deal with these problems. We listen to the stories of Black and Latino students.

A united Latino front. A cultural renaissance. Organizing at the forefront of the movement. I’m Maria Hinojosa. ¡No se vayan! 

Dear listener, a heads up here that there are mentions of suicide and some explicit language, so be prepared.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: It’s a cold autumn night, and the streets of Chelsea, New York City, are bustling. 

I’m on my way to meet comedian Aida Rodriguez at the Chelsea Music Hall. She has a comedy show tonight. 

I’ve never seen her live before, but I really enjoy her work because she really goes there, especially when she talks about Latinos.

Aida Rodriguez: And I grew up going to the hair salon with my grandmother every week. And every week they tried to blow dry the Dominican out of me. (Laughs). 

Cause Latinos are racist. They can be very racist. They’re racist with others and they’re racist with each other too. 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida’s mom is Puerto Rican, her dad is Dominican, and her stepfather is Cuban.

Aida Rodriguez: Some of them think they’re better than Haitians because they speak Spanish. Right? And Cubans think they’re better than the Dominicans because they’re a little lighter and they think they speak better Spanish. (Laughs). 

And Puerto Ricans think they’re better than all of them because they’re citizens.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Once I get to the venue, I meet Aida. 

“Hi Aida, it’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for making time, I really appreciate it.” 

She’s headlining the venue and she loves it. 

Aida Rodriguez: I always get nervous. I’m exhausted, but I’m excited. I have new material, but very excited because there are not many Latinas in stand-up, period, specifically the ones that get the opportunities to headline.

So I don’t take this stuff lightly.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida takes the stage in front of a packed audience. 

Aida Rodriguez: Wow, mi gente, how beautiful you are. I’m so happy to see you. Wow. All right, let’s get started. 

Maria Hinojosa: From Futuro Media and PRX, it’s Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa. 

Today, comedian Aida Rodriguez on family and comedy and how she fuses both of these to heal.

Our Latino USA producer, Reynaldo Leanos Jr. recently met up with Aida Rodriguez for a conversation, and he’s going to pick up this story from here.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida Rodriguez was born in Boston. Her first comedy gig on stage was in the late 2000s, but her breakthrough came later, when she was a top ten finalist on The Last Comic Standing in 2014.

Here’s Aida talking on the show at the time about a moment when her daughter told her that she had a bully.

Aida Rodriguez: I said, a bully?

That’s called rites of passage. You’re going to always have a bully, right? One day a bully’s name is going to be “taxes” and “supervisor.” You don’t have a bully. She’s 17 years old. I said, what you have is a year to do something about it before it’s a felony.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: In 2021, Ida released an HBO Max comedy special named “Fighting Words.” It’s also part documentary. 

Aida Rodriguez: Through this journey, I had an opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic and meet my father for the first time. And it’s funny cause, we sat in a restaurant and every time a woman walked in, he’d be like, “That’s your sister.”

It happened a few times. He was so generous, he gave us each our own mothers. (Laughs.) 

He was like, Oprah, “you get a mother, you get a mother.”  (Laughs)

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: The special dives into some tough subjects like Aida’s upbringing without her father, being homeless, and how her family helped her get through it all. At times, Aida’s comedy gets political.

She addresses anti-Blackness in the Latino community in Fighting Words. 

Aida Rodriguez: I was dealing with this shit my whole life. Listen, my family was religious. Anti-abortion. Until I got pregnant from a Black dude. Then they became pro-abortion in the name of Jesus. They were like, “He’ll forgive you.”

Too much truth for you tonight? (Laughs.)

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Just recently, Aida published her memoir, “Legitimate Kid”, which dives even deeper into her personal life and some of the subject matter of her comedy. 

We’re going to hear Aida read from and talk about why she decided to write “Legitimate Kid” and how it’s helped her heal. And Aida also brings us moments from her recent comedy show in Chelsea.

Here’s Aida Rodriguez.

Aida Rodriguez: So my name is Aida Rodriguez. My title is “Queen of the Universe.”(Laughs).  I actually, I’m a stand-up comedian. I’m a writer. I’m an actor, now an author, and I’m also a producer and a director. So it sounds weird saying all of those things, but we have to reclaim our space. So yeah, I’m all of those things. 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida says she learned a lot about herself and her comedy by writing her book.

Aida Rodriguez: Everything I do is an homage to the people and the community where I grew up. You know, marginalized communities of Latinos, Latine, Black people, that are working class, considered poor, but show up every day to work. And I am one of those people. I stand on the front lines for them. Cause I, I do feel like, some people call me problematic, or they say that I say things that are incendiary, and I do. I think it’s important to push the buttons and to talk about it, but I also don’t think it’s cool to go leave “El barrio,” the hood, the neighborhood, and go get an education, and within the economics realm and then come back and weaponize that education against people who didn’t have it. 

So I find myself in this place where I feel like I need to stand up for that and I’m comfortable calling it all out. 

I really lean forward towards progress and I’m really about that life when it comes to the people.

You know, from the immigrant to the Black Latino to the LGBTQIA person. I was raised by all of those people. That’s my whole family. And so I do stand up for that, but I think it’s important not to let people who think it’s cool to rock with us, when it’s trendy to jump aboard and then jump off, when it’s not cool anymore.

When you talk about politics, Right-wing and Left-wing people both do it. But beyond that, I think there’s just a lot of people who, as Black people say, they love our rhythm, but they don’t love our blues. And I think that’s applicable to people of color, that people think it’s cool to be Latino and call you spicy, and we love tacos, and all that stuff.

But when it comes to, like, the real movement and all of the stuff that is happening underneath to all of us, the numbers get really small in terms of people who are still standing with us.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida says she wrote her book because she wanted to tell her story, and she didn’t want to be the punchline. 

Aida Rodriguez: Specifically when it comes to comedians, people see us like as their personal jesters, their clowns. They don’t realize that it is an occupation, it is a profession and a skill and we employ that at our workplace and it’s a very, very hard job to do, which is why a lot of people are afraid to do it.

I’ve been wanting to write a book since I was a little girl. Writing has always been my therapy. My writing process started a long time for this book, because I had been writing essays. You know, I write journal entries. The journal entries, either become essays, or they become jokes. And sometimes they become both.

I want you to understand what that story is and at the same time I want people to understand how I mine my comedy and where it comes from. And I went away. I went to Aruba and I took my mother and my kids with me. And it was so triggering because my mom was very raw. At that time was the first time she had been out of the country since she was a baby.

And, she triggered me, and that is what led me to, like, get a lot of it out.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: During this process, Aida reflected on her childhood. 

Aida Rodriguez: My childhood was filled with trauma, and there was a lot of horrible things that happened. But there was a lot of great things that happened, and a lot of people that showed up for me. 

I used to think of myself as “Dorothy” from “The Wizard of Oz,” and I was like, my grandmother is the “Good Witch,” my mom is the “Bad Witch.”

Because my grandmother never disciplined me. My mom always did. And then my uncles were the “Lion,” the “Tin Man,” and the “Scarecrow”, combined. And, you know, it was a bunch of adventures.

My grandmother was the landlady of the building. So I would collect rents with her. So I was hearing information like who was cheating on who with whom. And I was around a lot of adults all the time, and they felt very comfortable talking about adult stuff around me and all the other kids. So I just think I had a really interesting childhood, but I still played a lot of kickball, lived at the Churro-Man and the ice cream truck.

I ran, I climbed trees, I hung out with my little brothers until they got old enough not to want to play with me anymore. I was blessed. I had a lot, some things happened, but bad things happened to everybody. And so I’ve never just been one to think that, “Oh, it happened to me.” Trauma doesn’t make you special because it happens to everybody.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: In third grade, Aida was called a bastard by a little girl who had her father’s last name, something Aida didn’t have because Aida had her mom’s last name, not her father’s. And that moment became a theme in her book.

Aida Rodriguez: “I was an innocent, minding my own business, when one day a rotten kid in my class named Beth called me a bastard. Beth was the first child that I’d describe as evil. All the kids laughed and taunted me, except for Álvaro, my cute, chubby, Cuban, buddy. But Álvaro was also kind, and he responded in my defense.

“No, she’s not a bastard.” I am sure he didn’t know what the word meant either, since he barely knew English. Still, it was as though, someone saw me at the moment and knew that I was feeling naked. I was eight years old, when I became conscious of the absence of my father in a real way. Beth made sure of it.”

It set me off on this journey to find legitimacy.

I really learned a lot in my journey. And even though I didn’t have the words for it, but the way patriarchy plays a role in placing the importance of fatherhood versus motherhood in the way a child’s life is shaped. In my family, there was “machismo,” and there was all of this patriarchal framing where the people were like, you guys are doomed because your father isn’t in your life.

And you heard that all the time. I think that it really impacted me in that way where I was like, “Oh, I’m doomed because I don’t have my dad.” And girls that don’t have their dad usually end up pregnant or in jail.” Because that’s the stuff that I would hear. Those words really do affect you. 

Going on throughout my life, trying to understand why I was the kid that didn’t have their own father.

And what that meant for me in terms of my trajectory and where I would go, but also where it made me feel vulnerable to the world. Because I was taught that father meant protection. And so I was thinking like, compared to some of the girls that I knew, who was going to take care of me? And it just made me feel like, I was easy access to predatorial behavior.

And I called it into my life. It came out in my personal relationships with friends, romantic, everything that I did, it kept showing up, because it really became a part of my identity and it manifested in ways that I had challenges, having this deficit in my life. Which was, I started looking for that in my relationships and my romantic relationships. And when someone made me feel protected, that was the way in for me.

I remember having a guy that liked me and he would try to beat everybody up, who tried to do anything to me. And I didn’t even think about how that could be harmful for him. But it was just like, “Oh, he really loves me. He cares about me.”

I would gravitate towards that. 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: It was a pattern Aida writes about in her book. 

Aida Rodriguez: “The red flags kept showing up and I kept ignoring them. He kept his phone on silent, would always place it face down so that I couldn’t see the caller ID. He would disappear at night after leaving my place and tell me that he fell asleep the next day.

I was willing to overlook so much just to be with him. It was real and mine, and at least I had someone, I had no idea of what a healthy relationship was.”

My grandmother was a woman who came from Puerto Rico in the 50s who never had an opportunity to have an education. She moved to America with her two children and then had four more kids here. 

My grandmother was a door-to-door saleswoman. She’s probably the smartest person I ever met in my life. And it was so funny because she was illiterate and, and my stepfather would go back and forth and he would point out that she was illiterate, and she would always say, “Yeah, I can’t read, but I can count. And I know you broke.” 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida’s grandmother was a little rough around the edges. But she was always there for Aida when it mattered. 

Aida Rodriguez: “She had come to rescue me. I just knew it. I ran as fast as I could, grabbed her, and never wanted to let her go. I would finally be free from the horror that was that man. My grandmother was here to take me home.

I remember asking, “Are we going to go get my mom?” And my grandmother quickly replied, “She’ll come later.” 

I was so sad to leave my mama, but I really couldn’t take the struggle anymore. I had been cold, hungry, tired and molested. It was time for me to go.”

She’s just my hero. So much of my hero that when she got cancer, I was angry with her when she got sick because I couldn’t process the fact that she was weak. And my mind, it was like, this is not okay. But she was always there for me. 

My mom, who I thought was my sister in real life. And I was, it was really hard growing up in a house with a mother that was so young.

And my mom was a very beautiful woman, girl. And to think about the fact that she was involved with somebody that was so many years her senior, and moved out of the country with and had a child, and I was like that’s human trafficking now. When you think about the things that they were dealing with at that time that were normal or acceptable because they weren’t normal.

But my mom is one of the most spirited, fearless people, I’ve ever met in my life. 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida says she considers her mom a queen, and that she has a lot of respect for her. 

Aida Rodriguez: “My brother’s arrival was not the best. He was born days after “El Coreano” beat our mother. He cheated on her, and when she found out and confronted him, he didn’t appreciate her tone or questioning and decided to teach her a lesson.

He beat a nine-month-pregnant woman and left her for dead in Central Park. And those people, who many saw as undesirables in society, were the ones to take care of her and deliver her to the nearest hospital, saving both her, and her baby’s lives. To this very day, she says, “never look down on anyone. It was the prostitutes and junkies that rescued us.””

I had to grow up with her, so it was really hard. It was painful and sometimes fun, to have a very young mom that would dance with you anywhere. That was the thing about her. She was misinformed about discipline, because she was hit with an extension cord. She thought hitting us with the belt was a step up.

And so thank God for growth, because now I’ve never hit my daughter, or my son and she’s always been like, “good” 

So a lot of people don’t know my mom went back to school and got her GED. And then she went to a technical school and became a pharmaceutical tech. And she graduated from there and she had the highest GPA in her class.

She’s really, really smart. And in spite of all of the things that have happened to her. And a lot of bad things happened to her. She still fights, and she’s my favorite fighter. 

Mike Tyson ain’t got nothing on my mama.

I cry when I watch movies about family, right? Like, we all cry when we saw “Selena.” Selena was, you know, a biography, but it was also a story of family. None of us are alone as much as we’d like to think that we are. We see that tour bus, we see those people. I see movies like “Soul Food” or “La Familia,” and they would make me cry.

And I had to sit down with myself and say, What is it about this stuff that makes you feel this way? Why do you feel sad or why do you cry? And it’s because I realized that above all things, I value family. And my children make fun of me because I like to eat family style. So when we go out to eat, they’re like, “Oh, we’re going to have to,” you know, but I believe in “compartiendo,” like we all eat together, we all taste, it’s communion, community. 

It’s always been the center of it all, and it took me a long time to discover, to realize that that was what was everything to me. And yes, my father wasn’t there, but there was a father there. And it might not have been the traditional father role, but it was everything that I needed and then some.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: It was later in life that Aida had a full circle moment with her own daughter when it came to their last name. 

Aida Rodriguez: “I asked my baby if she knew her name, and she looked me in the eye and confidently said, “Yes, I’m Akayla.” Do you know your last name? Akayla what? “Akayla Rodriguez.” She said, looking me straight in the eyes and punching me right in the face with it.

No hesitation. She knew her name. “I want to be Rodriguez like you,” she said. “I don’t want daddy’s last name.” So many emotions swept through me. I was so confused and at the same time flattered. She was proud of me and wanted to be like me. She didn’t even think about her father. And because he wasn’t there, She didn’t know him enough to like him, let alone carry his name.

The way she saw it, it was a privilege for her to claim me. What a beautiful perception to have at that young age. Damn, she was my hero.”

Forgiveness is not a gift that you give other people. Forgiveness is a form of self-care. And I think that a lot of us hold on to forgiveness. I will say that human error is inevitable. We all do it. And one of the best things that I did for myself was to forgive the people who hurt me. That doesn’t mean that I allowed them back into my life.

That doesn’t mean that I am buddy, buddy with them. That doesn’t mean that I even speak to them anymore. But what I did do was, really come to terms with understanding that forgiveness, was me taking care of me and it released me from the chains and a lot of the pain that I was holding on to that allowed me to move forward in my life.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Before the show, Aida told me that she feels like she’s in a new chapter of her life and her comedy and set tonigh reflects that. 

Aida Rodriguez: (Applause)… A lot of people are suffering from depression, and I want you to know that I see you. And if you have thought about taking your life, if you are battling with that, please talk to somebody. Please, DM me, I’ll direct you to somebody. And don’t go to people, don’t tell people who are suffering from depression, who are thinking about killing themselves.

“Think about your mother. Right? What about your children?” 

That could very well be the reason why them people want to kill themselves, and there you go, agitating the wound. 

I want you to be here. You are the… 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Aida says she has struggled with depression in her lifetime. 

Aida Rodriguez: And I was gonna kill myself, and I was gonna take my children with me.

And I drove to the top of a cliff. With my two kids in the car, and I was in the drive off, and my son said, “I love you, mommy,” and I was like, I can’t drag him, 

…(Laughs)… He’s a good person.

But if that would have just been me and my daughter, (Laughs)… I don’t know if i’ll be here today.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: If you, or someone you know are struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8. 

And just so you know, Aida’s book will be available in Spanish in early March.

Maria Hinojosa: This episode was produced by Reynaldo Leaños Jr. and edited by Hayley Sanchez. It was mixed by J. J. Querubin and special thanks this week to Harper Audio for letting us use excerpts from the audio version of Aida’s book, “Legitimate Kid.”

The Latino USA team also includes Victoria Estrada, Andrea López-Cruzado, Glorimar Márquez, Marta Martínez, Mike Sargent, Nour Saudi, and Nancy Trujillo.

Peniley Ramírez is our co-executive producer. Our director of engineering is Stephanie Lebow, our senior engineer is Julia Caruso. Additional engineering support by Gabriela Baez. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubiños. I’m your host, and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. Join us again on our next episode.

In the meantime, look for us on social media and remember. “No te vayas nunca. Hasta la próxima.” Bye! 

Stephanie Lebow: Latino USA is made possible in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Unlocking knowledge, opportunity, and possibilities. More at hsfoundation. org. The Ford Foundation. Working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide.

And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Um, I want to turn that off. 

Aida Rodriguez: Chris, can you turn this fan off? I don’t want to mess with none of this. Both of them. Because this is audio. Alright, thank you so much. Do you want that one off too? 

Reynaldo Leaños Jr: Um, if possible, yeah.

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