Name: Mercedes Floresislas
Hometown: Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Current Town: Riverside, CA
Affiliations: CASA 0101 Theater, University of California Riverside
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I am Mexican, born and raised. I have the accent to prove it. But I’m old enough to say that I’ve lived in California longer than I lived in Mexico so I’m a Californian who was born in Mexico.
Q: Tell me about Los Moreno.
A: Los Moreno is the recipient of the 2016 Kennedy Center’s Latinidad Playwriting Award and the First Alternate of the National Partners Playwriting Excellence Award. It is my second trilingual play and developed during my first quarter at UCR. Los Moreno is a trilingual story about how Deafness affects family roles and the struggle to connect between a Deaf teenage boy and his non-signing father when the mother is detained for possible deportation. It incorporates American Sign Language, Spanish and English and it has Deaf characters.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a play that deals with Deafness (the cultural experience of being deaf and communicating mainly via sign language) and mental illness. I am not Deaf so my experience of Deafness is limited to my experiences as a mother of a deaf adult (MODA) and as a mental health professional who has served the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community for years. I’m also working on completing my MFA at UCR.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: My first defining moment was receiving the support of the Deaf community for my first play Tamales De Puerco. It was validating to receive their support because I was able to create believable Deaf characters that represent the Deaf experience. The second defining moment was seeing Dr. Trevor Boffone’s analysis of Tamales De Puerco… reading it made me want to be the person he wrote about! It also validated my desire to be a playwright and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to pursue this art form (thank you, Guerito hermoso). My most recent defining moment (I hope they keep on coming) has been receiving the 2016 Kennedy Center’s Latinidad Playwriting Award for Los Moreno written during my first quarter at UCR. It was also selected as the First Alternate for NAPAT’s Playwriting Excellence Award so I feel like it’s okay to continue writing.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I’m currently finishing up my second quarter at UCR so I haven’t had a chance to work a lot with the amazing faculty but so far I’ve been fortunate to have the genius Rickerby Hinds as my mentor (he makes me call him that—just kidding but he really is). He’s worse than a therapist for my characters! He asks so many open ended questions and never gives me an answer or advice. Ugh! I love him. And of course my first mentor, Josefina López. I have internalized her in my psyche. She is the mentor who educated me on how to interpret the voices in my head and the aches in my heart. Because of her support and nudging I didn’t drop the pen when I doubted whether I could or should write.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: There’s nothing fledging about me except for my career as a playwright so, what advice could I give to beginning playwrights? Pursuing my second graduate program and attending classes with all these talented and super young writers makes me wonder what would have happen if I had pursued my MFA instead of my MSW. I’m learning now that being a writer means that I have to embrace never ending anxiety—which has gone up since I learned that I’m the recipient of the 2016 Kennedy Center’s Latinidad Playwriting Award! So I know I could not have nurtured the psyche to pursue an MFA while being a single mom with the responsibility of three children (one of them Deaf). I am normally a very anxious person and there’s no way that I could have learned sign language, handled single motherhood, handled my needs as a writer and the needs of my writing. I’m sure there are superb men and women out there who are doing even more than that but I know I couldn’t have.
And now, with a few years of experience as a mental health professional I have at the very least learned that I can make a living and support my family doing something other than writing and this gives me the freedom to take a leap of faith into my pursuit of writing. I am also very lucky that I’m being taught how to transfer my skills as a psychotherapist and social worker into the craft of storytelling. So, whatever you have to do to put food on the table for however long you may have to do it, remember this: no experience is wasted on a storyteller. And when the time comes to put it down, free fall and get comfortable with gravity because you’ll never hit the bottom…the anxiety never ends and that’s a good thing (or so I’ve been told by people with more experience).
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I had only seen one play when I wrote Tamales De Puerco. It took me nine months and it was developed during a community workshop series at CASA 0101.
***For more on Mercedes Floresislas, see:
- “Deaf Latin@ Performance: Listening with the Third Ear” – Trevor Boffone (Sounding Out!)
- “Signs—and Signing—Create Tamales De Puerco” – Mercedes Floresislas (@ This Stage Magazine)
- Review of Tamales de Puerco – Joe Straw
- LA Weekly Feature – Jenny Lower