By Eliana Batrez | Assistant News Editor
On Wednesday, March 29, comedian Rick Najera visited Saint Mary’s to perform the comedic adaptation of his memoir “Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood” in the Soda Center’s Moraga Room. The event started at 7:30 p.m. and lasted an hour and a half.
Najera credits early experiences surrounding race, language, and culture to his upbringing in La Mesa, Calif. After incidents where a young Najera was called “wetback” by a peer and only being able to speak English at home (Najera’s brother was born with a cleft palate and doctor’s told the Najera family the only way their son would be able to speak was if they only spoke English at home), Najera was drawn to the power of language.
Growing up, he related to the writings of William Shakespeare and worked hard practicing his eloquence so that he could one day be a Shakespearean actor. After getting his start with the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles, Najera was persuaded by a friend to join Second City Improv in Chicago. The “just say yes” improv attitude has played a large role in his career thus far. Making the transition from actor to writer was a challenge for Najera. However, once he started writing sketches about himself and his everyday realities, Najera found his stride.
To date, Najera has starred in films with George Clooney, written sketches for Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey, directed Perez Hilton in the Britney Spears World Tour, among many other accomplishments. Najera also starred in his hit Broadway play, “Latinologues.” Najera is one of three Latino artists to write and star in their own Broadway plays, the others being Lin Manuel-Miranda and John Leguizamo.
The inspiration for “Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood” came from an untreated case of pneumonia that resulted in Najera experiencing a major seizure and ending up in the ICU after being in a coma for nearly two weeks. This event caused Najera to take a step back and think critically about his life. In Hollywood (and as a Latino), Najera noted that, “You’re not black or brown, you’re almost white.” By being almost white, Najera experienced typecasting from early on in his career. However, through this he was able to embrace his upbringing and allowed it to influence his work.
Many of Najera’s jokes have to do with race and usually have a historical undertone. The progression of Najera’s one man show started with his near death experience, jumped to his childhood, and then had to do with his illustrious career in Hollywood. During these jokes, however, Najera was quick to point out that his jokes and his humor come from a good place. By reiterating the absence of malicious intent, Najera also noted the loving Latino community he came from is not reserved for only Latinos.
Another important aspect of Najera’s success is his willingness to share it with other Latinos, and how he does not want to be the only Latino crossing what he calls the “finish line.”
In the three years since his near death experience, Najera has had two major brain surgeries and feels like he has become more humble, and knows that no time ought to be taken for granted.