The Women in Color series highlights creative work done by women of color in the arts through interviews as well as personal and craft essays.
On definitions: In this series, the phrase ‘women of color’ is used to define any one person who 1. identifies as female and 2. considers themselves of Asian/Pacific Islander, Arab/Middle-Eastern, Black/African American/Caribbean/West Indies, Native/Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latin descent.
I had spent the day running all over the campus grounds when I saw it. A fresh faced poster of Lauren Velez and Jon Seda. It stopped me dead in my tracks. Who were these people that looked like my people? My people of course referring to the shades of brown I knew growing up. Growing up at a time when we were “lucky” to be treated so kindly, and “lucky” to have access to the programs and schools we did. We were so “lucky”.
At least that’s what all the white folks said.
“Michelle, you’re not black… you’re not white… what… are… you…?”
Human. Does that count?
Not really, I guess. I was hard pressed to find my name in those little kiosks at the mall. You know the ones where it was a key chain and everyone’s name was Jennifer, Ruth, Melissa… Michelle wasn’t that exotic? I didn’t think so.
“Michelle Massanet, I’m Puerto Rican, do you know where Puerto Rico is?”
“Is that in Mexico?”
Alas, my college peers no, but I muddled along and low and behold we come back to Lauren and Jon. The movie was called “I Like It Like That” and it was an independent film playing on campus. I knew about this film because in my hours scouring the Tower Records, I came across the 2 disc soundtracks that were filled with amazing songs and all for a film I had never heard of. Until that day.
I had to see it.
It was a fierce film about barrio living for a young couple struggling to make the right decisions in all areas of their life. It was about the girl finding her independence and the boy finding his maturity.
It changed my life.
How does a film change a person’s life? In my case it came down to representation. For the first time in my life, I saw my friends and my neighborhood on screen. The way they spoke, what they loved, how they loved, it was all intoxicating because it meant that we didn’t have to change. That our stories were worth telling too. I went on to talk about this film to everyone who would listen, it was 1995 and there was no internet to share this amazing find. I wanted to share the story because it felt like my story.
Never mind that I wasn’t married, didn’t have kids, or a transgender brother. They were my neighbors and cousins, they were home to me.
Seeing that story play out onscreen gave me hope that more of us could tell our stories, that being a storyteller wasn’t reserved for any specific race, ethnicity, or class. It ignited hope and possibility, in myself and what I could possibly do. I had less than zero of an idea on how to go about it, but I did it anyway.
My friends and family were confused to say the least.
“Michelle, wait, so you’re leaving the engineering department?”
“Michelle, how are you going to live? What exactly are you going to do?”
These were valid questions that I answered as best as I could.
“I don’t know. It’s a mystery. I’ll figure it out”
Figure it out is what I did, over the course of 20 years I became a producer, director, and writer, and along the road a therapist, a babysitter, a Parking Spot Watcher and many other things.
All with the goal of telling stories, my stories, well written stories, not so well written stories, bringing stories to people that they could relate to, stories that would make a difference. Sometimes I failed and sometimes I did okay.
I stay the course because what 20 years has taught me is that my voice is unique, as is every voice and all we can do is bring that voice to light. What becomes of our stories after they are told isn’t up to us.
All of us, in our unique, one of a kind life, have something amazing to share, because no one has lived the life we have just the way we have. Twenty years have taught me that a woman’s perspective is important in shaping the way new generations will treat each other. That bringing my culture to others is valuable in all the ways we are different but even more so in all the ways we are the same. Sharing the stories of strife, hardship, love, loss, joy and abundance, we see the subtle nuances of how we defer but how we are so much alike at heart.
That is what I chose to focus on while battling the misogyny, racism and sexism that’s on the playing field as it stands today. You don’t want to focus on the meetings where you’ll have to hire a man to speak for you because they won’t listen. You don’t want to focus on the people outraged that you’re even allowed to have an opinion, because they are small. You don’t want to focus on the colleagues who playfully paint you as their sassy Latina stereotype, because they don’t know any better.
You want to focus on your stories, because you have to believe that in telling them you’re helping make it better.
MICHELLE MASSANET has established herself as an international producer/director after co-founding NomNom Productions in Montreal, in 2013, with her partners out of the UK and Moscow, for the sole purpose of creating content globally. With a focus on bringing markets together so that regions utilized are creatively and financially beneficial to the production. Since co-founding Garnet Productions in 2002, Ms. Massanet has been showing off the best parts of Miami and the US as a Producer/Director for prime time and cable networks. While at the same time making sure that the independent spirit with which Garnet Productions was founded is fed yearly by collaborating on pro-social projects, narratives, and cause related initiative. Ms. Massanet has worked as an independent contractor for the following companies: HBO MTV, VH-1, MTV Latino, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Sony, AXN, BBC, CBeebies, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Columbia Pictures, Telemundo, Univision, CBS Production, Canal +.