Comedian Aida Rodriguez Wrote “Legitimate Kid” to Help Readers Heal Their Generational Traumas
If you’re a fan of Puerto Rican and Dominican comedian Aida Rodriguez, then you’re likely very familiar with her HBO Max special, “Fighting Words.” In the special, Rodriguez does a brilliant job at tackling topics like race, motherhood, and growing up without a present father – all with wit, humor, and grace. As blunt and to the point she may be, there’s a vulnerability in Rodriguez’s work that makes it really easy to connect with her, regardless of whether or not you can relate to her life experiences.
Although she’s open in her comedy, in Rodriguez’s new memoir, “Legitimate Kid,” which releases on Oct. 17, we get to see a side of the comedian that viewers only get peeks of when she’s on stage.
Like many kids who aren’t raised with a present biological father, Rodriguez didn’t feel “legitimate” growing up. The wounds and insecurities that developed from that – along with other childhood traumas – ultimately inspired the book.
The book includes a moving foreword by actress Ariana DeBose, followed by an introduction by Rodriguez herself.
“Because you turn to comedians to lessen your own pain, this may not be what you expect to read. We’re supposed to make you laugh,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “This is the first time in my life that I am grieving my losses, feeling my own pain, giving myself grace, and understanding why I operate the way I do. Me and only me. Now I can really make you laugh.”
Not only does Rodriguez open up about the pain that came with growing up without a biological father, but she also touches on the reality of growing up poor with a young mom, who in many ways was just trying to survive. Rodriguez also touches on the darkness of how sexual abuse often and quietly permeates Latine families and how the shame of illegitimacy seeped into so many areas of her life.
Rodriguez spoke with POPSUGAR about the inspiration behind her new memoir, why she felt it was important to share her story with the world, and what she hopes readers and fans take away from it.
POPSUGAR: Can you share more about why you decided to share your story with the world in such a raw, real, and intimate way?
Aida Rodriguez: I was thinking about what kind of book I wanted to write, and when I was seeing comments from the special . . . I had a lot of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans talking about different things that they saw in the special that they could relate to. But one of the bigger themes was a lot of people that were Puerto Rican and Dominican that were raised by one parent and were told that either Dominicans were less than from the Puerto Rican side or if they were raised by the Dominican side, they were told they were better than the Puerto Rican side.
I started thinking about all the things that contributed to the way I felt about myself and how I always felt less than and how much not having my father contributed to that feeling. All of the things that happened as a result of that, like being with my Cuban stepfather, who was anti-Black and all that stuff. I was like, “If I don’t do it, who’s going to do it?” Because we keep talking about a lot of these themes. We keep pointing it out. We keep picking at the wound, but what are we going to do to change it?
I was like, “I’m going to tell my story. I’m going to do something that people don’t expect me to do, and I know this is going to help me heal, and hopefully there is somebody out there that can see themselves in me and that can get something from this so they can have some level of peace and understanding.” I want for somebody on the other side of it to say, “Oh, here’s me.”
This happens to me a lot in standup, and I take it for granted. I have a lot of people that will say, “Thank you for speaking. Thank you for saying this, I’ve never seen myself in a comedian.” I just decided that I was going to let it out and just for people to understand where this comedy comes from, but also stop keeping people’s dirty little secrets, because we have a right to speak about our own stories.
PS: Oh yeah, that’s very much our culture. To keep things quiet.
AR: Yeah. I was tired of it. You know how much stuff I kept to myself was eating me up from the inside out? I was like, “I don’t want to do that anymore. This is my story. I own it, and I have a right to tell it.”
PS: In our culture, there’s that mentality that whatever happens in the family, stays in the family. Reading this also made me realize how many Latines unfortunately grow up without present fathers. Why did you want to highlight this in the book? Let’s talk a little bit about the significance of this in our communities.
AR: It was important for me to humanize my parents. Not demonize them – humanize them. There’s a very big difference. I’ve been following these trends on TikTok, where younger people are blasting their parents. You don’t have to talk to your parents if you don’t want to, but there was this one girl who went viral for this thread of tweets about how she doesn’t forgive her parents and how she went off of them because she didn’t get what she emotionally needed from them. That doesn’t sound like healing to me. That sounds like even more pain. That sounds like a radioactive person who’s walking around with a lot of pain.
I wanted to get really into this, so I interviewed my mom. I sat down and spoke with her to find out her perspective. My mother was a child who had another child before me that passed away. I came into the world and into all this trauma. It’s very easy to just sit here and point the finger at a lot of our parents and say they did this wrong.
Some of our parents were not literate. They’ve been abused. They’ve been sexually abused. They’ve been mistreated. They’ve been beaten. My mother used to get beaten naked with an extension cord. To sit there and just point the finger at my mother – that’s very easy to do. But now that I’m a mother, who knows what my daughter and my son’s memoir would look like in terms of the mistakes that I made. But I think this book will also be where the generational curses and traumas really begin to heal, because they’re finally being aired out and you can finally deal with it when you know what it is.
PS: What was that interview process like with your mom?
AR: It was very revealing. I knew my mom had a relationship before I was born, and I knew that my mom had a child that died, but I didn’t know the specifics, and I didn’t do the math. One thing that’s unclear is a lot of the numbers and ages, because my grandmother didn’t know what year she was born. She didn’t have her birth certificate.
PS: There’s a lot of that in immigrant families.
AR: Mine is handwritten by my mother, but I just never really understood what it was. I just knew the stories, and I kept moving. But when I sat down with my mother and I was like, “Wait a minute, if I was born when my mother was 16 years old and she had a child before me and it’s a nine-month process. . . .” That’s when I found out she was pregnant with her first kid when she was 14. We’re talking about children having children. I asked my mom, “Mommy, why didn’t you ever tell me that?” And she was like, “I was ashamed.” She would lie and say she had me when she was 17 just to up the number. But there was just so much shame around it.
PS: I wanted to talk a little bit about the book’s title, “Legitimate Kid.” You mentioned that growing up, you didn’t feel like a legitimate kid because you didn’t grow up with your dad’s last name and how that haunted you for years. You also write how your mom eventually revealed to you that it was like your dad’s way of allowing her to be able to apply for government assistance. That was such a very real answer. Can you share a little bit about the process of unpacking what it means to you to be legitimate?
AR: When I was little, it was horrible. It was painful. It was something that I got made fun of for, and not just by the wWhite American kids. The Latino kids would also point out that I didn’t have my father’s last name, and that was a source of guilt and shame. People made me feel like I wasn’t as good because my father wasn’t in the house. It also made me feel vulnerable. There was a time when I had this epiphany where I was like, “Oh, this means that anybody can do anything to me – they can treat me any way.”
PS: I remember where you wrote that in the book.
AR: Yeah, because I was like, “I don’t belong to a man that is going to stand up and defend me.” In my head, in this twisted way, I thought this man is supposed to bring me forward to society and say, “This is mi hija. This is the girl that has my name.”
PS: Because that’s also what we’re taught.
AR: We are taught that. As I began unpacking it as I got older, I started to understand that it’s very patriarchally rooted in white supremacy [to think that way]. It really has a lot to do with all of the things that happened throughout history. There is no evidence that says that your child is not going to be as successful or healthy or better off because there’s a father in the home, especially coming from Latin America, where we have a lot of sexual abuse and exploitation. I wanted to unpack that because there are a lot of people walking around feeling that they are not enough because they didn’t grow up with their father.
PS: I also thought it was important that you highlighted the issue of colorism in Latine communities, because as much as we talk about it today, it hasn’t gone away. Why was it so important for you to make space in the book to touch on this?
AR: People still sit here and have these conversations about these problems all day long, and nobody has offered a solution. Policy hasn’t changed. Rules haven’t changed. What’s the solution? How are we going to move forward? How are we going to create space for Black Latinos? We talk about erasure. We talk about anti-Blackness, but what are we actually doing to create equity for Black Latinos?
PS: What do you ultimately want readers to take away from the book?
AR: Whether they grew up without their father, they’re a child of immigrants, or they were immigrants; whether they learned English as a second language or they were too dark for the people around . . . I just want you to walk away saying, “I am legitimate.” It was me bleeding on the pages so that other people could feel seen and understand that I was just like, “I’m going to go for it. I’m going to tell it.”
There is never a time when you can’t heal from the things that happen with your family, whether you choose to heal with or without them. I could be bitter about my father. I could be angry at my mother. I could hate everybody in my family. I know a lot of people who resent their families for being poor. But I am thankful and will continue to love them from whatever point I choose to stand at to love them.
My own personal healing has been the greatest gift I have given myself, and I hope that I inspire other people to do that for themselves.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.