Culture y Recuerdos: What “Jane the Virgin” Can Teach Us About Latina Writers Today
Almost 10 years ago, the world met Jane Villanueva, an aspiring writer who managed to get pregnant despite being a virgin. And over the five “Jane the Virgin” seasons that followed, we watched her journey of writing, working in publishing, getting an MFA, and deciding when to finally leave her day job – and that doesn’t count her baby-daddy issues! Today, the star of “Jane the Virgin,” Gina Rodriguez is out in a new network sitcom, “Not Dead Yet,” playing another writer and breaking records as ABC’s most-watched comedy debut in four years.
This all begs the question: what is it to be a Latina writer, and why are we so fascinated by this particular identity? To find out, POPSUGAR spoke to four Latinas in publishing, all at different stages in their careers, about “Jane the Virgin,” how the show managed to capture some truths of their experiences, and their hopes for the industry moving forward.
“I absolutely loved ‘Jane the Virgin,” says Tiffany Gonzalez, marketing and publicity coordinator at Astra Publishing House and Communications codirector at Latinx in Publishing, which works to support and get more Latinxs publishing their work and working in the industry of publishing. She shared that “part of me, maybe, wants to be a writer,” but for now she’s happy marketing Astra House publications. Regardless, she related with Jane, resonating with her journey and how it interplays with the paths of her mother and grandmother. “We see that in our families and ourselves, and it was beautiful to see that on television as well,” she says.
“[Jane the Virgin] was the first time I ever saw myself as a writer.”
“[Jane the Virgin] was the first time I ever saw myself as a writer,” says Monica Rodriguez, director of Brand Management and junior literary agent at Context Literary Agency, who has completed her first novel and is trying to get it published. Her resemblance to the character went deeper than ethnicity or profession: “I was super type A like Jane. That episode with her calendar, that’s what my calendar looks like,” Rodriguez shares. “Having multiple jobs to support your dream, [that’s] such a relatable detail.”
“Jane the Virgin” got a lot of mileage out of its heroine’s profession, not just showing her work meetings but dramatizing the very act of writing. We saw Jane enter the scenes she was working on, workshopping and evaluating different scenarios. For the USA Today bestselling author Priscilla Oliveras, who’s written more than a dozen romance novels (aka the same genre as Jane), this aspect of the show rang particularly true. “I write better when I can step inside my characters’ [shoes],” she says. “I have a workshop that I teach, it’s called ‘Stepping Into Your Character’s Shoes,’ because that’s what we want, that’s what I want the reader to feel like . . . Not every writer’s process is the same, but I could identify with that one.”
Saraciea J. Fennell, author of “Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed,” book publicist, and Board Chair of Latinx in Publishing, also appreciated seeing the inner workings of a writer’s brain on television. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one who kind of lives in this writing bubble world?’ There are so many wonderful things happening in our brains,” she says. “And sometimes we’re like, ‘Do other people see the world the same way that I do? Is everything as animated as I think it is?’ Seeing that was really, really fun.”
And that’s not the only way “Jane the Virgin” rang true to her. Fennell sees how writers, including many beloved ones, still have to have two or three jobs – a reality reflected in Jane’s journey. “The percentage of authors that can fully support themselves with just the novel writing is very minimal,” reminded Oliveras. “You almost have to be, I don’t want to say ‘a good risk-taker,’ but [writing is not] reliable.”
Each of these Latina writers recognizes how Jane’s struggles to become a writer included an economic component too often left out of white or more privileged stories, where the budding writer can just move to New York and live off family money while making their way – think Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex in the City” or even the difference between Betty and her colleagues in “Ugly Betty.” It’s a different path when you don’t come from money, and it’s powerful to see a successful example who figures that balancing act out.
“This is actually what happens to 80 to 90 percent of the people who write novels. You write a book, it gets published, you get some money, maybe become a local celebrity, maybe not.”
“Jane the Virgin” is even smart about defining success. For multiple seasons, Jane’s goal is to write and publish a novel. But when she does, not much changes. She’s still waitressing [and] still trying to figure out her creative pursuits,” Fennell shares. “This is actually what happens to 80 to 90 percent of the people who write novels. You write a book, it gets published, you get some money, maybe become a local celebrity, maybe not.”
For Jane, writing that first book is a major emotional accomplishment, but it’s not a happily ever after (spoiler, that comes with her second book). Still, taking a moment to savor reaching a goal is pretty important – particularly in creative careers like writing, where measuring your progress by external markers can be pretty brutal. Cross-generational, community support is another defining factor of what it is to be a Latina writer, on “Jane the Virgin” and in real life. “When I had my book coming out, I felt all the love,” Fennell says. “There was this huge Latina writer hug, and people just wrapped me around in their arms and were like, ‘This is gonna be the most amazing experience.'”
Likewise, Rodriguez became a literary agent to help get more Latinx books out there. So, while the numbers are small – Latinxs make up just 7.6 percent of authors despite making up nearly 20 percent of the population – we exist and we support each other. That, along with examples like Jane’s, gives Gonzales hope:
“[Jane] was able to get through it. So, that means, I might be able to get through it as well, especially because she’s overcoming all these crazy obstacles that you only see in telenovelas,” she says. And if a novela heroine dealing with long-lost twins, amnesia, love triangles, and more can figure out how to be a novelist, well, so can us real-life Latinas.