365 days. 11 series/seasons. 101 episodes with my name at the end credits.
At the end of June I celebrated my one-year anniversary at my first full-time job in production. While some people might not bat an eyelash over such an event I felt overwhelmed as the date drew nearer. Most people my age have been at their jobs for longer. They have already experienced the thrill of a raise or two unlike me.
I knew when I graduated from college finding a job in the entertainment industry would be difficult but that didn’t stop me. I would get hired for a month long gig and extended only to be let go before Christmastime or in a weeks notice. There was no security with what I was doing. Production life was draining and not the least bit rewarding monetary wise. Some companies paid for my train fare as I zipped through the city for them on production runs while others did not. I worked over forty hours a week in TV and then spent my weekends at a retail job trying to make up for the money I was losing. Being a production assistant was hard. Yet the idea of failing after trying for so long was a pill I could not swallow.
Five years ago I was in Greece studying abroad and writing about the economic crisis and the increasing suicide rate for the Dukakis Center as an Editorial Intern.
Four years ago I walked into the studio for The Wendy Williams Show and got my first taste of production as an intern. That summer I also traveled back and forth into the city to intern for Latina magazine.
Three years ago I sat in the control room and listened through my headset as Whoopi Goldberg gave me a shout out on my final day as an intern for The View.
After my internship ended I started freelancing as a production assistant for different companies. I did everything from chase people down the street to get them to sign releases so we could show their face on TV and sit at a computer screen all day watching our show on a loop while I wrote tweets, filled out music cue sheets and compiled the releases so we could deliver our show.
My job would start and then end in the blink of an eye. I would go home on my last day hopeful that I could easily find work with my experience and then spend the next six months depressed as I read rejection e-mail after rejection e-mail.
As time went on I began to lose hope that I would be anything more in life than a retail employee struggling to survive. I want to be clear I’m not knocking the retail industry. I know people who love working in retail because they get to interact with people all day. Their customers and making a sale bring them great joy. They would be bored elsewhere but while I worked my job I felt like a glorified maid.
What really knocked me down was when someone I knew came into my store and asked me for help or I had to ring them up and they’d have this surprised look on their face and say, “You still work here? Why can’t you get a real job?”
They would go on about their new job, new car and how everything was going great in their life while I smiled, nodded and then excused myself to get down on my hands and knees to clean-up a spill on the floor. My biggest issue with my job wasn’t the job itself but the shame and the pain I had swirling around the pit of my stomach.
When I was in high school I attended a college fair with the rest of the students from my school. Applying to college was a big deal to me because my mother never went and my sister dropped out after a semester. I was going to be the one that succeeded. I was going to be the one that worked hard and came out with a diploma in my hand and a job waiting for me as I walked across the stage. Clearly real life had different plans for me but back then I was filled with hope.
I can’t remember what school I was talking to at the time. College fairs are like speed dating, you go to a table for one school for a few minutes and then move onto the next until you’ve heard every single pitch and then you pick which one suits you the best.
I was talking to a recruiter when three boys walked up to her and interrupted our conversation. She stared at them with a puzzled expression on her face. Everything happened so quickly I could barely wrap my head around it.
The ringleader of the group looked at her and said, “Why are you wasting your time talking to Spanish Alyssa? All she’s ever going to major in is Windex. All she’s ever going to be is a maid because she’s Puerto Rican.”
I was floored.
Growing up in Staten Island made figuring out who I am a challenge. Most of the kids I went to school with looked nothing like me. They had white skin that reddened in the sun while I turned three shades darker walking to the mailbox.
I tried my hardest to conform. I wore the same clothes even though it didn’t fit my body type. I fried my hair with a straightener on a daily basis. I learned to love their food so they would stop gawking at mine.
When you’re a kid you don’t realize how much words can effect you.
I’ve been called the ‘n’ word because of the color of my skin. I’ve had guys come up to me and tell me they would never date me because of the color of my skin. They said I looked too much like a “dirty black girl” they didn’t want anything to do with me. I’m ghetto because I’m Puerto Rican and originally from Queens. I’m automatically labeled a bitch because I’m a Latin woman. I’m fucking crazy because I’m a Latin woman.
Besides all of that, I thought for the most part that I was fitting in. There were long lengths of time when I was happy but then short bursts that reminded me no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t one of them.
At the time I had no words because I was ashamed and embarrassed. The ringleader laughed, his friends joined in and then the recruiter laughed. She did a complete 360 when they walked away and roughly grabbed my arm. Her long nails scratched me as I tried to pull away. The woman I had been talking to about my career goals and academic dreams turned into a monster right before my eyes.
Her interest in me was no more. She told me I was never going to go anywhere in life because I was a minority. She said I would need a scholarship because there was no way with my background I would ever be able to afford to go to school.
I left completely deflated with scratches on my arm and the hope for my future gone.
I already had low self-esteem. I was shy. All it took was one comment to bring me down. I had decent grades and worked hard every day but in the end all they saw was a Puerto Rican girl who was worthless.
When I started college–sans scholarship–I believed them. I believed I would never amount to anything. So the anxiety set in and on my first day I cried hysterically because I didn’t want to go.
So early on during my first semester I got a D on a paper. It was funny because if you knew me you would know I thought getting a B was an equivalent to an F. I didn’t know what a D was when I was in high school.
So here I am in class with this big red D that’s mocking me and these words scribbled on the side of my paper, “Do you even understand English?” I sat still as I read them.
My professor wrote that I needed ESL classes. He assumed English was my second language.
English, for the record, is the only language I know.
When I asked him about the grade he told me I was not going to make it through four years of college let alone a semester.
He was the first professor to speak to me like that but he definitely wasn’t the last.
If it wasn’t for the journalism professors at The College of Staten Island I don’t know if I would have graduated. It wasn’t until I started my communication classes (after changing my major four times) that I felt I could do something big with my life. I had three professors who believed in me. One told me I needed to get some damn confidence, the other told me I was brilliant and was wasting my life away working in retail, and the third told me I was born to be a writer.
If I would have known then what I know now I would have stuck up for myself. Hell, I would’ve given those boys and that recruiter the finger.
Two years ago I was hired as a freelance Rights and Clearance Assistant for a singing competition show.
One year ago I started my first full-time staff job in TV.
365 days. 11 series/seasons. 101 episodes with my name at the end credits.
My journey hasn’t been easy. I don’t necessarily know who I am still or what I want to do with my life.
I know I have a burning desire to leave Staten Island and New York altogether. Even though I haven’t been there before California calls my name. The tides of Santa Monica roll in my head and help me fall asleep.
I am searching for a place that I can call my forever home.
It’s funny looking back at where I’ve been compared to now. In 2010, those kids were laughing at me because they thought I’d never amount to anything more than becoming a maid. In 2018, I have worked on more shows than I can count and there are more than one hundred episodes with my name attached to the end credits.
Looking back now I feel for the young girl who stood there dejected by their laughter. I feel for the young girl who felt embarrassed and cried herself to sleep over the professors who made fun of her for nothing more than being herself.
I’m Latina made, not maid. I am a success. One that is continuously growing and learning.
I’d also like to add I can dust and mop so well you could eat off of my kitchen floor.