You Can’t Un-Ring A Bell

Lesbian Latina Comedienne Sandra Valls on her quest for empowerment and enlightenment

Queer Latina comediennes are not bountiful. A rare breed, tracking down a one-of-a-kind, stand-up one-woman show is no easy task. Yet in a world of rampart homophobia and sky-rocketing hate crimes, elusive comediennes such as Sandra Valls are not a result of the ubiquitous closet. No, para nada, instead this sassy Latina knows no borders.

Born in Nebraska and a product of Tamaulipas and Texas, the bordertown diva and muy funny and fabulous señorita has touched the hearts and minds of many nationwide through satire and compelling comedy. This month the self-described spiritual mujer took a break from laundry, comedy and locura, and sat down to have a candid talk with ADELANTE on her life’s ringing bell, a metaphor for her calling, and why there’s no stopping it.

Jorge: ¿Texas o Tamaulipas?
Sandra: There is a lot to tell. I grew up in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. My family lived there until I was about six. Then my dad built a house across the river in Laredo.

Jorge: How was the transition for you?
Sandra: In Mexico, we lived in a part of town where there is a lot of poverty so that really shaped me. I always had this hunger to fight for justice and help people out. I never took things for granted because I saw a lot of kids in the street that were sin nada, you know? I remember one time when my dad was inside the store–when they could keep a kid inside a car–I saw this lady sitting on the street with a bunch of kids running around, eating left-over food she found somewhere. When my dad came back I asked him for a dollar to give to the poor lady. He said, “Sure, but you can’t save the world.” Since then, I have felt, “No, I can save the world!” because I believe if you can change yourself you can change the world.

Jorge: When did you first fall in love with the stage?
Sandra: I always enjoyed singing and dancing. My sister and I would always make dance numbers and write out skits. I always really wanted to play the piano, so in high school I taught myself. I studied at Catholic schools, and because I was not very popular, during lunch time I would go to the chapel and practice.

Jorge: Were your parents encouraging?
Sandra: My parents did see I was musical, goofy, and made everyone else laugh. They knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. Being Latino you have to struggle with culture and your old school family, because they have an idea on what a man and a woman should do. My parents wanted me to stay in Laredo, have kids, and work at the local Wal-Mart. But I wanted to go to college. I am the first born, so I have always had that fighter mentality.

Jorge: Where was your first comedy gig?
Sandra: I started doing stand-up comedy in Boston when my one of my girlfriends broke up with me and signed up to do a comedy night. I decided I would go to the comedy club, and I completely loved it. But I could only go so far in Boston. I made up my mind and packed everything I could fit in my car and drove to Los Angeles in 2001.

Jorge: Did success come easy?
Sandra: It was a hard road to come up. You got to be persistent. I went from couch to couch. I didn’t have a home. Frank Lucero helped me out a lot. He took me to all the Latino rooms. I was doing comedy two or three times a week. I would stay out until 1 a.m. even when I would get there around 8 p.m. I kept on getting bumped down the line until there were only two waiters and a drunk. And on top of it all, I decided to be out in my comedy. I can’t say it was harder or easier; it was just more challenging.

Jorge: What kept you going?
Sandra: I have a deep spiritual belief that we have a mission in life. What keeps me going is my fight for justice. I really think that us gays and lesbians have a long way to go. It’s not just about being a comic, but being an out comic and educating people through laughter. When you know your mission in life, you shouldn’t ignore it. When you know something, you can’t pretend not to know it. You can’t “un-ring” a bell.

Jorge: How does your audience usually react to your comedy?
Sandra: I just did a cruise and at the end of my comedy I sang a song for my girlfriend and told her how much I love her and some out lesbian woman, who was sitting in the audience with her parents, said to me: “Thank you for taking it a step further and showing your love for your girlfriend because my mother just saw the amazing love one woman can have for another.” Not long ago, another woman said to me, “My dad just died of cancer last week, but during his last week of life all we did was watch your Latin Divas of Comedy show. My dad was old school and said ‘I like that girl, she is so brave. I want to know everything about that comedienne.’ Thank you for making my father laugh.”

Jorge: Do you need to move to NY or LA to make it?
Sandra: I don’t think you need to; I think it’s best to. If you want to be a mountain climber you are not going to live in New York. It’s what you want. It depends what you mean by “making it,” success is so subjective.

Jorge: Because of the nation’s current economic crisis, a lot of people are undergoing financial and emotional struggles. How should ADELANTE readers ring in 2010?
Sandra: I would say joy and suffering are a part of life. That doesn’t mean lie down and take it lying down. I don’t care how rich or spiritual you are, that does not make you exempt from issues or challenges. It’s how you react to your joy, to your challenges, to your sorrows, that makes all the difference in the world. You can change any situation around from poison to medicine. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger because you chose it to make you stronger.

Sandra Valls just finished filming “The Gay and Lesbian Comedy Slam” for Showtime which will air next year. She is currently working on a one-woman show. You can learn more about her by befriending her on Facebook or visiting her website at www.welovesandra.com.

By Jorge Amaro