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Conversations with Janette Valenzo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Janette Valenzo.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
It’s a story full of plans not going as planned, but if you had asked 5-year-old Janette, she would have confidently stated that she was going to be the President of the United States of America. At least that was the dream until high school, and then I wanted to be a travel writer and work for the U.N. An eighth grade trip to NYC and DC made me fall in love with the East Coast, and I was determined to go to NYU. Then like most things in life, love knocked everything off course. In this particular case, it was a breakup. I had taken a drama class my freshman year to fulfill a requirement and really enjoyed it, but didn’t pursue it because that was “his thing.” Also, I didn’t really get cast in school plays, but I decided to audition for NYU my senior year to prove to a teacher and the ex I was capable of doing theatre if I really wanted to. I was completely unaware of the university’s theatrical reputation, but I had a plan to transfer to their international relations program anyways (like it was an easy feat). I memorized my monologue the night before, didn’t have a headshot and resume, didn’t even pay the audition fee, and skipped school to go to that audition. Surprisingly… I got in!

I never transferred out of Tisch School of the Arts.

But, I couldn’t let go of my desire to be active in politics and community engagement. So, I took a few pre-law classes, minored in Applied Theatre, and went abroad to look at how theatre was used in Latin American social reforms. I had a whole new plan: graduate, intern for The White House, attend law school, and create a theatre program to provide a safe space for BIPOC youth in South LA (where I’m originally from).

But like love, death knocks everything off course too.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I graduated from NYU, and shortly after, he passed. I withdrew my applications from every internship/teaching program I had applied to and went home to help take care of my family. That was seven years ago.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have been. Thankfully, we own a family business, so my schedule is a bit more flexible than most. Instead of focusing so much on the What-If, I’ve been able to focus on acting a bit more, launch my Tarot business, finish my first poetry book, and so much more!

Because of how everything started, I don’t really like to plan anything beyond three months ahead because you never know what can happen. However, I do see myself writing more poetry and pursuing other artistic projects, like these two shows I have upcoming in the winter and spring. I also recently began a Masters in School Counseling at USC and am incorporating my art and activism into that profession.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Not at all, but I look back and see how every bump made me the person I am today. At the same time, any shit I have endured does not define all of me. I’m pretty open about everything I have gone through– partially to take my truth back, and more so, to help others feel less alone.

I am a first-generation Chicana. This means a lot of juggling between identities. Growing up, it always felt like I had to choose a side (Mexican or American), or else others would choose for me. I had a slight accent and had English teachers tell me I sounded “ghetto” and that I should drop out of AP English classes because I didn’t have “an expansive vocabulary.” Nowadays, I am a published writer and I am hired to speak about the first-generation experience.

Then, there is my mental illness journey. I couldn’t talk about my experience at the time, because unfortunately, mental health is not something that we talked about in Latinx communities. However, I am so thrilled that the conversation is now being pushed to the forefront. I write about that journey as well now.

One of the biggest challenges was also this culture we have created around needing to be busy. It’s bullshit. It creates this pressure that if we aren’t busy, then we aren’t worth anything. We are a generation of burnouts, but there is power in rest. Nowadays, I conserve my energy and time for what I really want to do and who I want to be surrounded by. I’m more open about everything and I use my experiences for my art and my advocacy.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am an actor, poet, teaching artist, Tarot reader, and a mental health advocate. A mouthful, I know.

In terms of poetry, I write about all things love–from romantic partnerships to paternal love to self-love. So far, I have published with Alegria Publishing, the Los Angeles Poet Society Press, Dryland Literary Journal L.A., Hombre Lobo (my first short ghost story!), and Latino Book Review. I have also performed spoken word in NY, DC, the OC, and LA with different organizations, such as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Busboys and Poets, Project LaFemme, and JAM Creative. I just finished my first manuscript with the help of the Community Literature Initiative’s Poetry Publishing Class. I’m really excited for this! It’s a poetic play based on a true love story about an Aries and a Virgo.

I currently write career Tarotscopes and love & relationship articles for Powerful Latinas Rising. I also record personalized readings for a small fee.

When it comes to acting, I am all about Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare being performed outdoors and in as many unconventional spaces as possible. I also love devised physical theatre. I enjoy really getting into my body and telling a story without words.

My mental health advocacy has led me to share personal essays with More Love and Narratives of Hope. I also coordinate mental health outreach programming for theatrical shows with sensitive themes. I am most proud of a list of mental health resources I compiled for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. This can be found on my website and IG.

I currently teach and perform with Story Pirates in LA. I also teach anger and art workshops with various organizations online and off. Before the pandemic, I taught a social justice and activism workshop through the Migrant Farm Workers’ Movement around the country, thanks to a Seattle-based theater company called Living Voices. Most recently, I teach college readiness and activism through UCLA, and won a CA Arts grant to teach poetry in the Inland Empire.

I have found a way to combine all my passions. I am heavily invested in witchcraft, social justice, love, and performance–and each of my projects always utilizes more than one of those interests. I am fluent in Spanish, and that has definitely been incredibly helpful — I never want language to be a barrier for connecting with others.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
I am very lucky! I’ve lived a full life because I’m sure angels are looking out for me. Even so, I don’t diminish my hard work. I’m always ready when opportunities come my way. I know luck is only a part of the equation, and I am the rest. But honestly though, I think my biggest luck is having the best support system ever. My family and friends continue to amaze me with their help. I mean, how many times can they hear, “Can I read you my poem? Can I send you my article to look at? Can I practice this monologue with you?” And not once have they said no. That’s my real luck there. I hope they know how grateful I am for them.

Pricing:

  • $10 for a personal tarot reading (6 cards, $2 per card after)
  • $10 for poetry feedback (up tp 3 pages, $2 per page after)

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Photos thanks to Project LaFemme, Shawna Sarnowski, and The Wall Las Memorias Project.

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