Jennifer Rodriguez’s Life in the “Artists’ Cemetery”

By Amanda Rosa Perez Morales (El Toque)

Jennifer Rodriguez. Photo: Marly Media

HAVANA TIMES – Jennifer Rodríguez and her parents emigrated from Cuba in 2015 as a family. “Many doors were closing in Havana at that time, as it continues to be today. I was feeling uncomfortable partying all the time with my parents’ money. Although I did work: I was performing in three plays at the same time”.

Without thinking too much, she grabbed some books, her camera, and some little notes written by her friends. And pictures. Lots of pictures.

In Miami they were welcomed by relatives and friends. “That is very much needed.” However, she knew her professional growth would be the toughest part. She is a graduate from Cuban National Arts School (ENA) and Arts Higher Institute (ISA). “Before I left Cuba I was told:” Miami is the artists´ cemetery. You will not be able to live on your art there. Have it clear not to get crazy.” That made me think no matter what I did, I would continue being an artist. It was in my blood, whether I could act or not”.

After a few days, she was called for a casting. She passed and began to rehearse, but in the end the project didn’t materialize. Later on, a friend contacted her to do a monologue from Eugene O’Neill. They prepared it in two weeks. She was nervous as never before since the US is a country of mysterious opportunities. And that invitation would allow her as an immigrant artist to insert herself in the “artists’ cemetery”.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Rodriguez

From that moment on she did not stop acting. She did micro-drama, a modality she did not know. They are fifteen-minutes plays presented in shipping containers. The play is repeated about nine times a night. There’s a five-to-ten-minute break between each performance.

“It’s a wonderful workout for any actor,” says Jennifer. In the end, during my first year in Miami, I acted more than I ever did in Cuba. ” She learned that plays are not on stage for over a month. Also, that an actor may become fragmented in life, just as you do on stage.

“Being an actress in Miami – how can I explain ?! – is more than difficult. But it can be done if you insist. I miss Cuba´s theater. The commitment and sense of ownership are different. There are plays I performed in there that I treasure. The passion to fully devote oneself to production, costumes and makeup is only given by the time invested in a play. In Cuba, the vicissitudes of getting anything make you work harder.

“On the other hand, in the current world you cannot focus on just one thing. Living from art is difficult: there are very high bills to pay monthly. Unless it is a very large production, the salary is not enough to pay for everything. I have worked delivering newspapers, in restaurants, wherever I could…”.

That´s why in Miami people start rehearsing at twelve midnight, precisely not to conflict with other working schedules. This is how you get the money to live, and maintain your children if they come, as was Jennifer´s case.

For her being a mother is the most special thing she’s ever experienced. She knows it’s a cliché, but still comments on that with full of emotion. “As I say this, I’m also bothered by people imposing motherhood. It is disrespectful. That’s a decision to make only if you wish, so it can be a wonderful experience. If you don’t want to, it is a totally different way of life but also spectacular. “

Something that has also influenced her understanding of motherhood is having her children with someone she loves and admires as an actor. “It’s nice that they are the result of something so great.” Even so, she admits it is an exhausting task: “My children are very good, but they are still children. And children require a lot of dedication.”

When Luka was born, she was working at night and Hector Medina, her husband, was making a series on Telemundo.

“He told me not to sacrifice my health at that time as he could cope with the expenses. That’s what working as a couple is all about. Even after the baby girl was born, and we had to shoot together, we took the babies to the set. Moreover, we’re also living with my wonderful parents thanks to whom we have been able to perform. They babysit for them at night. Of course, there were projects I couldn’t do because of my motherhood condition. However, I don’t regret anything because my children change my life all the time.”

Jennifer with her children.

Jenifer was reunited with her children’s father when she was leaving Cuba. They had been dating before, but ended the relationship. They were too young to “live an adult´s life not corresponding to a nineteen-year-old. It was my first sexual experience; It was meaningful to us and created an interesting connection that continues to this day. “

Being an actor’s partner can be tricky, he says. “I do care if he kisses another person, and vice versa. These are awkward scenes, but it’s our job and we both respect it. We also advise each other a lot because we’ve been studying together since acting school at the ENA. We have seen each other grow. As artists and parents we have alternated very well. We have the same level of commitment to parenting.”

Now Jennifer works as a producer and Hector takes care of the children. She also teaches at a children’s academy. When she was pregnant with Laia, Alexis Valdes and Claudia Valdes called her to assist in directing Officially Gay’s third edition. She had never done something like this before, but took it on with impetus like everything else in life.

Afterwards, Alexis Valdes started a show on Mega TV and contacted her to be part of the production team. She worked hard and felt committed to him. She admires his creativity. They had a one-year contract, everything was going well… And then the pandemic arrived.

“I lost my job”

But, after a difficult period, she is working again with Alexis and Claudia as an Assistant on their projects. She also has a space on Mega TV. She has just finished a short film with Alberto Pujol and Amarilis Nuñez, with photography by Alejandro Perez. “I would like to continue in production and acting. I have already done casting direction and I’m also an agent for actors.”

Cuban actress outside Cuba: “There are many things that I miss about being an actress there. The level of devotion, as I said, is different. But to be a Cuban actress outside of Cuba is to be brave, risky. I would love to act in Cuba, but I prefer to be a Cuban actress outside Cuba”.

Jennifer does not feel Miami is her place, although she is grateful for everything she has lived there. However, neither does she feel a part of today’s Havana. Hers, the one taken in photos, no longer exists. The exquisite one slowly disappears. She perceives it sadder, darker, deteriorated. The same thing happens with people.

“Friends there are looking for a way out to leave the country. Those who don´t want to, it’s because have no dreams. I still feel I´m Cuban. I provide my children with knowledge of the Cuban culture I grew up with. I hope they get to love their roots as much as I do. I read Marti to them; they listen to Teresita Fernandez. But I don’t miss today’s Cuba, I don’t really know that one.”

Read more interviews here on Havana Times.