LACEY SCHWARTZ DELGADO
Lacey Schwartz Delgado has spent most of her life in the Catskills. Her parents met in Sullivan County; she grew up in Ulster County; and, after leaving home to study at Georgetown and Harvard, she came back to Rhinebeck to raise a family of her own. Now the mother to twin boys, the wife of New York #19’s newest House of Representatives official, Antonio Delgado, and a celebrated film director and producer, Schwartz Delgado is a New York force to be reckoned with.
Interview by Alexandria Haechler
Tell me about your experience growing up upstate.
To me, the Catskills are home through and through. My family lived in Accord for the first ten years of my life in a space that was beautiful, but you couldn’t see any other house from our property, so it was very isolated. We moved to Woodstock when I was ten, and because I had been going to summer camps and Hebrew school there from a young age, it felt like we were coming home to the community that I grew up with.
Woodstock is such a vibrant community. Did that make an impression on you as a kid?
Well, Woodstock was always an identity for me, but I think that for Woodstock, I was a relatively in-the-box person growing up: I was part of mock trial and student government. I didn’t necessarily identify with the Woodstock creativity until I went away to college. I went to Georgetown during the Clinton era, so the energy on campus was politically liberal but socially conservative. I became very aware of being from Woodstock once I left and realized that the rest of the world is very different and that I was living in a [socially] unique space at home.
While you were at Georgetown, you unearthed your family’s secret that the white, Jewish father you grew up with was not your biological father; rather, your biological father was an African-American man. What was learning that truth like for you?
When I got to Georgetown, it was really the first time I allowed myself to ask, “Who am I?” and to go down that path of exploration. My story is an unconventional one, but I think it’s also a quintessential coming-of-age experience. You grow up and you are who your parents are. Then you go out on your own and define who you are in opposition to who they are. And finally, in an ideal world, you go through a third phase where you reconcile those two pieces of who you are and figure out how you can be yourself, but still maintain a relationship with your family.
What drove you to then turn your family story into your first documentary film, Little White Lie?
I was really interested in how family secrets affect so many of our identities, but in particular the reality that many of us have dual identities that we are navigating — like for me, being black and Jewish — because integrating them becomes a societal issue. The reality of the Jewish community is very diverse, but that gets lost in our predominant cultural narrative of Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld. I think the way our identities are often taught to us is through stigmatization and not reality, so I’m proud of how we’ve been able to use the film as a tool to help people have healthy conversations that break away from that.
You direct and produce films for your multimedia company, Truth Aid, which you share with your business partner, Mehret Mandefro, but the two of you actually met when you were attending law school and she was in medical school. What prompted the drastic career change for you both?
Right after I graduated Harvard Law, I went through an exploratory phase where I started waiting tables in the West Village. I needed a way to make ends meet and to pay off my student loans. People were surprised, but for me, it’s what I needed to do. I realized that I didn’t really want a career in law. Instead, I loved being involved in the creative process and sitting in an edit room at all hours of the night. Mehret’s story is sort of similar, because while she was doing her residency, she ended up working on a film and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes production and outreach for it. She ultimately decided that that is what she wanted to do, so she started Truth Aids, which was initially focused on HIV. But when we decided to work on it together, we took her idea and expanded it into what is now Truth Aid.
And how would you describe Truth Aid today?
We talk about issues that are hard to talk about through a public-health lens. A lot of the time, it’s looking at things like race and gender from a side angle — maybe it’s not the typical way of having a conversation about them, but we’re bringing those conversations to places where they traditionally wouldn’t be had, in an effort to do the work and be change agents.
Your first two years in business together, you had two films debut and four kids. Neither of you mess around.
Yes, we had two projects that came out within six months of each other: Little White Lie and Difret, which was a scripted film about child brides and forced marriage in Ethiopia, so that was how we launched. We also just happened to get pregnant around similar times. Being working mothers is a part of our identities. Mehret lives in Ethiopia; I live in Rhinebeck — that’s our reality, and it just means that we’re not going to be working the typical 9-to-5. We’re both understanding of that, because we know we’re going to get the work done. We’re going to figure it out.
Last year, you produced the web series The Loving Generation, which explored what it is like to grow up biracial in a divided America. Is there a particular project you’re currently working on that has you excited this year?
We have a bunch of different projects in various stages of development, but we are producing a documentary adaptation called How It Feels to Be Free, about black female performers and their activism both on and off the stage around the civil rights movement.
You mentioned that you live in Rhinebeck now. How did you and your husband, Antonio, ultimately settle on Rhinebeck as the place to raise your family?
Honestly, we thought that we would end up in Woodstock, since I’ve spent so much of my life there, but we decided to look around and we just really appreciated Rhinebeck. We loved the larger village it has and that its public schools feel more like town schools than regional schools. Antonio and I both fundamentally believe in the importance of public schools, so it was never a question for us of whether or not our boys would go to public school. We believe that public education is the foundation for a big part of our society.
Speaking of which, Antonio won the election for New York’s House of Representatives seat last year for NY district #19. Can you tell me a bit about what his campaign process was like for you and your family? Has getting more directly involved in politics changed your perspective on work or on our society overall?
Antonio’s campaign was 21 months, so it was difficult in the sense that campaigning is 24/7. It’s a personal and emotional challenge, but it’s a professional one, too, because you put a lot of your energy into it. At the same time, his position is pretty integral to who we are as people and our desire to live a purposeful life where we can be of service to other people. On a personal level, I’ll say that getting involved in politics made me realize that there are many of us doing really good work, but we’re dealing with politics at arm’s length, which only creates more of an insider-outsider world. I want to make sure that we do what we can, as individuals, as a couple, and as a larger community, to not allow for divides to happen. When we stay engaged, accountable, and involved, it’s harder for those divides to survive.