Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

Finding Your Voice and Creating Art to Make Space for Others While Being an IT Leader and Entrepreneur

Based on an episode with Diana Mucci 🇵🇷

Welcome to Latinx in Power, a blog and podcast that shares stories of amazing Latinx leaders, hosted by Thaisa Fernandes. We talked with Diana Mucci, a Chicago based Afro-Latina author, playwright, poet, and producer. A former English teacher, IT sales executive, and fashion entrepreneur.

Diana has performed as an actress and has written, published and produced short stories, children’s books, indie films, and full-length plays. Diana is also a Director of Security Services\ with 20 years of experience in IT Software and Cyber Security Sales. She is currently finishing her memoir “Growing up with Big Hair”.

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I’d love to hear more about how your life story began.

That’s kind of where the best story starts, at the beginning. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago by immigrant parents. My father from Haiti and my mother from Puerto Rico. When they came to this country, neither of them spoke English, so they worked really hard to get ahead. As English is their second language, it was difficult for them, but they did it.

By example, they instilled in me a really strong work ethic and desire to achieve great things, but they couldn’t afford to send me to college. So after high school I got a full time job. Then after three years at this company, I got passed up for a promotion. It went to a woman who had a college degree, and it was kind of a bummer at that time. I realized then, that if I was going to get ahead at all, I was going to have to go to college.

At that time, I was married, I was very young, 20 something. I had a one-year-old daughter, and another one on the way, but I enrolled full time as a university student. I quit my job and I was able to get student loans and some grants, so that was a blessing. Then, I earned a Bachelor’s in English in education. In my senior year, I had my third baby and was also offered this really great opportunity to work at a software development company which is how I landed in tech.

Over the years, I went up the ranks in my IT sales career, but throughout I took some time off and that was when I was able to do my teaching and writing. I also worked on my theater and my film projects. I even started a couple of businesses along the way, and the most recent is Back Of The Yards Entertainment, which fits into my theater and film production work to support diverse independent artists. In addition, my husband and I opened up an Italian boutique which unfortunately, we had to close last spring due to COVID.

I have to share this because my whole story is very diverse, it ebbs and flows. How does this woman do what she does? How was she able to do IT sales and then also open up an Italian boutique? I mean, it doesn’t even seem possible but this is me, this is the ambition that I have. My parents instilled this drive in me to always achieve great things, try to do better and be better.

When COVID hit, the entire world was turned upside down. I’m like okay, now I’m not doing the boutique. I’ve always thrived by having a passion project on the side and for a while the luxury Italian shop was fulfilling my creative side. When it closed, I was devastated but I told myself, you know what, I still have my writing. What can I do to make a difference while people are suffering and struggling? I remembered that I’d written this children’s nap time series six years ago. I thought to myself, maybe it’s time to publish it? It’s time to dust it off. So, I gave it a fresh edit and then decided to publish it myself to make it happen! I am proud to say that The Snugawinks of Cuddleton Falls was published this past fall and I couldn’t be more excited to share it.

What does it mean to be a Latina for you?

It is like the core of who I am. When I hear the word Latina, what immediately comes to my mind is a strong woman, someone who loves boldly, someone who is proud of her family, her heritage, her mother, her language, her food. I’m a huge fan of Latin food from every country in Latin America, and the Latin music. I think all of that lives inside of us.

Diana just published her children’s naptime series and is finishing her memoir. Tell us more about your books. Where does your inspiration come from?

From the moment that I could read, I loved books and I was very young when I started reading. By the time I was nine years old, I knew I wanted to be a writer. When I had my own babies, I really enjoyed reading the classics to them at bedtime. We had a special bedtime ritual that I looked forward to probably more than they did! As a mother, I always tried to make it an experience, not an episode and I am happy to share that message now with others. But the process was not easy.

Six years ago, I sent the book to a few publishers and agents, and got rejected. That was discouraging for me. Then I thought, do I really have time to send it to a million publishers? I just put it aside and I continued with my tech career and my other writing. I never stopped writing. With COVID, I was inspired to revisit it and decided to just go ahead and self-publish it. The Snugawinks of Cuddleton Falls, and the second book in the series , Off to Dreamland with the Snugawinks are now both available on Amazon and Ingram.

My kids inspired me to write The Snugawinks of Cuddleton Falls, and now I’m writing a memoir. I wrote a play called I’m a Female Seeking a Male (now entitled Come ‘n Go) about my marriage and my sisters love life. All the inspiration that I have comes from my real life experiences and my truth. I store these events in my memory bank. When it’s time, I go to the bank, kind of cash out, and I just write about it.

My memoir is called Growing Up with Big Hair, because I had pretty big hair growing up. It’s a story about an Afro-Latina, moving into an all white neighborhood confronting racism and how she finds her true place in this world. I’m a visual person, I love performance art, and I visualize them once I write. I love to see the stories I write come to life, either onstage or performed somehow in film and television.

You bring attention to racial injustice through your real-life stories. Where did you find your voice?

It takes years for people to find their voice when you’re young, and for me, it wasn’t easy. When I was a child, I was always told not to speak until I was spoken to, I don’t know if it was the cold mic family culture, or the generation. “You got anything to say, say it to yourself. You go to your room, and you talk about it amongst yourself”.

Maybe that’s why I love to write, I realized that through writing I can say what I want to say, and no one can stop me. I’m just writing what I’m feeling and putting it on paper, but it wasn’t until my mid 30s when I wrote and produced my first play that I really felt more confident to say out loud what I really wanted to say. The medium of theater was really helpful for me.

On the stage in front of an audience, I was able to share my story. It’s been a difficult journey for me to speak up and, I think more now than ever, it’s super important to do that. For the sake of those people who can’t speak up, I am learning to speak louder. You don’t know how many people you can inspire and change by using your voice.

How was your experience when you filmed your first full-length play, Bloom, in 2005? It premiered at the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

I produced my first play I’m a Female Seeking a Male, which is a comedy based on my life and my marriage at the time. I was trying to figure out and navigate my marriage, as it was kind of falling apart. My sister was also having a difficult time with a broken heart and it inspired me to write my first play. It was based on a true story, and on my interviews with single men. That experience was amazing. It was an honor and a privilege to see my story, and all of the characters come to life through a collaboration of these brilliant artists, the director, the actors and actresses, stage crew, the stage manager, production manager, and the audience.

When you’re doing live theater and performance art, the audience plays a really big role in the art of it. It was phenomenal to see that collaboration. It’s really different from writing, because as a writer, I sit down and write by myself. When you write a book, a script, a short story it’s a lonely process. When you’re producing your work or someone else’s work, it’s so fun, because you’re actually working to create art collectively with other artists, and I think it’s magical. Producing I’m a Female Seeking a Male was an incredible experience.

Bloom was written by a friend of mine, another fellow Latina writer. Bloom was based on her sister’s story also. It’s about how her sister, who was struggling as a Latina and who made a cycle of bad decisions. We filmed it in Chicago and we had such a great time. I didn’t care if I was up at four in the morning filming, it was just a really fun experience.

The fact that Bloom premiered at the Chicago Latino Film Festival in 2005 was a true validation that “WOW,” we’re real Latino storytellers. We didn’t call it Latinx, but Latino storytellers at that time. It was really, really a phenomenal experience. I’ll never forget that it premiered in such a special place and I was co-producer of that film.

Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear these phrases:

A superpower

Teleportation. It would be amazing to be transported to a new location without having to get on a plane. I’m kind of feeling like I want to go to Italy right now, at this very second!

A dream

I feel like I’m living my dream.

Palm Springs

Film Festival, where the movie Bloom premiered.

A curiosity

The moon. What’s it like to be on the moon? To land on it? To look at it? To feel it?

I saw your artistic statement where you said that you’re drawn to life, a real life with real humans and you always try to find humor in it. I think this is courageous and quite hard too.

My true inspiration for storytelling comes from my own life experience where I can speak from a place of truth and authenticity. For some reason, I have a really hard time coming up with a completely fictional character out of the blue, out of my imagination. I have a hard time making it sound honest and vulnerable. My son is a writer, he writes fantasy and creates not only the characters, but the community, a city and an entire universe from his imagination. I really do admire that kind of writing. I aspire someday to be able to do that.

Today, I’m drawing on my own life and I do love to laugh. I’m always laughing. I have no problem laughing at myself and I always try to find a little comic relief, even in the toughest of situations. I think it’s a real reflection of our true lives. One minute you’re having an emotional breakdown. You could be crying about something that’s really sad to you, or something might not be working. The next minute, you’re laughing. Either someone said something, or you’re just so emotionally wrapped up in yourself that all of a sudden, you start laughing. It’s happened to me where something just breaks that cycle. As humans, we can do that.

I really think and I believe that laughter is a gift from God to help us get through some of life’s greatest suffering and that’s what I use in my writing to break up the drama and sadness or some painful moment. Let’s breathe. Let’s laugh about something. I wonder if that is because my family, when we get together, it’s a non stop joke. Someone’s always on top of each other cracking jokes. My dad is really hilarious, he’s a storyteller and I get the storytelling from him. When he talks he is always super funny. When we were kids, people used to ask, how do you live with this funny guy? I was like, he’s not that funny. He had a sturdy hand but as we grew up, we just realized that a sense of humor boils down to the simplest things — like a facial expression.

I do think it’s maybe cultural from our Latinx heritage, I just enjoy our family. We also have the “Mucci” Christmas when our entire family gets together and it’s one big laughing fest nevertheless. I’m very blessed with laughter in my life and it’s so important.

What are your favorite acting moments so far?

I wouldn’t say I’ve been acting my whole life, but I’ve acted in commercials. I also was in the indie film Bloom. I was the friend of the lead character. I also have performed my own work and my own writing. I’d have to say that my greatest acting moments are playing myself.

Some weeks ago I performed a reading of my short story, Spit, it’s part of my excerpt of my memoir. It was extremely powerful, and emotionally charged for me. I had to dig really deep to find that pain all over again, and to reenact that. For others, it could really shake you to your core. I know actors/actresses that are playing deep characters and have to dig deep into the character to draw emotion out of them. I had to dig deep into my own character and into that little girl who was 12 when I experienced this very traumatic experience. In the end, that’s what we artists have to do, right? We just have to dig deep, find the truth and share it.

I think when you’re writing, it helps you to heal. If you’re not performing, you could use writing as an outlet for your emotions. Even when I performed SPIT , I do feel that I relieved it again. It took me a couple of days to recover from the performance. Even though it was hard to do, I went back to that place. I went back to that little girl who was hurt. I kind of had to address it and say, you know, it’s okay, it happened in the past, but I had to face it again, and realize the more I tell that story, the more I wil get past it. It takes time.

Writing my memoir about things in my past still brings up an emotion in me. I will still get upset or angry about it, because it’s there, it’s in my core, it happened to me. The memory of it is still upsetting, but it is definitely a healing process. I have been working on it for — I don’t know how long. I started my memoir about 15 years ago. It’s not something that just happens, it takes time because I do have to go back to that place where I was and it is an emotional process to write it. It’s not easy to write your stories that are deep and sometimes painful, but it’s coming along. I just finished another story called Oreo. Maybe I’ll share another short story in a reading, so you’ll get a little glimpse of it then.

What makes you laugh?

When my family gets together, that makes me laugh. It’s the simple list of little things that will send me laughing hysterically. If someone says something at the wrong time, and It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s hilarious, I’ll laugh at that!

I also laugh at myself. I had a cousin — I wrote about her in my memoir — she’s passed away since then but she was my best friend growing up and she was hilarious. She used to make fun of me all the time. She would just pick on me in the funniest way and she would have me on the floor cracking up so many times. Just either laughing at myself or something so simple and stupid. I’ve always found something funny in life in general. And there’s a difference between making fun of someone in a bad way and then having a fun and light attitude and a good sense of humor. No one should take themselves too seriously.

We will have more interviews with amazing Latinxs leaders every first Tuesday of the month. Check out our website Latinx in Power to hear more. Don’t forget to share comments and feedback, always with kindness. See you soon.

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