by David Simmonds
Smiley Books, New York, NY
A good book keeps you turning the pages. When you put it down for the night you do so reluctantly – you want to know where it is going and how that might affect you. But above all a good book teaches you something you didn’t know, it expands your perspective in directions you didn’t know existed. You learn something new, and you are better for it.
Rick Najera’s new book, Almost White, succeeds on all counts. It is Rick’s story, from his childhood in San Diego to his successes in Hollywood and Broadway, told with a stark honesty of what it means to be an Hispanic in the “white man’s” traditional domain.
We meet Rick first in the hospital ICU where he is recovering from a bout of pneumonia and a vicious fall that nearly kills him. It is a dire situation, but as is true throughout the book, Rick deftly melds humor with drama as he tells his entertaining stories of his climbing the illusionary ladder, albeit often two steps up and one step down – but always forging ahead, knowing that his life’s work is what he was meant to do, not only for himself and his family, but for the many other talented artists of color who do not always find a voice or an open avenue to succeed.
Reading the book you quickly learn that Rick is a funny guy. After all, Najera writes comedy in Hollywood and it is apparent why. In Living Color and MADtv don’t hire hacks, and he has written for both. He has also written, directed and starred in Latinologues, making him one of only three Latinos to do all three on Broadway. So he has the background to make his story a legitimate one. But there is undeniably an undertone of anger present as Rick recounts his experiences as being perceived as – almost white. It is not a manufactured anger of “woe is me”, but an anger built on years of frustration, obvious racism and nailed-shut doors. And you, the reader, understands that anger can often be a positive force. Anger has always been the spark that has fueled positive change, and that is why, I suspect, Rick has written his story.
Now back to my first paragraph, does the reader learn something from reading Almost White? Yes, without a doubt. I have known people who have tried a life in Hollywood, and it is very difficult to succeed. That’s the reality for anyone not named Clooney or Streep. But having read this book I have learned that there is another layer of challenges for anyone born with the last name of Cepeda, or Trujillo – or Najera. It is real, and it is wrong. Almost White is a well-written, informative read that I highly recommend.
Note: Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and various bookstores.