Empowerment Series: Dominican-Puerto Rican, Actress, Writer, Comedian of HBO Max’s “Fighting Words” Aida Rodriguez Shares her Vulnerability with AW
Growing up Latina in New York had its advantages. We lived in a community filled with bodegas, botanicas, and people that looked like me until my parents moved our family to a different part of the city. A place that offered an improved environment but also exposed me to the contrasts that existed during that time. The assimilation of a brown-skin girl who lives in a world that favors fair skin, straight-haired people is complex, even when you are raised in a melting pot.
I went to a high school with a pretty diverse student body. Not all my friends were Latinos, sometimes, the inadequacy pressured me into justifying my curls, music, and food. Misconceptions about our culture were rampant. I became increasingly embarrassed of where my parents came from, ultimately, overwhelmed by feelings of shame. The inner conflict followed me into adulthood, creating a great deal of confusion, impeding true self-acceptance.
With age comes wisdom and experience, I’m no longer bound by the opinions or beliefs of others. The Dominican culture and heritage gave me a set of values and traditions that I hold dear. I’ve learned to bring it with me everywhere, embracing my parent’s history, as my own. The hardships they endured to give us a better life, no longer go unnoticed. This interview is for anyone who struggles with the pain of adapting, feelings of not being good enough, or lack a sense of belonging, You are not alone in your fight, plenty of us share a similar story.
My parents gave me the confidence to believe that I was enough but the outside world’s views did not align with what I learned at home. Society’s perception of beauty always felt in direct conflict with reality. My family tree consisted of a mixture of skin tones, hair textures, and eye colors. There were various contributors to my identity crisis during adolescence, it is more common than we’d like to admit and manifests in different ways.
Aida Rodriguez is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, born in Boston, raised in the Dominican Republic, New York, and Miami. She was a student of Florida University for several years before dropping out and starting a career in modeling, followed by years in the corporate world. Her life was presented with countless challenges that include being kidnapped twice by her mother then abandoned by a father but none of it deterred her from greatness. The comedian is known for her appearance in Season 8 of The Last Comic Standing, as well as, being a commentator on Young Turks. She was one of several comedians featured in the comedy series, Tiffany Haddish Presents, They Ready on Netflix. Most recently, Aida can be seen in Fighting Words, an HBO Max Special full of humor that is inspired by her true story.
I had the incredible opportunity to interview this fearless Latina. It was a perfect night, the space at HBO offices was vibrant with stunning views. The safety protocols emboldened guests to enjoy the night’s event. If you have not seen Aida Rodriguez’s, Fighting Words, I hope this inspires you to watch it. A beautiful tale that has heart, humor, and some truths not everyone is ready to hear but deserves a conversation.
She was wearing a cobalt blue suit that screamed empowerment, it was the first thing that grabbed my attention. I entered the green room with excitement and questions in hand, completely prepared for my face-to-face interview. I left with something much more valuable, surpassing all expectations. Aida is charismatic, humble, and authentic, in another time and place, we could have been besties.
Storytelling is one of the most beautiful tools we have to connect. Aida and I are both storytellers, whether you write songs, humor, music, books, poetry, scripts – you tell stories. Sharing them creates connection, heals, and brings life to the human experience. On this night, a real connection took place. We had an open dialogue with an exchange of emotions and joy. Amazing!
The AW Empowerment Series consists of a group of women, each with their own individual power. Every interview delivers a special gift. Aida’s genuine vulnerability was a point of connection. Her humor comes from a place of real-life pain but ultimately, she demonstrates how self-acceptance has become her superpower.
During the HBO Max documentary, Fighting Words, you said “I’m my doing my best. Some wounds never heal but we learn to live with them.” How did meeting your father for the first time, change you? There were a lot of thoughts and emotions going into this moment. I was thinking about what to wear. Do I wear something really nice to try to impress this man or not try too hard? Over the years, I dealt with issues of self-worth and abandonment. My father’s departure made me question whether he loved me. I felt alone in my shame but telling my story helped me. I’ve realized there are others with a similar story. My hope is that my experience resonates with others and encourages them to find their own truth.
I am a product of Dominican parents, born and raised in New York. Although I was brought up to embrace my culture, there were challenges that prevented me from complete self-acceptance? Our lives are frequently, driven by shame, guilt, or pain. You are leading with truth, positivity, and an unapologetic sense of self. What do you hope is the takeaway for Latinos watching Fighting Words? I would like people with estranged parents to feel worth. If they want to seek a parent that left them, they should but also remain grounded without expectations of a specific outcome. It’s ok to look for your absent parent for personal healing and evolution, if something comes out of it then it’s a bonus. The process should be about finding the resolve of your pain or hurt.
In times of difficulty, many of us ask ourselves “Why me?” In your HBO Max Special, you state “All of this happened because it was supposed to, it made me who I am today. I am enough.” Do you believe you found your purpose, if so, how will you use it to inspire others? 100% I found my purpose. I’ve been an active voice in the community. I speak about issues that affect our culture but I am no longer engaging in the topic of politics. I’ve grown into my role as an artist, learning to use my platform to help change the culture and improve life for others. My way is to make way, advocacy lives in my act. I shine the light on those that do the real work, giving space to making a difference. I do whatever possible by using my art to advocate.
AW interviews end with a message of positivity. Can you offer yours for our readers? Self-Acceptance. Embrace everything you are. Love and accept yourself completely with flaws and all. “I am a sancocho! but it is how I show up as myself.” All of it makes up who I am, no need to overcompensate. Self-Acceptance is one of the biggest hurdles we have but everyone must show up in their own way. Go as you. I allow myself grace and not let anyone shame me, and want the same for you.
AW is grateful to Aida and everyone involved with Fighting Words for allowing us to share this story and empower readers to embrace their own narrative with pride and courage. I am immensely grateful to this beautiful soul because our conversation gave me the strength to tell you about my shame growing up. Every story matters.
Aida Rodriguez, and Director, Emmy-Nominated Cinematographer, Nadia Hallgren (Becoming), as well as, Palante HBO Max are using their platforms to shine the light on others. Telling stories to help educate, inspire and encourage us to shatter stereotypes. Hopefully, these types of collaborations will begin to help ease the feelings of shame and guilt being experienced by diverse populations all over the world.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.*
Phototography, Courtesy of HBO MAX
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