Monday, December 21, 2020

The 52nd Birthday of Vanessa Marquez

"'I have come to believe that the highest compliment is not remembering someone; it is missing them." Vincent Price

My dearest Vanessa Marquez was born on December 21 1968 in Los Angeles County, so that today would have been her 52nd birthday.Vanessa loved her birthday and was particularly proud of being a "solstice baby." She was also happy that her birthday fell so close to Christmas, which was quite possibly her favourite holiday. For those of you who are wondering, unlike some people whose birthdays fall close to Christmas, Vanessa did receive presents for both her birthday and Christmas. Regardless, today is difficult for me, but at the same time it is a happy occasion. It is difficult because I am unable to wish Vanessa a happy birthday as I always did and spend part of the day with her. It is happy because it is the anniversary of the birth of my dearest friend, an actress I admire, and a woman I adore.

Even now it seems incredible to me that Vanessa and I were so close. After all, she was a talented, famous, and beautiful actress known for the movie Stand and Deliver (1988) and the TV show ER. What is more, Vanessa's background was somewhat different from my own. Vanessa's maternal grandfather was born in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Her maternal grandmother was born in Hermosillo, Sonora. The couple married in Nogales, Sonora and later moved to Nogales, Arizona, which is where Vanessa's mother was born. Vanessa was very proud of her Mexican heritage and referred to herself as "Mexican American." She didn't use the term "Chicana" of herself, although she had no objections to the term.

The family would later move to California, which is where Vanessa Marquez was born. She grew up in Montebello, California. One thing common to both Vanessa's background and my own is that we were both of an artistic bent from an early age. Vanessa often said that she wanted to be an actress as soon as she emerged from the womb. She certainly wanted to be an actress after first seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939) when she was three or four. Her mother told me how, when Vanessa was eight years old, she marched into their living room and said, "I am going to be a movie star, just like Judy Garland!"

Vanessa certainly was determined to be an actress. When she was a tween she wanted to take tap dancing lessons. When her mother told her that they couldn't afford them, Vanessa simply took to baking. Every Saturday and Sunday her mother would drive her to the local supermarket where she would sell her cookies and cakes. Vanessa then paid for her lessons herself. In school she took every single performing arts class, even though she was generally overlooked when it came to school plays. She was still in high school when she won the role of Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver. Vanessa graduated from Schurr High School in Montebello, and attended Los Angeles City College.

Of course, while our backgrounds were different, Vanessa and I had a lot in common beyond the fact that she was an actress and I am a writer. We were both fans of classic television and shared many favourite shows in common: Batman, The Monkees, Space 1999, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and so on. We even loved many of the same recent shows: Downton Abbey, Mad Men, and The X-Files. We were both huge fans of classic films and were two of the original members of TCMParty, the group of Turner Classic Movie fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag. Like many Gen Xers, The Wizard of Oz was among the first classic films we ever saw, and we both loved the movie as well as its star Judy Garland. We were also both huge Star Wars fans. In fact, I don't think I ever knew a Star Wars fan as big as Vanessa was. She had an extensive collection of Star Wars merchandise. If I ever had a rival, it would had to have been R2-D2.

Even when it came to politics Vanessa and I were largely in agreement. She worked with the United Farm Workers and knew both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Vanessa did some publicity for the UFW and even took part in a December 7 1989 rally and march protesting the exposure of farmers to pesticides used on grapes. She also worked with Amnesty International. Vanessa was one of the famous Latinas who appeared in the award winning 1994 Latina Vote public service announcement, directed by Julie Carmen, encouraging Latinas to vote. Vanessa was very passionate about her views, and they emerged from the fact that she genuinely cared about people.

Indeed, while many know Vanessa was a beautiful and talented actress, they might not know just how wonderful she really was. Vanessa Marquez was the kindest, gentlest, most warm-hearted person I knew. She was very loyal to her friends and would help them when she could. When Jaime Escalante, the mathematics teacher upon whom the movie Stand and Deliver was based, developed cancer, Vanessa was relentless in raising money for his medical treatment. When Turner Classic Movies aired Stand and Deliver on September 30 this year, even I was impressed when, during the TCMParty for the movie on Twitter, an extremely large number of people told how Vanessa had touched their lives and how much they appreciated her. Vanessa's warm-heartedness extended to animals as well. She volunteered for a time at a local animal shelter in Los Angeles County.

More than the fact that she was intelligent and talented, more than the fact that we had so much in common, it was because Vanessa was so warm and kind that I loved her so much. She had more of an impact on my life than anyone else. I was closer to her than anyone I have ever known, even my best friend Brian and my siblings. I am in love with Vanessa and I have no doubt that she knew that, even though we never were actually boyfriend and girlfriend. It should be little wonder that I am still grieving her and that I miss her so much. I have no doubt that I will miss her until the day that I die.  Vanessa Marquez was a wonderful woman, and the most remarkable person I have ever known. While I might be a bit sad today, the anniversary of her birth is still reason to celebrate.

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