Larry talks with OITNB’s Laura Gómez about her work

posted by Larry

Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez

LARRY: Is being a minority an obstacle when it comes to acting? LAURA: Well, it’s definitely an obstacle that’s kind of always there. In my case, I decided to turn it [into a positive] challenge. Because that is, in a way, what makes us stand out.

LARRY: So being different can be an opportunity? LAURA: What makes you shine? The fact that you ARE different. Why be like everybody else? So [in my case] being a Latino woman has become an asset, I believe. And yes, the industry —especially when you are an actor like me—will impose certain stereotypes, certain rules that we have to fight, but [I can also] make a point…through my [own] work. I’m writing short films, so I’ve decided to write those roles that we are craving.

LARRY: How do you feel being part of Orange is the New Black? I’ve been very privileged to be working in a show like Orange is the New Black—Jenji Kohan and these amazing writers have created a universe of characters that have many layers and are [very] deep. I think in a way it’s very inspiring, but it’s a stepping-stone to continue [challenging minority stereotypes] with our own work. That’s what attracted me to […] Larry and Friends: it’s breaking barriers and it’s bringing a message of inclusiveness that we have to write ourselves.

Find out more about Laura’s work on her website: www.lauragomez.net

Of accents and intelligence

Posted by Nat

A few days ago, a bookstore explained to Carla that they would not carry the book. Among the reasons listed, they mentioned that Jin, the Korean fox, had an accent.

I asked myself: why didn’t they complain about Bernard the French Gargoyle? He has the strongest accent of all the characters?.

Or is the perception of accents actually quite relative.

A few weeks ago, someone at my office told me it was a pity I had the wrong accent. If I had had a British accent, I would have been perceived as smart. If I had a French one, as glamorous. Buy apparently my thick Spanish accent was not working in my favor.

I (sort of) understand this kind of behavior in people with no education, who live in small towns and whose ear is not trained to capture different emphasis and pronunciations, or may be prone to more prejudices.

But what’s the excuse for this absurd behavior in New York, where approximately 36% of the population is foreign born?

And why do we never see accents as a badge of intelligence? Having an accent—no matter which—means that person speaks at least one more language, which means a very decent degree of intelligence.

In Larry & Friends many of the characters speak with an accent: Korean, French, Spanish, you name it.

Their accents are part of who they are. They are proud of it, because it integrates their roots (their original speaking inflection) with their new life (the English language) to create their present.

It’s the proof that people can incorporate the best of one culture and yet be able to guard the best of his own culture to create—when fed with respect and love—something that is an evolution of both, something that can make our world a more tolerant, diverse and exciting place to live.

On Art & Perseverance: the story behind Jin The Korean Fox

Posted by Nat

Writing was not my first passion. Not even reading, which I do compulsively. The first thing I truly loved is drawing. I would spend hours admiring Michelangelo’s nudes and try (unsuccessfully) to replicate them. So when I came to New York, I signed up for painting classes at the New York Student League. I was very young and I had this notion that talent was enough. That they will give you a brush, a few colors and a canvas and voilà: a masterpiece was born. I was so disappointed with my incapacity to paint without learning that I almost stopped painting right then. I was also proud and stubborn so I kept at it, and after a couple of years could do a portrait nice enough to hang in my room. Patience (or pride, I still don’t know which) paid off.

The importance of discipline, practice and perseverance is something that is seldom mentioned when it comes to The Arts. People talk about genius and talent, but very little about the hours the artist spends mastering his or her skills. Balzac would write every day for hours. Michelangelo—my childhood hero—had almost no life outside the arts.

As technology speeds things more and more, and the addiction to immediacy grows, the idea of spending the 10 thousand hours estimated by Malcolm Gladwell to achieve mastership seem, frankly, just a waste of time. A sacrifice of too many tiny pleasures (liking that photo on instagram, beating that level in candy crush...)

But with immediacy, we actually end of sacrificing something bigger than these small pleasures that have no echo in our lives. We sacrifice exploring ourselves. We sacrifice pushing our boundaries and see how far we can go. We sacrifice the richness and originality that comes from macerating an idea in our head for a long time.

Patience and persistence are the reasons I admire my partner Carla so much.

Once she gets and idea in her head, she will keep at it until she makes it a reality—and the best reality possible. She poured all of her experience and learning (much of it self-acquired) into each of Larry & Friends’ character. She painstakingly added layer after layer of richness to ensure each animal was unique. Each was unforgettable. It didn’t take her a few minutes or days. It took her over one year of focused work. Carla’s story is reflected in Jin’s. The Korean fox knows that “practice makes perfect” and that patience, although out of fashion lately, brings heightened rewards. So if you are trying to write, draw, dance, sing and it’s not coming out the way you dreamed of… simply keep at it. In a few months, when you look back, you will be happy you did.

On Coqui and the dilemma of art and emigration

Posted by Nat

Art is born out of talent, but also of stimuli.

What surrounds us, what nourishes us and even what hurts us molds what we create. From the way light hits objects to the way family patterns intertwine. From the way grammar organizes our words to the way society filters our experience of life. For an artist, leaving all of this behind in search of new inspiration is not an easy decision. What if once we leave our inspiration behind we are unable to ever create again? What if we never leave and our art grows complacent and stale? This is the dilemma behind the story of Coqui the Puerto Rican frog, who decides to leave his native Puerto Rico even though tradition states he may never be able to sing again. Coqui overcomes this obstacle by centering his art in himself and his own vision. And by discovering that—no matter where we live—we are all human beings with the same fears, passions and desires. In this way he embraces change instead of fearing it, feeding his creativity instead of blocking it. So he can go on creating new and better things instead of perfecting a relentless repetition of sameness. He embraces new artistic expressions—part past, part new—that revitalizes both him and the culture of his new abode.

As we each do everyday in this ever-changing city called New York.

On Cecilia and the decision to challenge fate

Posted by Nat.

Most of us are born in a family and a society that has very clear ideas about what our future should entail—what we should think, do, feel, and be every minute of our lives.

Those expectations become the compass that guides us through life.

Changing the course to find our own is a move that creates an uncomfortable feeling. Is it safe to do something different? Am I crazy? What are they going to say? What if I fail? What if they reject me?

This is the dilemma that inspired the story of Cecilia the Peruvian llama.

She was born into the family tradition of growing wool for souvenirs, but took a step back and asked herself: is this the future I truly want for me? What do I want? Am I prepared to pay the price it may entail?

She doesn’t just stomp out. She actually weights her options and realizes that she will be unhappier staying and becoming a life-long wool provider, than embracing her passion: singing—even if that means she has to leave everything she loves behind.

As in many of our stories, Cecilia’s decision originates a move towards the US, where opportunities are more abundant than in countries with smaller economies.

But it’s about more than just having access to a wider range of options.

It’s about distance.
Distance gives you perspective. Distance gives you space. So we can find our true self, free of expectations, free of promises.

As most of us have experienced here.

Why integration

Posted by Nat

People sometimes ask us: ‘Are you pro or con immigration?” Our answer is simple: Larry and Friends is a project pro-tolerance. We are not making a stand regarding immigration. Immigration happens, especially in these global times. But when there is no integration and tolerance, it can tear the social fabric of a country apart.

I was born in Belgium, a country that—from its inception—was divided in three groups: French-, Flemish- and German-speakers. Add to that waves of immigration from the Congo, the Middle East and Eastern Europe plus very little effort to drive integration and the results have been… tense to say the least. Every time I visit they are all at each other’s throat or playing the blaming game. It has grown so bad, that a few years back, it took the country 589 days to reach a consensus to elect a government.

I grew up in Venezuela where class difference has ruled the country for over a decade and where the latest solution has been shooting people whose opinion differ from the government.

I currently live New York. And every day I feel blessed. I can be myself. Totally so: funny way of walking and all (I walk on my toes, it’s short tendon thing.) I’m surrounded by people of every color, size and style. Yet we all share one thing: the understanding that we all are human beings having to share a limited physical space. And that only respect and tolerance will keep on making this cultural haven that is New York City possible.

In Larry and Friends, each creature brings a gift. Similarly, each wave of immigration brings a new layer, a new richness to our culture. Maybe it’s food, maybe music, maybe new technology or ecological advances. Tolerance and respect are the best gifts we can offer them back in return.

How Larry Came to my Life

—Posted by Carla

 

In advertising and marketing, a lot of ideas are born. Most of them end up in a power point stored deep in a hard drive. Others are bought by clients. And a few ones inspire their owners to travel a road they never imagined existed.

That was my case. And that idea was Larry.

I was asked at work to design a character for a Christmas story we were pitching to a client. I did the first sketches. The sketches were rejected, but they sparked in me a project. Back then, I had been living in NY for several years, and my admiration for diversity was at its highest point. In my opinion, this was the only fact that make this city special and worth to live in. So I thought, ‘What if I could reflect all the richness of New York’s immigration and cultural diversity in a series of carefully illustrated characters?’

Timing—although dreadful for the global economy—was on my side. It was 2008. The stock market had collapsed. My boss thought my idea to take a sabbatical could not be timelier. He not only encouraged me, he actually gave me the means to buy all the materials needed.  And believe me—as my list of characters grew—the amount was substantial!

Thus were born Sumita, Jin and Bernard. Each of them shown to my ex boss and colleagues, almost like a focus group. They encouraged me to go on, so I kept going. I would walk the city for hours in quest of inspiration, very much a la Henrik, the Irish hare who can see beauty even in the grittiest of streets.  One by one, Larry & Friends’ 21 characters came to life. They had a name, a nationality, an occupation and a gift. They wanted to talk about tolerance, integration and love. But they were silent.

As you already know, that’s when Nathalie came into the picture and put words to the images.

In our minds and hearts, the book came to life then.

But now—almost four years later—we realize it was just a book, a beautiful one for sure, but just a book.
It wasn’t until we heard the giggling of children and adults alike, that we realized the book actually had a life of its own: joyful, happy, inspiring and magical.
And for that, we are more grateful than you can ever imagine.

So danke, grazie, gracias, merci, obrigada and thank you in all the beautiful languages of our amazing world.

 

The Power of Serendipity

—Posted by Nat

 

Larry and Friends was born long before I came into the picture. It germinated and flourished in Carla’s mind, coming to life in the form of quirky, eye-catching creatures. I met her when she had already spent hundreds of hours pouring her love into each illustration. Yet something was missing. The voice. The storytelling.

And that’s where I came in.

It was total serendipity: A friend I had made years ago as a journalist was now Carla’s roommate and decided we were a good match. She brought me (reluctantly I must say, since children literature was not my thing at the moment) to their Harlem apartment one sunny Sunday afternoon. Carla eyed me with caution… and slowly started going through her illustrations. She explained the inspiration behind some of the characters and the idea she had to create a book that would not only entertain but also inspire. A book that will bring to life the richness immigration brings to urban landscapes like New York City. A book defined by love, fun and the celebration of cultural differences, instead of age or genre.

I was hooked.

Slowly the stories started coming to life. A format was established and in six months the book was completed. It took us another three years—facing many challenges and entreaties to simplify both texts and illustrations—to end up with the final book in our hands. And the wonderful thing is… we still feel as excited seeing each illustration or reading each text as the first time we created them. Maybe it’s because Igor, Rimshi, Pedro and all the characters are actually the reflection of people we love and have made our life amazing in New York; maybe just because we are still children at heart.

Our only hope is that you enjoy it as much as we do. That you can laugh, love and live with the characters and it even inspires you to share your own life story. Because every life is unique. Every life is amazing.

Thank you for supporting Larry and Friends!

Why immigration?

—Posted by Carla and Nat

Nat-Yo.jpg

Why write a children’s book about immigration?

It maybe very well be for the simple reason that we are both immigrants. 
But we believe it goes beyond that. Because coming to New York is so much more than leaving your country behind to become part of another one. So much more than learning a new language and trying to fit in. It’s about listening for the first time to dozens of languages you didn’t even know existed. It’s about tasting food you had only seen in movies or listening to music so varied and magical you want to dance on the street. It’s discovering that difference is not intimidating but inspiring. In short, it’s about enriching your life in ways you never thought possible. It’s a gift we have been blessed to receive. A modest gift perhaps, but one we would love to share with new generation of humans.