Have you caught an episode of the award-winning ‘The Pineapple Diaries‘ web series? The show centers around the lives of three best friends who live in Jamaica Plain. Today we are chatting with JP native and show creator, Paloma Valenzuela, about the her production company, La Gringa Loca Productions, her dedication to telling the stories of Dominican Americans, and how YouTube has inspired her.

K: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

The cast of ‘The Pineapple Diaries.’

P: I was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. My parents and I lived in Somerville and Medford until we moved to Jamaica Plain when I finished first grade. I’ve lived my elementary, middle school, high school and college years in JP.

K: Tell me about your family.

P: My father is Dominican. He is from a small town called Las Matas de Farfán. It is in the southern region of the Dominican Republic. My mother is a Jewish American and was born in Illinois but she was raised in Malaysia. Her dad worked for the Peace Corps. My mom has had a very interesting life. She moved to Wisconsin and that’s where she met my dad. My dad was there for an agricultural program. They met and fell in love. They moved to DR and lived there for two years. She had my brother and then they decided to come back to the States, to the Boston area. A lot of my mom’s family was here. My parents were very young, like 21, so it was good for them to have that base here in Boston.

K: How did you get into acting and directing?

Paloma with actor Adobuere Ebiama.

P: All the little pieces of what I do have formed throughout my life. It really started with my discovery and interest in acting. I was a little girl and I have an older cousin who is a goddess to me. She is like my older sister. She always knew she wanted to be an actress. She is an amazingly talented actress and she always has been. She she lives in LA. I remember when we were younger we both wanted to audition for a show called ZOOM. I really just wanted to go with her and hang out with her. I didn’t think anything would ever come out of it. I got a call back and then I got a bunch more call backs. I auditioned a lot and I didn’t make the cut in the end but there was something about that experience that made me feel like it was something I wanted to do.

Going into middle school, I did a lot of theater plays and then when I heard about Boston Arts Academy it sounded like heaven on earth to me. I really wanted to be an actress. I got accepted and got exposed to a lot of other art forms. I had a really good experience there. They had guest teachers came in and one of them was a playwright. I wrote something and he was very encouraging about my writing. After that, I felt very encouraged and invigorated to write. I loved the idea of writing a story and not just having people read it but having it come to life. I fell in love with that.

Junior and senior year, I focused mostly on writing and directing. I still love acting but I was way more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. I decided writing was what I wanted my focus to be in college. I went to Emerson College and I loved it.

Paloma filming with Director of Photography, René Dongo in Mozart Park.

I graduated college and I felt like I wasn’t ready to move onto the workforce yet so I moved to Dominican Republic. I started working for a television show there. It wasn’t great pay but it was a really good experience. I really wanted to improve my Spanish and learn more so being a part of that project really helped me. It was a six-month project. Afterwards, I had to find something else and that was my first experience freelancing. At the time, DR didn’t have the booming film industry it does today. Now there is the Ley de Cine which is a way to allow cinema artists to create in the Dominican Republic. It was small in 2009 and now it’s booming industry with several national projects produced each year. I did a lot of odd jobs until I heard about a job at a school tutoring English. I promised myself I was going to stay in the DR for one year so I went for it and got the job.

Basically, that’s it. I did a bunch of different stuff after college. I was an English teacher and drama teacher for a few years. Finally, I moved back here and did ‘Pineapple Diaries.’

K: Tell me about the history of La Gringa Loca Productions.

P: La Gringa Loca Productions was something that I created to keep my projects organized and in one place. It was important for me to create things with my friends. I want to collaborate with my friends who are talented artists. I admire them very much. It’s an honor for me to collaborate with them. La Gringa Loca Productions has a specific mission to collaborate and create content that is diverse, provocative and fun. I did a little interview series in DR, a small series of plays and, of course, created ‘The Pineapple Diaries’ under La Gringa Loca Productions

K: Tell me about the creation of the Pineapple Diaries series.

P: I was very inspired by women who took the YouTube platform and made it into something larger and created on their own. ‘Broad City’ and ‘Insecure’ both started on YouTube. I knew that I had waited long enough to start. If you are sitting around waiting for money, waiting for deals, and waiting for agents then you are just going to be waiting. I just wanted to do something. I knew after three years of teaching it was time to do this. I quit my job and it was summertime. I had some time to take a little time to myself and think about what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to create web series. I enjoyed writing comedy and I really wanted to see something that looked like my life. I don’t see that on TV much.

Photo taken by Winston G Smith.

I wanted to see something that would highlight Dominican American life. I wanted to showcase Dominican Americans as Dominican Americans and show what their experiences are really like. I wanted to create something authentic based on people I know and based on experiences we have had. The women in the show are playing themselves. They are playing their ages, their race, and are portraying experiences that they themselves have faced.

K: Why is the Pineapple Diaries set in Jamaica Plain?

P: I came straight to JP after I left DR. Using JP as the setting was because this is where I am from. These are the women who I know. These are the people who I know. The characters reflect the women I know here in JP.  I have to say, When I came back from DR I was 26. I fell in love again with the city and my neighborhood. This is my identity. JP and Boston are part of my identity. This city is cute. JP is cute. We all know it’s special so why not show it to people who may never visit? I have had people watch the show and say that they were surprised that there was a Washington Heights-like place in Boston and it’s because you don’t see it in the movies and you don’t see it on TV. The white community in Boston has a history here too but it’s not the only history here in Boston. There are more Dominicans here than people would ever be able to guess. ‘The Pineapple Diaries’ is a love letter to JP. I love this town.

K: What is your favorite thing about Jamaica Plain?

P: I think it’s really cute. It has great restaurants. I love that I can do everything that I need to do here. I love the community. I am critical of gentrification. I am critical of what has happened in JP this far in terms of gentrification. I feel like in JP nobody wants to see anyone go or anyone be displaced in any way. It feels like there is harmony here and I really believe that. Given the inevitable gentrification that is happening here in JP, this community is really trying hard to not take away from what the essence of what this community is about which is its diversity and its Latino and people of color community. I think that everyone agrees that the things that make JP special need to stay and everyone wants to keep it that way.

K: What would you like to see for JP in the future?

P: I want to see a real balance of businesses. I want to see businesses continue to be owned by people of color and Latinos. I want the businesses that have been here to stay here. I want to see restaurants that are more affordable for everybody. I want anything that comes into JP to be affordable and accessible to everyone. Don’t build anything here that we can’t all enjoy!

You can watch both seasons of ‘The Pineapple Diaries’ here!