McALLEN — If you plan on attending Cristela Alonzo’s show Friday, do not shout “PSJA Bears” at her.
“When I did that show, I had so many people that I went to school with that probably were never friends of mine, but suddenly were friends, and throughout the show, they kept yelling, ‘PSJA! PSJA,’” Alonzo said, laughing as she recalled the last time she performed in McAllen. “They kept yelling, ‘Bears!’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I know. We went there.’
“It actually took me this long to go back because I’m like, ‘Oh man, let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.’”
A comedian and actress who wrote and starred in her own ABC sitcom, Alonzo will be returning to the Rio Grande Valley to perform at the McAllen Performing Arts Center on Friday night in promotion of her new memoir, “Music to My Years.” The name of her tour is “My Affordable Care Act.”
For Alonzo, even the interview for this story was something of a homecoming.
“Dude, how can I not talk to Festiva?” Alonzo said after landing in Denver on Wednesday. “I remember it was a big deal when Festiva would put our PSJA High School plays in there. I was like, ‘Oh my god, we made it!’ It was a big deal.”
Her 293-page memoir is an enlightening, funny and at times very personal look at Alonzo’s journey from a young San Juan girl with big dreams to a successful stand-up comic rubbing elbows with Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sanchez.
Alonzo’s illustrious career includes a stint on “The View,” voicing Cruz Ramirez in “Cars 3,” and more recently a role in the new HBO show, “His Dark Materials,” as the spirit, Hester.
Her story is told through a mixtape of songs, one song for each chapter of her book. The songs, which include, “Only the Good Die Young” by Billy Joel, “Dreaming of You” by Selena, and “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, serve as a soundtrack for the stories that Alonzo has to tell.
“Growing up, like I wrote in the book, a lot of times we didn’t have electricity. There were times that we couldn’t pay the bill. So I had this little red radio from RadioShack,” Alonzo said. “My family was really into music. We would listen to the radio when we didn’t have electricity. So I was in love with music. Because of that, I would listen to hours of it everyday. I don’t know about a lot of people, but for me, people find it interesting when I name certain artists or genres, and they don’t understand.
“They find it hard to believe that I’m a fan of that. It’s always this thing where I’m like, ‘Why is that?’ Is it because I’m Latina? Is it because I’m Mexican? Is it because I don’t look like I would know what Mumford & Sons is? It’s so weird.”
Alonzo said that she wanted to make a playlist because she wanted to show that music transcends cultures and economic settings, and that her tastes are just as diverse as anyone else’s.
“When people matter to me, I don’t even intentionally do it, I pick a song that reminds me of them. That’s the song. That’s just kind of how I speak. It’s part of my language,” Alonzo added.
These and a number of charming anecdotes are just some of the personal insights from her book.
Asked about her inspiration for writing a memoir, Alonzo said she wanted people to know that she is not unique. She wanted to know that there is part of a large demographic of people who share her experiences of growing up in the Rio Grande Valley.
“They make it seem like I’m one of a kind,” Alonzo explained. “I appreciate that, but I kind of wanted to write the book because I wanted people to know that I’m actually very common in the place that I come from. It’s not special, which is kind of what makes it special. I wanted to write a book about my life because I wanted people to know what my experience was growing up in a place like the Rio Grande Valley.”
In her book, she tells stories about how her undocumented single-mother and her siblings had to squat at a diner in the early part of her life. She talks about spending much of her time in front of the TV, watching music videos on MTV and sitcoms like the Golden Girls.
“We all sacrificed everything we could to get by,” Alonzo said. “We didn’t even think it was a big deal because that’s just what life was. I also wanted to show people that in that kind of setting it’s really easy for people to tell you to not try because everybody is like, ‘What’s the point of trying?’ But that’s what life is. It’s about trying.
“I wanted to write the book because, especially in the past couple of years, the Latino community has been under fire. But my people, Mexicans, have been completely under fire. I wanted to show people a narrative that we don’t show on TV. The media doesn’t show that. Yes, there are family separations happening in McAllen and in Brownsville, but how about the people who really just work hard and really have a sense of community. I wanted to show that. I wanted to humanize people like me. I don’t want to say that I represent all of them, but if people read the book and connect with it, then I think my job is done.”
An advocate for social issues, Alonzo said that she will also use Friday’s show to speak on such topics. This should come as no surprise to anyone who keeps up with Alonzo, who’s involved with the Special Olympics and currently sits on the board for LUPE, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, which is a nonprofit founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta that advocates for colonia residents and communities in poverty.
During her interview Wednesday, Alonzo announced that she would be donating all of her money from Friday’s show to DACA recipients, or the Deferred Action for Childhood rrivals.
“I am very grateful, and I really give credit to the Rio Grande Valley for raising me and making me into the person that I am,” Alonzo said. “I just want people to know that I’m not trying to go home to make money. I want to go home to give back to my home. For me, that’s how I can help. I want to give the help that my family needed when I was a kid. I really believe in that. I truly believe that there are too many hard-working people down there that still struggle to make ends meet. I want to donate my money from the show to make sure that people are taken care of.”
Alonzo’s show is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7 p.m.
The comedian will perform as part of her “My Affordable Care Act,” which will also serve as a book signing for her memoir “Music to My Years.”
WHEN 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE McAllen Performing Arts Center, 801 Convention Center Blvd., McAllen
COST Tickets start at $20 at ticketmaster.com