Sometime last week I came across an unusual Facebook post. Amidst the pictures of food, check-ins at the gym, and other mundane facts people like to share on social networking sites was a post about a young Latina filmmaker named Vanessa Libertad Garcia. It was a message of condolence to her family and friends on the account of her passing. As I read through the comments and clicked through the links, I stumbled upon her blog. In a post titled, "All My Love, V" Vanessa says goodbye to her friends and family. It served as her suicide note.
Her letter is honest, raw, vulnerable, completely rational, and almost matter-of-fact. It is clear that she had suffered a long time and saw no other way out.
"In the spirit of the modern age, I've decided to post my suicide letter as my final blog post. I don't really know why other people have chosen to leave behind suicide letters. In my case, I'm writing one just to offer a little clarity on why I've decided to take this route out of existence instead of peacing out the old fashioned way via natural causes, car accident, plane crash, murder, cancer, etc.
Well, quite simply, I've been miserable for a long time. I'd say the chronic melancholia began at age 14 / 15. I could blame this state of lingering sorrow and bitter dissatisfaction with myself and my life on anything under the sun: my family, poverty, the capitalist system, sexual abuse, obesity, other people, alcohol, luck, fate, and God... but that stance would be erroneous. It would merely be a deflection from what I've come to know as the true underlying reason of this seemingly unconquerable gloom: Me.
My inability to adapt to life's challenges and assimilate its lessons into wisdom, gratitude and optimism have left me psychologically torn, emotionally numb, physically exhausted, and spiritually destitute. I do feel, however, that I gave it a damn good try."
For some people Vanessa's choice to end her life is a hard one to understand but, ultimately it was a decision she had the right to make. Despite the sad end to her life my objective here is to celebrate her work as a filmmaker.
Vanessa Libertad Garcia, an American-born child of Cuban immigrants, grew up "between the burbs' and hoods of Los Angeles." Despite the obstacles she faced as a Latina, an out lesbian, and having parents as immigrants she was always an overachiever. She graduated Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University. She was also a prolific writer and self-published a collection of short stories and poems "The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive."
While still in college, Vanessa was introduced to Anayansi Prado, a documentarian working on her first film. Anayansi hired Vanessa to work as an intern on Maid in America, an award-winning documentary about the lives of Latina domestic workers in Los Angeles. As time went on, Vanessa's duties went beyond those of an intern. She helped structure the story and provided feedback on editing. Anayansi ended up giving her an Associate Producer credit. Even while Vanessa began working on her own projects the two stayed close friends. Anayansi remembers her fondly, "Vanessa was a very loving person. She always told me she loved me every conversation I had with her on the phone. No matter what we talked about she would end it with, 'I love you mama.' She always let people know that she loved them. She was very giving, loving, and selfless. She always wore her heart on her sleeve."
In 2005, Vanessa wrote, produced, directed, and edited a short film A Two Woman One Act. The film is, "set in the mortuary of an LA ghetto, where two Cholas face the repressed lust for each other that has secretly tormented their lives." The film played the festival circuit including Outfest: The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
A little over a year ago, Vanessa began looking for someone to produce her first feature length script, Good Mourning, Lucille a dark comedy murder mystery. Shannon Constantine Logan loved the story and jumped on board right away as a producer. Shannon helped polish the script and they quickly got financing, starting shooting, and just a few months ago began editing the footage.
A few days before her untimely passing, Vanessa met with Shannon and the editor to screen the most recent cut of Good Mourning, Lucille. Vanessa gave notes on the music, pacing, and sound. Shannon didn't know it but it was the last time she would see Vanessa. "It wasn't apparent at all when I last saw her. She was happy and laughing. Nobody saw it coming. I didn't know she was struggling to that extent, nobody really knew."
Now Shannon is tasked with moving forward, with finishing the film without Vanessa. "I am honoring her last wishes for the movie; it is a little sad and daunting now. The original intention was to get it into a festival and possibly sell it. I really want to make sure it gets out there. I can't wait to show the world what a talented, creative, and funny person she was. It's her memorial this movie. It's the last great thing she made."
It turns out Good Mourning, Lucille might not be Vanessa's last project. She had spent the last few years working on the script for Dear Dios. Anayansi says, "She worked on it for years, it was her baby. Some of her friends, we have been talking about getting together to try and get it made." The synopsis on Vanessa's website describes the film, "An aspiring photojournalist with a lust for bi-women and malt liquor spirals out of control in the hipster club scene and turns bottom-of-the-barrel temp for an LA celebrity tabloid rag."
It is sad to think that at 29 years old Vanessa Libertad Garcia felt like she had nothing else to give this world. By most accounts her friends describe her as full of ideas, extremely brilliant, and incredibly creative. Even at her young age she accomplished an impressive body of work. It is this artistic legacy that her friends and family hope she is remembered by. Anayansi expressed the wishes of Vanessa's loved ones, "Because she took her own life we don't want the dignity of her life to be diminished. We want to honor her for who she was. Vanessa was a loving person who was loved by so many people. She was accomplished, was a great artist, and had a great relationship with her family. She had lots of friends. She was always surrounded by friends. Mental illness like any other illness needs to be treated. There are stereotypes of depressed people as sad and lonely. She knew people loved her deeply. She was loved and supported by her mother and sisters as an artist and a lesbian. There was a beautiful memorial on Sunday where we all shared about how selfless she was. There were stories after stories of her helping people, of how giving and loving she was."
Suicide and mental illness are topics that rarely come up, particularly in the Latino community. There is stigma attached and the result is silence and secrecy. Depression and mental illness are invisible. They are not like other diseases which manifest before our eyes. It is hard to ignore that someone has cancer or a broken bone. But many with depression suffer in silence. If we as a society can learn to be compassionate and understanding about these issues those in pain may be willing to come forward and seek treatment. There is no cure for depression but with medical treatment it is a manageable condition.
I did not know Vanessa Libertad Garcia and cannot judge her situation or second-guess her decision to end her life. But, something about her story really touched me. I hope the same is true for the rest of you.
If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
Written by Vanessa Erazo. LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.