In Los Angeles, we use odd clues to measure success. That’s why, when celebrity magazine InStyle emailed me a little over a year ago for comments regarding a J-Lo scandal, I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ve made it!”
After all, why wouldn’t InStyle want to talk to me? I’ve been on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. I used to say my name once a week on an NPR affiliate when introducing Zócalo Radio on Sunday nights. I’ve been on television–well, the Spanish channels, at least. Of course the tabloids would want my opinion on celebrity scandals.
Unfortunately, my bubble was quickly burst. A Google search of J-Lo’s latest escapades revealed, just below my own site, claudiavazquez.com, an article headlined “Claudia Vazquez is suing superstar Jennifer Lopez for $10M.” This was odd. I did not recall suing J-Lo.
As it turned out, the Claudia Vazquez sought out by InStyle was another, older Claudia, a telenovela actress and girlfriend of Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband Ojani Noa. Unfortunately for me, this other Claudia spelled her last name as I did: with two Zs. Just when I thought I’d created a niche to separate me from thousands of Claudia Vasquez (S and Z) name-sharers in the world, the girlfriend of J-Lo’s ex-husband Ojani was muscling in on my Vazquez (Z and Z) turf.
The lawsuit apparently revolved around the following set of problems: Claudia Vazquez was producing a documentary on Ojani’s career and life (don’t ask me why), and part of this documentary was going to feature sex tapes from Ojani’s honeymoon with J-Lo. To prevent this, J-Lo was taking some sort of action. So was the other Claudia. Lawsuits were flying.
In any case, it was clear that InStyle had come to the wrong place. Disappointed, I emailed them and told them to look for the other Claudia Vazquez. I thought that’d be the end of it.
No such luck.
I may not have been that Claudia Vazquez, but the rest of the world, in the weeks that followed, disagreed. When I Googled “Claudia Vazquez,” I’d find images of my face blown up to a million pixels next to Ojani’s face with captions like “Ojani’s new girlfriend.” Ojani’s new girlfriend? Then there were the comments–like “She’s an ugly bitch.” Those were not nice.
I went on the offensive. For the next few days, instead of using my evenings to relax with a good book–or just a copy of InStyle–I sent off angry, un-spell-checked messages. “Take my photo down or I will sue you for defamation of character,” I threatened the gossiping horde. I also put up a disclaimer online and on my Facebook Fan Page. (This lost me five fans.)
The sites removed my photo pretty fast. Still, the timing really wasn’t good. My work is in politics and theater, and that means I often try to get media attention for the stuff I’m doing. I’d recently been working on a political campaign. I’d also been running a play on the occupation in Afghanistan. And I was working on several things with the Independent Shakespeare Co.
Wherever I went, it was as if the other Claudia Vazquez was waiting in the wings. I’d go on Univision to talk about a new program Independent Shakespeare Co. was producing to attract Latino families to the theater. Claudia Vazquez would go on Telemundo to discuss J-Lo. I would go on the lefty radio station KPFK to talk about free theater and education. Fans of the other Claudia Vazquez would send me Facebook messages of support and praise the next day.
I thought things would finally improve after the other Claudia Vazquez won her case against J-Lo. They didn’t. Just a few weeks ago, Univision posted on my Facebook wall to request an interview. On the bright side, I found out that if I were to take up with J-Lo’s ex and produce a documentary that included a sex tape, a lot of people would stand by me. Even today, I keep receiving comments from Facebook visitors supporting me against J-Lo. I guess it counts for something to know how badly I could behave without alienating my fans.
Sharing a name can put you in the company of someone unexpected, and at this point I’ve become used to the thought of being haunted by Claudia Vazquez. I’ve grown accustomed to fans writing me to say I look middle-aged and overdone. (I’m 28. Thanks, guys.) I’ve stopped being shocked when old friends check in to ask me if I’m the one dating Ojani Noa. Seriously–Ojani Noa? Guess they must think I’m desperate.
Nevertheless, so far, I’ve held onto my last name. I like to think people here in L.A. still associate it with the things I’ve done in my own career. But I know it doesn’t really work that way. When Claudia Vazquez finally releases that sex tape, I know I’ll be getting emails from half the planet. So maybe I should try to solve things for good and change my last name to something more distinctive. Is “Schiffer” taken?
Claudia Vázquez is a performing artist & instructor, community organizer, and marketing maven. Her website (please don’t email her about Ojani) can be found here.
*Photo courtesy of Reza Vaziri.