Catching up with Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita
Baruch Atah Adonai
Viva Puerto Rico Ha'olam
Hahmotzee , Fight The Power
Thus begins "Culture Bandit," solo spoken word performer Vanessa Hidary’s first performance poem and subsequent one-woman show. In that show was also a piece entitled "The Hebrew Mamita" which has since become her signature piece and the name she is known by to fans worldwide. Vanessa writes and performs about the “trials and tribulations of a girl growing up in NYC” while dealing with identity issues and issues of the heart, and it was an honor to be able to speak with her during National Poetry Month.
Vanessa was born and raised and still lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and believes that this experience has had a profound impact on her outlook on life. She attended an after-school Hebrew school and celebrated her bat mitzvah, but was not “overly involved” in her Jewish community growing up. As she came into her own she found herself on a “journey to identity” which started by exploring other religious and cultural groups. She came full circle to exploring her own ancestry, but expressed that she “never would have believed [she] would have ended up as a Jewish artist.”
Vanessa has always been a writer, but was more focused on theatre and being an actress (she has a MFA!) than her writing. Over time she started writing plays for herself and others and found a way to meld both aspects of her art together. After writing a few monologues, her first big performance was "Culture Bandit," and her performances only grew from there. Some has had some amazing performance opportunities including performing in Amsterdam, speaking to kids about identity, and visiting the Rosa Parks Museum with civil right activists from the 1960s.
“The Hebrew Mamita” was born from Vanessa’s desire to have a name that identified many different parts of her personality -- “something that related to being Jewish and being proud of that, but also was a personal and New York experience.” At the time, she didn’t feel like anyone was talking about the cultural diversity present in New York and especially not on the Upper West Side or from a woman’s perspective. She recognizes that it sometimes confuse people who think she is a different nationality, but really it just adds to her universal appeal.
While "The Hebrew Mamita" is Vanessa’s signature piece and a crowd favorite, it is not inherently hers. Vanessa says that she goes through times where there are pieces that she loves more than others, so it’s hard to pick just one. After some pressure she admits that she loves to perform "God Bless You Ma," because it is a lot of fun and also "PhD in him" (below) which is pretty self-explanatory and universal for anyone who has ever been a little too caught up in a guy. Ultimately, when forced to choose a favorite in general, she leans towards her comedic pieces because “sometimes comedy is underrated and there is nothing greater than making people laugh.”
Vanessa is inspired by two "Jewesses with Attitude": the comedienne Judy Gold and her grandmother, who “was kick ass. She was an artist, and super strong and outspoken.” Well Vanessa, we think you are too, so your grandma did something right.
Don’t forget to check The Hebrew Mamita out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to stay in the loop with this amazing "Jewess with Attitude."
How to cite this page
Scholten-Gutierrez, Melissa. "Catching up with Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita." 25 April 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 27, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/catching-up-with-vanessa-hidary-hebrew-mamita>.
An old school friend of mine recently purchased your new book and brought it here to the UK as I am an admire of your work.
I loved the book.
I am a 74 year old jazz musician who recently lost his wife after a very happy marriage (I knew her for almost 50 years) My dad was a lay cantor and I was educated at a Jewish school.
So you can imagine the "gerfuffle" when we married especially as I had been married to a "nice" Jewish girl for six weeks.
So, not only was I divorced, but I was in love with not only a shiksa, but a Chinese one to boot. I had also given up a career in engineering, signed on in the Royal air Force for an extra year to become an officer.
Nevertheless I married my beautiful Leonie who I met when she was a film extra and I was in the studio orchestra. We subsequently had two sons, one who became a doctor (my son the doctor) and the other who is a senior executive with the Shell oil company.
She died at the end of March 2011 and I'm finding it hard to get over her. But my music helps so much (I still play about two to three times a week.
I hate racism and bigotry which I see here in the UK (and it's growing). So your poetry means a lot to me. I have spoken about you to a lot of my friends, especially the musicians.
Personally I'm not a believer, but I am proud of being a "yiddisher" bloke and I'm proud to have you as a "sister".
When are you coming here to the UK?
With kind regards and best wishes,