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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Jennifer Villalobos, an Advocate for Native Youth

by Roscoe Pond
credits: Jennifer Villalobos works with Julian Phoenix, a Native youth, in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Villalobos.)

Jennifer Villalobos works with Julian Phoenix, a Native youth, in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Villalobos.)HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Short film director Jennifer Villalobos has always been passionate about working with Native youth. She travels to speaking engagements around the state telling them an education is the best thing they can achieve. She graduated from St. Mary’s College in California with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

Villalobos headed to Los Angeles in 1995 with the hopes of becoming an actress. She landed a job with the American Indian Clubhouse as an assistant youth director for UAII (United American Indian Involvement). The clubhouse was an after school program for Native kids and Villalobos became the director in 1998. She helped the kids put on productions, plays, pageants and Christmas shows. She even directed a kid’s video called "Carlos Springer" which was based off "Jerry Springer." The kids portrayed all the roles with the distinct message to stay in school. She left the clubhouse in 2001.

By 1999, Villalobos was a fledgling actress who felt her career was going nowhere. She became tired of auditioning for stereotypical Indian maiden roles. Her husband suggested she write, produce and direct her own films. So, Villalobos entered the "Groundlings" comedy and improv theater in Los Angeles. She came up with the idea of a cable access comedy sketch show called "Blazin." After six months, the group parted and the show died.

At this time in her life, Villalobos was exposed to the Los Angeles community and the urban Indians that live there. She says she didn’t know what it meant to be Indian until then. Ironically, she was born in L.A. Villalobos’ birth mother left the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation and moved to L.A. before Jennifer was born. Villalobos was given to a foster home and after 10 weeks she was adopted by a white couple named Frank and Sue Varenchik. She says they gave her the love that she hands down to Native kids today.

It wasn’t easy growing up in Danville, Calif. She lived in an all-white neighborhood and was only exposed to white culture. As the only Indian, she was teased and not accepted by her peers. Villalobos tried to blend in throughout high school but was ashamed to be Native, which she downplayed constantly. Her parents tried to expose her to books about her Native people but it just wasn’t the same. She never lived the Tohono O’odham life.

Villalobos attended a meeting for NAFATA (Native American Film & Television Alliance) and found herself producing and directing her first short film called "Babs and Dad." It is a small story about the relationship between a father and daughter. It premiered at the first NAFATA Los Angeles film-fest in 2002. For Villalobos, the experience created a new focus - directing. She had found her path in Hollywood and made the decision to learn all the aspects of film production.

She has co-directed a Native music video called, "Respect" produced by Soaring Eagle films. She assistant-produced TANF (Tribal assistance to needy families) public service announcements in 2002, which she says opened her eyes to a higher professional side of the business. It was produced, written and directed by a Native cast.

Villalobos is also producing a short film called "Rez Politics" written by a man named Yellow-Robe, adapted from his short play. She is also a production assistant on an upcoming American Indian public television documentary called "Trudell." It is producer Heather Rae’s ambitious production of John Trudell’s American Indian Movement life.

Villalobos has started her own business called Varenchik & Associates. As a Native American consultant specializing in youth and media programs. Her motto is "Creating choices, making a difference." She’s passionate about it because she doesn’t want Native kids to grow up like she did, being ashamed of her own Indian heritage. She is also hosting a "Start your own business" course for Native youth May 12-16 and 27-30 at the Southern California Indian Center in Commerce, Calif. For more information, Villalobos can be contacted at (818) 434-3850 or by email at

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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