Our Interview with Love & Hip-Hop Star, Erica Mena – Opens Up About Her Book & More
You may recognize her from Chris Brown’s “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)” video, or from turning the pages of XXL Magazine. You may even be familiar with her by reading the daily blogs and seeing what her name is being tied to. Most certainly, those who tune into Love & Hip Hop New York recognize her name, face, and attitude. In this interview, reality star Erica Mena opens up about some of the things she’s been through, and all that has gone into making her the person she is today. Recently releasing her debut book, Underneath It All, a book detailing the struggle of building herself up from an abused foster child to who she is today. In our interview Erica Mena discusses the process of healing from what she experienced as a child while giving solid conversation about her relationship with DJ Envy, her feelings towards bloggers and raising her six year-old son.
Parlé Magazine: Erica, first I want to thank you for your time. To get started with the interview, to be clear, I read that you were born in an infirmary in New York. Is that correct?
Erica Mena: Correct. My mom spent her pregnancy in jail.
Parlé: Then you spent some time within the foster care system. What was your experience like?
Erica Mena: I’ve got to be honest. It was extremely traumatic for me. I was sexually abused for a long time while I was in the foster care system. So, it was not something where I have fond memories of, but it definitely set the tone for me as far as who I am and how I embrace people I don’t know. It definitely made me a lot stronger in that sense of just knowing how brutal the world is right off the bat.
Parlé: Well in that case, would you say that you could appreciate your experiences in the system since it made you a stronger person?
Erica Mena: Now I appreciate them because I’m going through the process of healing from them. You kind of have to use it as a learning experience. Yeah, you have to appreciate them. It happened to me for whatever reason, but for a reason. Like I said, it definitely set the tone for how I move out in the world because it is brutal out here.
Parlé: As an adult how is your relationship with your family?
Erica Mena: We are extremely close. One thing I will say is that with every family, you obviously go through your ups and downs, but I’m truly grateful for the fact my mom and my sisters and everyone in my family is extremely supportive. We’re a lot stronger than ever. We always seem to get by and we use each other. That’s the real meaning of family. I’m more than grateful that I have something that strong.
Parlé: How long were you in the foster care system?
Erica Mena: I actually started kindergarten in foster care so throughout the first few years of my life due to the situation with my mother. Once I got out of there my mom never missed a beat. If we were poor or not I never went through struggle or felt struggle. It was really the first few years that were hard and traumatic for me but once I got out of foster care everything was normal and that’s when I started to be able to be a kid and be happy and live life the way it was meant to be lived.
Parlé: What was the process of dealing with issues of sexual and mental abuse to eventually making a name for yourself within the entertainment industry?
Erica Mena: I think I wanted to set out and make it so much because of what I had been through. You know for many years before I decided to write Underneath It All, I definitely kept it under wraps. I didn’t really talk about it much because I hadn’t really healed from it so my way of healing, or avoiding healing, from it was not talking about it and thinking it never existed and you know when you’re going through life it eventually surfaces. You have flashbacks because you don’t deal with the fact that it happened and make that work for you. So in time, it made me want to succeed a lot more because I knew I had gone through this and I knew how it felt going through this. I can honestly say that I love myself a lot more after writing the book because it was in my face. They can call me crazy. They can call me this or that. I know who I am and I know why I’m the way I am. Writing the book automatically made me accept myself and love myself more. No question.
Parlé: In your book you said you were envious of a friend’s relationship with their father. Do you have any contact with your dad at all?
Erica Mena: No, no I don’t actually. He reaches out every once in a while. My father was just very selfish. I don’t think he realizes how his absence or his presence affected me. With my friend, Alex, I’ve always envied her relationship with her father, and just the way he’s embraced her. He was just the perfect example of a man to show her what it is you do accept and what you don’t accept. That ultimately shapes you into a woman who eventually has healthy relationships with whoever you decide to be with because you knows what it looks like.
Parlé: With your experience within the foster care system and then returning to your family, what was your plan for success afterwards? Did you always want to be famous?
Erica Mena: As a kid, I always had a music box in my head. I was always dancing or singing and stuff like that. Right off the bat, I always had the love of performing arts. I was the little kid who was stuck watching West Side Story, The Sound of Music, or Mary Poppins. That alone helped me stick out from the rest of my siblings. I was always very vibrant in that sense. I was very much a character. I was always trying to be something, whether it were a Disney character or the girl from West Side Story. it was definitely something that was in me.
Parlé: That’s not something you see often. Who was your favorite Disney Character?
Erica Mena: I loved Jasmine. I just felt she had it all but felt that there was more to it. I loved that she was a princess but wanted to be considered a regular person. I loved that, and all of the songs she used to sing.
Parlé: Describe what it was like when you first moved to Hollywood.
Erica Mena: I love it. I love the city. You have to realize that I grew up around projects. To come out to L.A. and have those projects be replaced by palm trees was just an automatic feeling of liberation. I got to see prettier and better. Once you do get a chance to set out into the world after living in New York or cities like New York, you don’t really get to see or get to know what’s out there. Once you do, you embrace it and you love it.
Parlé: As a reality star do you ever regret sharing certain aspects of your life?
Erica Mena: Sometimes I do because people get so caught up and don’t realize that I am a human being, and of course I get harsh criticism and judgment but it’s a part of the territory.
Parlé: Were you surprised by your success and the all-around success of the show?
Erica Mena: I always knew that being the kind of person that I am that I would definitely stick out like a sore thumb. I definitely don’t take no shit and I go for what’s mine. That alone can be intimidating and people talk about it so that would make someone stand out automatically. I knew that with time, especially with the book, people will get a better understanding and they’ll like me more because I am a lot more relatable than what people try to give me credit for.
Parlé: How much does what happens on the show factor into your daily life?
Erica Mena: It doesn’t. The good thing is that I learned, very quickly, that you have to separate the two. It’s very draining and if you let it, it will consume you. I’m a mother and at the same time I can deal with the craziness of being on a reality show and the drama.To be honest, at the end of the day, when I come home I have someone to answer to and lessons to teach so that he can one day avoid all my mistakes and become a better person. You have to separate the two because if not it will just consume your whole life and then there isn’t much to live for because everyone else is living for you.
Parlé: That’s very true. You’ve got to focus on what’s important. With all of you’ve experienced in terms of abuse in the foster care system, and situations you’ve been in since moving to Hollywood, how do you use those situations to raise your son?
Erica Mena: I shelter him a lot but at the same time I’m honest. I’d rather be the one who explains to him than having him watch it on TV. I am the parent that is kind of crazy with the parental controls all around the house. I’m just really honest with him. At six years old, not only am I able to have a good conversation with my little boy, who I’m raising to be a man, but in time, he will understand that you don’t necessarily have to fall on your ass to know that it hurts. I’m quick to tell him things that he needs to know to make him a better person and to have him avoid making the same mistakes that I did.
Parlé: How do you deal with the stuff that blogs put out? Do you deal with it at all?
Erica Mena: Well, I don’t. I don’t. I think the blogs are the most non-credible places to go. I won’t say all the blogs, but especially the urban blogs like Bossip, TheYBF, and MediaTakeOut. I think they purposely come at people, especially me, harshly because of people who I’m obviously not good friends with, and that works in their favor. I think they make up a lot of crap to keep people coming and that’s what gets them revenue and helps their blogs get these hits. Let’s be honest, the good stuff never makes the highlights. As soon as you fail, it becomes national news. It’s just part of the territory but I just think that when it comes to blogs, especially TheYBF and Bossip, I think they’re all full of shit and they really need new jobs. To literally write and harshly criticize someone you don’t know, it really must suck to be you because all you do is come at people you don’t know. You’re not getting anywhere. Your blog hits or the internet doesn’t make you somebody. I just find it pathetic.
Parlé: Well okay. When news got out about your relationship with DJ Envy were you surprised with everyone’s reaction?
Erica Mena: I was surprised myself. Let’s be honest I didn’t know about his marriage. I’m sure people were surprised because I was surprised when I found out this man has not only had a relationship with me but many other women before me and after me. It is what it is. The man does not own up to what it is. Now he wants to play like he’s mister husband and father of the year but in actuality he got caught and is trying to play a role to help save what really matters to him and that’s the material things. Let’s be honest, it’s cheaper to keep her. If she takes him to court he’d have a lot more to give up than she does. I think he understands that and he’s weighing out the fact that he could lose more than anything. I think that’s why’s he’s playing this role of being the best husband, but once a cheater always a cheater. Like I said, I’m not the first in depth relationship that he’s had and I’m not the last. I just feel sorry for the wife who’s really in denial and probably being deceived by him just so that he can have his cake and eat it too.
Parlé: Wow, well that is an interesting position to be in. Let’s shift gears a little and discuss your book, Underneath It All. What’s the premise of it? Are you essentially describing your past and what you’ve been through?
Erica Mena: This is the thing, I’m not fazed by what people say about me because I know who I am and what I’ve been through. It bothers me when people who I love have to defend me, and the way they get bothered by the fact that they have to defend me so much. I needed a solution from that, in the sense of, how could I prevent the ones I love from feeling some type of way, or having to use so much energy trying to defend me about things that they shouldn’t have to. I’ve been through so much that I needed to have the guts to let the world in. They see this girl on TV who definitely doesn’t take no shit and goes for hers and has an extremely strong personality. I get judged from that alone because that can become intimidating. Behind that girl on TV there’s so much more to what has happened, to what I know, to what I believe, to what I’ve been through that it was time for me to let the world know that this is what I’ve been through: coming into this world, once I was in this world, after dating this person, after being abused by this person. It was time that people understood where I was coming from so when they watch me from now on, not saying that I’m perfect, but my mistakes that I do make, they have a meaning and hopefully with that I can help someone. I’m not trying to be a role model but at the same time I do have the platform of being on television and being televised all over the world that I think a lot of women can relate to me. Just know the story behind me because Love and Hip Hop doesn’t take the time to get in depth. That’s not their job. Their job is to capture the now and the craziness that’s happening in the moment. I needed a way for the people who watch me, whether they like me or love me, to understand me. That’s all I want. I think once people read Underneath It All, people can understand the story behind the girl that they think is crazy on TV.
Parlé: Did you learn anything about yourself while writing it?
Erica Mena: Yes. I learned that I have a lot more learning to do. I have a lot more growing and healing to do. It is what it is. I’m a human being. I’m a girl in progress. It’s all about the redemption in life. Right now, it’s about me getting together what I need to get together. I’m 25 years old and I’ve been through so much. I’ve succeeded a lot but there’s still so much to do. Once the journey continues, what I want people to do because they know the story, hate it or love it, just root for the fact that I am the underdog and someway, somehow, I work hard and I get it.
Parlé: Were you nervous about sharing such personal details about your life?
Erica Mena: Absolutely, because people are judgmental. Then I realized that you can be America’s sweetheart and they’re still going to come for your neck. You can’t win them all and you can’t worry about losing them either. It’s just about taking a chance and within taking that chance there’s really no regrets. I’d rather have the regret of doing it, than having the regret of not doing it and wishing I did.
Parlé: At the end of the day, what do you want people to know about who you are and what you’ve done?
Erica Mena: I want people to know that I’m the one who people probably expect the least from in the sense of making things happen. It’s because of what people perceive of me or what the show makes it seem. In the end, I work really hard and I’m really passionate about everything that I decide to do. I don’t need to be praised but just give me a little credit, which I don’t get much of. When I’m having my crazy moments, it comes from somewhere. I’m living. I’m learning. I’m young and have been through it all and I cannot say that I regret anything that I’ve been able to do. If anything, I regret not doing more, and I’m only 25. I think it’s just all about living my life, regardless of the show, the relationship, the person or whatever it is, I am a good person and it’s all about growing. I’m growing right now and I’m going to be the girl who continues to grow. I’m not afraid of that.
You can purchase Erica Mena’s book, Underneath It All on Amazon.com or your local bookstore.
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