“I’m Anthony Ruiz.” My father pauses, widening his smile. “And I approve this message.”
From behind the camera, the director says, “Just a few more times.”
“I’m Anthony Ruiz, and I approve this message.”
Someone holding a light over me and my family coughs. Papi leans forward and looks across the couch at Mami before trying again. “I’m Anthony Ruiz and I approve this message.”
“Not so fast, Tonio,” she says.
“I’m Anthony. Ruiz. And I approve this message.”
Ricky tries to keep from laughing, but ends up sounding like he sneezed with his mouth closed. I shoot him my most stern don’t-laugh-at-Papi look, but I fail miserably at keeping a straight face.
“You sound like a robot, Papi,” he says.
“It’s super unnatural,” I add.
“I’ll try it one more time. We don’t have all day,” he says, but I think he’s trying not to laugh too. The dimple on his left cheek—the one that, according to Mami, makes the focus group of women her age melt—starts to peek through.
“Actually, this is going to make great blooper reel footage,” the director says. “The PACs will love it.”
At the mention of PACs, my mother clears her throat and turns her nose up, away from the director. It’s no secret that she’s not comfortable with what we’re doing. When I asked her why before the shoot, she said that Political Action Committees can help the candidates they’re supporting, but they can’t donate more than five thousand dollars directly to their campaign.
“It’s to keep super-wealthy people from buying influence in an election,” she said. “But outside of that five thousand, PACs can do other things with the money they raise, like make ads and buy airtime on TV for their chosen candidate.”
“So we’re shooting these videos for the PACs,” Ricky said matter-of-factly. I raised my eyebrows and gave him an encouraging smile. It’s cute how he acts like he knows what he’s talking about, even though I suspect he thinks there’s a giant yellow Pac-Man doing Papi’s bidding. Still, he catches on to more than my parents give him credit for.
“No no no no no,” Papi replied, very quick to contradict him. “We’re not shooting footage for the PACs. We’re putting these on YouTube. Whatever anyone does with all the video is completely up to them.”
Mami glared at my father.
“It’s too gray, Tonio. You know how I feel about shady tactics.”
“It’s common practice. All the other candidates do it.”
“That’s not the kind of reasoning I want to teach the—”
She was interrupted by one of the assistants asking us to take our seats at the dinner table.
Not that we actually ate dinner. It’s noon on a Saturday and we’ve been up since five in the morning for makeup and to catch what they call “good light.” Papi said grace twenty different ways over a meal we didn’t eat, then we played catch in the backyard. Correction: Papi and Ricky tossed a football back and forth while Mami and I sat on beach towels by the pool, laughing like we were in a 1950s toothpaste commercial. We walked around the neighborhood holding hands as a family, and now we’re here: all four of us on the couch in the living room. Mami sits next to Papi with Ricky to her right, and I sit to Papi’s left. He puts his arms over our shoulders and squeezes.
“I love you all so much.”
“Nice, that’s really nice,” the director says. “One more time?”
“Gladly,” Papi says. “I’m just so proud of my family.” We all look at him and smile, but his gaze remains steady on the camera until he finally catches my eye and says, “I love you, hijita.”
I smile back despite the awkwardness. Between the film crew and Papi’s campaign staff, there are at least fifteen people watching us. There will be who knows how many million more, once the videos are online.
I try not to think about it.
“Okay, now let’s try the approval a few more times, but this time the kids join in and say ‘we approve this message.’” The director takes off his Marlins cap and runs his hands through his hair. I can’t remember his name, just that Papi was really excited we got him for this shoot because he did a bunch of spots for a Mitt Romney PAC in 2012. When politics was still about honest men running, he always says.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Mami says.
“¿Por qué no?” Papi lowers his voice even though we’re all wearing mikes.
“It’s tacky, dear. Leaning on the kids so much.”
“I think it’d be sweet. Ricky, what do you think?”
That’s messed up and my father knows it. Ricky’s only eight, which means he does anything Papi asks, no questions. He’ll figure out he has a choice in things eventually. For now, he nods enthusiastically.
I’m surprised Papi asks me. Has he forgotten the fifty-three hundred times I’ve begged him and Mami to leave me out of this? My father acts like I’m still eight years old and dreaming of being an actress. He caught me rehearsing my Oscar acceptance speech in front of the mirror with a hairbrush as a mike the one time and he’s just never been able to drop it. He put me in front of the cameras every chance he got, calling me his Best Supporting Actress. But back then his campaigns were different. For one, I had no lines. Mami was in charge of everything and she insisted it was for our own protection that Ricky and I should be “seen but not heard.” Besides, people weren’t exactly tuning in by the millions to watch footage of their local elections.
This, though. This is on a totally different level.
Before he announced he was running for president last fall, my father made a really big deal about getting me and my bro...