Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/15/19 – Arnelle M. Cruz was born with the gift to write. She grew up in Monrovia Liberia West Africa, a country where war was a way of life. She was in school one minute and the next minute she was running and hiding for her life. As if the horror from the war wasn’t enough to shatter her dreams, she was sexually molested as a child. She was afraid to talk about her molestation and the one adult she trusted did not believe her or get her justice. At 13, she was raped by a 36-year old Lebanese man and lost her virginity. When her mother later found out what had happened she said it was her fault and called her a prostitute. Although her mother never took any interest in her writing, Arnelle knew that she would write her own story one day and finally be heard. In her book, The Survivor Story of Arnelle A Girl From Africa, it is a raw story about the horrific experiences of the war in Liberia, the trauma of being molested and having no one to turn to and a girl named Arnelle who looked towards the only one she could trust to help her heal.
Share your upbringing.
Arnelle M. Cruz: I did not have the perfect upbringing as most kids have it here in Canada with a loving mother and father and a system and society that protects them. I grew up without a choice, with a single mother and stepfather and later on just with a single mother. Growing up in Monrovia Liberia West Africa, a country where war became our way of life, I was in school one minute and the next minute I am running and hiding for my life. I didn’t get the chance to play like most kids in developing countries. I grew up fast, learn things fast and was forced not to be afraid. I was sexually molested as a child and was afraid to talk about my molestation and the one adult I trusted did not believe me or get me justice. When I was 13, I got raped by a 36- year old Lebanese man and lost my virginity. When my mother later found out what had happened to me she said it was my fault and called me a prostitute. I grew up with not knowing who to trust and who will protect me. My only strength was to depend on Jehovah God to guide me and protect me in what I saw as a horrible life.
Describe a memory that forever changed your life.
Arnelle M. Cruz: What forever changed my life is the gift of motherhood. Not just being able to have a baby or bring kids into this world, but the opportunity to be able to love, care and protect my kids right. Learning from my past, I didn’t want to be to my kids the way my mother had been to me. It feels good to truly love someone and I love my kids with my life, and will sacrifice for them, love and guide them and most of all make my kids my best friend.
When did you discover your passion for writing?
Arnelle M. Cruz: I was born with the gift to write, I’ve been writing ever since I was a little girl. I will write poems, I will write stories but my mother was never a big fan of my writing. Each time that I would take my writing to her seek her approval, she would tear my writing and put it in the garbage. Though I was disappointed and sad, I would never give up writing because writing has always been a part of me. What moves me about writing is knowing that writing is a piece of recorded information that will never expire. No matter how old a book can be, the information in a book will always be new to the one who’s reading it for the first time and educate the one who has already read the book.
What is your mantra?
Arnelle M. Cruz: With everything that I have experienced in my life, my mantra is that Jehovah God does not judge us the way humans judge one another harshly. This mantra has helped me to not judge myself harshly and be more forgiving of myself for all that I have endured.
Tell us about your experience with Canadian Idol Season 2.
Arnelle M. Cruz: In 2004, I attended the Canadian Idol Season 2 Audition that was held at the Fantasyland Hotel at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, AB Canada. I went at 4 AM with a taxi alone with no family support, but my passion for music kept me going. When I got to the West Edmonton Mall, there were thousands of people waiting in line to audition. I was unaware that due to the intense line-up, I had to sleep at the mall just to make the audition. While other kids and people had family there to support them like bringing them pillows and blanket to sleep on, hot chocolate and food, I had nobody there to support me. I was alone with no food, no blanket, no pillow and I had to sleep on the cold ground just to make the audition. I have asthma and sleeping on the cold ground with no pillow, no blanket was hard on my body and my lungs. By the morning, I was starting to get sick but I was determined to make the audition. The excitement of other people waiting in line for the audition helped to motivate me. While standing in line, someone randomly asked me if I needed something to drink and without having a second thought, I said yes and I was given a hot chocolate to drink. Though I was hungry, my excitement to be a part of the audition kept my attention away from my hunger. It was time for my audition and my asthma started acting up. I tried not to panic but breath slowly and gain control of myself. I did my audition but during my audition, it was hard for me to breath, I could not hold my breath for too long, and I kept stopping in between the song to breath. Though it was a scary experience for me because it was my first time being on TV, I still made it through the first and second audition. During my audition experience, I got the chance to take photos with Ben Mulroney and he did a TV interview with me on CTV.
After my second audition, I made it to the celebrity judge and was allowed to return for my last audition and if I had made it, I was going to go to Toronto for the top 100. A week before my last audition, I asked my mother Deborah if she was going to accompany me for my final audition and she said yes which got me motivated. The day came for my final audition and when I asked if she was going to come with me, my mother said that she would rather stay home and watch TV instead of accompanying me to my audition. Seating in the taxi on my way to the audition, all I could think about was what my mother said to me and that had me heartbroken and somehow killed my desire to perform that day but I still went to my audition. During my audition, I was asked to stand in front of the celebrity judges and because I was only six months out of Africa, I still had the African accent going on and with my lungs and asthma giving me a hard time, it was really difficult to freely sing but I did try. While I was singing one of the Judges by the name of Zack Werner told me that my voice sounded worse than dogs barking in the street. With not knowing what to reply, I just said thank you and I left the stage after my audition. I wasn’t chosen but I was proud that despite it all I did not give up on my dream of what it will felt like to audition for Canada Idol.
How do you use your voice in your writing?
Arnelle M. Cruz: In my writing, I have to use my voice by reliving my past to enable my readers to see what I see and feel what I feel. If I am unable to relive my past I am unable to write my story and that is why it took me 7 years to write my story because of the raw emotions. I kept running away from my story because reliving the trauma and horror in my life was difficult for me. My story is raw, nothing in my story is sugar-coated. It is just as my eyes saw it, ears heard it and body felt it- it was written down. Each time my readers read my story they get the chance to relive my life as well.
Tell us about your book, The Survivor Story Of Arnelle A Girl From Africa
Arnelle M. Cruz: Apart from the media report such as CNN, BBC and other news outlets that cover the war in Liberia, they were limited as to what they were allowed to say to the international communities, leaving people with an unclear picture of the effects of the war in Liberia. I wrote my story to bring awareness to the international communities about how the war in Liberia has affected the lives of millions, leaving them with an unstable future where they must try so hard to fit into society. Though I didn’t have such a great experience with my mother but my mother was my only parent and losing her took a toll on me and her death was hard for me to accept. In spite of everything, I do truly love my mother and the writing of my story was my way of keeping her alive until it reaches the part in my story where she is no more. I also wrote about my life to be the voice of those who are unable to speak of their trauma and to let them know that it is ok to talk about these things as a way to let go and heal. My book, The Survivor Story Of Arnelle A Girl From Africa, takes the reader on a journey of my life and my experience with the war in Liberia. My book talks about when I was molested as a child and also seeing dead bodies for the first time. It talks about my horrific experience with the war in Liberia, my different emotional experiences and what life was like for me living in other African countries as a refugee.
Arnelle M. Cruz: My book can be found at Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple Books, Goodreads, Indigo Chapters and other websites.
Did you find writing your story therapeutic?
Arnelle M. Cruz: Yes, writing my story has truly helped me heal. All of my life experiences I talk about in my book was something I was unable to talk about because no one would listen or I was not allowed to talk about it. Now that I have become brave enough to talk about my story, I feel free. I am not burdened by fear or my painful past. I am pleased that more people will read my story and be brave enough to tell their story without fear of judgments and rejections or of a past that hunts them.
In one sentence, what do you want people to know about your story?
Arnelle M. Cruz: I want people to know that war is not the solution to our problems, that war is a monster that destroys us all, leaving us with broken people and a broken society. War is not a game, it is a sad reality of mankind’s selfish gain.
Do you have any other thoughts?
Arnelle M. Cruz: Yes, I do, humans are unique and beautiful, there are lots we can learn from one another if only we all learn to love one another and respect one another without allowing politics and religion to determine who is better and who is not. We have a beautiful planet that is filled with life from plants, insects, animals, and humans. There is so much we can learn from one another if we are willing to learn that life is beautiful. Every child is born innocent, so let’s learn to teach love, care, compassion, kindness, and respect amongst each other and give that in return to our planet so that we create an environment that is safe for all.
Facebook: @keepingupwitharnelle, Arnelle .M Cruz