One of my favorite pieces of Star Wars content this year was the docuseries “Our Star Wars Stories” which aired on Star Wars dot com and the Star Wars YouTube channel. The five episode short-series, hosted by Jordan Hembrough and directed by Alan Griswold, turned the camera on four fans and one family of fans, all who shared with us how Star Wars has impacted their lives.
It’s a sometimes joyful, sometimes emotional and entirely cathartic experience watching these shorts. And while each one brought a unique brand of Star Wars passion and life experience, it was one fan in particular that caught my attention.
If you’ve been in the Star Wars fandom long enough, then you most likely have seen or heard of the Perales family, aka the “Rogue Rebels” They are a family of four who cosplay as the Star Wars Rebels Spectres, minus Zeb, and have been Star Wars ambassadors for many years now. The family is led by Sal and Liz Perales (Kanan and Hera) who have been cosplaying and spreading good will, waving the Star Wars flag proudly, for a long time.
It was Liz who captured my attention when during the episode she mentioned that she learned English from watching Star Wars, having emigrated from Mexico. I immediately reached out to her wanting to know more and what I found out, was not only did Star Wars help her learn the language, it helped facilitate a life-long dream of being able to help people in need.
Her story is one of hope, family and charity and it is truly an inspiring one. One that I thought, in the hopes of inspiring others, you should hear.
So here is Liz, in her own words, telling her Star Wars story.
Episode I – Humble Beginnings
Hello, my name is Lizeth Perales and besides being a strong woman, a devoted mother and wife, and a humanitarian, I am a proud Rebel as well. It now seems almost unbelievable to say knowing how important it has become to my family, but prior to 2004 I had never seen Star Wars before in my life. But, in my defense, it wasn’t due to a lack of interest but rather accessibility because of our economic situation.
You see, I was born and raised in Mexico and growing up, my family was poor, and we didn’t have very much at all. At a very early age it was expected of me to help provide for my family, so my mother would make pastries from scratch, and I would go door to door selling them.
Even though I am not very old, I can relate to the old saying… “When I was your age, I had to walk miles through the cold and snow.” except instead of snow we had sand, and instead of cold we had heat. And I’m not being overly dramatic here, but looking back now, my school was quite far, and it would take my and brother and I an hour each way, and usually in the dark. I remember having to carry rocks in order to scare off the stray dogs that were vicious from time to time.
Because we couldn’t afford a washer, my weekends were spent carrying buckets full of dirty clothes with my mother to the nearest well. We would wash our clothes on flat rocks and to get the flattest rock closest to the well, we would have to be there by 4:00 a.m. We would then carry all those wet clothes back to our home and hang them to dry. I had not thought about this in a very long time.
As you can imagine, because our family was struggling to simply put food on the table, certain things were not a priority in our lives. Since we couldn’t afford toys, we would often use our imagination instead, creating our own toys out of tree branches, rocks, and anything we could find.
Episode II – Acts of Kindness
Then one day, when I was about 5 years old, a group of foreigners came to our small town. Apparently, this group of humanitarians would go to poor neighborhoods such as mine and hand out toys to the children every January 6th. In Mexico, this day is known as “Dia de Los Santos Reyes”, which represents the arrival of the three wise men that brought gifts to Jesus Christ.
The overwhelming feeling of receiving a toy as a child, when you have almost nothing, is a sense of joy that I cannot adequately describe. I can remember how I and the other children felt, so anxious and happy, just waiting for this group of strangers each year. In many ways, it was our actual Christmas, because we got presents. They came for another 5 or 6 six years after that and to this day I’ve never forgotten those kind and generous people. The simple act of coming each year and making children whom they didn’t know happy, made them happy.
This gratification was something as a young girl I didn’t understand right away. You see, it was customary for the older children to let the younger kids go first so it wasn’t until I got older and I was able to stand back and watch, was when it clicked. Watching them and the look on their faces as they handed out gifts to my younger brother and the other children, it was then I recognized how truly happy it made them as well. And because of that seemingly simple act of kindness, I decided then and there to pay it forward. I swore to myself that I would become that kind of person, that I would make children happy if I could.
I grew up, but I never forgot about the promise that I made to myself all those years ago. For example, remember that school back in Mexico that was so far and dangerous to get to? Well, I joined with my community to build a local kindergarten and elementary school so that future kids won’t have to walk as far as my brothers and I had to.
I always remember how it felt to be on the receiving end of such warm acts of kindness. It is a constant reminder that there are good people in this world who are willing to help others in exchange for nothing but a smile.
Episode III – A New Beginning
Moving to the United States when I was 22-years-old was not an easy thing for me to do. It was a very difficult and emotional decision to leave my hometown where I’d spent my entire life and the unknown could be a very scary prospect, especially to people like me. There were people that attempted to dissuade me from coming to the U.S., saying “I was never going to make it” and “You’re making a big mistake” but I had made up my mind and was determined to go.
I crossed into U.S. soil with a small child in one arm, a suitcase in the other, and hardly any money at all. And even though it was only a 2-hour flight from my home in Mexico, it felt like the other side of the galaxy.
Not long after I landed in the U.S. and got settled, I joined several organizations to help give back to the local community. Although I really enjoyed volunteering with those groups, the work was mostly packing food, cleaning up the beaches, and other things like that. I wanted something more.
One of my very first jobs in California was working at a retail store which is where I met Sal Perales, and he was the one that introduced my daughter Lizzy and me to the world of Star Wars. At first, it was something that Lizzy could watch, but very quickly I started to watch and enjoy them as well. We would watch the original trilogy repeatedly, and we would watch them with the captions on, so I could learn English. So, a lot of the English language that I spoke early on, I learned because of watching so much Star Wars!
It was during this time that I was promoted to manager at the retail store and I found myself constantly watching Star Wars and repeating Darth Vader’s dialogue! When he spoke, I found Darth Vader to be very clear and precise, not only phonetically speaking but also in substance, and without emotion in sometimes very stressful situations.
Darth Vader phrases such as “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them” and “He is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress” proved to be quite useful. I also found non-Darth Vader lines appropriate for the retail workplace, “We shall double our efforts” was a favorite. Full disclosure, no employees were ever Force choked during my time as a supervisor!
It was around this period that Axel was born, and when his eyes opened the first time, the first thing he saw was Return of the Jedi! Yes, Sal made sure to pack the essentials for our visit to the hospital! So, Axel was born into Star Wars whether he liked it or not!
I then attended school, through school and other professional organizations, I started to do volunteer work again. I always wanted Sal and the kids to join me but honestly what kid do you know that wants to get up at 5:00 in the morning on the weekend to do manual labor? Honestly, it was easier for me just to get up and leave on my own then to wake them up and get ready. For me, finding the motivation was easy once I had my coffee and reminded myself, to quote Albert Einstein, “that only a life lived for others is a life worth living.”
Unfortunately, because of my busy schedule and the distance of events, I was unable to volunteer as much as I wanted to. Plus, I really wanted my family to be more engaged in charity and community work, so I kept my eyes open for other ways to help closer to home.
Episode IV – A New Chapter
“I am a female, I am a Twi’lek, and I am a Jedi. The galaxy is wider than your prejudices…”
I was first introduced to Aayla Secura through Sal who would read me comic books all about Master Jedi Quinlan Vos and his apprentice, the powerful Aayla. There was an instant connection that I had with her and I wanted to be Aayla Secura because I felt I could relate to her in so many ways.
She was an alien from another land, a woman, and a person that who because of her race/ethnicity, her gender, her socio-economic status, and her background, was expected to accomplish nothing.
Sal was doing some stunt work with the EMC Monkeys, and during one of their events he met people from the local Saber Guild. The girls in the Guild were very interested in having me join the group, so I soon joined the group as Jedi Master Aayla Secura.
So, I worked on my costume, got ready and then just like that, Aayla Secura was staring back at me in the mirror. I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment when I saw the final product. Our family doesn’t really do costumes just for the sake of doing costumes, rather, when we make our costumes, we carefully choose who we want to be. So, it was very important to me that I got it right and represented Aayla well.
Saber Guild does so many wonderful things and brings so much happiness to children and adults that it was an easy decision. We would later join other Star Wars community groups as well such as the Rebel Legion, the 501st and the Mandalorian Mercs. With these groups, we get to make appearances as Star Wars characters and bring smiles to people’s faces and at the same time collect donations for charities such as the "Make a Wish Foundation" But, some of these groups don’t allow children to join and I was still searching for a way to get my children involved with helping the community as well. So, with some inspiration from the Star Wars Rebels crew, the Rogue Rebels were born! We could now not only dress up and bring some of our favorite characters to life, but we could join in with the other groups in support of charity and community. And the best part was we got to be together as a family.
Episode V – Making Your Mark
These days, I work as a Paralegal for an employment law firm that mostly represents cases of discrimination and sexual harassment. I enjoy helping victims of discrimination and harassment, because I can relate to them. I remember people treating me differently and thinking I could not accomplish much in life because I am a Hispanic female. I want to look back at my life and be satisfied that I stood for what I believed in, I fought for those who could not, and know that during my ephemeral existence I strived to leave a better world.
I think back often to those early days in Mexico, to those perfect strangers who didn’t know it at the time but would change my life forever. Now as an adult, with my financial situation not as dire as it used to be, I’ve been given the opportunity to pay it forward, to give back what was given to me. Whether it’s dressing up as Aayla Secura, Rey, Ventress, Jes Gistang, Jessika Pava, or Hera Syndulla and handing out toys, it’s my turn, and Star Wars has been a huge part of me accomplishing that.
It’s important to give back because a small act of kindness is like a ripple in the universe; you never know how far it will reach. As parents, I feel it's our responsibility to teach our children to be kind and to make their own ripples of kindness in this galaxy.
Thanks to Liz for taking the time to do this and in case you missed the Perales episode of "Our Star Wars Stories", here it is...
Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions With The Perales Family
Our Star Wars Stories - Composer Jermaine Stegall
Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions With FJ DeRobertis
Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions With Christina Cato!
Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions with Robin Bocra!
Our Star Wars Stories: Five Questions with Albin Johnson!
We Talk With Our Star Wars Stories Host Jordan Hembrough!
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