Jen Oda was a friend of mine. She wasn’t a close or long-time friend or a particularly great friend, but she was a friend.
How I met Jen was kind of convoluted. And in looking back a little confusing but serendipitous. I had friends who already knew her, but I met her separately, after floundering around, selling American Latino TV, my previous TV project, and playing around with another project. I didn’t want to be a one-trick pony and wished to expand my focus beyond the Latin market. Yet I still wanted to play a role in helping represent the diversity of what I saw and what was needed on television.
So, I decided to put a lookout for, you know, kind of an ambiguous Asian talent to help me tell a travel story. This was like the earliest efforts at what would eventually become Raw Travel TV. Jen was Brazilian-Japanese by way of Canada, living in New York City. Perfect!
We first conversed online while I was traveling in Argentina and agreed to meet up when I was back in New York City.
I met up with Jen, we talked, we got along well, and that began our friendship. This was sometime in 2010 before I had moved abroad. Jen and I stayed in touch, and I ended up filming with her what would become the first iteration of the idea to become Raw Travel.
I also, at that time, began my tiny digital record label Punk Outlaw Records. I had a cool new logo, and I wanted to try to do some merchandising. I again hired her as a model to market those clothes, trying to break stereotypes of what a punk rocker should look like. None of that became much of anything. But fast forward to today, Raw Travel is in Season 10, and Punk Outlaw Records still exists, if only to provide some music for Raw Travel. So, success, I guess… eventually.
But at the time, I was just experimenting and trying to find my entrepreneurial and artistic voice after selling my previous company.
I must have paid Jen, but it wasn’t much, I’m sure. But she was a struggling artist who seemed hungry for work and collaboration.
She also wanted to pursue her own musical career. She had written this cool song called “puppets” that foretelling alluded to control. I arranged for a contact of mine to record a demo of an acoustic version of the song.
There was even talk of me managing her career, but that was pure folly. I knew nothing of management, and she had no career to handle yet, to speak of.
But through those three projects, we got to know each other a little. As I said, we weren’t tight. There was no romantic connection as she had a boyfriend. In fact, she and her boyfriend once stayed in my apartment when I was traveling for some reason, but at that point, I’d never met the guy.
However, Jen had a problem. She was a Canadian citizen whose USA green card status was running out, so I was trying to find a way to help in any way I could to help her stay in the country.
But her real problem began when she married her American citizen boyfriend (green card problem solved) and moved to Los Angeles. We lost touch for a while as I also moved abroad to Colombia to travel around South America.
Then, I resurfaced in the USA about a year later and I also moved to Los Angeles, and we caught up again. She looked like she had lost a lot of weight to me. However, I just chalked that up to the pressures of trying to make it as a young female in Hollywood.
Her husband was a physical trainer for some celebrities. She was always in good shape and took her health seriously. If I recall correctly, I believe that is how she first met him.
I lived in West Los Angeles in the Santa Monica and Venice area. Jen lived in The Valley, so we didn’t see each other too much, even though I wasn’t working, and my social life was pretty lean during those Los Angeles years.
I do recall she invited me to her birthday party. Still, as it so happened, I had another commitment on the opposite end of Los Angeles. Torn about which to attend, I never made it to either event. Nonetheless, our friendship being exceedingly casual, we stayed in touch a little bit over the ensuing months.
I think the last time I saw Jen was at her musical showcase at the House of Blues, where she invited me to come out. Always a big believer in her talent, I went to the HOB on Sunset Strip, where she introduced me to her husband. I shook his hand and immediately took a dislike to him.
We both had heard a lot about each other, and I think he did have the common courtesy to thank me for letting them stay in my place in NYC.
But what can I say? I just got a weird, funky vibe. Though I enjoyed most people I met in California, I didn’t like this guy. Something was off. For lack of a better term, I felt he was what was commonly called a “douche.”
Still, I felt I honestly tried to like him for Jen’s sake. I offered to buy him a drink, and he readily and almost eagerly accepted, ordering some expensive, top-shelf whisky drink.
I never saw him again the rest of the evening, so he never had to worry about reciprocating. Was he hiding? Probably. It was a rather cheeseball, rude move, putting another bad taste in my mouth. Still, I dismissed it as some hidden jealousy, being overly protective of Jen, or something I needed to work through.
I left early, driving back to Santa Monica, berating myself because I should have been happy for Jen rather than feeling prickly about her husband.
I sent her a text of congratulations the following day, along with, I think, some photos of her performance that evening.
I think we stayed in touch a couple of times. But pretty soon after, I got super busy trying to get Raw Travel off the ground. Eventually, it did take off. After a summer filming abroad in 2013, I decided to move back to the east coast and New York City, and it was all Raw Travel all the time for me. There was not much time for fringe friendships from clear across the country.
I remember that she once sent me a congratulatory note on social media. She saw the show airing on KCBS or KCAL in Los Angeles. I appreciated the friendly message, but again we quickly lost touch. But that was our friendship, dipping effortlessly in and out with little expectations on either side. I have many such friendships.
I remember like it was yesterday when I got the call telling me Jen had been murdered by her husband.
I was in Houston’s Hobby airport coming back from a business trip when one of our mutual friends called me to see if I’d heard the news. Her apparently estranged husband had shot and killed her in the street like a dog. He then killed himself.
Why didn’t he just do it in reverse order and leave her life to be lived even if she would have been traumatized? Was she abused? Had she seen this coming? Was she afraid? Could I have done something differently? Seen this coming? So many questions.
I was in shock. I still am in many ways. I was never able to say goodbye or pay tribute to Jen.
The last time I was in Los Angeles was in February of 2020 when the pandemic was just hitting. I went to Woodlawn Cemetery, where I heard she had been buried. But alas, they told me that her body had been moved. I assume she was moved by her family back to Canada? I don’t know for sure.
I was unable to pay my respects then. So that’s why I wanted to put a memorandum for Jen in “Fearless Females.”
She was a struggling artist most of the time I knew her, but she was the definition of a true artist. I admired how she pursued success doggedly like many other authentic artists I’ve known. I wanted to help her whenever I could because she was very inspiring. To me, she was very fearless.
Moving wherever, doing whatever it took to fulfill her long-shot, lifelong dream. It was beginning to look like it might pay off. At the time of her murder, she was getting minor parts in major studio movies (Star Trek) and big casting meetings with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
She told me a story once about how a very well-known producer that I will not name, but you would certainly know him. He chased her around the office, sexually harassing her during a casting meeting. But little, petite Jen wouldn’t have it. She was able to handle him and make him sit down and look at her work while berating him for his disrespectful behavior. I still smile, “imagining” (wink) how that meeting must have gone.
She was just so dogged and determined to be successful. And I have no doubt she would have continued that path had her life not been cut short by a man who couldn’t be content with just hurting himself. He had to drag someone else down with him.
So yeah. I sure wish I could have helped Jen, so she wouldn’t have had to marry her husband just for a green card to stay in the USA to work. I don’t know if she would’ve married him anyway. I assume there were feelings there, obviously.
But if you just look at the numbers and the statistics, the number of women abused and killed every day in places all over the world… including the United States and other so-called civilized countries, it’s appalling.
Just this weekend, I heard of a young 25-year-old woman (even younger than Jen at the time of her death) also gunned down in the street by an ex here in NYC.
I can think of very few things more cowardly than a grown man hurting or killing a woman. Of all the cowards in the world, and there are many, they are one of the biggest kinds of cowards of them all.
But Jen was no coward. While she may not have been fearless (no one truly is), she certainly made courageous choices. But her life was cut short by one very bad one, and it shouldn’t have been.
So, I couldn’t stand to not ever pay tribute to her because it just didn’t seem right. In some small way, I wanted to show her some respect. Sure wish I could have helped her more, though.
If you know of a woman you suspect may be undergoing abuse or domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline https://www.thehotline.org/ or 800-799-7233.