Photo: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
America Ferrera has been a role model of mine ever since I was a little girl. I remember first seeing her in the Disney Channel movie, “Gotta Kick It Up!” and have been a fan ever since. Whenever I see her I feel represented on screen which makes me feel empowered and seen. She’s an activist that advocates for the rights of the Latinx community and women. This past April, America Ferrera gave her first Ted Talk, “My identity is a superpower- not an obstacle” where she discussed the obstacles she faced when trying to break into the entertainment industry. The road to her dream of becoming an actress was not easy and did not happen overnight. She would constantly face rejection, and changed who she was to fit Hollywood’s mold. However, she eventually learned to embrace her identity and in this TED talk she shares with us how she came to learn this lesson.
When Ferrera began going on auditions, the roles she saw were not complex but instead placed Latinas in a box of what they could be. She says, “These roles were stereotypes and couldn't have been further from my own reality or from the roles I dreamt of playing. I wanted to play people who were complex and multidimensional, people who existed in the center of their own lives.” Hollywood has and continues to lack in casting people of color in roles that are multidimensional and don’t promote a stereotype. Although there has been some progress, there is still work that needs to be done. And although the Latinx community are one of the top moviegoers, we are still underrepresented in film.
Ferrera was on everybody's television screen when she booked the lead on the hit show “Ugly Betty,” and although the show and her performance were a success, she acknowledges that work still needs to be done. She says, “It's been 12 years since I became the first and only Latina to ever win an Emmy in a lead category. That is not a point of pride. That is a point of deep frustration. Not because awards prove our worth, but because who we see thriving in the world teaches us how to see ourselves, how to think about our own value, how to dream about our futures.” When she mentioned this she reminded me of the term symbolic annihilation a term by researchers George Gerbner and Larry Gross, which means that we feel unimportant and devalued because we don’t see people like us represented in the media. When we don’t see stories and people we can relate to, it takes a psychological toll on us and how we view ourselves and our community in society.
Looking back on the times that she changed who she was to fit the industry’s standards, Ferrera realized that this would not be a way to make a difference but instead she fell in a trap. She says, “I was never actually asking the system to change. I was asking it to let me in, and those aren't the same thing… I for one, am ready to stop resisting and to start existing as my full and authentic self.” She learned that in order to live her life to the fullest, she had to own who she was and had to stop giving into a system that would not accept her. She acknowledges that she is human and that for a while she changed the way she looked in order to audition for roles. In doing this she risked losing who she truly was, but then came to the realization that in order for change to happen she could not be compliant.
When we are placed into a space where our traditions, language, and bodies are not appreciated, we face the risk of symbolic annihilation and try to change our identity to fit what’s seen as acceptable. Our stories, communities, and values are what shape us and make us superheroes. Remember, “My identity is not my obstacle. My identity is my superpower.”
Gabriela Romero Gonzalez currently attends Tufts University and is double majoring in Child Development and Education, and is also minoring in Film and Medias studies. She enjoys watching tv and film whenever she can. She aspires to help create content that has a focus on giving marginalized voices a platform, creating authentic stories, and empowering youth.