These Mixtec words “In tiu’n ntav’i,” made the cover of Vogue Mexico meaning “A star is born” next to the star herself, Yalitza Aparicio. At the prime age of 25, Yalitza Aparicio, former school teacher from Oaxaca, Mexico, takes on the new year as she makes history in Hollywood. Her powerful role in “Roma”, a film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is set in the 1970s as it shows the life of a domestic worker in Mexico City. Yalitza brought to life her character Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez. Her outstanding performance has put her on a platform next to variety of well-known artist. On February 28th, she will be sitting at the Oscars as the first indigenous woman nominated for Best Actress.
“Roma” is a very personal film for both Cuarón and Yalitza. The writer re-lives his childhood memories through this autobiographical film. However, he couldn’t have done it without Yalitza. Growing up, Cuarón’s nanny played a huge role in his life and wanted to give her the appropriate tribute. Yalitza was not given a script. In fact, there was no script for the entire film. (Variety, Oct. 23, 2018) She became this character. Every emotion, every feeling that she shares with us is very much hers as it is Cleo’s. She got very involved in the film allowing viewers to feel a strong connection with her character. Through the film, you could feel for her, and it just left you wondering, what will happen to her and her future? In reality, it got people talking. Who is Yalitza and what are we doing with the indigenous people today?
Many indigenous people are ashamed of their roots. They are discriminated based on their appearance and language. They suffer from poverty and low income jobs due to the inequity that they face. Yalitza is paving the way for her people to strive for a better living. She has opened doors for them and is continuing to inspire them by being proud of where she comes from. There are even social media movements like the #yalitzachallenge where people are proudly showing their cultural background from an older photo of themselves. The talk of the indigenous people has been long overdue.
Not intending to make this film political, Cuarón has brought attention and awareness to the indigenous people. In fact, in most recent events, Mexico’s supreme court just allowed domestic workers to be a part of the social security system. (INSIDER, Jan. 22, 2019) Change is being made for the indigenous people. Growing up, Yalitza’s mother was too a domestic worker. Yalitza mentions that one of the main reasons she decided to take on this role was for her mother. In a statement, Yalitza says, “I am proud this movie will help those of us who feel invisible be seen”. It was “an opportunity to pay tribute to my mother for her work.” (Entertainment Tonight, Jan. 22, 2019) There is a strong sentimental value and connection coming from Yalitza and Cuarón as they both see “Cleo” as that important mother figure in their lives.
My family comes from a neighboring country of Mexico called Guatemala. I remember as child I took a trip to Guatemala with my brother. On that trip, my grandfather wanted to show us how important it is to value what you have. He took us to a nearby town where a large indigenous family lived. Their house was made of leftover wood with no insulation and pieces of aluminum as their ceiling. The children were playing with the ducks and chickens that were also sleeping in the same room as them. There were about five children, 2 boys and three girls. Their clothes were not in the best condition and one of the little boys had nothing on but shoes. The family was very humble and shy. They spoke very little Spanish so the communication was a little difficult. I remember my grandfather would tell us that those indigenous people were known for being low class and even called illiterate, because they could speak the common language which is Spanish. As I got older, I came to the realization that it was my own people looking down on them. Instead of helping them, they judge them.
Yalitza teaches us the importance of diversity in the film and the ongoing discrimination of her people. “I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color. Receiving that nomination would be a break from so many ideas. It would open doors to other people — to everyone — and deepen our conviction that we can do these things now.” (New York Times, Jan. 17, 2019)
Her appearance at the Oscars will be strong and symbolic in the history of Hollywood. Fellow nominee, Lady Gaga will be beside her as they both will show the world that success through appearance is not an obstacle. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Both actresses come from two completely different backgrounds. However, they both have followed their passion and remind us that we are all humans and we are all the same. Whether you are a celebrity or a common school teacher, we are constantly faced with internal struggles, battles and emotions every day. These empowering women are the inspiration we all need.
Yalitza has become the voice for the indigenous people from all Latin America. Whether she will continue her acting career is up to her. Nevertheless, she is using her fame for the good of her people and that is an example we should all look towards to. The stereotypes have been broken and there is a new era coming in the world of film.