From ‘ugly’ to inspiring: America Ferrera visits Alys Stephens
Posted on Oct 09, 2011 in Features
I’ll be the first to admit that I completely misjudged America Ferrera. Sure, she has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and the Screen Actors Guild Award, but what makes her different from other actresses? Well, last Wednesday I found out. Ferrera gave a lecture at UAB’s Alys Steven’s Center in celebration of Latin Heritage Month.
Although many stories exist of actors and actresses overcoming their obstacles in a business arguably run by old white men and young blonde women, Ferrera has not only succeeded, but is using her success to actually make a difference.
“I wanted to be without labels… I didn’t want to be a role model,” Ferrera ironically proclaimed in her lecture to hundreds of engaged listeners. “I wanted to have mass appeal.” But her success did not come easily. She was an admittedly “chubby Latin girl” who eventually found herself “arrogant” to assume she automatically deserved the opportunities she desired.
Her first manager told her she had “inflated ideas” about what she could accomplish and that she should accept stereotypical Latina roles with a smile- “even that racist bill bond commercial,” she explained, only half joking.
Ferrera is the youngest of six children by Honduran parents. As such, “money and attention were hard to come by,” she said. She was raised in a predominately Jewish community and admittedly did not attend her first quincinera until she was in her twenties. Upon hearing this, the audience laughed and Ferrera laughed at herself. She describes her gratitude to public school for exposing her to diverse groups of people and teaching her tolerance. “I’m most comfortable in diversity,” she stated. “Diversity feels so natural.”
Later in her life, when she first started finding herself in rooms exclusively full of Hispanics, she almost was unsure how to act.
For once, she was the white girl in the room. “Girls would talk about me in the locker room because they thought I couldn’t understand them,” she said. “But I did… It would almost be better if I didn’t.”
After Ferrera’s surprisingly inspiring speech, a Q&A session was held with previously chosen questions by the UAB community, most of whom were students. Most of Ferrera’s answers tended to loop back to her “deep passion for education.” She often repeated that the most important factor in the education of any child is starting young. “You have to start young… The first educators of a child are their parents.” She also emphasized the importance of educating children despite their ethnicity or their parents’ citizenship status. “Education is an essential building block…All children need education.”
However, she also recognized that she was “not here to lead an immigration rally,” but instead to celebrate Latin heritage and its growing influence in American culture and politics.
After successful lead roles in “Ugly Betty,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and “Real Women Have Curves,” what’s next for Ferrera? “Sleep,” she smilingly proclaimed. Sleeping, but also producing.
She is currently working on creating several new television shows that show new, different stories to help the American audience see past labels.
For more information on Ferrara or her avocation in education or immigration, visit her official website:
Senior Staff Writer