America Ferrera has always spoken her truth, whether that’s discussing her body issues or how she experienced bullying for not speaking Spanish well enough. Now, in a recent and powerful TED talk titled ‘My Identity is a Superpower – Not an Obstacle,’ the actress revisits the obstacles she has faced as a Latina in Hollywood to emphasize that honoring our unique voices and differences gives us power.
Ferrera begins with a memory of singing from the Broadway show Gypsy with a “burning desire” that at just nine-years-old she’d make that dream come true. Ferrera knew that no one on television or movies necessarily looked like her, but her belief in the American Dream kept her going. “I didn’t need my dream to be easy. I just needed it to be possible.” But once she actually went out to achieve her goals, she came up against a wave of discrimination, with casting directors asking her to audition “more Latina” – this in spite of her actually being Latina. She recounts being “too” much in her all auditions: “too brown,” “too fat,” “too poor.”
Demoralized by it all, she attempted to get one over on Hollywood by “follow[ing] the playbook” in order to be what execs wanted. She recounts staying out of the sun, straightening her hair, and losing weight. Eventually she nabbed the lead role in Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves, “a role that required me to be exactly who I was,” she explains. Yet in spite of the film’s success, it never led to a movement. In fact, even after Ferrera became the first (and only) Latina to win an Emmy for Ugly Betty, Hollywood still hadn’t made a push for more Latino representation.
Eventually, Ferrera came to a realization: “I was never actually asking the system to change. I was asking it to let me in, and those aren’t the same thing.” Her epiphany led her on a path to self-acceptance and a resolve to exist as her full and authentic self.
The talk ends with a message, that “change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs.” Ferrera says she wouldn’t tell her nine-year-old self to change, but rather to embrace her identity as a superpower instead of as an obstacle to be overcome. It’s a message that transcends differences in race, ethnicity, and gender – but that feel empowering to all those who are marginalized. She’s a fighter and her words should make us all fight harder!