5 Times Yalitza Aparicio Broke Barriers for Indigenous Women

Lead Photo: Yalitza Aparicio attends The Hollywood Reporter 2019 Oscar Nominee Party at CUT on February 04, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Yalitza Aparicio attends The Hollywood Reporter 2019 Oscar Nominee Party at CUT on February 04, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images
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Yalitza Aparicio is an inspiration. Born December 11, 1993 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca to a Mixtec father and a Trique mother, Yalitza has represented her communities every step of the way. For example, Yalitza recently returned to her hometown to donate laptops to Indigenous students.

But it’s not just that she’s given back to others that make her inspirational, it’s also that she’s broken boundaries for Indigenous women. This is especially important as Yalitza, as well as others from her community, faces racism, colorism, and more. Here are five times Yalitza blazed a trail.


She landed the lead role in 'Roma.'

When Yalitza Aparicio landed the lead role of Cleo in Roma, she had never acted before. She had never considered acting either. She also didn’t speak Mixtec. Indigenous actors hardly ever get a role like this, and it catapulted her into fame.

Yalitza was apprehensive during the audition process, but she took her sister’s advice, “who basically said, ‘Do everything that they ask you to do. Answer all the questions that they ask you.'”


She received an Oscar nomination.

Yalitza received an Oscar nomination for her role in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. She was only the fourth Latin American actress to be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the only Indigenous one.

Before she received the nomination, she explained how important it would be to be recognized for her work. “I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re Indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color,” she told The New York Times. “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.”


She was on the cover of 'Vogue Mexico'

The fashion industry is known to exclude a large swath of the population. For many – especially those who are Indigenous, Black, plus size, and/or Latinx – their faces never appear on magazine covers, fashion editorials, or runways. This is especially troubling as these communities tend to serve as inspiration (and sometimes the direct source) for designers, but hardly ever get the credit. Yalitza kicked off 2019 with a cover on Vogue Mexico.

In a video accompanying the article, Yalitza spoke about how stereotypes can hold communities back. “Stereotypes that only one type of person can aspire to be in a movie or on the cover of a magazine are being broken,” she said. “They’re getting to know other faces from Mexico and that’s something that makes me so happy and proud of my roots.”


She landed on the 'Time' 100.

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Every year, Time highlights 100 people that have been influential. Yalitza earned a spot on the list this year. She served as an inspiration to many Indigenous Mexicans who have never seen themselves represented on screen. Cuarón, who searched for a year for a lead for his movie, explained how Yalitza has impressed him with the way she takes on challenges.

“I knew Yalitza was the one as soon as she walked in the door,” he wrote. “When I offered her the role of Cleo, she candidly told me she had just finished school and was waiting to become a teacher. Then she said, ‘I have nothing better to do, so yes.’ I burst into laughter. But you know what? She meant it. That’s the beautiful thing. She really meant it.”


She was named one of People En Español's 50 Más Bellos.

Magazines don’t feature Indigenous women like Yalitza (or Afro-Latinas or Asian Latinas or other women of color) enough. And while she campaigned for the Academy Award for Best Actress, other celebrities and people focused on her looks. In Mexico, as in other parts of the world, people who with darker skin (particularly, those who are Indigenous and Black) are not considered beautiful. They’re judged against Eurocentric beauty ideals instead of celebrated for their own. This cover celebrated Yalitza for who she is.