Ahead of New Bilingual Rom-Com, Karla Souza Reflects on the Benefits of Speaking Two Languages

Lead Photo: Photo: Danielle Kozann for The New Potato
Photo: Danielle Kozann for The New Potato
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Latinos in the US have been speaking their own blends of Spanish and English forever, but the experience of being bilingual hasn’t been depicted on screen nearly as much it should. Caught between their heritage and mainstream American culture, US Latinos know that sometimes what feels right is a tasty curse word en español, while on other occasions English is more practical.

Known to English-speaking audiences for her work on the hit show How to Get Away with Murder, Mexican-born actress Karla Souza embodies the best of both worlds in both her career and her outlook on life. Having spent part of her childhood in Colorado, the Mexico City native has always maintained a global perspective, and she understands that bilinguals should exploit the privileges and advantages that come with speaking two languages.

With roles in two of Mexico’s highest-grossing films (Instructions Not Included and Nosotros los Nobles) to her name, and a promising start in network television, Souza is already on her way to major stardom. Her latest project Everybody Loves Somebody, directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta, is a romantic comedy that stands at the intersection of Mexican and American culture, in which stereotypes are dropped in favor of an honest depiction of what it means to feel simultaneously part of both countries. As Clara, a successful doctor who can’t decide between an exciting lover from her past and a safer choice in her present, Souza excels at being endearing, confident, and often hilariously feisty.

Since the film is a celebration of biculturalism and the joyous duality of speaking both English and Spanish, we asked Karla to share some of the reasons why, for her, being bilingual is beyond handy in real life situations, and makes you a better person in general.

Everybody Loves Somebody will be released in select theaters on February 17th. Check the film’s Facebook page for more info.

Talking to the Chef

In a lot of restaurants the chefs are Mexican, so I can definitely ask for a special order because the second they see I can speak their language a door is opened. Anyone who is working in the culinary world with whom you can share a language, you can have a much deeper immediate connection. Being bilingual saves time and it also gets you in the door. There is favoritism! Whenever you speak the language you could just get a table quicker, and you can order what you want quicker. It’s a luxury. I’m also definitely a fan of spicy food!

Dating Fish from Different Ponds

If you think there is not a lot of fish in the pond, I got three ponds because I speak French as well. It’s perfect. My father was never really able to speak English, so I remember all those boyfriends that I had that were from different nationalities that couldn’t Spanish, it was a challenge for my dad to be able to give them el visto bueno. My dad would try his hardest and my boyfriend at the time would try his hardest as well. If you speak Spanish and you go to that person’s family and they speak Spanish, you are definitely going to have a foot in the door. My husband now, even though he is from Texas, he speaks Spanish, so he automatically had my family accept him and being able to talk with him a lot more about everything because he speaks the language.

Latinos De Moda in Entertainment

In a city like LA now Latinos are de moda. We are in style, so they want a lot of our advice on content and what we bring to the characters. You have double the amount of work that you can do if you can speak both languages for sure. A lot of scripts that I had read for bilingual films were forced, and Catalina Aguilar, the write-director of Everybody Loves Somebody, is a Mexican-American living in the US. She loves both cultures and she brought them in a very fresh, organic and fun way. I thought that was extremely clever. I related to the storyline of being heartbroken and the effects of a heartbreak, what that can do to someone. I really wanted to tell that story, and being able to share that in both cultures, from both points of view, is something that I think makes the film much more universal.

Having Two Personalities to Enjoy Life

Speaking two languages is like if you have two different personalities. You can go and have so much fun dancing Salsa at a Cuban place and then you can also go and tap at a dance class. You can enjoy both and also talk to the people in both places. It’s not so much about the activity, but it’s also about being able to connect with the people and the culture. It’s not about just being bilingual, but it’s being bicultural. That opens to the world to new feelings and new experiences. Double the trouble as well I have to say! When it comes to movies you don’t have to read subtitles for movies in those languages, that’s a plus for sure.

El Chisme and Delicious Bad Words

Some people don’t think I speak Spanish. They start talking and suddenly I’m also commenting and they are like, “Oh my God! We didn’t know you spoke Spanish.” People need to be careful because you never know who speaks the language. There is a huge advantage to speaking languages because you can hear a bunch on insider conversations. Also, bad words are so delicious in both languages, but I would definitely say there is a lot more that I know in Spanish.

Partying for Days

I’m sorry but we all know that it’s a party with Latinos that everyone wants to be at. It’s the funniest thing ever. Even the weddings, Latino weddings go on for hours, whereas gringos they have a curfew, they end at a certain time, and it’s just bad. The wedding scene in the film is actually very tamed. There should be a whole movie on Mexican weddings.

Realizing You Are Not the Center of the World

When you speak two languages you have a lot more empathy. You have empathy towards cultures, towards people, towards their history, towards their struggles. You have something to share, something in common, and that’s a really powerful weapon. If I have the chance I want to have my children live in Latin America and for them to have the opportunity to live in different cultures and have different ways of seeing the world. That’s how my parents brought me up. That’s definitely something I hope to be able to give to them.

This shaped me by realizing that I’m not the center of the universe and that not only your traditions and culture are practiced. Your way of seeing the world is dictated a lot by where you were born, what country, what year. It’s a very humbling experience to move to a different place and realize that there is so much more out there that constitutes a human being and their lives. It’s a very beautiful experience that I definitely don’t know what I would do without.