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Inspiring Thursday: Yalitza Aparicio

“Dear, Yalitza. Thank you for giving us a voice in a world where they want to silence us and make us disappear. Wishing you all the luck.” Anonymous

Yalitza Aparicio is an indigenous woman, born the 11th of December 1993, her mother is Trique and her father is Mixtec, coming from two indigenous tribes of Mexico. Her father left the family when she was a teenager and her mother had to raise 4 children alone. To sustain the family, her mother worked as a nanny and a maid. Yalitza Aparicio is known worldwide as the woman who interpreted Cleo, a nanny-maid working for a middle-class family in Mexico in the film Roma of Alfonso Cuarón. The film won the Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year in 2019, and she was the first indigenous woman to be nominated as the Best Actress at the World Academy Awards 2019.

Yalitza’s career as an actress is peculiar. In fact, she was 22 and she had just finished her teacher training for preschool in her hometown of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca when she was recruited as the main character for the movie. She was accompanying her sister Edith to the casting, unaware that Edith wasn’t planning to do the audition herself. She wanted Yalitza to do it from the start instead. Therefore, encouraged by her sister, Yalitza participated to the casting out of curiosity. She didn’t know anything about the movie-plot or about the director, she knew only that the character she needed to interpret was shaped on the real story of a Mexican woman, she later discovered being Libo, the “second mother” of Alfonso Cuarón himself. In fact, with Roma, Alfonso wanted to frame a particular historical moment of Mexico, bringing a piece of his child-hood on the screen through the eyes of the woman who took care of him and his siblings when they were children. Yalitza got the part because of her similarities with Libo, both physical and behavioral; the director wanted the movie to be the closest as possible to reality.

The story is set in the 1970s, with a focus on the life of an upper-middle-class family living in Mexico City, particularly in the neighborhood of Roma. At that time, Mexico was exploding with student riots and army massacres. The plot is narrated through the lenses of the women living in that period, more than the others of Cleo, a young maid working for the family of Sofia, spending almost all of her time with and for the family, still conducting her private life mainly supported by Adela, her friend and maid for the same family. Through the movie, the audience receives an understand of the student-riots, the violence, the power of the hierarchy and the concept of machismo strongly present in the Mexican culture and society, living with Cleo day after day. Cleo “represents the more than 2.4 million domestic workers across present-day Mexico, more than 95 percent of whom are female and from indigenous areas.” (Agren, David, The Guardian)

After the film’s big success, Yalitza has become one of the most famous icons for indigenous people and mostly for indigenous women. In fact, she made history appearing as an indigenous woman on the cover of Vogue Mexico and Latin America edition for the first time in a country where light-skinned women dominate the media coverage. She commented on it: “We can continue raising our voices and say ‘yes’, as indigenous women we can go on television and come out in movies or appear on the cover a magazine. It’s exciting, but also motivating,”. Despite her big success and acclamation worldwide, she had to face some racist comments and attacks based on her origins, gender and skin color, but she is very positive towards her country and she believes in speaking up for the recognition of indigenous people’s rights; they currently represent 68 nations in Mexico. She publicly said she wanted to use her role as an actress to advocate for women’s rights, calling herself a feminist and remembering what feminism means: “To be a feminist is to look for gender equality, not showing superiority. We are all equal and we deserve the same rights”. At the age of 25 years old, Yalitza is the face of the 2019 ILO’s Fight Racism campaign, and she has been accredited as UNESCO ambassador, the International Organization declaring that she “was chosen for her commitment to fight racism and advocate for gender equality and indigenous rights.” in 2019. She spoke at different international events as the International Women’s Day at ILO, and the 4th World Conference of Women’s Shelters in Taiwan; she participated in the One Billion on Foot campaign, which took place in over 200 countries and aimed to personify the collective opposition against gender violence. She is active not only at the international level; she is fully involved in local and national advocacy in Oaxaca and Mexico. The film Roma and the voice of Yalitza are showing the situation of indigenous people and moreover of domestic workers in Mexico, claiming and putting under international attention the recognition of their rights. The Yalitza personal campaign helped pass a Labor and Social Security law in Mexico protecting the rights of domestic workers.

When asked if she sees herself more as a teacher or as an actress, Yalitza replied: “As a teacher you set an example, you become a role model, and this experience of being in the film has made people in my community look at me as a possibility that their dreams could come true.”

UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay said “she brings on something special, she is showing us that indigenous people are not yesterday’s people but people of the past and future. And with her own path and her commitment, she shows us the amplitude of the possible.”

 

Written by Intern Martina Fontana

 

Sources

“The 4th World Conference of Women’s Shelters.” The 4th World Conference of Women’s Shelters, fourth.worldshelterconference.org/.

Agren, David. “’We Can Do It’: Yalitza Aparicio’s Vogue Cover Hailed by Indigenous Women.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Dec. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/dec/21/yalitza-aparicio-vogue-mexico-cover-roma-indigenous

Cabral, Javier. “’Roma’ Made Yalitza Aparicio a Star. Now She’s Giving a Voice to Her Indigenous Fans.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Feb. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/roma-made-yalitza-aparicio-a-star-now-shes-giving-a-voice-to-her-indigenous-fans/2019/02/21/d003f3da-2ef8-11e9-813a-0ab2f17e305b_story.html

Hattenstone, Simon. “Roma Star Yalitza Aparicio: ‘I Don’t Think I Am an Actor’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Nov. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/30/roma-star-yalitza-aparicio-i-dont-think-i-am-an-actor

Press, The Associated. “New UNESCO Ambassador Yalitza Aparicio Plans to Support Indigenous Communities.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 4 Oct. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/new-unesco-ambassador-yalitza-aparicio-plans-support-indigenous-communities-n1062506

“Roma (2018 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_(2018_film).

Wilkinson, Alissa. “Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio Had Never Acted before. Now She’s in One of the Year’s Buzziest Films.” Vox, Vox, 14 Dec. 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/11/21/18103486/yalitza-aparicio-interview-roma-cuaron

“Yalitza Aparicio, a Bold Feminist Activist.” El Universal, 14 Apr. 2019, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/yalitza-aparicio-bold-feminist-activist

“Yalitza Not the Only Talent in the Family: Sister Edith a Budding Singer.” Mexico News Daily, 8 Mar. 2019, mexiconewsdaily.com/news/yalitza-aparicio-not-the-only-talent-in-the-family/.