We often talk here at BELatina about the lack of representation in Hollywood. We talk about the lack of BIPOC talent in front of and behind the cameras, the absence of LGBTQ+ actors in roles that speak to our community, and the perennial struggle of women to receive fair recognition.
But what about actors with hearing impairments?
Until CODA’s success at the last Oscar ceremony, we had rarely seen deaf actors take the stage. The dramatic comedy written and directed by Sian Heder that follows Emilia Jones as the only hearing member of a deaf family was named one of the ten best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute.
However, for actresses like Marlee Matlin, who has been deaf since she was 18 months old, and who is part of the cast of CODA, the film is the first time her talent has brought her to the big screen since her debut film “Children of a Lesser God” from 1986.
Having been in the industry for over 35 years, Matlin is the only deaf actress to have managed to land small television roles until the success of CODA.
But things seem to be changing. Matlin’s hard work to carve out a niche in an industry so difficult for the hearing impaired has allowed other actresses of color to find opportunities.
Such is the case with Stephanie Nogueras, an up-and-coming actress of Puerto Rican descent who was born profoundly deaf. After leaving her home on a New Jersey farm right out of college to live in the big city of Hollywood, Stephanie landed a recurring role on Freedom’s “Switched at Birth” as Natalie Pierce within six months. Nogueras played the role for five seasons.
That same year, Nogueras landed a guest-starring role on NBC’s fantasy crime series “Grimm.” Her role as Elly, a deaf mermaid, earned the series its highest ratings for a season episode.
“I feel the success of ‘Switched at Birth’ has helped to dispel misconceptions about Deaf actors and our capabilities,” Noguera told PEOPLE. “The Deaf community is rich in culture and talent.”
“There’s nothing in my life that would limit my ability to succeed,” she added.
The actress has quickly become a role model, as her success and presence in the public eye have served as an inspiration to both the deaf and the hearing.
Stephanie Nogueras holds a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Sciences degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, RIT, in Rochester, New York. In an interview with HOLA, Nogueras said she had never dreamed of going into acting. “My dream was to be a counselor for the deaf community and provide mental health services,” she explained, “That was really my goal. But the universe had different plans for me. So my road shifted to acting, and really, I just go with the flow. That’s my motto. And it’s been almost ten years. I’m surprised I’m still here, but various opportunities have arisen in my life and that have kept me in the field. So I’m very humbled and thankful.”
However, success did not come without obstacles. Nogueras explained to the magazine that the early years were challenging because of the lack of a support system for Latinos in the industry.
“I would’ve loved having that, but it really hasn’t been present. Even now, for mental health, for emotional health, or all of that, whether it’s an actor, writer, or various things in the industry,” she explained, “I’ve been alone for quite some years in this industry as a deaf person Latina. And I recognize that it’s important that I’m that example for others. And I’m hoping that for the future, there are other projects that I can collab with to kind of help balance out that support system and provide some diversity within that.”
That’s why Nogueras has decided to mentor students and families, teaching them American Sign Language and Deaf culture.
As the actress explains on her website, being a mentor means a lot to her because she knows what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing Puerto Rican family. Nogueras says her family has molded her into a “strong woman, compassionate, fiercely determined, independent and empathetic.” Her mission as a consultant, collaborator, and ASL coach for television shows, movies, and theater is to help other deaf Latino actors not feel alone.