Diego Rivera used to say that artists often make the mistake of starting from an ideology, from what they have as an experience, without paying attention to the live character. The icon of muralism, and husband of Frida Kahlo, referred to his decision to paint Nieves Orozco, an Afro-Indigenous woman, naked and holding a big bouquet of lilies in his famous Desnudo con Alcatraces.
Nieves Orozco, captured in Rivera’s paintings, was a giant step forward at the time and would open the way to the deconstruction of the concept of beauty imposed by colonialism in Mexico. Nieves Orozco’s beauty would also set the tone for other artistic careers, such as that of María Félix and, more recently, Yalitza Aparicio.
But while María Félix lived — and rejected — the exoticism of Hollywood, Yalitza Aparicio had to face criticism and rejection both abroad and in her own country.
Aparicio stars on the September cover of ELLE Mexico and tells the publication how what should have been a celebration after the success of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” was for Aparicio a tough experience.
The Mexican actress made her 2019 debut in the role of Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutierrez, an Indigenous live-in maid in a middle-class household in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Despite receiving multiple nominations and critical acclaim, Aparicio tells ELLE Mexico the other side of the story.
Aparicio received harassment from the media, violence on social media because of her physical appearance, and the ill-intentioned opinion of fellow entertainers who questioned her histrionic talent, EFE explained.
“Before I let myself get carried away by a lot of what they said, ‘you don’t belong, your physique, your color, your origin, what are you doing there,’ and yes I thought so back then, but now they can say whatever they want,” Aparicio responded.
As she told ELLE, Yalitza Aparicio found, amid all the aggression, a form of relief in thinking that all her suffering would help so that the people who followed after her would not have to go through all that pain.
“It’s not because we are new faces, because we have always existed, but we are different from what they are used to seeing. Fortunately, we are here, and we can generate a change to make people understand little by little,” she said. “There are more and more platforms showing diversity. My dream is to get to that point where whoever arrives will no longer have to go through this.”
The actress, who is a Unesco Goodwill Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples, also commented on the difficult decision that led her to take on these altruistic positions because she did not feel she was the right one since she did not know how to speak an Indigenous language.
“When the UNESCO thing came up, I was pushing myself and thinking: ‘How can I be an ambassador for Indigenous peoples if I myself do not speak an Indigenous language, I myself am the result of this discrimination, and that is why I lost my language,’” Aparicio said. “But they told me exactly that: ‘You dared to speak and to accept that you are the result of this discrimination.’ That’s why it’s important to point it out, to prevent it from keep happening. That shared responsibility I am talking about is what has opened doors; it is the same struggle that in the end is about respect and acceptance.”
Yalitza Aparicio’s parents are of Indigenous origin. Her father is Mixteco, and her mother is Trique. However, Aparicio lost her family’s native language after her parents decided not to instill it in their children to spare them the suffering they had gone through in speaking it. Aparicio had to learn the Mixtec language for her role in Rome.
“Although biologically and scientifically there is no basis to speak of human races, racism does exist in our country as prejudice and as a process of social exclusion of groups that encounter difficulties and obstacles to exercise their rights,” explained Milena Dovalí, an economist from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey in an opinion column for The Washington Post.
According to a report published by Oxfam Mexico Por mi raza hablará la desigualdad, ethnic-racial characteristics (mainly dark skin tones, speaking an Indigenous language, or self-defining as part of an Indigenous or Afro-descendant people) have effects on people’s occupations, income, and educational levels in Mexico.
And Yalitza Aparicio has experienced these effects firsthand.
However, as she told ELLE Mexico, this experience gave her strength to recognize that she herself is an example of the ravages caused by structural discrimination towards her origins.
“I feel proud to be Indigenous,” Aparicio told the magazine, a powerful statement that headlines the magazine’s September issue.
After being away from film projects for a while, Yalizta Aparicio returned to the industry this 2021, this time alongside multi-award-winning director Luis Mandoki, for the film “Presencias,” which is currently in post-production and without a release date yet.