It was only a year ago that young Yalitza Aparicio moved the world with her role as Cleo in Alfonso Cuarón’s drama Roma, which earned her a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 2019.
After being named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2019 by TIME Magazine, and after debuting as the first indigenous woman on the cover of Vogue, Aparicio was named UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples, opening a door for a new moment in her career: activism.
In an interview with AFP in Mexico, Aparicio explained her intention to take advantage of her current position “to lend visibility [to indigenous communities] and to explain to more people the things that I have been concerned about.”
This population is often excluded from political discourses and discriminated against in much of Latin America because of the residues of colonialism.
“We are not new faces, we are simply the people we always were, but who nobody had ever bothered looking at before,” she said.
“May we never again be afraid to say, ‘Enough! We exist too!'”
In Mexico alone, indigenous communities number up to 15.7 million people who, according to the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination (CONAPRED), face systematic, structural, and historical forms of discrimination on a daily basis.
This type of bias is often associated with speech and dress, physical characteristics, and associated cultural behaviors, “in an artificial and fictitious way,” with social limitations and poverty, the agency explains.
This is why the representation of people like Aparicio on the big screen is more urgent than ever.
In her role as Cleo, the young Mexican woman played a domestic worker inspired by Cuarón’s childhood nanny, and her translation into an icon has been a powerful message to the community she represents.
During the last few weeks, Aparicio has been the guest of honor at events such as The Mexico Conference, a student-run event at Harvard University that “aims to position Mexico at the Forefront of an interdisciplinary conversation.”
On the occasion, Aparicio spoke precisely of the importance of making the indigenous communities visible and “telling new stories.”
“We’re looking for equal rights. Indigenous communities are starting to be noticed. We’re making some progress, but slowly,” she said.
Aparicio has also joined the third wave of feminism, speaking frequently about the circumstances women face in her native country, where the rate of violence is one of the highest in the world, and appearing in videos such as that of Chilean singer Mon Laferte for the song Plata Ta Ta, where she wore the green scarf that symbolizes Argentina’s struggle for abortion rights.
“Every one of us is free to decide for themselves, depending on their situation,” she said during her interview. “I am simply supporting the right which all women have: We are free to make decisions about our own bodies.”