‘Ugly Betty’ actress offers a message of determination to Catholic youths of L.A.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (The Tidings) - During a candid and open exchange with local Catholic high school students, actress America Ferrera, star of mega-hit television show “Ugly Betty,” encouraged youth to overcome any obstacles in the way of achieving their dreams and to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
PEP TALK - America Ferrera, the leading actress in “Ugly Betty,” speaks to students at Marymount High School in Westwood Jan. 26. (Ellie Hidalgo)
Ferrera keynoted a diversity conference Jan. 26 at all-girls Marymount High School in Westwood, which brought together 150 female and male students from 17 Catholic high schools.
“Every opportunity that faces you is really defined by how you accept that opportunity,” said Ferrera, who graduated from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills and went on to major in international relations at the University of Southern California. “You have no idea the people you are going to meet, the friends that are going to become a huge part of your life, the experiences and the people whose lives you’re going to touch,” said Ferrera, calmly and purposefully.
World is changing on diversity
The 23-year-old actress, who in 2007 won Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Betty Suarez in the comedy “Ugly Betty,” said she knew at a young age she wanted to act. But the obstacles were many.
“My whole life I wanted to be an actress since I was seven years old. And my whole life I was told by the people around me, the people who loved me most, that this was probably going to be an impossible dream for me. Because you know, 10-15 years ago, there weren’t the sort of faces on television or in film you see now.”
A child of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera recalled that friends and family would tell her, “‘You’re Latino. That’s not really what they want in Hollywood. You’re short. You’re not the image, you know, of what a beautiful Hollywood star is.’“
“And all these things hurt, but they didn’t stop me,” said Ferrera. “All those reasons that everyone said I would never make it are all the reasons why I did make it. All those things that make me very unique -- and in their eyes a disadvantage -- were the things that opened the doors for me.
“The world is truly changing in terms of diversity and what is accepted, what we are going to see and whose stories we want to hear,” noted Ferrera, whose first movie role was for the Disney Channel’s “Gotta Kick It Up.” Next came the lead role in the independent feature hit “Real Women Have Curves,” about a full-figured East Los Angeles Latina high school student torn between going to college or getting a job to support her economically struggling family.
Taking the leap of faith
Ferrera, the youngest of six children raised by a single mother, recalled begging her mother to let her take studio acting classes. To pay for it, the then 16-year-old waitressed in the early mornings at the restaurant in the hotel where her mother worked.
“I knew that I had to achieve what I wanted to achieve, and I didn’t know how,” said Ferrera, wearing blue jeans, flats and a long black sweater. “What our own parents and our own families and our own cultures expect of us, versus what we want in our lives, these are all very big issues.
“But I took the leap of faith. ‘Maybe I’m wasting my time. Maybe I’m wasting my money, but I’ll do it.’“
Ferrera said she was able to sign on with a small agency as a teenager, but then spent a year auditioning for parts and never being called back.
“I would sit by my phone and I would cry, ‘When is this going to happen?’“ said Ferrera. After persevering for a year she got the call-back for the Disney film. A month later she landed the lead role in “Real Women Have Curves.” After that the doors were wide open.
“So I got to do what I wanted,” she said. “I got to act. But at the same time I was so lucky to be part of something that would show on college campuses, would show on high school campuses, started conversations.
“And so early on my career took this direction. This is something bigger than me. This is something I have the privilege of being a part of. At this time in my life when diversity is a huge frontier for us, I get to be a part of this change.”
Self-doubt in following passion
In fielding questions about the turning points and difficult decisions young adults have to make, Ferrera said that as a college freshman juggling her studies and acting roles, she found herself in another critical moment of self-doubt. Courses at USC were exposing her to the many injustices endured by exploited people around the world.
“I thought, how could there be so much going on outside the world and I’m finding myself just following my passion, just doing what I want to do? That felt so selfish to me,” said Ferrera.
She took her doubts to her professor who then told her the story of how he had mentored a young Latina high school student from Belmont High School near downtown Los Angeles. She asked him to see “Real Women Have Curves” so that he could understand the key struggles in her life.
“And he says to ...
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