Image Source: Getty / Dimitrios Kambouris
Francia Raísa is an actress on Freeform's Grown-ish and the upcoming Life-Size 2. This story was told to Alessandra Foresto and edited for length and clarity.
My parents always made me feel like I was able to do anything, so being an actress in Hollywood was never something I saw as an impossible challenge. My dad [Renán Almendárez Coello, known as "El Cucuy"] immigrated to the US from Honduras in 1982 hoping to make a career in radio. He showed me that being Latino was not a limitation.
When he first got to the country, someone said to him, "You don't speak English? You're never going to make it." He said, "Watch me." To this day, he only speaks Spanish, but he has a successful career and even a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has always been proud of how he got where he is, and knowing what he had to endure, and how he pushed through it all to make it in the industry, I never thought, "I don't know if I can do this." He told me I could.
Even with all his encouragement, I knew opportunities for Latinas were limited. I thought I'd have to start in telenovelas, then find a way to cross over, like Sofia Vergara did, and I was ready to play a few roles where I was expected to pretend to have an accent.
Finding Roles She Could Be Proud Of
When production companies are looking for talent for a show or movie, they hire casting directors, who put together a breakdown of each character they need to cast. Those descriptions include an ethnicity, and unless the breakdown said Latina, I knew I didn't have a shot.
If there was a Latina part, everyone was going after it — everyone. It was a competition.
There were plenty of times when I walked into a room to try out for a role and saw only white actresses going for it. It was frustrating. I would tell my managers, "How am I going to book a role if no one is looking for Latinas?" Opportunities were few and far between, and it was definitely a struggle. If there was a Latina part, everyone was going after it — everyone. It was a competition. It's not until recently that I started connecting with other Latina actresses and felt like we were truly cheering for each other. I was still determined to pave my own way.
I started using Raísa, my middle name, as my last name, so people didn't immediately connect me to my father. I want to look at my kids and say I busted my ass to get here. I want to look at myself in the mirror and know that I earned it and I didn't cheat my way. It's the way my parents raised me — I really wanted to pay my dues, because I know how hard this industry is.
Image Source: Getty / Dimitrios Kambouris
Using Her Voice to Speak Up
Eventually, I started landing parts and made a name for myself, and the political climate changed — the presidential election happened, diversity in Hollywood became a topic we started talking about more. Fortunately, I'm in the position that I'm in now, and I'm just not as desperate as I used to be to take any part labeled Latina. I understand the platform that I have and how other Latinas might look up to me. I feel that I have to honor our culture and show who we are as people, use my voice to break the stereotypes and misconceptions.
That's my family you're talking about. My dad who came here to find a career; my mom who escaped an abusive father. I'm angry about the situation, and I can't stay silent.
I feel the responsibility to speak up against injustice. When I heard our current president say Mexican immigrants were "criminals and rapists," my blood was boiling. That's my family you're talking about. My dad who came here to find a career; my mom who escaped an abusive father with her sisters and my grandma for a safer life. That's why I use my voice to fight for the rights of Dreamers and the Dream Act. As a Latina who is a US-born citizen, I'm lucky. I should be using the platform and millions of social media followers my acting career gave me to speak about what we can do to protect and help those who came here as children. I'm angry about the situation, and I can't stay silent.
Image Source: Everett Collection
Why She'll Continue to Fight For Dreamers
In most cases, Dreamers only know this country as their own. It wasn't their choice to immigrate to the US, but this is where they belong. To say they're not allowed to be here anymore is unfair, and it's all because there's this assumption that we're all a certain way: criminals who don't contribute to the economy. The guidelines of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program say you have to have an education and can't be convicted of a felony. These people can be more than what some politicians think they are. This is their opportunity, and people in power are trying to take it away. I'm sorry, it's bullsh*t.
I'm not in their situation, so I can't even begin to imagine the fear they must feel, not knowing where they stand and whether they'll be allowed to stay in a country they call their own. Their fear is valid. But I want them to know there are people fighting for them. We believe in you. Don't let this stop you from pursuing the person you want to become and the dreams you have. I'm one voice, but I hope that standing up for what I believe inspires other people to make noise.