The life of Yalitza Aparicio made a big turn. From a preschool teacher in her hometown Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, she became the star in “Roma”, film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. After becoming known, Yalitza has been in the covers of prestigious magazines and she has attended the most important events in the film industry. This new actress wants to have a career in showbusiness and is motivated to learn acting and English.
Before showing up for the casting of “Roma,” Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio had never acted before. She is now the movie sensation of the year. She was nominated to Best Actress by the Academy together with Glenn Close, Lady Gaga, Olivia Colman, and Melissa McCarthy. “I am proud of being a Oaxacan native,” explained Yalitza Aparicio, in response to some racist and classist comments that she has been the victim of since his participation in Roma has made her into a social phenomenon.
In the acclaimed film by Alfonso Cuarón, Yalitza gives life to Cleo, a domestic worker that served a middle-class family in the Roma neighborhood in Mexico City, at the beginning of the seventies. This Oaxacan woman broke all standards in her debut as an actress, giving visibility to an important segment of the Mexican population, the indigenous, who are usually hidden from public light. Yalitza achieved this by her acting, that hasn’t stopped to receive praise since the movie was released.
“You can study acting your whole life and never feel you’re getting it right. Or you can be a total nonprofessional—someone who never dreamed of pursuing an acting career—and deliver a performance so finely textured that no one would guess you’d never before stepped in front of a camera.” This is how Time Magazine praised the Mexican actress. According to this prestigious publication, the role of Yalitza in Roma is the best interpretation of the year. The New York Times also listed her as one of the best acting of the season.
An indigenous actress
Not in vane Yalitza won the award as best new talent at the Hollywood Film Awards. Although she didn’t win the Oscar for Best Actress, all those nominated in that category, including Olivia Colman, the winner, had words of praise for Yalitza. Her nomination to this award also made history. She is the first Mexican from indigenous origin in the whole world, who has been nominated to this award.
Yalitza is a descendant of the indigenous Mixteca, which is the fourth largest native minority in Mexico, after the Nahuas, Mayas, and Zapotecans. This actress lives in territory that has been inhabited by Mixtecan for centuries. The Commission for Indigenous Affairs of the Senate of Mexico announced they will recognize Yalitza for her achievements. This commission will honor her next month along with the celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Prestigious magazines such us Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Hola, have featured Yalitza on their covers. She has placed indigenous women at the center of attention. Her presence has broken barriers and has expanded the concept of diversity in fashion. Another important mark Yalitza has achieved is to be the second Mexican actress to be nominated as best actress by the Academy. The first one was Salma Hayek, who was nominated for her 2002 performance as Frida Kahlo, on the biographic movie “Frida”.
The casting and her preparation
Everything happened as a coincidence. Yalitza had never acted when she accompanied her sister Edith to a casting in their hometown of Tlaxiaco. Yalitza and Edith arrived at the casting without knowing which project it was. Yalitza had no intention of participating in the process but was encouraged by the persistence of her sister Edith, who couldn’t audition due to her advanced pregnancy. “I had no intentions of being there,” confessed the actress after the movie was presented this past November.
Yalitza also confessed that “she was afraid that it might not be a casting, but a trap.” “In my community, these things are not common. It was something new and strange. They later invited me to Oaxaca, and Mexico City and I couldn’t believe it. They would not disclose the name of the director or details about the movie,” she explained. The movie happened to be Roma, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign film and recipient of a dozen of awards such as the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, Golden Lion, and Goya as Best Iberoamerican Film.
Alfonso Cuarón didn’t hesitate to pick Yalitza amongst the hundreds of women who participated in castings around the country. He offered her the role of Cleo, a tribute to Liboria Rodriguez, his own Oaxacan babysitter, whose life inspired the film. Aparicio had to learn the indigenous language Mixtca that her character speaks. For that, she counted on the help of her best friend Nancy Garcia, who also participated in the movie. “It was complicated to learn the correct pronunciation and I was afraid to say something incorrectly,” she explained.
Her life as a teacher
The challenge of interpreting Cleo came unexpectedly. She was pursuing a teaching degree at the Escuela Normal de Putla in Oaxaca when the opportunity for the casting appeared. Yalitza wanted to be a preschool teacher at her hometown. A month after graduating she received a call from the movie producer and was told she had been selected for the role. She moved to Mexico City for the filming and when it was over, she returned to Tlaxiaco and continued to work as a substitute teacher.
Yalitza didn’t tell anyone about her experience in Mexico City with Cuarón. “I didn’t give many details to my mother and sister. And I told my coworkers I was working at the capital, and nothing else,” she said. None of those around this teacher in Tlaxiaco could foresee what was coming. Everything changed when the movie debuted at the Venezia Film Festival. From that time, all eyes were on Yalitza. “You left and didn’t tell us anything”, is what Yalitza’s friends told her after they found out.
“I believe this is a dream. I never imagined any of this. It is incredible and it brings me happiness to know that the movie is being liked and that I am being considered as an actress,” confessed the young woman. She doesn’t forget her true vocation: education. “I have always dreamed of being a teacher, but I think film and education go hand in hand. The difference is that film has a more massive reach,” explained the actress.
Libo and Yalitza
The first day Cuarón met Yalitza, the director told her she would play the role of his mom. “He said he had two mothers. One of them was Libo, his babysitter,” remembers Yalitza. The character of “Cleo” represents Libo, and Cuarón had no doubt that yalitza was the right person for the role. The Mexican actress had long conversations with Libo to prepare for her performance. “She told me she would never stop and was always busy and hurried. Those details helped me to create the character,” she explained.
The character of Cleo is a tribute to Libo. But, Yalitza has her own person to honor. “My mother [Margarita] is a domestic worker and has worked really hard. I admire her. And now I understand why she said that the children of the families where she has worked were also her children, as my siblings and myself,” she confessed. Yalitza then used her own memories from seeing her mother as a domestic worker. Yalitza is grateful to her mother for her hard work that allowed her to pursue a higher education.
What do you say to those who have critiziced you on social media?
Yalitza Aparicio: I focus on the positive comments that inspire me to move forward.
What do you like the most about your new life?
YA: I like to travel and get to know places and cultures that are diverse.
How did you spend your first paycheck as an actress?
YA: I bought books. All the ones I had before were borrowed.
What are your short-term plans?
YA: I want to continue to learn acting and English.
Who would you want to act with?
YA: Diego Luna.
From Oaxaca and La MixtecaS
Yalitza and Libo were born in Oaxaca. They both come from the Mixteca, an indigenous population that has inhabited a section of Oaxaca for centuries. This territory is called La Mixteca.
The Oaxacan Mixteca borders the states of Puebla and Guerrero on the north, the region of La Cañada on the East, and the Central Valleys and Sierra Sur, on the Southeast. La Mixteca includes 189 counties.P
La Mixteca has a great variety of natural resources. It has a mountainous area where coffee and potatoes can be harvested. Crops of corn are harvested on the flat lands, at the valley. And, on their coastal area, fishing and seafood delicacies abound.P
A beautiful voice
The singer Lila Downs is a native of Tlaxiaco, same town where Yalitza was born and raised. This talented actress can sign her songs in Spanish, English, and Mixteca. She honors her Mixteca roots by singing her music in that language.P
A brilliant civilization
The Mixtecas were one of the most brilliant civilizations in Mesoamerica. They survived the Spanish conquest and forged a tradition that combined the Mixteca culture with the European culture that still exists.