Yalitza Aparicio rose to worldwide fame when, as an unknown, she was cast in the lead role of the 2018 highly acclaimed film, Roma. Born and raised in the small agricultural town of Tlaxiaco, Mexico, Aparicio has been able to venture far beyond the expectations placed on her as an indigenous Oaxacan woman and the daughter of two working class parents. She has made impressive strides in multiple career fields as an actress, educator, and social justice activist.
In her early years, Aparicio was raised by her parents who are of indigenous Mexican origin, with her father being Mixtec and her mother Trique. Her family grew up in poor socioeconomic conditions and her initial career path was to become a preschool teacher. Aparicio was never extremely enthusiastic and passionate about acting. She was nudged by her older sister and grudgingly agreed to look into the casting of Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma. Aparicio took a blind leap of faith after finishing her teaching degree and decided to dedicate herself to the film. She couldn’t pass up the somewhat rare opportunity to participate in a film that would give her community the chance to see themselves in the media.
Roma, the 2018 best picture nominee by Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, was filmed entirely in black and white, and made waves in the film world. Aparicio is featured in the stark portrayal of a young Mexican domestic worker serving a middle class family in Mexico City. Aparicio aided in the character development of Cleo, the housekeeper she played in the film. For the construction of her character, Aparicio drew influences from director Cuarón’s childhood as well as her own, and from the image of her mother, who was a domestic worker.
Aparicio was able to portray the reality of inequality that many domestic workers face, initiating imperative conversations concerning the treatment of this under-appreciated yet essential group of laborers. With nine out of ten of these workers being women, a large inequality gap is apparent. The discussions inspired by Roma contributed to the ongoing fight for social change in Mexico. In 2018 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for employers to exclude domestic workers from the social security system.
Roma, as well as its star Yalitza Aparicio, have gained international acclaim. The film took home three Academy Awards with Aparicio being the first indigenous woman to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. This was a significant milestone in the fight for the representation of historically marginalized groups. Following her role in Roma, Aparicio made an appearance on the cover of Vogue, Mexico. This caused a ruckus in the media and she was subjected to racist comments attacking her physical appearance. Aparicio has never settled for being an exception to the standard. Instead, she has worked to dismantle these oppressive systems and proudly recognizes indigenous, Chicanx, and Latinx people equally in various media outlets. Her increasing popularity has given her a voice to advocate for these issues.
Roma was an additional step in the fight for political change for domestic workers and Aparicio has taken many of these issues into her own hands as well. At the young age of 26 she has now become a figure of social justice, and made substantial social progress in her attempts to make cinema more economically accessible to indigenous people. Her endorsement and contribution to the Cine Too project has instilled passion for cinema in the youth who could someday find themselves represented in an industry where they largely lack a presence. Amidst the predominantly fair skinned Latinas in Spanish language films and TV shows, Aparicio has challenged the norm and become a symbol of representation for her community. She has recognized that her role as an actress has encouraged many people, young and old, to think critically about issues that haven’t received proper recognition in the past. Aparicio’s future in acting is uncertain as she is hesitant to work with other directors. However, her lasting impacts will continue to inspire. As Aparicio says, “It shouldn’t matter what you’re into, how you look — you can achieve whatever you aspire to.”