How are Latinos in America evolving?
Latinos are overall very respectful. Once we started being discriminated against, we chose the high road: Keep quiet. Keep working. Don’t teach our kids Spanish because we don’t want them to get picked on. Now we’re entering that phase where the first and the second generations are so in love with our ancestry and want to keep it alive in the best possible way. So it’s more like, “I’m not keeping my head down. This is who I am, and I’m just as American as I am Latina. So you need to move out of the way. I’m not asking.” I love this proprietorship, because this country does belong to Latinos, too. We’re working here, and our sons are dying at war for the U.S. So it belongs to me as much as it belongs to my neighbor.
Do you feel personally affected by the immigration debate?
This topic of immigration hurts because I don’t want to be angry anymore. I don’t believe that what anybody else is saying is true about me or my people. I’m kind of embarrassed when you see all of these people talking on national television, and it’s like, “Oh my God, if your grandfather were alive today, when he came here from Ireland, from Italy, escaped the f--king war in Russia. You’re rotting his name to shame. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how many degrees from Ivy League schools. You’re such a bigot. You’re such a hick right now.” People have to be open to the reality of what’s happening in our country.
It’s fascinating how everyone is realizing the importance of speaking to a Latino audience. How will you do it through your new digital- content deal with Awestruck, the network for millennial moms?
The reality is that every network is like [in a Valley Girl accent], “How do we target the Latinos?” But it’s not about Latinos. It’s about America. So the content won’t be en español. Latinos aren’t into that. We’re no longer the ones that are just fresh off the boat. We’re just as much attached to our nation as we are to our parents’ culture. We don’t speak Spanish only. We don’t watch telenovelas. But if you translate a telenovela, give it an American flavor, and keep the Latino essence, like Jane the Virgin or Yo soy Betty, la fea, then we’ll watch it and make it a number one.
And you’re tackling this new venture with your sisters, Cisely and Mariel. Do you ever fight with them over the vision? How have you stayed so close? Mami was very much like, “You guys can disagree. You guys can be upset at each other, but don’t disrespect each other. I don’t want to hear name- calling. No quiero vulgaridad. No quiero profanidades que se llamen unas con otras y no quiero nunca que se toquen.” That’s how our mom raised us. They’re the closest things to me. So even when we disagree, we can be passionate. We have staff, we have executives, we have assistants in our company. We can’t be just in a brawl in front of our employees. Those aren’t signs of a leader. And even though we’re going to be homey, this isn’t a living room. We’re working, and that’s how we keep it professional.
One thing Latina admires about you is your passion for your family, how you bring them along on the ride of your Hollywood journey.
It was always our dream since we were little girls to be together. We love cinema. We love art. We love storytelling. But even in those common interests, we each have a different approach. Cisely is very much a producer and loves television. Mariel is all about education as an R.N. and EMT. I was always into acting. I love interpretation, el arte surreal, la literatura, el baile, mixing everything. Let’s talk about your role in the Nina Simone biopic, which hasn’t been released yet. How did you prepare?
I read as much as I could and spoke to as many people who knew her, who interviewed her. I listened to her voice, to her tone. She was angry, and rightfully so. She was a black woman born ahead of her time. Her soul, her spirit was never able to accept or adapt to the heartbreaks that life was giving her. Those are means for insanity. She was bipolar, and at that time, very little was known about bipolar disorder. A lot of people were self-medicating through substances, and she was doing it with alcohol. I wanted to understand all those things, and see what that was going to bring out of me. I never wanted to judge her. There was a lot of criticism when you were chosen to portray Nina, but you were adamant about playing her.
I needed to walk her path. As a woman, it wasn’t difficult to empathize with another woman. But I needed to be very isolated. I moved out of my house for three months. I wasn’t really talking to anybody that I knew. I just needed to be all things Nina. It was so intense, and everything happened really fast. The people behind the project weren’t my cup of tea. The director was fine, but there was a lot of mismanagement, which is why we’re still here three years later. And I’m still trying to fight with everybody to get the movie finished. Nina deserves better.
Are you still haunted by her?
Still to this day, I can’t listen to her music. I’ll be able to listen to her and not feel so heartbroken once I either finish this movie and release it, knowing that we did the best we could, or this movie goes away. I pray that somebody tells her story and they do it amazingly well. And then I’ll just put this to rest. But so far I’m still hanging in there with her. We’re still fighting together to tell it like it is. And that’s the best way to be.