April Lee Hernandez-Castillo is a beautiful Latina woman, a working actress, a wife, and a crusader against domestic violence among many other things. After a stint on hit medical drama ER, April broke out in the award-winning film Freedom Writers, co-starring Hillary Swank. Since her big break she been working hard to land choice roles (she was featured in the last season of Dexter) while fighting to never lose sight of who she is and where she comes from. She's joining Latina.com and will be sharing everything about her life and career in her new blog: April Unscripted. Tune in every other week to find out what it's really like to be a Latina actress doing her Hollywood thing!
April Unscripted: A Bronx Tale
The Bronx was the home of hip hop and abandoned buildings back in the 80s. It's also where where my parents settled and raised our family, right on 179th Street and Creston Avenue, to be exact. When Papí and Mommy first moved into the building, they were one of only two resident families who were Puerto Rican, all the other tenants were Jewish. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for my family to get accustomed to living in such a different environment. Needless to say, they made it work and decided to start a family!
Creston Avenue is where my dreams were born. I didn't always know I would become an actress but I always knew in my heart I would grow up to a great woman. My parents always told me I could be anything I put my mind to. The first time I had an inkling that I wanted to act was when I saw John Leguizamo's Mambo Mouth. He was the first Latino I ever saw on TV who I could really relate to. Then I saw Jennifer Lopez on In Living Color and when I found out she was a Boricua from the Bronx I lost my mind! I just knew if she could make it, then I could make it one day too.
Shortly after, I began attending Hunter College. My second year I took an acting improvisation class and by then I knew I could really be an actor. I started auditioning for plays and eventually decided to leave school to pursue a full-time career in acting. My big break came when I auditioned for a commercial for Visa Check Card starring Yogi Berra and NBA player Yao Ming. Not only did I book the commercial, but I became a SAG member and officially became an actor.
I kept working in small parts, and then I booked Freedom Writers. That film will always be one of the most important life changing experiences for me because it served as a symbol that my dreams had finally come true. I was a Latina from the Bronx living in Hollywood…
Hollywood is an interesting place. While filming Freedom Writers I felt like I had everything a girl could ever want; a career, money, celebrity friends, and independence. I was living on my own for the very first time and paying rent, which at the time was a big deal! However, even with all the exciting and new opportunities, I became depressed and anxious.
I began to question my “Latina-ness.” Everyone would always ask me where I was from and what I was. My Nuyorican Bronx accent would slip out at times and I was constantly badgered and scrutinized about my identity. It became so uncomfortable that there was a point when I did not even want to speak in public. I found myself wanting to hire a dialect coach to help eliminate my accent. However, because of the strong beliefs my parents instilled in me, I never questioned my determination or my talent.
Today I am a working actor, wife, activist, woman and most importantly, still a dreamer. I want to inspire, empower and ignite women to love themselves, regardless of what others think, because in the end, I am God’s Imperfect Masterpiece, and so are you...