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Yalitza Aparicio Overcomes Racism While Rising to Fame: ‘I’m Not the Face of Mexico’

The "Roma" star is from Oaxaca and is of Mixtec descent, meaning her success is breaking a major glass ceiling around the world.

Yalitza Aparicio

Yalitza Aparicio

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Yalitza Aparicio became a recognizable face almost overnight. As the lead actress of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” the 25-year-old has been a shining star on the awards circuit ever since the Spanish-language drama got its start at the Venice Film Festival last August. Aparicio, a school teacher who Cuarón discovered during his search for a leading lady, hails from Oaxaca and is of Mixtec descent, which means her rise to fame has not been met without controversy.

Mexico’s indigenous population remains a minority group in the country, and therefore some believe a Mixtec woman such as Aparicio should not be trailblazing Oscar season or landing major fashion covers like Vogue and Vanity Fair. Photographs of Aparicio in Vanity Fair earned racist backlash, so much so that Karla Martinez de Salas, editor in chief of Vogue México, told The New York Times she worried putting Aparicio on the cover of “Vogue” would result in more hostile comments thrown at the young actress.

Aparicio ended up landing the Vogue México cover, becoming the first Mixtec woman to grace the cover in the publication’s history. The landmark moment has been one of many for the actress this Oscar season. Aparicio told The Times she is slowly overcoming the racist attacks against her online, which she said initially upset her.

“I’m not the face of Mexico,” Aparicio said. “It shouldn’t matter what you’re into, how you look — you can achieve whatever you aspire to.”

Aparicio told The Times that gracing magazine covers helps give visibility to the indigenous population. For this reason, the actress is hopeful her work in “Roma” will result in a Best Actress nomination at the 91st Academy Awards.

“I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re Indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color,” Aparicio said. “Receiving that nomination would be a break from so many ideas. It would open doors to other people — to everyone — and deepen our conviction that we can do these things now.”

Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday, January 22. Head over to The New York Times to read more from Aparicio’s profile.

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