Laura Gómez and I came to the United States with the same purpose. Not to live the famous “American Dream”, but to make our own dreams come true. My career in television in the Dominican Republic had reached a plateau and Laura wanted to perform beyond the local theaters.
I decided to interview Laura as my third “Latina in Media” for this project, because many of you share her dream of becoming an actress. Among the arts, I think the profession of being an actress has been idealized as a glamorous journey, but the road to becoming one is far from it.
When Laura said, at nine years old, that she wanted to be an actress, many dismissed her desire as something fleeting. Years later, she has done theater, films, television and even acted her own stories in her short films. At nine, just like her, I announced I wanted to be the president of my country. But I gladly left that lofty ambition to pursue what I’m really passionate about, including writing stories about inspiring women like Laura.
I see Laura as the living proof that dreams do come true. Whether those dreams entail acting in a telenovela for Telemundo or Univisión, doing a Musical in Broadway, being part of a Netflix series or a Hollywood movie, it is possible to be Latina immigrant and pursue a successful acting career while having a voice in your community.
Laura and I share some other important passions, like being huge fans of Mafalda. We both are Dominican women who dreamt of something more than the road that lay before us. Today, while writing her story on my own platform, I can say we both have made some of those dreams come true and we keep going back for more.
Latinas in Media – Who is Laura?
Laura Gómez – Laura is a passionate, strong-willed, politically active soul. Strong tempered –for better or for worse- ambitious but with integrity, constantly trying to tame my ego, and always eager to fly.
LM – How does a Dominican woman get to the studios of Orange is the New Black?
LG – My participation in OITNB goes hand in hand with my trajectory as an actress in New York City. It was a process. One of the interesting things about our show is that its creator, Jenji Kohan and Casting Director, Jen Euston, were looking for very specific actors. They wanted fresh talent and new faces and that’s how the opportunity came. I went to audition for the role of Blanca Flores –the “crazy” Dominican woman with the cell phone, with the certainty that the part was perfect for me. It was interesting because at the time I was taking a filmmaking course at NYU and I was in the midst of directing my first short film as a writer-director, so I went to audition pretty focused and ready, however, I was mostly busy so I wasn’t really nervous or anything. I guess it gave me with the right energy. I was initially told I was too pretty for the role, but I guess not so much, cause a day or two later I received the call saying I got the part.
LM – Besides acting, what are you passionate about?
LG – Lately I’ve been very inclined to participate in political causes related to social justice. Although on a lighter tone, I’m interested in continuing to explore the field of writing and directing. I think there’s a great need for more women and minorities behind the camera, so that’s what I’m mostly doing these days. I’m currently recovering from a knee injury so I spend most of my time reading and writing.
LM – What do Laura Gómez and Blanca Flores have in common?
LG – Due to life’s circumstances, I think Blanca is more daring than me, but just like her I’m very sensitive to social injustices and I tend to raise my voice, even if the issues at hand don’t affect me directly. Just like Blanca in that now famous cafeteria scene, I would stand on top of the table to protest.
LM – How do you feel about the evolution of Blanca and the other group of Latinas in the series?
LG – I loved it, and the evolution of my character in Season 4 was both a privilege and a big surprise. I enjoyed my backstory and the rebellious side of Blanca and the other Dominican women, and most of all I love seeing how each character has a life of its own. I find it fascinating.
LM – Has OITNB played a role in giving Latinas a voice in the United States?
LG – I think it all starts with the show’s story. By creating a personal trajectory for each character it allows the audience to connect with their human side and people get to identify with them and judge them differently. The relationship between Daya and her mom Aleida, for example, is obviously dysfunctional, but that’s basically because of Aleida’s flaws and weaknesses, and by being a witness to her vulnerability we get to be more compassionate rather than judgmental. I’d like to think that translates to real life. And so on the level of visibility in the industry, OITNB is a show that has opened the door to diverse talent and I think the Latinas have connected with an audience that see themselves represented, either through our characters or through our persona. It’s necessary and very refreshing, and I hope it keeps happening.
LM – What are the challenges a Latina woman faces in order to act in television?
LG – I believe it’s mostly being able to defy and defeat the stereotypes to which we are exposed. After OITNB I received a few offers to play an inmate in other shows. I did it once and in fact, I had an interesting arc that lasted a few episodes in Law & Order SVU. But after that, I told my manager, “enough, no more prisoners, nor prostitutes, nor maids… unless perhaps, it’s a flying maid who saves the world.” Of course, sometimes there’s no choice and as an actor, you always want to work, but that’s why I also like working in the theater and Latin America, because there’s always choices to which we have no access in the Hollywood industry. Last year, for instance, I got to work in a Dominican film called Sambá in which I play a Boxing promoter. I wish the industry would change in that regard. We keep working on it.
LM – What advice would you give to a Latina woman who dreams of being an actress?
LG – If we want to break stereotypes on the screen we must first break them in life. So I always tell young talent that education is essential, both as a person and as an actor, and just as a dancer or a doctor would train, acting should be no different. We have to train the instrument that it’s our body, and feed the soul and the intellect, with constant reading and other art forms, and since the competition is fierce, one should even work on accent reduction, if necessary, and always do this because of the love of the craft, not the love for fame.
LM – What have been your Latina role models in the acting industry?
LG – Some of my favorite Latina actresses are from Latin America, but regarding Latinas from Hollywood I love Rita Moreno, who managed the break the mold in times of great limitations for Latinos and who at 80 is still working with the same vibrant energy she’s always had. Lauren Luna Velez is another great actress who had a big effect on me when I was a teenager and saw her working on I Like it Like That, and then Rosario Dawson and Salma Hayek who are also activists for several causes outside the acting world. I’ve also seen some of the best actings of Latina women in the New York theater world.
LM – What were your dreams when you first arrived to the United States and what are your dreams now?
LG – I left to the United States with the clear goal of following my dream to become an actress. Back then, I felt that the Dominican Republic imposed some limitations, and I felt inspired by the idea of expanding my wings in New York City. I was around 9 years old when I started taking Theater classes at school, and I fell in love with the idea of becoming an actress. So, I can gladly say that my childhood dream did become true. Aside from that, today’s dreams are more in the sense of continuing to grow as an artist, being a part of a politically active community and being able to use my platform the best way possible.
LM – How can we use traditional and digital media (including social networks) as a voice for Latina women in a country where we are a minority?
LG – I think Social Media is somehow essential nowadays, and properly used, it can help us disseminate an effective message on a larger scale. It was through crowd-funding platforms and via twitter that I managed to get the funds to make my second short film, Hallelujah, in which I explore the subject of religion and its incidence on personal relationships. I also think that we can continue to use digital and traditional social media to educate and present us on a different, more progressive light which reflect us on different phases that can help us break the narrative of a negative –and boring- stereotype of the Latino woman.
More about Laura!
A book: An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
One “Latina in Media”: Alex Tabar
One social network: Facebook
One App: Podcasts
One brand: Zara
A quote: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” -Ralph Waldo Emerson