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America Ferrera says she has the cure for loneliness

For the Emmy-winning actress, director and author, tapping into her activist roots has become the best medicine for combatting isolation during uncertain times.
America Ferrera
America Ferrara poses at the IMDb Official Portrait Studio at Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2022.Corey Nickols / Getty Images for IMDb

Born in Los Angeles to Honduran parents, America Ferrera was raised to believe she could do anything – the sky was the limit – beyond race or gender. “I believed … as an American, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve if I worked hard enough, long enough and wanted it bad enough,” she recently told “Morning Joe” reporter Daniela Pierre-Bravo.

But when she broke into the entertainment industry in the early 2000’s, Ferrera quickly felt the lack of representation. “It was not very clear that there was room for someone like me in the industry, which was why I was discouraged by a lot of people in my life not to take that route,” she recounted.

For the “Real Women Have Curves” and “Ugly Betty” star, shows like those had never existed before. “I’m a lot more aware now of the nuances of what it takes to make it in an industry where there is no representation, [where] there aren’t people like you invested in your stories, invested in changing what those stories are,” Ferrera said. “I think a lot of us who have been in the industry for a few decades have come to the realization that if it’s going to change, we’re the ones who have to change it.”

With that in mind, the Emmy-winning actress turned her ambitions behind the camera, more recently executive producing and directing projects like 2020’s “Gentefied” and the forthcoming Netflix film, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” based on the New York Times bestselling novel.

“I realized that I had the access … to championing space for more of us and more of our stories,” she said. “Things have shifted somewhat … but I think we need to see more Latinos in executive rooms, as producers, as the folks who make decisions about what stories get told and who gets to tell them.”

Despite her prestigious career, which includes a Golden Globe and SAG award, the actress struggled for years with reconciling her Honduran-American identity, which she addressed in her 2018 debut book, “American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures.”

“’[I felt] like there wasn’t an easy identity or label,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “I felt 100 percent American and I felt Honduran and Latina. Parts of me are some of these things, some are not. Labels in general are faulty and don’t really get the job done. The book is about me embracing the multiplicity of my own identity and realizing … that this isn’t just a ‘me’ experience, or even a Latina experience – this actually is an American experience.”

For Ferrera, embracing that cultural duality is partly what drove her to start a non-profit, Harness. Founded in 2016 with her husband Ryan Piers Williams and actor Wilmer Valderrama, the organization focuses on racial, gender and social justice.

“Together we just started gathering folks from our own industry – storytellers, executives, artists, decision-makers, people with resources – putting them in the same space with front-line activists and organizers and creating spaces for real relationships to be built so that these moments of the activist’s world meeting the artist’s world don’t have to be transactional,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “I feel like everything we do is about storytelling – what we believe about ourselves, how we treat each other, how we vote, who’s in power – it’s all about who’s telling the dominant story, the story that is making more people believe in it.”

And ahead of the mid-term elections, she hopes the organization’s efforts continue to build momentum toward voter turnout among Latino communities. “When I’m feeling down and the world feels overwhelming and it doesn’t matter what I as an individual do – the thing that gets me out of that feeling of isolation, helplessness and loneliness is remembering we can take action collectively – that is a wonderful cure for loneliness.”

Ferrera says Latinos have everything at stake in this election cycle as everyone else does, with one looming disadvantage. “Latinos lack an example that we belong here and that we belong in decision-making roles, that we belong in the electoral process,” she noted. “Give us a reason to show up in the way you’d court any other voter … There’s real work to be done in our community and to not do that work is to put democracy at stake.”

To that end, she detailed Harness’ latest get-out-the-vote initiative, driven by the youngest generation of Latinas – those celebrating their Quinceañeras. “They are using the occasion of their quinceañeras to rally their friends and families to the polls and to vote early,” Ferrera said. “It’s a fun and exciting way to engage young Latinas who aren’t even old enough to vote for themselves but understand what’s at stake for them and their families and they’re finding empowerment in it. That’s the point – we can shift the narrative of what it means to us and what our engagement actually becomes.”