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America Ferrera: My identity is a superpower – not an obstacle

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In today’s companies, especially given the newer generations of workers, many individuals do not fit neatly into the same shapes as their predecessors a few years ago. Whether it is a fast or slow process, people change over time and work places have to adapt to that. Here is the story of one individual who wants to shift beliefs and narratives in her entire industry.

America Ferrera is an American actress, producer, director and activist. She believes that stories have the power to make people better, so she shares with the world her own life story, in order to demonstrate that someone’s physical attributes, financial situation, or culture are considered obstacles only in their mind. She considers that you only have to change your attitude instead of changing yourself.

As a 9-year-old girl, her dream was to become an actress, but everybody told her that she can not be successful in Hollywood because she is “too poor”, “too fat”, “too brown”. Also, her manager said that she had unrealistic expectations. At that moment she felt that her identity was an obstacle. Consequently, she started putting effort in changing herself according to society’s expectations.

Ironically, her first role required her to be exactly who she was, a curly, fat, poor Latina. After that movie’s success, she realized that people wanted to see stories about people like her, but it took four years to get another role.

She was the main character in the popular TV series Ugly Betty.  Ugly Betty was seen in the US by 16 million viewers and was nominated to 11 Emmys. But despite its success, there were no other roles played by a Latina actress on American television for years.

She constantly accepted failure as her own and felt deep shame because she could not overcome the obstacles. Then she realized that she wanted to adapt to the system, by accepting that it was not possible for her to exist in her dream.

“Change will come when each of us has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs, and then see that our actions lead to our best intentions.”

Like many people, America Ferrera found herself in the middle of a clash – between the safety of what’s always been done and the unproven novelty of something new. Oftentimes, this clash may not yield the results one would expect, however Ferrera pushed on. Her story can be a valuable lesson for those individuals who struggle to fit in at work.

While simply changing things for the sake of change is not in and of itself positive, certain forms of change are almost always positive. Introducing new mentalities, attitudes and mindsets that do not fundamentally alter the way things are done, but simply add another layer, is usually a healthy and sustainable way of going about change.


Video source: Ferrera A. (2019), My identity is a superpower – not an obstacle, TED Talks

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