Actress Yalitza Aparicio was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her perfor-mance as Cleo in the 2018 film, Roma. Her nomination is historical because it is the first time an indigenous actress has ever been nominated for in this category. Aparicio is half Mixtec and Triqui, which are both indigenous tribes in Mexico.
At 24 years old, Aparicio was a school teacher with no professional acting experience when she was cast in the leading role. Roma, a film directed by Alfonso Cuaron, follows a year in the life of Cleo, a live-housekeeper of a Mexican family.
In the film, Aparicio speaks Mixtec, one of the dominate indigenous languages spoken in Mexico today.
The historical importance of the nomination is not lost on Aparicio. Before the announcements of nominations, Aparicio spoke candidly with the New York Times about overcoming racial stereotypes and challenges that indigenous people face in Mexico.
“I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color. 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,” she said.
Indigenous populations in Mexico face many of the same challenges that tribes do in the United States. In a 2011 United Nations report, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay stated that “Mexican indigenous peoples continue to suffer discrimination in all spheres of public life. Many, especially women, receive arbitrary or disproportionate sentences in criminal courts.”
A 2015 UN report stated that 80.6 percent of Mexico’s indigenous people live in extreme poverty, face high rates of food insecurity, lack access to adequate health care, have high maternal mortality rates, and significantly lower life expectancies.
In December, Aparicio also made history again when she was featured on the cover of Vogue Mexico. Mexican media is well-known for their lack of indigenous coverage and use of dark-skinned models and actors. Aparicio lauded the opportunity of being featured on the front page.
“We can continue raising our voices and say ‘yes’. As indigenous women, we can go on television and come out in movies or appear on the cover of a magazine. It’s exciting, but it’s also motivating,” said Aparicio.
Although she has said that she does not see herself as an actress, Aparicio shared that she is thankful to use her newfound stardom to promote indigenous issues and to tackle racial inequality.
Roma is available on Netflix and has received ten Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture, Best Foreign Language, and Best Film Director. The 91st Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 24.