Yalitza Aparicio

Yalitza Aparicio: promoting social inclusion from stardom



Yalitza Aparicio, educator, protagonist of the film Roma and first indigenous woman to be nominated for an Oscar, never thought of being an actress. She never imagined it. With a sweet and introverted voice, Yalitza first chose education as a professional career. However, today, with the help of the showcase that the cinema has given her, she works to close social gaps, combining her two great passions: education and acting.

For Yalitza, cinema had never been an option. Her dream had always been to become a teacher, a goal that in Mexico is not so simple. Three out of 10 Mexican educators do not have a college degree. In fact, primary school teachers receive a salary 33% lower than the average for the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to which Mexico belongs.

The situation is even worse in more isolated regions, such as Oaxaca, Yalitza's home state. In such places, more basic needs such as the lack of water or transportation afflict education professionals. “If you really want to be a teacher, you already know that you will face trips of 20 hours or more to reach your community, that you are going to walk a lot and even stop seeing your family. But if you really want to be a teacher, that is not an obstacle,” says Yalitza, who on September 9, 2019 participated in  an event about film and social inclusion held at IDB headquarters in Washington, DC. 

Facebook Live with Yalitza Aparicio at the IDB's headquarters in Washington, DC (in Spanish)
Charla en vivo: Yalitza Aparicio, educación e inclusión social

Yalitza Aparicio es una de las 100 personas más influyentes del año, según la revista Time. Sin embargo, su principal pasión es fuera de cámaras impulsando la educación y el desarrollo infantil temprano en las comunidades indígenas. Únete a esta conversación en vivo por Facebook Live con Yalitza, donde nos contará acerca de su vida como educadora antes y después de Roma, y cómo desde el cine impulsa la inclusión social en México. Descubre cómo el cine se ha vuelto uno de los sectores de la economía creativa que genera más beneficios para el crecimiento de un país leyendo esta historia: https://www.iadb.org/es/mejorandovidas/el-cine-se-lleva-el-oscar-al-desarrollo

Posted by Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo on Monday, September 9, 2019


The differences continue to increase if we look more closely at primary schools in indigenous communities. In them, 36,2% of teachers do not have study programs and in fact it is these schools that suffer the longest delays in the delivery of free textbooks. In addition, Mexico’s only curriculum for basic education does not even cover people with disabilities and speakers of indigenous languages.

However, for Yalitza —who plays Cleo in Roma— statistics were no reason to be discouraged. For her, teaching had a much higher value. “I dreamed of being a preschool teacher, because it is an essential stage where it is up to you if the children are going to continue fighting for their dreams or not,” she says.



From the blackboard to Netflix

Convinced of her future as a teacher and a recent graduate, Yalitza already had in mind a nearby community to look for work. “It was a town that was only two hours away from my home, for me that was ,” she says. However, her life changed after she accompanied  her sister to the casting auditions Alfonso Cuarón, director of the film, was holding  for Roma. Even though she didn’t know the renowned director, she began to pass filter after filter until she was offered the role of Cleo.

“Every single thing I lived was amazing. I was like a girl in an amusement park where  I was constantly discovering and asking everything. So, I have been able to learn as I act,” she explains. But Yalitza was not an isolated case. Cuarón opted to make a film with a high percentage of non-professional actors, but who really represented Mexican society.

Until then, Yalitza did not know the film industry, how it operated and what it took to work in it. Although, the more she learned, the more aware she became  of the challenge this implied. “After meeting Libbo —a domestic worker who helped raise Cuarón and inspired Cleo's character in Roma— I thought I could never do that. I didn't even know how to act and I thought that I had let myself get carried away by the illusion of knowing how a movie was made, since at that time I didn't even have a job,” she explains.

Over time Yalitza discovered how the world of cinema worked, a global industry of US$138,000 million that encompasses from box office revenues, distribution, streaming to talent management, award shows, promotions, and other parts. In Mexico alone, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the film industry grew by 15%, while the national GDP only grew by 2,2% between 2015 and 2016. This flourishing industry,added to the talent in the country, allowed Yalitza to achieve much more than a new career.



Reality surpasses fiction

“I think that during the process, I did not realize the full impact that the movie was having. When we finished filming, I never thought I would see the directors and producers again, I thought it was over,” she says. But next came the tour of festivals  where the film won many awards until reaching the Oscars, at which time Roma had become something much bigger than a movie.

Roma made visible the reality of thousands of domestic workers in Mexico and the conditions they face. In response to the film, a group of female senators presented a bill to reform labor laws to include protections for these workers, limiting shifts to eight hours a day and including benefits established by law, including access to social security.

“I thought it was simply a movie, but no. People identified with the movie and with my role. They wrote to thank me, because they said they were reflected on the screen. It helped to generate changes for domestic workers and today I am proud to see how this role and this film is paying off,” says Yalitza.

Moreover, Yalitza's role and the impact of cinema is helping to close the “dream gap.” Studies indicate that, from the age of five, girls up stop believing they can practice "important" professions. One of the main reasons is because they receive toys that are not related to such possibilities.

In the same way, children from indigenous communities do not imagine themselves as Hollywood actors, since they are not represented by commonly known actors, a scenario that changed with Cuarón's commitment. “Many children thank me for making the movie and they tell me they want to be like me, and that's amazing,” says Yalitza, who now wants to continue working in the film industry.

Although Yalitza did not work as a teacher, from the cinema she is causing the same impact she expected to have from the classroom. So much so that many children call her teacher when they see her on the street. This is what keeps her working in the film industry and supporting initiatives that allow Mexico to reach a higher level of social inclusion and improvements for those who need it most.

“I always wanted to be a teacher to inspire children to pursue their dreams and now that I am working here as an actress, I realize that I am still doing it,” says Yalitza.


For more information on how to improve teacher training in Latin America, please download this publication, Profesión Profesor.

For more information about cinema and other creative industries, and their impact on the region, click here!



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