First Oscar-Nominated Mixteca Yalitza Aparicio: En la esquina de Latinoamérica

Jan 24, 2019
12:52 PM

Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio emerges from her trailer to speak to the media near the US-Mexico border where she is taking part in a production, in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on January 22, 2019. (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Not many Oscar-nominated actresses are like Yalitza Aparacio. In fact, none are like her.

On the day the news broke about her nomination, photographers and journalists and polished writers and commentators of the Hollywood elite the world over were commenting and wanting to get her reaction. In order to do so they would have to reach her in a place that we Border Angels call la esquina de Latinoamérica.

It is the corner of Latin America.

Here, Enrique Morones, Hugo Castro and Gaba Cortes, some of the region’s most renowned humanitarian voices on immigrant rights, lead “caravans of love” that bring supplies and support to Central American asylum seekers and any migrants who come seeking shelter and refuge.

As a Mexican people, we are very proud of Aparicio, who is of Mixtec descent and has been nominated for an Oscar for her leading role Roma, yet we are even more proud and humbled because she has been spending the last couple of days in Tijuana, Baja California.

She has been here in the cold, and somewhat contaminated waters  of Playas de Tijuana. The backdrop is a cold rusty fence that divides humanity and juxtaposes images which have been painted a celebrated myriad of colors by thousands of volunteers who have come here throughout the years to show that only love can overcome hate and that love has no borders. Yalitza was in the water getting her photo taken up against the painted fence and splashing about in a 57 degree glimmering Pacific.

While the Twittersphere has been quite active in making assumptions about why Yalitza has been in Tijuana with her large crew of photographers, there is a tight group keeping a guarded wrap on the project.

Humanitarians are remarking how Aparicio has chosen this time, the most important moment in her career (the very days when she is in the spotlight being nominated for an Oscar), to be at a rusty fence, walking amongst migrants, standing with the Border Angels.

“The inclusion of artivisim in this project for a social cause has been incredible. Including migrants, with such respect and dignity has made working with the project’s directors a real pleasure,” Gaba Cortes of Border Angels said.

“Children and adults have been well taken care of during filming and the directors have been aware at all times of changes in wind and cold conditions,” Cortes added.

One of the women asylum seekers who chose not to be identified by name shared this: “I am so impressed with Yalitza because so many times I see actresses on television, and they are tall and white and skinny and never anywhere near me. But Yalitza is here, eating with me. She looks just like me. And I have seen her three days in a row.”

This is very telling of the character of the artist and grassroots voice that she can elevate as she already has in interpreting the voice and plight of a domestic worker in Roma. This educator from Oaxaca who has risen to stardom for the role she played has interpreted the invisible life of domestic caretakers into the spotlight.

A national conversation about domestic workers is now taking place at a time when care sector work has become more organized, thanks to the Domestic Workers Alliance and their important work and before that, the trailblazing and historic founding of the first United Domestic Workers Union, which brought the first ever collective bargaining rights to thousands of in home support care workers.

Yet the voices of millions of domestic workers who are mostly immigrants are yearning for a voice and representation. That’s why Yalitza and her role are historic.

From this northernmost point in Mexico where so many have reached her and asked her about her Oscar nomination, she glistens in her work as she walks with Central American migrants in a city known for its mayor who rejects asylum seekers and an adjacent government that has intermittently gassed, rejected and derided them as unwanted.

Her place in this moment and her meteoric rise to fame is giving immigrants and low-wage workers a chance to see themselves in a seldom-viewed place amongst the stars.


Mexican-born Sara Gurling is a trade unionist with more than 20 years representing workers rights and serves as a Labor Representative with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. She was the Director of Organizing with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego and is known primarily as a humanitarian pro-justice labor organizer, immigrant rights activist and labor studies college teacher. She is also the president emeritus of Border Angels. Her journalistic radio and print work is featured in the United States and Mexico.