If Jane The Virgin star Gina Rodriguez isn’t already your new favorite feminist, it’s time you read up on the actress whose activism has inspired us and stolen our hearts.
Rodriguez, who has been working on behalf of young women and of the Latin@ community since before her rise to stardom, has used her celebrity as a platform to empower and to educate.
Gina Rodriguez’ fight for equitable representation on screen amazes us, as does her passion for showing girls they can be achievers regardless of their backgrounds. Here are four of the ways she’s shown us, and the young girls she’s committed to energizing, what it means to defy stereotypes.
1. Her Tribute at the Kennedy Center Honors
At this January’s Kennedy Center Honors, Rodriguez spoke in tribute to fellow Jane star and honoree Rita Moreno. Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican, is the first Latin@ person to win an Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Oscar award.
Rodriguez’s speech began in the form of a love letter from a young Gina to her childhood hero Moreno, who was the first Puerto Rican woman she had seen on screen. Rodriguez recounted asking her mother when Puerto Rican people first existed; since she “didn’t see them in any TV shows or movies,” she assumed they “must not have existed back then.” As the speech continued, a present-day Rodriguez finished the letter she had started as a young girl, only now she was able to honor Moreno not only as her earliest role model, but also as a co-star and friend.
Her eloquent presentation proved the significance of broadening what and who we show on television and in films. A tearful Rodriguez credited Moreno with shaping her sense of self and of what she might be capable of. “You gave me hope, you gave me a reason to fight and to speak up, you gave me a voice,” she told her. “When you followed your dreams, Rita, you gave me the allowance to follow mine.”
Rodriguez’ salute to her idol illuminates the power of visibility. When a young Gina Rodriguez saw Rita Moreno on television and realized a woman who looked like her was carving out a place for herself in Hollywood, she was able to see her dreams become goals — not ideas, but ambitions.
Now, Rodriguez aims to empower a new generation of ambitious young women who deserve to see themselves and their communities fully rendered on screen.
2. She Understands the Importance of Her Visibility
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Rodriguez explained the importance of a show like Jane, on which she plays “one of the few Latina protagonists we’ve seen on television.” In Jane, we see a complex young woman. Jane is strong in her values and beliefs, but not without hesitations or concerns; she is career-driven and also family-oriented. She is independent and intelligent, capable, funny, and grounded. She is one of the most well-written, well-rounded female protagonists we’ve seen in a long time, and, as Rodriguez herself put it “she gets to be Latina.”
Gina Rodriguez doesn’t only play a hero, she is one.
3. She Started the We Will Foundation
Rodriguez has used her fame as a platform to speak out as a champion for young women, especially Latinas and girls from low-income families.
Just last month, she was given Unite4:Humanity’s Young Humanitarian Award for her recently launched We Will Foundation, through which she plans to champion young women from low-income backgrounds and to help them find their voices through exposure to the arts.
4. She Champions Activism on Social Media
Through her Instagram account, she runs #MovementMondays, through which responded to this year’s whitewashed award ceremonies and lack of diverse recognition by showcasing a different Latin@ actor each week.
So far, she’s posted about Rosa Salazar, Oscar Isaac, Robert Rodriguez, and Laz Alonso, to name just a few, and has gained traction and appreciation amongst fans and celebs alike, like Wilmer Valederrama, who tweeted his thanks and support. Rodriguez brilliantly harnesses the power of social media and her strong fan base to showcase “how many wonderful and diverse actors grace our screen and would be lucky to have our support.”
On and off screen, Rodriguez is unparalleled. She is energizing her fans about diversity and equity, opening up the conversation about how we decide what to see and to make, and carving out opportunities for young women to harness their strength and succeed beyond what is expected of them.
In her beloved Golden Globes acceptance speech, Rodriguez said that when she was young, her father would always tell her to start her day by saying, “Today’s gonna be a great day, I can and I will.” How lucky we are to have a star like Rodriguez, who has dedicated herself to telling girls like her these same words, to making sure they know they can and will, too.