Yalitza Aparicio, the star of “Roma,” is the first indigenous woman in history to be nominated for an Oscar. She has also been featured in more national and international publications than any other Mexican celebrity in recent memory.
Aparicio, the daughter of a domestic worker, told The New York Times she hoped her nomination would show “you’re not limited by your race or your class or your ethnicity or your socioeconomic conditions.”
As I watched the Golden Globes, where “Roma” was honored with two awards, I wished I could experience the moment though Aparicio’s eyes. I’d never wished anything like that before. What’s happening to her right now is pure magic.
But those who have been cheering her rising fame — from her first international accolade at the Venice Film Festival, to her Oscar nomination last Tuesday alongside the likes of Glenn Close and Lady Gaga — are the same people who have typically seen women like Aparicio as less worthy.
We Mexicans have judged women like her because of the color of their skin, because they don’t speak English or because their mothers make a living cleaning other people’s homes. But now we’re praising Aparicio. We talk about how her “indigenous beauty” stands out when she’s wearing Dior. We take selfies if we run into her and talk about how much we admire her.
What kind of Mexicans are we? A bunch of hypocrites. We’re glad Aparicio is doing well, but we don’t want to offer Social Security to the women who clean our houses. We’re proud Aparicio is indigenous, but we might feel embarrassed if someone one shade darker than us joins our family. We’re moved by Aparicio’s roots in the indigenous Mixteca region, but are careful to point out that our postal code is outside of those bounds.
We value Aparicio only because “Roma” director Alfonso Cuarón made her valuable.
Cuarón has said he had no political motivations, but “Roma” has steered the national conversation toward women’s and indigenous people’s rights. This is due to both Cuarón’s efforts and to Aparicio’s talent. However, as individuals, we continue to be unable to radically change our reality or our mentality the way “Roma” changed Aparicio’s life. She is on the cover of Vogue Mexico — which helps representation and encourages millions of women to dream — but systemic obstacles remain. As an audience and as Mexicans, we focus on Aparicio and not on the 11 million indigenous people who live under one of the most disgraceful forms of discrimination in the history of humanity: the discrimination against Mexicans by fellow Mexicans.
My hope is that this is just the beginning and that we aspire to — and will — spread the Aparicio magic to all the other women who look like her.