Julissa Calderon is not afraid of being her true self. She is unapologetic, bold and has a strong voice, characteristics that led her to a role in Netflix’s new Latinx show Gentefied. From her early days working at BuzzFeed to her role as Yessika Castillo in the new series, Julissa has ratified that being who you are can bring many positive outcomes in your career. The Dominican actress brings a fresh outlook on what it means to be Latina in today’s zeitgeist and how to challenge the stereotypes that separate communities. Gentefied is a new comedy show that identifies Mexican culture through food, dance with a fashion lens. America Ferrera, the producer of this Netflix drama brings cultural representation with bold actors like Julissa.
While Julissa struggles to maintain her esprit de corps in the show even with her posse of social activists, in reality she knows that expressing your true passion and voice is the recipe for success. The Miami-raised artist caught up with HOLA! USA and gives her insight into being Latina and working hard for your dreams.
Keep reading to learn about Julissa’s background, what she learned while filming Gentefied and her inspiring boss babe attitude.
HOLA! USA: You do a great job of representing your ethnicity and culture as an Afro-Latina. What did it mean to you being on a predominantly Latino set?
Julissa Calderon: “Oh my god, it was a dream come true. I've been on sets, and it's usually predominantly a white set. To see it like this, full of color, it felt like you were going to work with family every single day. Honestly, it felt like... it was just loud; it was fun; it was warm; it was inviting.”
So what about Gentefied made you want to be apart of it?
“Well, when I first read it, I thought that it sounded like my friends talking, or my cousins talking or me talking. It was very now; it was very much authentic. It felt very familiar. And so in reading it, and reading my character Yessika, you're like, ‘Wow, this girl's a powerhouse. This girl is bold, she's unapologetic, she's Latina, and she's doing something great for her community.’ We don't get to see those roles usually onscreen. It was a given, like of course, you have to take this. This is like nothing you've ever seen before.”
Have you ever experienced gentrification while living in Miami, or New York, or any other city in the United States?
“I actually experienced gentrification just a little bit here in Miami where I grew up. The city was called Carol City, and now it's called Miami Gardens. I started to see the change right before I moved to Los Angeles. The fact that the city name changed, the fact that the stores that we used to be able to go to were not there anymore, I got to see that.”
Was it nerve-wracking auditioning for this role?
“A lot of times when we go into these audition rooms, we, as actors, feel intimidated, or we're nervous because obviously you're there to do this job, and you want to be hired. A lot of times we don't understand that these people are looking for us to be the one, that they need us, we don't need them. And so the third time, I actually decided to speak up and tell them why they should hire me in the role. Just because I was a girl from New York, and I was a Dominican girl, that didn't mean that I was not going to be the best Yessika for the show. After my audition, I talked to them. At the end of the day, I found out later when I was cast that was a big reason why they cast me. It was because I was very honest, and I was vulnerable. I also told them what they needed to hear.”
How much input did the cast had, with a storyline or even what the characters would say?
“Marvin and Linda, the creators, did a freaking amazing job at writing it, so we didn't even have to do much or bring in anything of ours because they did... It was just so well written.”
In the show Chris gets criticized a lot for not being Mexican enough. You being born in New York and being Dominican, have you ever experienced something similar?
“When I first got to Los Angeles, I was confused why they didn't understand that a girl that looked like me was a Latina. I was like, ‘Wait a second. They don't get that I'm Dominican. They don't know what that is. How come?’ I had to constantly think about it, and try to understand it. But that was the first time I think I've ever felt that. I come from New York, but really, I was raised in Miami. For me, I've never experienced somebody looking at me and not understanding where I'm from, and why I spoke Spanish, but I look like ‘a morenita’.”
Did you learn any new Latino terms while filming Gentefied?
“Actually, I did. I learned Mexican words that I had no idea what they were. For example, ‘sarape’. I'd heard of that word, but I didn't know what it was until I was on set. Also, ‘huaraches,’ I didn't know what that was either. There were so many I had to look up.”
What does it mean to you to be Afro-Latina or Afro-Caribeña?
“You know what, it means being unapologetically myself and owning my Latinidad, owning my roots and knowing that I come from Africa, just as much as I come from Europe, like my ancestry. Being an Afro-Latina means teaching others about my culture, and where it comes from so that we know who I am. And these little girls that are coming later, they know who they are, they know their ancestry. I'm very proud of who I am, and where I come from. I think I've been that way my whole life.”
What's your favorite episode from Gentefied?
“It's Brown Love, by far. The fact that they go back into my young Yessika's life is a beautiful story. Most importantly, it's because it shows three love stories in one episode. It talks about the younger love story of Yessika and Anna. It also talks about Lydia and Eric. And then it also goes into an older love story that we never see on TV. It talks about the generation, and it's based on love at that age. The way that it's written, and the heartbreak that happens in that episode, and all the Spanish they talk in that episode. I've never seen something like that on TV. It's a beautiful thing.”
We want to end on an uplifting note to all those healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Any uplifting words for them?
“They're applauded for what they're doing. I can't imagine working relentless hours. Right now, this is all developing, so they have no choice but to be there and help. We owe them so much; we should be thanking them so much. They should be getting bonuses, they should be getting so much at the end of all of this. Just the fact that they're doing all of this is insane to me. They help the world so much, and we couldn't do this without them. The reason that hopefully we will be in a better place is because of them and because of their work.”
Gentefied is streaming on Netflix now.