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Sandy Tejada

Actress Sandy Tejada speaks candidly on overcoming obstacles as a Latina in Hollywood

During our March 25th virtual event, Latinas & Success: What It Takes to Make it in America, speakers and panelists explored if the American Dream is still possible for Latinas and other minority women entrepreneurs, and shared the obstacles and barriers they overcame to get to the top.

In our first panel,  How to Overcome Being a Latina, a Woman and an Immigrant to Achieve Success, actress Sandy Tejada spoke candidly about her journey as a Latina in Hollywood and the struggles she has faced and overcome in the industry. 

Sandy Tejada

Latina actress and model, Sandy Tejada. (Photo courtesy of Sandy Tejada)

Proud of her Dominican heritage, Sandy was born in Manhattan, New York and raised by a single mother and is a bright, up and coming young star, attracting a lot of attention from directors who often compare her to J. Lo. Still, she is very much her own flavor. 

She has acted in productions such as FBI, playing the role of the wife of actor David Zayas;  The Deuce, co-starring James Franco;  Angelfish playing the best friend of rapper Princess Nokia, stage name of Destiny Nicole Frasqueri;  Goatface, produced by Hasan Minhaj.  

Most recently, Sandy opened the reboot of the first season of the famous original series Sex and the City called And Just Like That, on HBO Max and shared screen with Sarah Jessica Parker.  She appears in the first episode of the series and in her role, Sandy personifies the hostess of a well-known restaurant host in New York City.

“Growing up watching episodes of the Sex and the City series, I was always inspired by the free and easy character of Sarah Jessica Parker.  I never imagined that I, being Afro-Latina, would participate in this program that would become a cultural phenomenon after so many years,” said Sandy. 

Her mother was a huge influence in her life, bestowing upon her the wisdom to achieve the American dream, and to seize control of her own destiny. Her mother instilled in her an appreciation for learning, encouraging her to first focus on her education as a solid foundation to then pursue her dreams. 

And Sandy’s big dream was to perform. As a young girl, Sandy loved acting and making people laugh. She would reenact scenes from popular Hispanic shows for her family and was always drawn to fun, interesting roles. 

“I always wanted to play the roles where they switched it up,” she said during the Latina & Success panel. 

Acting was also a way to escape the often turbulent times growing up in a single-parent immigrant household. 

Still, despite challenges, Sandy was determined to succeed and she excelled in everything she set her mind to. Modeling, dancing, swimming, basketball, and softball were some of the ways that Sandy got to show off her natural talents. 

She attended St. Francis College on a four year Presidential Academic Scholarship, and majored in Communications with a concentration in Film and Broadcasting. At St. Francis she was exposed to the world of television, theatre and film, which allowed her to further pursue her love and passion for acting. 

 

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“Not Spanish-looking enough for roles”

As she began breaking out into the industry, Sandy soon found herself facing new challenges, primarily around diversity and inclusion. One of her biggest on-going challenges is that she is often not considered for roles based on her looks. Due to stereotypes in the industry, many do not consider her to “look Spanish enough” for Latina roles. Casting directors expect a certain stereotypical look for Latina characters, but Sandy does not fit this rigid mold. 

“For Hollywood, when you watch TV and film, it’s basically a Latin role requires someone with dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin. And so my dad was Black and my mom was white and I look like this, I’m mixed,” said Sandy. “People don’t often believe me when I tell them I’m Dominican. Dominicans don’t even believe me that I’m Dominican. That’s the biggest challenge I have is that I’m not Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz looking, I’m Afro-Latina.” 

She has been told she is not white enough for roles or not biracial enough for roles and not Spanish enough for roles. She has tried to change herself to fit the mold, wearing wigs and trying to lighten her skin but still the struggle to fit in and get roles continues. This struggle is part of a larger problem within Hollywood and the work that still needs to be done to expand diversity and inclusion for actors. 

Watch the full panel below

Facing these obstacles has motivated Sandy to push for greater representation and diversity in media. 

“My greatest wish is to pave the way for greater representation of Latinxs in film and television,” Sandy said.

To other Latinas looking to get into the industry, Sandy emphasizes the power of giving back. Together we can all find success and realize the American Dream.  

“To get a little you have to give a little,” she said. “And pay it forward. So if I help you, you help the next Latina and then we can all grow together and that’s how we can become stronger and more successful together.” 

You might be interested: Ariana DeBose reminds young Latinas that dreams do come true with historic Oscar win

Grammys 2022

Grammys 2022 Recap: Latin American wins and the issue of Global diversity 

Yesterday’s 64th Annual Grammy Awards gathered stars and industry leaders to honor the best in music. Throughout the awards we had our eye on all the Latin and Hispanic artists recognized. 

In the Latin categories winning artists included Eliane Elias (feat. Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés) winning Best Latin Jazz Album, Alex Cuba for Best Latin Pop Album, Bad Bunny for Best Música Urbana Album, Juanes for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Vicente Fernández for Best Regional Mexican Music Album, and Rubén Blades for Best Tropical Latin Album. 

Young Filipino-American singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo also took the stage for three wins for Best New Artist, Best Solo Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album. 

Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo, Grammys 2022. (Photo source: Recording Academy / Grammys on YouTube)

Additionally, the night saw performances by J Balvin, Maria Becerra, Aymée Nuviola, Rachel Zegler, Silk Sonic. 

In 2020, the Grammys decided to address some of these concerns by changing the name of their “Best World Music” category to “Best Global Music.” 

A statement, the Recording Academy said, “as we continue to embrace a truly global mindset … The change symbolizes a departure from the connotations of colonialism, folk, and ‘non-American’ that the former term embodied while adapting to current listening trends and cultural evolution among the diverse communities it may represent.”

Additionally, the Recording Academy renamed the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category to “Best Progressive R&B Album”, since the term “urban” has become outdated and is now an “inappropriate descriptor of Black music.” However, the term continues to be used in the Latin category for “Best Música Urbana Album.” 

This year’s star-studded event certainly appeared more diverse, with both winners and performers reflecting the award show’s push in recent years to be more inclusive. However, despite recent changes, the issue of diversity and representation continues to be at the forefront of conversation surrounding the award show and many continue to criticize their minimal efforts to correct years of inequality. 

These changes, especially the change to the World Music category have received mixed responses. Many find these changes to be insubstantial and some have even argued the change to “Global” music hurts international artists. 

In the article “How not to decolonise the Grammys” author Mark LeVine breaks down the issue pointing out that the new “global” category will take the focus away from celebrating cultural music with diverse roots and traditions. The new category will include any global artist, meaning diverse artists who struggled to break out in other categories will now also have to compete against global superstars.

What was once a category to celebrate diverse music outside of “Western” norms, may now become a generalized category that many fear will become saturated with pop and commercialized music. 

In an NPR op-ed, author Ian Brennan shares his views on the issue and quotes Angelique Kidjo, one of the world’s most recognized performers in the recently changed category, with multiple nominations and wins under her belt. 

 

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Angelique Kidjo shares her vision regarding the issue of diversity and representation in the Grammys, saying: “We’ve got to educate people to understand that it’s not just commercial music that is ‘music.’ We have music in the global category that is the roots of all the commercial music that people are listening to. It’s important to go back and find out where the commercial music you are listening to comes from.

“We need to bring the topic of global music to the forefront of the Grammys. We need to have a constant discussion to improve and get better. The whole world is watching.”

Latin American artists are lucky to have multiple categories just for their music, but other ethnic groups must fight for recognition in the one “Global” category the awards show offers. Instead of making categories more general, many feel creating more categories would be more beneficial to fully celebrate diverse talent. Like the multiple Latin American categories, other cultures could have their own categories as well, so that more talent can be recognized. 

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Latina Publishers

Latina Publishers call for cultural diversity in children’s books this upcoming Read Across America Day

As educators prepare for Read Across America Day on March 2, children’s book buyers are invited to a “Meet Latina Publishers” live virtual event Feb 10th.

— Independent publishers suggest less Seuss and more literature that reflects America’s diverse student populations —

Across the nation, shopping for books and other preparations are underway for the annual community celebration of literacy.

Three independent press owners, all mothers, and authors of color ask educators and parents to pause and ask this question: Do these books reflect the diversity of the students I serve?

Sandra Gonzalez-Mora, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, and Naibe Reynoso are all founders of independent publishing companies. They are social entrepreneurs, investing their energy, time, and money to offer children’s book buyers and communities across the USA innovative literature that more accurately reflects them, their language, their culture, and their world.

These three publishers invite curriculum directors, librarians, teachers, and parents to gather for a live Meet Latina Publishers Zoom chat on February 10th from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific to learn more about their work.

REGISTER for the event here: https://bit.ly/3GtOwNz

They are leading the impassioned, national movement demanding a shift in how school districts buy books, typically from large incumbent publishers slow to respond to the needs of a minority-majority student population.

Latina publisher and author, Sandra Gonzalez-Mora shares bilingual stories with young readers. (Photo source)

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato said, “In August 2014, in an Education Week article titled U.S. School Enrollment Hits Majority-Minority Milestone, we learned that ‘Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 classrooms were expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic whites.’ The questions educators and parents must ask themselves are these: WHY haven’t more buyers of curriculum materials, books in classrooms and books in school libraries kept up with our schools’ demographic changes? WHY haven’t institutional buyers sought out indie publishers like us who have been ahead of the curve creating ground-breaking literature that reflects and inspires our diverse student populations?”

How can books in classrooms and public libraries across the country better reflect the diversity within the communities they serve? With Latinos accounting for about half (52%) of all U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2019, this question becomes much more critical. Latinos are the country’s second-largest ethnic group, behind white non-Hispanics, a fact not currently reflected in the children’s books that circulate in public and school libraries and classrooms.

Latina Publishers,

Sandra Gonzalez-Mora, M.Ed., award-winning author and publisher and founder of Skillful & Soulful Press. (Photo source)

“Latinx-owned publishing companies are galvanizing to change this landscape in the children’s publishing industry, it’s time,” said Sandra Gonzalez-Mora, author and owner of Skillful & Soulful Press.

2020 data on books by and about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color published for children and teens compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison state that out of the 3,115 books they received from U.S. publishers, only 212 books were written by Latinx authors and 191 books were about Latinx characters.

“Latinos are almost 20% of the population but we are largely invisible across all forms of media,” said journalist and Con Todo Press publisher, Naibe Reynoso. “This is a disservice not only to our community but it’s a missed educational opportunity for all classrooms.”

It is clear from the data collected by the CCBC year after year that traditional publishing is comfortably holding the status quo that isn’t serving all children in this country. The approach these women are taking to help children’s literature become more inclusive and reflective of U.S demographics is to write, illustrate, publish, and market their unique stories, often in multiple languages.

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Latina publishers call educators, librarians, and parents to action! (Photo source)

March 2 is Read Across America Day. This day is synonymous with books by Dr. Seuss, considered classics, which are created by white authors about white children and white families.

This year, these Latina creators have a call to action: they encourage more teachers and librarians across the USA to think about the young faces of students they serve and to intentionally purchase stories that represent them, reflect their communities and ambitions, and recognize their undeniable value across America.


About Gracefully Global, LLC: 

Since 2010 Gracefully Global Group LLC has published award-winning, educational literature and digital classroom content for K-12 school districts worldwide. Literary properties include the following award-winning titles: 1. Good Night Captain Mama / Buenas Noches Capitán Mamá and Captain Mama’s Surprise / La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá -the first-ever children’s book series created in two languages where Mamá is flying a military jet, Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, and for the military community B.R.A.N.D. Before Your Resumé: Your Marketing Guide for Veterans & Military Service Members Entering Civilian Life. See our offerings at https://www.gracefullyglobal.com/commerce 

About Skillful & Soulful Press:

Skillful & Soulful Press is a Latina-owned publishing company in Whittier, CA. We publish bilingual children’s books that celebrate languages and help develop children’s early literacy and language skills by introducing them to robust vocabulary words during family reading moments. Our small business is addressing the need to offer more diverse books, written and illustrated by people of color, that introduce young children to exciting new words in languages other than English. See our offerings at: https://www.skillfulandsoulful.com/shop

About Con Todo Press:

Established in 2018, Con Todo Press is a Latina-owned publishing company that creates children’s books that celebrate diverse cultures and highlight Latino leaders to help fill the gap in the publishing industry, where Latino stories are vastly under-represented. Con Todo Press has published many award-winning books including “Be Bold, Be Brave: 11 Latinas who made U.S. History,” and “Fearless Trailblazers.” See our offerings at https://www.contodopress.com

NBCU Academy announces recipients of inaugural ‘Original Voices’ Fellowship to support diverse filmmakers

NBCU Academy and NBC News Studios together named seven groundbreaking filmmakers for the first inaugural Original Voices fellowship early last week. From a diverse range of backgrounds, each documentarian will receive $45,000 in grants and a one-year fellowship to support their feature-length nonfiction films in all stages of production, including access to archival research, individually tailored yearlong mentorship, story and edit consultations, distribution strategy discussions, marketing and publicity guidance, production resources, and exposure to NBC News Studios’ executives and journalists.

This year’s inaugural cohort represents a diverse group of filmmakers telling diverse and inclusive stories. In an age where authentic representation and visibility in media for minority groups matters more than ever, this push by NBCU Academy and NBC New Studios to support diverse filmmakers and bring their stories to the mainstream media is incredibly important. Projects from this first cohort include coming-of-age stories that transcend borders, tales of bravery and courage in the face of institutional corruption, accounts of nascent parenthood and belonging, and films that explore Blackness, Latinx identity, immigration, gender, disability, and more.  

“We are so excited to work with seven incredibly gifted, original voices who are committed to highlighting some of the most important social issues of our time,” said Yvette Miley, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for NBCUniversal News Group. “The lived-experiences of these fellows provide a unique foundation for powerful storytelling.”

Meet the Original Voices fellowship recipients and their projects 

Original Voices Fellowship, Hummingbirds

A still from Hummingbirds. (Image Source)

Hummingbirds, Directed by Silvia Castaños, Estefania Contreras, Miguel Drake McLaughlin, Diane Ng, Ana Rodriguez-Falco, Jillian Schlesinger, Produced by Leslie Benavides, Miguel Drake McLaughlin, Ana Rodriguez-Falco, Jillian Schlesinger 

In a collaborative coming-of-age film, inseparable best friends Silvia and Beba emerge at night to escape the cruel summer heat of their Texas border town, wandering empty streets in search of inspiration, adventure, and a sense of belonging. When forces beyond their control threaten their shared dreams and they are faced with an uncertain future, they take a stand and hold onto what they can—the moment and each other.

I Didn’t See You There, Directed by Reid Davenport, Produced by Keith Wilson 

Spurred by the spectacle of a circus tent that goes up outside his Oakland apartment, a disabled filmmaker launches into an unflinching meditation on freakdom, (in)visibility, and the pursuit of individual agency. Shot entirely from his literal physical perspective, both from his wheelchair and his two feet, the filmmaker’s gaze and thoughts oscillate between how he is seen, his distant family, and whether his films have fallen into the legacy of the Freak Show.

Original Voices Fellowship

Bloodthicker director, Zac Manuel. (Image Source)

Bloodthicker, Directed by Zac Manuel, Produced by Chris Haney

A coming-of-age documentary about three childhood friends navigating adulthood while living in the shadows of their famous fathers. Filmed over 4 years, the film is an intimate portrait of how three young musicians come to define themselves in the presence and absence of their fathers.

La Flaca, Directed by Jessica Chermayeff and Ana Veselic, Produced by Alba Jaramillo 

A teenager’s flight from Honduras through Central America suddenly snaps into focus when she gives birth on US soil — launching an epic coming-of-age tale of assimilation in America.

Untitled, Directed by Sura Malluoh, Produced by Laura Poitras and Yoni Golijov, Cinematography by Jason D’Souza

Two friends uncover a conflict that divides their already embattled community. Told from all sides, with unprecedented access to courtrooms, anonymous sources and community leaders, this observational film unfolds in real time.

Original Voices Fellowship

A still from Original Voices Fellowship project, MIJA. (Image source)

MIJA, Directed by Isabel Castro, produced by Tabs Breese and Yesenia Tlahuel

Doris Muñoz is an ambitious music manager whose undocumented family depends on her ability to discover aspiring pop stars. Mija dives into the world of a young woman and a community of first-generation musicians that are hustling harder than anyone because “making it” isn’t just a dream—it’s a necessity.

Untitled, Directed by Michael Premo, Produced by Rachel Falcone 

The Original Voices fellows were selected by a distinguished jury of three independent, critically acclaimed documentary filmmakers: Dawn Porter, Nanfu Wang and Cristina Costantini. Jeanelle Augustin is Manager, Film Fellowships and Artist Development overseeing the curation and design of the Original Voices fellowship. 

“These independent filmmakers embody creativity, integrity and inclusivity — core qualities that make for a great storyteller,” said Molly O’Brien, Head of Documentary, NBC News Studios. “NBC News Studios, along with the jury, are proud to support the fellows and help bring their directorial vision to life.” 

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NBCU Academy is a new, innovative, multiplatform journalism training and development program launched by NBCUniversal News Group. The initiative provides four-year university and community college students scholarships, education, on-campus training, online programming, funding for accredited journalism programs and access to world-class journalists from NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo. Currently, NBCU Academy is partnered with 17 academic universities, community colleges and institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and colleges with significant Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black, Indigenous and tribal populations – reaching students from underrepresented groups including those from diverse racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, economic, and geographic backgrounds.

NBC News Studios is a division of NBC News that specializes in documentary storytelling. Working with Studios offers producers and filmmakers access to everything our legacy news organization has to offer: eight decades of TV and radio archive; a global network of journalists; and rich trove of stories. Our team has decades of experience in the TV and documentary worlds and has been honored with multiple Emmy, Peabody and DuPont awards. Our recent collaboration with Focus Features, Dawn Porter’s The Way I See It, was the highest rated non-news program in MSNBC’s 25-year history and the winner of the best documentary feature at the New York Film Critics Online awards.