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Gina Brillon

“The Latino community is very funny and we often use that humor to heal,” says Latina Comedian Gina Brillon

Gina Brillon was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. The Puerto Rican actress, comedian, writer and mom has been a standup comic since she was 17 years old. Her 1-hour special Gina Brillon: The Floor is Lava won a 2021 Gracie Award, is nominated for an Imagen Award, and is available on Amazon Prime Video, along with her first special, Pacifically Speaking. Her 1/2 hour special Easily Offended was one of the top shows from the Entre Nos franchise on HBO Latino, and streams on all HBO Digital Platforms. Gina will be performing at the upcoming 2022 Women Entrepreneur Empowerment Summit Friday 6/24. REGISTER NOW! 

See Gina Brillon perform at the Latinas in Business 2022 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit.

Gina fell in love with comedy at the age of fourteen after years of being exposed to comedy as a form of healing. Growing up in her household she says whenever her family would go through something, humor was always involved in their healing. 

“I think a big thing for the Latino community is, we’re funny. We are very funny. And we often use that humor to help us heal and to help us get through difficult situations. And growing up in that environment I just learned to kind of do the same.”

That sense of humor grew into a passion as Gina was exposed to more comedians through HBO specials and stand-up performances. When she was fourteen she watched southern comic Brett Butler, and then later George Lopez, and both inspired her to want to be a comedian herself. 

“I said, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Gina recounts. “And I had to figure it out and just be willing to do the work. And I think if there’s anything that I’ve noticed about the backbone of the Latino community is we are creators. We are just a creative, beautiful culture. And we are driven.” 

That drive and work ethic was instilled in Gina at a young age and it came naturally to her to push and strive to make her dreams come true. 

She began by diving right into the New York comedy scene. Instead of taking comedy classes like many comedians do when starting out, Gina went to open mic nights every week, bringing friends along to get on stage, and putting in hours of hard work to get noticed. 

“I also ended up having to do this thing called barking, which is when you stand outside of a club in New York, or you stand in your on the street corner somewhere, and you’re literally just giving away a flier that gets somebody into a comedy show and hopefully they show up,” says Gina. 

Gina Brillon

Photo source: Amazon Prime Video

Her big break finally came when she got her first television credit. As she moved up in her television work she began auditioning and getting spots at comedy clubs. 

“Every club is different. Every club has different rules, like some of them want only live performances, some of them will watch a tape and have you come in and perform. And then some of them only need a submission, and then they’ll make up their minds, but most of them do prefer live performances, because they want to see how you do in the moment when you’re on that stage,” says Gina, reflecting back on the auditioning process. 

Since those early days, Gina’s career has taken off and she has achieved much success as a Latina comedian. When asked for her top successes thus far, Gina says her HBO specials and her time on America’s Got Talent are two of her favorite moments. 

“I’ve done two things for HBO, I did a 20 minute special. And then I did a 30 minute special. Now the 20 Minute special was extra emotional for me, because I grew up watching comics on HBO. And that was where I would watch my first couple of comedians. And I remember when I stepped off stage after doing that 20 minutes for HBO I just started bawling. And everybody was like, Oh, my God, like what’s wrong? And it just hit me that I just did stand up for HBO. I was just crying so much. It was incredible.”

Sign up for Amazon Prime and see Gina Brillon on The Floor is Lava

On America’s Got Talent Gina felt so much pride in being able to represent her culture as a Latina comic and South Bronx native, making it to the top ten in the competition. 

“Being able to represent my people, where I’m from, my family, like, it was a huge moment for so many reasons,” she says. “It just meant a lot to me to be representing them and to make it that far in the competition. It was an incredible and life changing experience to make it to the finals, honestly.”

During the competition Gina also had the opportunity to meet and work with her comedia idol, George Lopez. Gina was starstruck when she was paired with the comedy legend as part of a segment in the competition. 

Due to scheduling conflicts, Gina struggled to be matched with a celebrity comedian for the segment until she joked, “Has anybody asked George Lopez,” thinking it would never happen. 

“Well, they reached out to him. And he said, yes. And I froze when my manager told me because I was like, I’m gonna meet George Lopez.” 

Meeting her idol and comedy role model was both exciting and nerve-wracking for Gina. She thought, “Oh my God, I’m gonna cry, I’m gonna run and hide, I’m not gonna be able to talk, I’m gonna be shaking.” But ultimately held it together pretty well. 

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“He came to the set, we spoke over the phone. I had given him my idea of what we should do. And then he threw out this idea that was just crazy to me. He was like, ‘You’re gonna shave my head.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You’re gonna shave my head on national TV, it’s gonna go viral. It’s gonna be great.’” 

So she shaved his hair on national television, never having used clippers before! 

Despite the craziness and the nerves, it was an incredible experience for Gina and shows just how important idols and role models can be in any industry. 

See Gina Brillon perform at the Latinas in Business 2022 Women Entrepreneurs Empowerment Summit. Get your tickets now! 


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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.” 

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Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose reminds young Latinas that dreams do come true with historic Oscar win

Ariana DeBose makes history as first openly queer, Afro-Latina actor to win an Oscar.

Yesterday’s 94th Academy Awards ceremony saw a major iconic first for Latinas. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose won her first Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake.  

Rita Moreno won her Oscar in 1962 for the same role, becoming the first Latina woman to win an Oscar. Now, 60 years later, Ariana makes history as the first Afro-Latina to win the award. With Ariana’s win, the two actresses have also become part of the exclusive club of performers who have won Oscars for portraying the same character. 

Ariana DeBose

Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story. (Photo via Anita DeBose on Instagram)

“Your Anita paved the way for tons of Anitas like me. And I love you so much,” Ariana said to Rita Moreno in her speech last night. 

In her acceptance speech, Ariana also reminded young Latinas, DREAMers, and anyone who identifies with being different that dreams do come true and there is a place for everyone in America.

“You know what, now I see why Anita says, ‘I want to be in America,’ because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true. And that’s really a heartening thing right now,” she said.  

She thanked her mom and family for helping her and supporting her on her journey. Reflecting back on her childhood and how far she has come Ariana said, 

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.” 

“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.

The Oscars also saw another historic first for Latinas when Disney’s Encanto won Best Animated Feature. With this win, producer Yvett Merino became the first Latina to be nominated and win in the category. 

“I am so proud to be a part of a film that puts beautiful diverse characters front and center,” she said in her speech, “and that people everywhere are seeing themselves in the film.”

Historic wins like these will continue to pave the way for future Latinas and women of color, just as Rita Moreno’s win paved the way for Ariana DeBose.

As more diverse representation in media becomes mainstream, young girls and women will see themselves and their stories reflected back. Seeing other Latinas and women of color succeeding will show them that their dreams can come true too and that achieving success is possible.