After wrapping up a South by Southwest keynote presentation, actor, producer and entrepreneur Zoe Saldana spoke to an intimate crowd Tuesday afternoon at WeWork about what it means to be Latinx in today's world. Saldana recently launched a media company called BESE aimed at reshaping the cultural narrative by telling underrepresented stories.
Her interview with journalist Paola Ramos, who hosts and writes for Vice's series Latin-X, was presented by a new creative agency formed by Vice Media and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez called La Reyna.
For years, Saldana didn't talk much about her heritage publicly. But below is an edited excerpt of her conversation with Ramos shedding light on why.
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PR: What does Latinx mean to you?
Saldana: To me "X" represents me and doesn’t exclude me the moment a man walks in a room. So I can be in a room full of women and we’re all Latinas and the moment that one male walks in the room we are Latinos. My gender and my presence is erased. Our language (Spanish) is based on this language division that favors masculinity.
Latinx is a term that I learned as I was building BESE three years ago. I was doing all of this research and asking GenZ and millennials how they are choosing to define themselves. Millennials basically created this term, and my job is to bless it and make sure that it becomes a habit five years from now. That we use Latinx not as a cynical term, no we are this.
PR: How do you feel about owning your Afro-Latinidad (or Afro-Latin identity) and what does Hollywood feel about that?
Saldana: I don’t care anymore what Hollywood feels. When I chose to become an artist, I couldn't be defined by the color of my skin or the texture of my hair or my origins. As an artist, I need to be multifaceted. I need to be that chameleon that transcends and becomes something else. And I need to make people believe it so that I can take you on this journey with me. I accepted that. I took advantage of that for many years through not really, you know, talk openly about my heritage.
So, how do I say this? It is a confession in a way. I lost sight after awhile of whether I was trying to hide it or I was trying to avoid it. I was always proud of it, but my fear was that if I came with all this pride that you were only going to see me as such and you were only going to cast me as such. And there’s so much more to me.
PR: How do you want people to see you?
Saldana: I want them to see me as Zoe. There’s so much more to me than what your eyes are seeing. I’m a Gemini. I’m complicated. I’m curious. I’m angry when I’m PMSing and those things are universal.
It’s important that the Latino community understand that Latino is your blessing. Latino is the frosting on a very delicious cake, but it cannot define you. You cannot define yourself by just that. There are so many aspects that you should share and we can share.
When I use word Latino —to me my mother is Latina. My mother was born in Dominican Republic and raised in Puerto Rico and the Bronx. My mother is Latina. She was born in Latin America.
I was born in Jersey and raised in Queens. I’m American Latina. I’m an American of Latinx origin. I love my heritage, but I love being American more. And I shouldn’t be reproached that.