"We Aren't Auditioning for Maids and Gangsters Anymore": Noemi Gonzalez on Latinx Representation
In our new WFH reality, we all crave an excuse to dress up every now and then-including celebs. And what better time to do it than a photoshoot with HelloGiggles? In Dressing Up With HG, stars pick from a handful of outfit-based prompts, reach into their closets, and reveal their best cute, silly, or throwback looks on camera, all captured on Polaroid film.
As a young girl growing up in California, Noemi Gonzalez vividly remembers watching Selena Quintanilla on Mexican variety shows with her mom and thinking, "This girl is going to be a star." Gonzalez's prediction was obviously correct, but what the actress couldn't have predicted was that in 2020, at age 28, she would play Selena's sister and drummer, Suzette Quintanilla, on Netflix's Selena: The Series. And as she tells HelloGiggles over a recent phone call, the opportunity to portray such an iconic woman in the Latinx community is not lost on her.
"Suzette has an incredible life story and such a wonderful, giving heart that will always represent her sister," Gonzalez says. "It was important to me to make sure that the character was complex. Also, it was important to show a bicultural Latino family that survives with comedy. They're constantly laughing and being playful with each together, and I think that's a really beautiful thing to show the world."
Selena: The Series (whose second and final season dropped in May) tells the famous story of the Quintanilla family, also known by their band name, Selena Y Los Dinos. The series was executive produced by the real-life Suzette Quintanilla, and Gonzalez jokingly calls herself and the 53-year-old drummer "virtually identical". According to the actress, both she and Suzette are "giggly and curious", and the musician "keeps it real like I do."
The former star of The Young and the Restless also says she deeply respects Suzette's dedication to her family. "She sacrificed so much," Gonzalez notes. "She didn't want to be a drummer, but there she was, committed to supporting her sister and the family band."
Rich and dynamic Latinx personalities like these haven't always been showcased onscreen; in 2019, overall Latinx representation on television was just 5.5%, according to a recent Nielsen study. However, roles like Gina Rodriguez's Jane Villanueva on Jane the Virgin and America Ferrera's Amy Sosa on Superstore are paving the way for future diverse characters. Gonzalez acknowledges the power of representation moving in the right direction.
While Gonzalez relates most to her IRL counterpart, she also feels a connection with the late singer, Selena. Her big smile and "tasteful sexuality" inspired Gonzalez as a Mexican-American girl, but she resonated with Selena on a deeper level, too. "I was raised Jehovah's Witness, like the Quintanilla family," she reveals. "That was a major factor as to why I was so connected to not only Selena but to her family and her music."
Like Suzette, Gonzalez unfortunately knows firsthand what it's like to lose a sibling: Her brother passed away one year after Selena's tragic death, around the time the 1997 film documenting the singer's life (which stars Jennifer Lopez) was released. "I was thankful for Selena's family telling the story when it happened, because it was definitely a source of strength for me and my family," the actress says now.
However, one thing Gonzalez couldn't relate to Suzette on was drumming. The actress learned to play the instrument (which she calls "very demanding") for the role; she even got an overuse injury in her arm during filming, and she jokes now that she "suffered for the craft, man." Yet, while Gonzalez admits to feeling some "perfectionism and imposter syndrome" during the learning process, she says that ultimately, she "found herself through drumming."
"I was really thankful for my love of Selena, Suzette, and their story, because it made me give it my all and not let anything get in the way so that I could play, act, and connect with the band while I was onstage," the star explains. "It's really fun to feel like an octopus spinning different plates at the same time while smiling and having a good time."
Gonzalez hasn't ditched her "rockstar vibes" since the show ended, revealing that she currently "jams out" on an electric drum kit at home. She adds that she wants to learn to play the piano and train her singing muscle, too. Combining music and acting is a sweet spot for Gonzalez, and she teases, "There might be [another] show in the works in the future." Plus, she just joined the cast of upcoming comedy film The Valet, in which she'll star alongside Samara Weaving and Max Greenfield.
Bringing the Quintanilla family's story to the screen, Gonzalez says, further validates that Latina women have important narratives to share-and she has advice for her fellow women, Latinx and otherwise, on breaking into male-dominated spaces.
"We're not people pleasing anymore," Gonzalez says. "Our voices are valuable; remind your counterparts that our industries need to have a female perspective. It might be tough in the beginning, but you're going to be soaring very soon, and everyone around you will be respecting you, so, go on, sister. You've got this."
Special thanks to Polaroid for providing cameras and film.
Photo Editor: Jasmine Purdie
Designer: Sarah Maiden