Seeing an authentic reflection of oneself in the media — movies, advertisements, music — is something many may take for granted. But for the Latinx community, such experiences are few and far between, especially when outdated narratives have long dominated the conversation. That’s all changing with the next generation of Latinx creatives, who are refusing to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them, choosing instead to carve out an untapped corner of the industry that have (and will continue to) resonate with other Latinxs across the country.
Colombian-American actress Isabella Gomez and Cuban-Jamaican-American singer Herizen F. Guardiola are two such Latinxs who are challenging stereotypical roles, redefining traditions, forging their own path in the entertainment industry, and encouraging others to take pride in their personal experiences and cultural backgrounds. We've teamed up with Ulta Beauty to tell their stories.
Twenty-two-year-old Colombian-American actress Isabella Gomez isn't afraid of hard work — a trait that she learned by watching her immigrant parents uproot their lives in Medellín, Colombia and move to America when she was 10 years old.
The family settled in Orlando, FL, where Gomez's mother took classes to become a veterinarian and her dad, a lawyer who practiced in Colombia, became her business manager. As a child, Gomez knew she was destined to lead a life that was different from her parents', having demonstrated a knack for acting — a far cry from her parents' traditional careers — after appearing in commercials at five years old in her native country. And together, as a family, they worked toward making her dreams of acting come true in America. That moment came in 2014, when she landed a recurring role on El Rey Network’s Matador, and again a few years later when she was cast to star as Elena Alvarez, a queer teenager, on Netflix’s revival of Norman Lear’s One Day At A Time.
“Right now, I get to choose roles that represent our culture accurately and positively, which means turning down parts that show Latinxs as drug addicts, or sisters of drug addicts, or maids — for so long, those are the only narratives that people were seeing about us,” Gomez says. “There are very few positive representations of the Latinx community in the media, and it’s important that we’re telling stories that show us as humans, as capable, as multifaceted, as intelligent, as an integral part of this community.”
Latinx roles in entertainment are rare enough as it is, but LGBTQIA+ Latinx roles are even rarer — a fact that Gomez believes stems from a community that’s traditionally been very conservative. LGBTQIA+ Latinxs have long faced discrimination from their friends and family, and Gomez hopes to change those outdated biases with her newfound platform.
“The LGBTQ community has very little representation [onscreen] — characters are usually either super sexualized or their stories are told in one-off episodes,” Gomez says. “But on One Day At A Time, we have LGBTQ writers and producers who help inform Elena’s story, and because her journey, which has taken place for over four years now, is grounded in the truth, I think is why Elena resonates with so many people.”
Gomez credits her family for teaching her the importance of treating everyone equally. As an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, she uses her immense social media platform to speak for those who can't, to promote inclusivity whenever possible, and advocate for social justice causes she holds close to her heart.
"[Being LGBTQ] is still so taboo within the Latinx community," she continues, "so I feel very lucky that I was raised to be accepting of everyone."
Her family — her mom and her abuela, especially — also taught her to prioritize self-care, to put her mental wellness first by taking care of her skin (always lotion up, always use sunscreen), eating right, and embracing her natural beauty.
"When I was 13 and starting to wear makeup, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, I don't know what my face looks like anymore. I didn't want makeup to define me, and that's how I [approach beauty] today: I don't want to ever wear makeup because I feel like I have to in order to feel beautiful," Gomez says, though she admits she does love having fun with makeup on special occasions. "That's something I learned from my mom — to be okay with being bare-faced and to be confident in your skin, because she's usually makeup-free and she's stunning."
It's her family, too, who guides her growth and keeps her grounded as she navigates the world of entertainment. And most importantly, they remind her of where she’s from.
There’s one particular saying in Spanish that resonates with Gomez: “Ni de aqui, ni de allá“ (not from here, nor from there). But instead of not being from America nor Colombia, she prefers to claim both.
“Being American and Colombian has been a crucial part of my development, and I wouldn't want to be one without the other. It’s so important for me to acknowledge both and to be proud of both,” she says. “Others struggle with feeling like they can’t be proud of their Latinx roots because then they’ll seem ungrateful for being here. But, for me, if I hadn’t been raised in Colombia, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
In other words, Gomez is de aqui, and de alla.
Herizen F. Guardiola refuses to conform, preferring to blaze her own path in everything she does. It’s a characteristic that she inherited from her parents, whom she adoringly describes as “misfits.”
“Both my parents are the outcasts of their families,” says the 23-year-old Miami-born Afro-Latinx singer and actress. “In the sense that they went a completely different route that was untraditional.”
Her dad was raised in a strict Cuban family with extremely Catholic parents, while her mom grew up Baptist in Jamaica. But they both ended up going off to do their own things: Her dad became a reggae artist and walked away from the church, and her mom became a yogi and Buddhist nutritionist. Following in their rebellious, rule-breaking footsteps, Guardiola also went against the grain — by pursuing stardom. Her love of singing didn't come as a surprise, but her acting career did — it's what sets her apart from her parents.
“Singing is my greatest passion because I watched my dad perform onstage since I was born," she says. “My parents allowed me to just be myself, and they supported my dream of being a singer and then acting came around."
Her biggest role yet has been playing Mylene Cruz, an aspiring Puerto Rican singer, on Netflix’s The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s soulful series that follows a group of Bronx-bred teenagers during the rise of hip-hop and disco in the 1970s. Guardiola says her parents are proud of her performance, but they were wary about it, too: The transformation to becoming Mylene — the makeup, the wardrobe choices — was unlike anything they had ever seen.
“I’m the only one in my family to do what I'm doing, which I get commended for, but I also get yelled at for things as well,” she says, laughing. “Sometimes in acting you have to go out of your comfort zone and really become a different character. That’s one thing I have to try and teach my parents: It's not me really doing that.”
Luckily, she and her family believe in communication — and lots of it. As a child, a fond family tradition was to gather together and have “expression sessions” to encourage an honest, open dialogue.
“We would share what affected us that week, what we liked and didn't like, and how things made us feel — we’d put everything out on the table and talk through it,” she shares. “I’m not one to hold grudges for that reason. I speak my mind and express myself to the fullest. It’s made me a better person, it’s helped me understand myself and understand others, and it’s important that we aren’t afraid to use our voices.”
That fearlessness is expressed in her singing as well. In her seven-track debut EP, Come Over To My House, which she released in 2018, Guardiola’s light vocals float amid whimsical soundscapes. Her latest, recently released singles “Troublemaker” and “1st Place” reveal another side as she raps and candidly shares her vices (one of them being skaters).
But her voice isn’t the only thing she guards with pride: Her natural beauty regimen is one she’s honed over the years, resulting in a lit-from-within glow — the work of shea butter and a medley of oils (specifically, argan and coconut). “My mom is like mama Earth and smells like the oils that the Earth gives us,” she says. “She’s so natural and that's so beautiful to me, and I strive to be that way as well.”
It was her mother, too, who encouraged her to let her natural Afro-Cuban hair flourish from an early age. Still, in her youth, Guardiola says she felt “unpretty” and longed for straight hair. Her mother caved and used a flat iron to temporarily flatten her curls pin-straight. The response was overwhelmingly positive — Guardiola received compliments from everyone, including her abuela — but all it did was send her right back to curls.
“It messed with me. I thought, Am I not beautiful when my hair’s curly?” she recalls. “I felt like I was trying to be someone else, and I didn't like it at all.”
The next day, she ran to the beach and swam in the ocean to reclaim her curls, and she’s never looked back. And that’s exactly what Guardiola hopes to pass along to the generations of Latinx that follow her: to be authentic, to be true to yourself. “My parents would shake their dreads and play reggae music, and [to haters], they'd say, 'Man, fuck 'em.' They gave me that power and that strength to be me," she says. "I love my Afro-Cubana essence and everything that I am.”