Arguably best known for her work in Jane the Virgin, Andrea Navedo is one of the first actresses to portray an authentic representation of Latinas on television. Her memorable character, Xiomara Villanueva resonated with the audience, partly because Navedo plays the role of a sacrificing mother, who at the same time, has her own dreams.
Now, the second-generation New York Puerto Rican actress is taking her relatability a step further by chronicling what she learned from the aforementioned comedy-drama and her own experiences in Our Otherness Is Our Strength: Wisdom from the Boogie Down Bronx, which doubles as a self-help book and memoir.
Jeanette Hernandez and Andrea Navedo connected through Zoom to talk about her newly-released book Our Otherness Is Our Strength, her advice on generational traumas Latinos deal with, and tips for emerging Latinas that are interested in the film industry.
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: Tell us about your new semi-autobiographical self-help memoir Our Otherness Is Our Strength: Wisdom from the Boogie Down Bronx. How’d it come to life?
ANDREA NAVEDO: The book was inspired by a commencement speech that I gave to my high school Alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School, in The Bronx. I wanted to inspire these Black and brown kids who were sitting in the very same seats that I had been sitting in. So I tried to think of ideas and stories that I thought they might be able to relate to… [Thinking to myself] “What am I going to do with myself? Do I believe in myself? What’s my potential?”
So after giving that speech, I got really inspired to continue to share some of my stories. It seemed to me that it had resonated so much with a lot of the kids, telling me afterward how much it meant to them. And so I thought, one speech to 200 or 300 kids at one time, I wanted to scale it and share it and reach so many more. Not just kids, but females, young females, or people of color who feel that they have a lot of strikes against them for whatever reasons.
For me, it was being Latina and brown from The Bronx. I felt like those were all strikes against me. Growing up in an abusive household was another strike and their substance abuse and all these things. And so how does one believe in themselves when they grew up with a lot of strife and negativity? And I believe that you can turn it around and use it as your strength. So that is where the inspiration for the book came [from].
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: Are there any other self-help books that sparked your interest in writing your own?
ANDREA NAVEDO: I love Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I love Iyanla Vanzant’s books. Another book that inspired me was The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. That one had a huge impact on the success of my career because it helped me to understand my psychology and what was happening, and the tools to get around it.
f you’re following your heart, it can never be wrong for the people in your family. You are not abandoning them. If you are truly taking care of yourself and what you think is best for yourself, it’s not a selfish thing because then you can give.Andrea Navedo
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: You touch on this in your book, but what tips do you give Latinas regarding generational trauma and releasing it?
ANDREA NAVEDO: I think what would help our community the most and our young ladies [the most] is to really go into exploring their childhood or to exploring the challenging traumatic experiences that they’ve had in their lives. So many of us are afraid to go back and face what’s happened. Face the feelings, the fears, the anger, the sadness, all of these things. But in my experience, I have found that my own work on myself in therapy has helped me tremendously. It has helped me to heal so much trauma that has happened to me. And I know for sure that some of the generational toxic cycles that were in my family have stopped with me and my children.
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: You also talk about the guilt and unspoken pressures of expectation in our Latino families. What can you tell us about these pressures and how to deal with them?
ANDREA NAVEDO: So my thing is like, “Will you have regret?” This is one of my sort of tools that I use to play out my future–my potential future. And the main question I applied to a decision that I would like to make or I’m going to make is, “Will I have regret?” So for example, I talk [in my book] about how Jane the Virgin came to be in my life, that it wasn’t just an audition, but there was so much more leading up to booking Jane the Virgin. And one of them being that I felt this unspoken pressure and expectation to be self-sacrificing and to be all-giving to my family, meaning my husband and my children. And especially during a difficult time that was going on in our family.
Did that make me a bad mother or a bad wife, if I, up and decide to leave for a month, to go and try and get an acting job? And so applying the rule or the tool of regret is, will I have regrets that I went? And left my family for a month? Or will I regret that I didn’t go? And I stayed.
In that instance, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with myself. I would be serving no one if I was unhappy. So the important thing is that in order to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself. You can not serve from an empty cup.
For me, it was being Latina and brown from The Bronx. I felt like those were all strikes against me… I believe that you can turn it around and use it as your strength.Andrea Navedo
Even though this subconscious programming, where you have to be all self-sacrificing to your family – especially if your parents have busted their asses to give you the life that you now have maybe through sacrificing through coming from another country and taking a lower wage or whatever the case may be – you have to get past that and really try to play it out into the future and say, what could this be?
I look at so many people who have had to be brave enough to go against those subliminal messages. And honestly, if you’re following your heart, it can never be wrong for the people in your family. You are not abandoning them. If you are truly taking care of yourself and what you think is best for yourself, it’s not a selfish thing because then you can give. For example, Jane the Virgin opened up a whole new world to me. It bumped up my career to a whole other level.
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: What’s your advice for Latinas who want to work in the film industry?
ANDREA NAVEDO: I think the best advice is to study – even as an actor, to study to get into a good school where you’re practicing a lot and you’re really learning the craft of acting because it is truly a craft… I also like to tell people, don’t get into acting to be famous or to become a celebrity. Because that will never feed your soul.
JEANETTE HERNANDEZ: What else would you like to tell us about your new book?
ANDREA NAVEDO: I want to let people off the hook, meaning that they’re caught and they think that they can’t, but they can because I battled with that… And I wanted to demystify whatever image that I might have or any other person in the public light might have – we’re all human. We [are] all coming from similar experiences. And in spite of that, we can overcome.