November is Native American Heritage Month. While we will keep highlighting Indigenous peoples year-round, we are still going to take this moment to celebrate, support, and learn about the living descendants of the OG gente of Latin America, what is now the United States, and beyond – Indigenous Latinxs.
It’s always newsworthy when BIPOC make their mark in Hollywood – a town that is notorious for often not including us and when they do, incorrectly representing our bodies, cultures, and beliefs. So in celebration of Native American Heritage today, all month, and every day, we are going to shine a much-deserved spotlight on six Indigenous Latinxs, who have made their mark on Tinseltown.
Yalitza Aparicio entered Hollywood kicking barriers down with her first film role in Roma. She became the first Indigenous woman from the Americas to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and the second Mexican woman (the first was Salma Hayek for Frida) to receive the honor. Yalitza was born in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, and is part Mixtec and part Triqui.
Another Indigenous actress you should know about is María Telón. The Guatemalan made history as part of the “first film made in the Kaqchikel Mayan language,” 2015’s Ixcanul. The movie also made it into the running for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first-ever for Guatemala. More recently, you could have seen María portraying Valeriana in La Llorona, or a Mayan elder in Wakanda: Forever.
Benjamin Bratt is an actor, director, and producer who you may have seen in Blood In Blood Out/Bound by Honor, Miss Congeniality, La Mission, Traffic, or heard him as the voice of Ernesto de la Cruz in Coco. His mother is a Quechua woman who was born in Lima, Peru. Benjamin’s brother Peter also works in Hollywood, as an award-winning director, producer, and writer.
Sierra Teller Ornelas
It is just as important to have Indigenous people behind the cameras in Hollywood as in front of them. Luckily, we have people like showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas – “Navajo, born into the Edgewater clan and for the Mexican clan” – to help tell Indigenous stories with authenticity. She served as an executive producer and writer on the show Rutherford Falls, a sitcom that had four other Indigenous people in their writer’s room. Sierra has also worked on other shows, including Happy Endings, Superstore, and Splitting Up Together.
Patricia Velásquez is a triple threat, having made her mark in the fashion world as a top model, and in Hollywood as a producer, and actress in films such as The Mummy, and The Curse of La Llorona. The Venezuelan is Wayuu on her mother’s side and Indigenous and Spanish on her father’s. Patricia is also the founder of The Wayuu Taya Foundation, which was “created with the objective of improving the living conditions of the indigenous communities of Latin America, maintaining and respecting their traditions, cultures, and beliefs.”
María Mercedes Coroy
Mayan Guatemalan María Mercedes Coroy film debut was in Ixcanul, playing alongside fellow Indigenous Guatemalan actress María Telón. She is also known for her role in the 2019 film La Llorona. In addition to Latin American productions, María Mercedes has also acted in two American-made films – 2018’s Bel Canto, where she played Carmen, and of course, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, where she portrays Namor’s mother.