Yesterday, a very lovely Gina Rodriguez graced Brown’s campus as part of Brown Lecture Board’s speaker series. Perhaps best known as the star of the hit TV show Jane the Virgin, Rodriguez also serves on the Board of Directors for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and is a big advocate for body positivity. On stage in Salomon 101, Rodriguez landed somewhere between motivational speaker and witty older sister, while still coming across as her genuine self all the way through her talk.
The audience’s mood as Rodriguez took the stage was perhaps best voiced by Lehidy Frias ‘17, a coordinator for the Brown’s Latino Heritage Series, who introduced Rodriguez. Frias recalled a recent conversation with her father, in which she was excited to tell him that Gina Rodriguez was coming to speak. “Who?” he asked. “Gina Rodriguez!” she answered, and showed him a photo of the actress, explaining that she was the Puerto Rican star of Jane the Virgin. At this, her father showed recognition but still asked what made Rodriguez special. Frias went on to list the actress’s many accomplishments. Egging his daughter on, Frias’s father asked again, “Yes, but what makes her special?” At this point, Frias, nearly in tears, exclaimed, “And she looks like me.” This introduction was well received by the audience—and by Rodriguez herself, who ran onto the stage and gave Frias a big, long hug.
Self-love, heroes, and breaking out of the box
Rodriguez began her lecture by explaining that she’d been nervous about the event. She’d voiced her fears to her boyfriend: what did she have to give the audience? “I can only give you my truth,” she said, later adding, “I don’t really have much to give you. I’m not special…I play a virgin, for crying out loud. I’m 32 years old!” This quip was met with laughter from the audience, but it did not accurately reflect what students gained from the talk. Rodriguez did, in fact, have a lot to give: she talked about being the hero of your own story, about not letting barriers hold you back from your dreams, about empathy, and, of course, about love.
Rodriguez recalled that when she was in high school, her father got really into motivational speaking while recovering from a serious illness. One day, he made her look in the mirror and say to herself, “Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will.” At first she thought it was ridiculous, but she continued to perform this exercise daily. Then, when she got to college, something happened: the mantra started to work.
“I started thinking about what I wanted my life to look like, every single day,” said Rodriguez. She thought about how she could reach her goals, and she learned to love herself. She urged the whole audience to practice self-love, although she acknowledged that it isn’t always easy. She described loving yourself as a journey, one that never ends. But ultimately, she told the audience, you deserve to be here—and you deserve to make whatever dreams you had at age 14 or 15 come true. “What is the story I want to leave behind, and who’s the hero of my story? I am.”
Rodriguez also talked about race and breaking barriers, especially when discussing obstacles for people of color in the film industry. When she talked about what she wanted her life to look like, she said, “I wanted to look in the mirror and not be afraid of my brown skin—especially now.” At some point along her journey to becoming an actress, she said that she realized she’d been conditioned to believe that she couldn’t belong. She compared “making it” as a person of color in Hollywood to running a four-minute mile: before anyone human actually ran a mile in four minutes, it’s likely no one thought it was even possible. She had to run the four-minute mile. “All those boxes, all those borders, all those walls that people put up—those are imaginary, they don’t belong.”
Empathy, bullying, and magical kitchens
Although Rodriguez talked a lot about self-love and personal empowerment, she did not fail to highlight the importance of community and empathy on the path to achieving your dreams. “You get nothing out of tearing someone else down,” she said. “You’re just an A-hole.” If that’s not a good enough reason to be kind to others, Rodriguez expressed her belief that “if you help someone else succeed, you too shall succeed.” Ultimately, being good to other people makes for a better life. “I rise when others rise,” she said, emphasizing the importance of community and of helping others along the path to success.
Despite this optimistic attitude, Rodriguez didn’t ignore the fact that there are bullies in the world. But she emphasized that even if someone puts you down, that person cannot make you disintegrate. When someone picks on you, it’s okay, because you love yourself and you don’t have to let what they think affect you. She also pointed out that in her own experience, someone’s behavior is often a reflection of their own issues—a nice homage to what everybody and their mother said throughout elementary school: bullies bully because they have problems with themselves.
Her discussion on bullying came largely in response to a question from an audience member, one who mentioned being called out in an engineering class for her accent. At the end of the day, Rodriguez said, “Your story is the only one you walk away with.” Whoever bullies you doesn’t walk with you. They don’t leave the classroom with you. No matter how other people try to hurt you, you shouldn’t let them stop you from doing what you want to do.
To answer a question about what to do if someone you love is hurting you (i.e. how to balance loving others with self-love), Rodriguez gave us a poignant and entertaining metaphor which from Don Ruiz’s book The Mastery of Love: magical kitchen. Imagine that you have a magical kitchen that can produce all of the food you want. Someone you love shows up at the door with some Mexican food (Rodriguez picked Mexican food because it’s her favorite cuisine). If you’re to accept it, there’s a condition: you have to do everything the other person tells you to do. But then you realize that you already have a magical kitchen, which means you can get all the Mexican food you want! Despite the humorous, imaginary situation, Rodriguez had a good point: you should be producing all the love you need yourself (or in this case, Mexican food) so when someone comes along, they should only be adding to the love (read: Mexican food). They shouldn’t be taking anything away. And if they do, you show them the door.
3 Things to Live By
The lecture ended perfectly: an audience member asked Rodriguez to name the three mantras she lived by. Without a hint of hesitation or thought, she gave us her answers:
- “Through He who gives me strength, I can and I will.”
- “Fear only exists between your two ears.”
- “I am enough.”