Celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with People CHICA's LatinXcellence series, spotlighting the incredible women who are changing the world through their work and activism. Today we focus on Gina Torres, the actress bringing Afro-Latinidad to television.

By Alma Sacasa
October 08, 2019 11:17 AM

Here at People CHICA we celebrate our Latinidad 365 days a year, but during Latinx Heritage Month, we go extra hard. Established in 1988, Latinx Heritage Month recognizes the generations of Latinx Americans who have positively influenced and enhanced our society. All month long, we'll be celebrating with a series called #LatinXcellence, highlighting women who are making a difference in Latinx culture today through their art, work and activism.

Gina Torres's career started in the early '90s, and since then she's starred in movies like The Matrix Reloaded and appeared on beloved series like Firefly, Westworld and Hannibal. All exciting, of course, but this year, she made history as the first Afro-Latina to create, produce and star in her own show. Pearson, which premiered in July, is a spinoff of the USA show Suits, and follows Torres's character Jessica Pearson to Chicago, where she takes a job as a fixer for the city's highly shady mayor.

Though Pearson is largely a plot-driven show about messy politicians, Torres sees it as a way to introduce viewers to Afro-Latina culture. "When Pearson came along, I very much wanted to bring her Afro-Latinidad to the foreground," Torres, who serves as an executive producer, told People CHICA. "When I started off as an actress, there was no such thing as - or place for - the Afro-Latina. You had to be one or the other, and your two choices were being identified as African American depending on how dark you were, or you were Latina depending on how light you were."

The 50-year-old ALMA Award–winning actress was born in the Bronx to Cuban parents, and she's proud of her culture and uses it as a way to educate people about what it means to be Afro-Latina. "I've always been Cubana," she assured. "I was raised to believe I was Cuban American."

Torres graduated from NYC's famous LaGuardia High School, where she studied opera and jazz before venturing into the acting world. Within a year of graduating, she was cast as Deena Jones in the musical Dreamgirls, and since then has appeared on Broadway and starred in movies and TV shows of all genres.

Desiree Navarro/WireImage

While there's still a lack of diversity in Hollywood, the actress is happy that people are learning about her culture and that there is some on-screen representation. "It's been wonderful to see all of these actors come out - to say ‘come out' even sounds ridiculous because we weren't hiding," she told CHICA. "We've always been here, but now they named us, so I guess it's OK to talk to us and let the world know that we have a voice. It's a very specific voice and a beautiful voice, informed by a great many things."

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