Durning an Entre Chicas IG Live chat, the Gentefied actress shared how these two iconic Latinas have influenced her life and have empowered her to stand in her own light.
Julissa Calderon
Credit: Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

Julissa Calderon is unapologetically herself. Always.

The Dominican American actress has become a trailblazer for proper representation of Latinos in Hollywood throughout her career, from her early days at BuzzFeed to her performances in the Netflix original series Gentefied and Amazon Prime's With Love.

During an exclusive live interview on People Chica's Entre Chicas Instagram series for Women's History Month, the founder of the Dream and Manifest Journal shared how she looked up to Selena Quintanilla and Celia Cruz as her sources of inspiration on how to stand in her own light.

"I think the first person that I genuinely was like [gasp] was Selena [Quintanilla]. She was the first celebrity that I was like 'Oh my God, I love her! She's amazing. She's Latina, she sings in Spanish, she also sings in English," she explains.

The "Dominicanita that could" also found empowerment in late Cuban singer and icon, Celia Cruz.

"I saw Celia just be that Cubanasa we know and love. She stood in such power. She was a woman ahead of her time," Calderón says. "She loved herself. She knew herself and that is why she reigned supreme. She started all of this. She started the wigs, she did the nails like she was doing this before these girls—she was the mother!"

For Calderón, Cruz's unwavering confidence in herself and the way that she carried herself with poise despite the adversities she faced served as a launchpad for today's women who have the liberty to express themselves and their individuality.

"She was fully herself and she owned it. She owned being this negra que tenia tumbao [black woman who had swag]. She owned the color of her skin, she owned her culture, she owned where she came from. She, like I said, she birthed all these girls now that are doing what they're doing," Calderón adds. "She was ahead of her time. But most importantly, I loved what she stood for. She stood for being a woman that had morals and integrity. I think seeing that and loving how she moves throughout the industry was a big deal for me."

Representation is a big deal for the star, who started out in the film and television industry when there were still scarce roles or knowledge of the diversity among Latinos.

"When I first got here, I was going out for all of the auditions of the Latina roles. But when I would walk into these rooms the Latinas didn't look like me, and everybody was very much like 'what's going on here?'" she says. "It took me a while for it to resonate...In those days Afro-Latina was not a word. It was just: you're are Latina and that's it."

She continues by detailing that, "Coming here and noticing I was different, and I looked a hell of a lot different, people didn't recognize me until I opened my mouth, and they'd be very in shock."

Calderón eventually found a way of showing the world that Latinos were in fact not a monolith by telling the story of her Dominican roots through BuzzFeed videos and later on through her various roles. Telling her story and representing where she comes from appropriately is part of the passion she feels for her work and her platform.

"If you're not being taught about where you come from, then how do you know where you're going? That's how I feel I move. I move with the culture on my back, and it allows me to walk with my head held high, it allows me to not dilute who I am, it allows me to not dilute my accent," Calderón says, owing much of her current success to how proud she feels to be a Latina.

"I proudly stand on who I am and what I'm about. I feel—and anyone could tell me if I'm wrong—but I am pretty positive that the reason that I have gotten this far in in my career and in life is because of the people that support me because I'm bringing them up, because any chance that I can get, I'm talking about being Dominican, I'm waving the flag, I'm talking about being a Latina."

Watch the full interview here.