Arts & Culture, University News

Rodriguez offers message of inspiration, hope

Lecture board guest preaches self-love, willpower when telling life story

By
senior staff writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In eager restlessness, students arranged themselves into a haphazard queue that wrapped around the sides of Salomon and spilled into Ruth Simmons Quadrangle more than an hour before the first words of Gina Rodriguez’s lecture, hosted by Brown Lecture Board this Monday night. The auditorium buzzed with excitement as ticket holders scrounged for every available seat.

“People seem to be really excited. Just walking around campus is exciting, overhearing so many conversations about this,” said Allison Schaefer ’17, vice president of marketing and public relations for Brown Lecture Board.

The anticipation reached new heights as Latino heritage series coordinator Lehidy Laura Frias ’17 took to the stage to introduce Rodriguez. Recalling when she first told her Papi that Rodriguez was coming to speak at Brown, he asked: “¿Qué ha hecho ella?” What has she done? What makes her special?

Frias described Rodriguez’s presence as a “strong, fearless Latina woman” in the acting industry. She has involved herself in the philanthropic community and works as an activist for first-generation students and members of the Latinx community. But what touched her Papi’s heart and roused emphatic cheers, whoops and clapping from the passionate audience was the touching phrase: “She looks like me.” The crowd roared as Rodriguez, alive with genuine gratitude, came out from the wings to embrace Frias.

Rodriguez began humbly: “I’m just like every single person in this room — just trying every day to be a better version of myself,” she said. She pondered aloud what she could offer the Brown community as a speaker, deciding that, as someone well versed in the realms of art and love, “I can only give you my truth.”

In genuine, raw conversation, Rodriguez went on to elucidate her perception of truth regarding self-love, resiliency and willpower. She reflected on her challenges in life: “I didn’t take the easy cruise line. I took the difficult one. I have a story. I survived it. I got through it. … I’m the hero of my story.”

Rodriguez gave credit to her family — her father, “the man who made me who I am. He has so much power inside me,” and her mother and her sisters, who “have supported (her) through this entire journey.”

“I have monsters around me. My mom is the reason why I don’t need to wear makeup to feel beautiful. She was all about accepting who she was.”

This journey to self-love began when Rodriguez was just 15 years old when her father was hospitalized and forced to stay home due to his health. As he became consumed by the messages of various motivational speakers, inspirational mantras influenced every aspect of Rodriguez’s life, she said. Even attempting to talk to her subconscious while she was supposedly asleep, her father would whisper, “You can be anything you want to be.” Each day, he would tell her to “Look in the mirror. Say that today’s going to be a great day. I can, and I will.”

“When I went to college, I got used to (the mantra),” Rodriguez said, as she continued to “find (her) yes” at New York University at the Tisch School of the Arts, despite her father’s doubts regarding her acceptance. “The only person stopping me is me. If I fail I can just try again, so eventually, I will.”

Today, as an actress in Hollywood, Rodriguez must continue to remind herself of her worth, she said, utilizing her father’s mantra among others, including “fear only exists between your two ears,” and “I am enough.”

“I was conditioned to believe I didn’t have a space in Hollywood,” she said. But, “I worked hard. I can act my ass off. I got an education. I’m ready to participate in the conversation. Nobody can stop me.”

“This journey of self-love is every single day,” Rodriguez added. It has “allowed me to start working on the fact that I deserved everything that I ever dreamed of, and this is what I have to give to you.” She noted her hopes for the Brown community: “I want that journey to start for you now. You must love yourself.”

Rodriguez’s dynamic authenticity and relaxed, casual air carried throughout her lecture.

She spoke openly about her bouts with failure and her nervousness regarding her “journey that scares the shit out of me” — a trip to Thailand during which she attempts to write a book. “I could fail. The book could suck. … I could disappoint. I could let down. But I’m going to try. I would way rather fail and try than not try at all.”

She reflected on her battles with student loans that she recently paid off. She relayed without inhibition her insecurities regarding her body image, her struggles with mental health and bouts of panic attacks and her thyroid disease.

“Being an actor and being brown and then someone telling you that you are never going to be super thin? I felt like I was cursed. … I just wanted to be able to do what I wanted to do.”

Yet she considered “what I wanted my life to look like every single day: … to be able to look in the mirror and not be afraid of my brown skin, especially now. This is my one journey.”

In the question-and-answer session, Rodriguez addressed students informally yet tackled the serious concerns they voiced with gravity. One student spoke out about her insecurities in proving to herself that she belongs at Brown and her fear of participating in class due to her “speaking in a particular way.” Rodriguez noted the student’s speech speech pattern and accent were “beautiful,” and encouraged the student to “make (herself) the hero of your story because your story is the only one you walk with.”

Rodriguez sat, stood, kneeled, twirled, kicked, trotted and sashayed around the stage, while weaving in and out of English and Spanish, out of serious, grave assertions and posits and amusing, often linguistically colorful short stories and witticisms. Rodriguez was earnest and thoughtful, yet she maintained her vivacious, bubbly, personable attitude and humorous character throughout her speech and in answering questions.

“You only get one life. You might as well go and fucking fly,” she said, as she laughed and mimed the flapping of a bird’s wings on stage.