Yalitza, from Oaxaca to Hollywood

Learn more about the first indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards

Yalitza: piñatas, teaching, Roma, and Cuarón
Yalitza Aparicio - Photo: Mike Nelson/EFE
English 10/12/2018 16:06 Ismael García / Corresponsal Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca Actualizada 17:30

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Yalitza Aparicio Martínez never thought she would become an actress, hang out with Hollywood celebrities, or become the most popular international actress of the season.

The preschool teacher has always been shy, introverted, and always had excellent grades. She graduated with honors as a teacher.

Besides being a preschool teacher in Tlaxiaco, she spent her time making piñatas along with her sister Edith, as that provided the family with an additional income, according to her sister Edith.

– Did she ever said, “I want to become an actress”?

– Never! Never, in fact, we find it really funny because I've been the one who has been an extrovert in that sense, and she was more interested in other things: reading, poetry, painting...She never said she wanted to become an actress.




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The origin

Yalitza was always a shy girl, “sort of fearful, cautious, serious, the most overprotective,” says Edith.

The now famous actress had a speech impairment and began speaking fluently at 7 years old but that prevented her from excelling at school.

Later, Yalitza moved to Putla Villa de Guerrero to pursue a degree in preschool teaching. She then returned to her hometown and worked as a teacher there.

Three years ago, Alfonso Cuarón's team arrived in Tlaxiaco to do a casting; Miguel Ángel Martínez Oceguera, then head of the Cultural Center, called Edith.

“Morenita, come to a casting because they want actresses for a movie, it doesn't matter that you don't know nothing about the topic,” said the man. He even begged and offered to pay for her taxi.

And she went, the pregnant but she also called shy Yalitza, although she didn't want to come along to the casting. Finally, two months later, they called her to take her to Mexico City.

Yalitza was a little afraid it could be women trafficking because there are a lot of missing women, but no, the big news wasn't that she made it to the next stage but that she was the chosen actress,” said Edith.

That's how Yalitza's fame began, along with her friend and colleague Nancy García, her Mixteco translator; both were directed by Cuarón.

Today, “Roma” has been nominated as Best Foreign Picture at the Spirit Awards. It could also be nominated to the Oscars, according to experts. For now, she has been awarded on several occasions, including the Hollywood Film Awards.




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Living in a precarious situation

Several unfinished piñatas hang from the steel ceiling inside a small room, the floors are made of concrete and there is some furniture in the room.

There is another construction next to it, made of bricks, without any plastering. There are a room, a kitchen and dining room; this is Yalitza Aparicio and her family's home, formed by her parents, a sister, and two brothers, as well as her favorite nephew.

Outside there are poverty, cobbled and steep streets; disperse homes. The area is considered a dangerous place because of the lack of police surveillance, lack of transport, and its distance from the city center.

Fame has started to besiege the Aparicio Martínez family. National and international media outlets have started to arrive into the small town, a former clandestine landing strip.

But the family's home is at least half of one kilometer away from the main road. Raúl Ismael is about to leave the house, but he kindly welcomed EL UNIVERSAL. Everyone recently returned from Oaxaca, where they accompanied Yali, as they call her, to the screening of “Roma”.

“It's a long story, she has been fighting for years until she had a chance...but we don't what kind of arrangements did she make with Netflix, we don't even know what that is; don't think we're special,” says the man.

“Sorry, we're humble people, excuse the mess, we were late,” reiterates the man. He insists they are and will be a simple family, dedicated to work, mainly Edith and Yalitza, who make piñatas.



El cerro de la Virgen #milindoTlaxiaco

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A violent place

In the end, the family agrees to the interview.

They were all born in Tlaxiaco. Her father, Raúl Ismael Aparicio is from Santa Catarina Yosonotú and her mother, Margarita Martínez Merino is from San Miguel Copala; their five children are from the Triqui and Mixteca ethnicities.

For now, they will continue living here, until they have enough resources to improve their home or buy another one. Or until violence forces them to migrate.

"Roma" by Alfonso Cuarón has now been nominated for 10 Academy Awards. Yalitza Aparicio was nominated for Best Leading Actress, while Marina de Tavira was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.