Jennifer Nov 11, 2022 Interviews Magazines

With the impending arrival of midterm elections, who better to preach than the voice of America herself, America Ferrera? Known for her highly acclaimed role as Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty, Ferrera claims awards as the first Latina to win a Primetime Emmy in the category for Best Actress, as well as an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Named in the top 100 most influential people of all time, the multi-hyphenate actress opts for an agenda to re-examine voter narratives and hearten civic engagement, particularly within the Latinx and Indigenous communities.

In efforts to reframe how people perceive their position in the electoral system, Ferrera underlines a mirror of approaches necessary to paint a picture for Latina communities. What is the 50-year plan? How does the community gain political power and cultural agency – in the long term?

Climate and voting activist, Saad Amer sits down with Ferrera to discuss voter engagement, Harness, and overall threats to democracy.

Saad Amer: Right now, America is under attack. You literally are America, and you took this personally, you know. *laughs* Why do you feel such a strong need not only to vote but to organize and get out the vote?

America Ferrera: I have a lot of my own criticisms about our elections, but I think it’s so important that we continue to show up and remind ourselves and each other that we have to engage with the system that exists; otherwise we are at risk of losing our democracy. We are living the reality that elections have consequences, and they have consequences for a lot longer than any one person holds office. We can’t afford to sit out elections that impact the lives of people who aren’t even born yet.

SA: You were just recently in Texas, and given that it’s a swing state, it could be Democratic or Republican in the midterms right now, depending on turnout and what the people of Texas vote towards. What were you doing there, and what did you want to say to the people of Texas?

AF: I think Texas is important for the entire country. Texas has set awful precedents in terms of gun control, gun safety, women’s rights, and protecting LGBTQIA+ youth. We need voters in Texas to show up and have their voices heard and ensure that Texas is actually being represented the way they want to be represented. There are strong forces working to disenfranchise Texas voters. I’m heading back to Texas this weekend. I’m going to San Antonio to do a really awesome, fun event called Quince to the Poles.

SA: That’s awesome. Is it like a party to the polls?

AF: It’s a party to the polls but very specific to a certain community. An organization I co-founded with my husband [Ryan Piers Williams] and Wilmer Valderrama called Harness has worked with many frontline organizers and artists on civic engagement. One of our team members, Allie Young, this extraordinary young organizer, did this in the midterm elections with indigenous people who rode their horses from their reservations. She was engaging with her indigenous community in a way that spoke to them, their history, their ancestors, their relationship, voting, and why they do it.

SA: Why do you think that storytelling is such a crucial component to how we view these different communities, and why do you personally spend so much time—as an actress—doing the work to change these conversations?

AF: If we want people to buy in, we have to win their hearts and minds. That is about painting a new picture, telling a different kind of story about who we are, who they are, what their place in this country is, and what their place in this electoral system is. We have to really interrogate which narratives and stories are winning and dominating in our culture and our country. We have to be very real about who’s doing the best storytelling and who’s really winning hearts and minds.

SA: I’m curious if there are any instances–you have a whole portfolio, a whole reel of all of these different roles that you’ve played– where there were stereotypes that you felt like ‘this is such a narrow way to understand my community or some other community.’

AF: I will say that the one thing I did that was really about breaking things down was in 2020, I took to my Instagram and did a little series in a moment called ‘America AF,’ and it was just me in front of my phone talking about voting and elections in the most simple and basic terms so that we can understand that actually not that hard to understand. It has been made complicated and hard to understand on purpose by people in positions of power who would like for us to be too intimidated to engage or too exhausted by it to engage.

SA: We’ve seen recently, with the decision of Roe v. Wade, how women’s bodily autonomy is now coming up for question, and I know you’ve been very vocal about this issue. Why do you think that this is such a critical issue in this election cycle?

AF: It just strikes to the core of, who are we? What do we believe? Do we believe that women are full humans or not? Are we created equal or not? You cannot have a free and fair country when more than half of the population doesn’t have the right to control their own bodies. It’s unconscionable; it’s hypocrisy; it’s completely devoid of any integrity. It’s a threat to democracy in and of itself and to the very ideas that this country was founded on.

Source: V Magazine