More than ever, Latino celebrities like Gina Rodriguez and Justina Machado are speaking out about a lack of representation in Hollywood, but one actress has been vocal on the subject for years: Rosie Perez. The Puerto Rican actress told Larry King in 2014 that she experienced racism early in her career, and nearly two decades later, she continues to see far too many Latino stereotypes and too few opportunities in the entertainment industry.
“I think it’s really really important for Latin actors and actresses to go out for roles that are not specifically designed for a Latino character,” Perez told PEOPLE CHICA. “Just go out there and let them know that we come in all different shapes and sizes, that we have different sensibilities to who we are, we grew up differently… When you go out for a role, let them know that we’re not just one thing.. we’re human beings first and Latinos second.”
On the challenges the actress faced as a Latina in Hollywood at the beginning of her career, she said: “When I first started in this industry, they didn’t want [diversity]. They wanted me to be completely white-washed,” she revealed. But she refused to comply, opting to remain authentic at all costs: “I’ve never shied away from portraying my Puerto Rican-ness… You have to have that tenacity and that self-confidence to walk in a room and say ‘This is how I see the character and this is how I want to play it.'”
When playing Gloria Clemente in White Men Can’t Jump or Tina in Do the Right Thing, she rendered her Puerto Rican roots in her signature style. In her latest turn, she plays professor and assistant drama director Tracy Wolfe in the highly anticipated Rise, an NBC musical drama that also stars How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor and Moana‘s Auli’i Cravalho. “I am Puerto Rican. I am Latina and I am playing Tracy Wolfe,” she said. Rise‘s cast is a diverse one, which Perez sees as the industry answering the need for greater representation:”When you think about the success of movies like Black Panther, the audiences are trying to tell Hollywood something. On Rise, they listened and you will see that when you watch the show.”
Rise airs Tuesdays, 10 p.m., E.T., on NBC.
Watch the entire interview with Rosie Perez here.