Seeking out representation in entertainment and media is a vital form of self-care. Here we see a young Puerto Rican journalist chronicle her journey to self-love and self-affirmation by seeking out role Latina models like Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno and more.
Credit: Billy Farrell/BFA/REX/Shutterstock; Jean-Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty; Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock; ohn Parra/Telemundo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

The Latina Love Project profiles the lives of women — mothers, daughters, sisters — who often sacrifice their self-care in their struggle to balance and care for family, friends, and work. In this series sponsored by Ford, we spotlight their struggles and triumphs and learn how they create time for their themselves.

Self-care is different for everyone. Some take time off from work, while others do kickboxing five times a week. I, as a Puerto Rican millennial, look to the stars — the celebrity kind. Growing up in a small town in Puerto Rico, there were very few Latinas in the movies I watched (mostly Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen films) and the songs I listened to (“Oops!… I Did It Again” by Britney Spears on repeat). Two decades later, I’ve come to realize that representation in entertainment and media is also a form of self-care.

These are the Puerto Rican celebrities who carry me through tough times: Jennifer Lopez, Rita Moreno, Princess Nokia and Gina Rodriguez. Each has proven that Latinas today are building lives on their own terms to create spaces for other women to succeed as well.

I must admit it’s calming to know Jennifer Lopez comes from the same gene pool I do. Moreover, it’s her refusal to let go of that Nuyorican girl from the Bronx who got her start as a dancer opening up for the skit show In Living Color. Whether in her lyrics (“I’m still Jenny from the block”) or her continuous efforts to highlight Puerto Rican artists and issues back home, Lopez shows the true meaning of raíces. Just recently Lopez went to Loíza, Puerto Rico, to deliver funds she and her boyfriend of one year Alex Rodriguez raised for hurricane relief. Months before, she partnered with her ex-husband Marc Anthony to stage a concert where both showed that they are true, unashamed boricuas.

And yet Lopez (and I) owe the space available to Latinas in many industries today to the pioneering Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Academy Award and one of 12 people ever to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Moreno is also an outspoken actress and singer who displays her roots in whatever project she works on. That’s not to say Moreno has never felt like an impostor for her success, just like many Latinas today do. In an interview with Latino USA, Moreno said she often still feels like that little Puerto Rican girl who came to New York on a boat and questions why people admire her. But, she says, she sends that voice to her room and says “Cállate la boca,” just like you would with a little mischievous girl.

It’s women like Lopez and Moreno who prove to me daily the true meaning of Latino and Puerto Rican excellence because they didn’t wait to be given a seat at the table. They took it. For Latinas like me, it’s a lesson to shut out the voices who say your race or nationality doesn’t belong in whatever industry you wish to be in — and to wave your flag as high as you can on your way there.

But sometimes a girl needs to take care of herself before she can head out to conquer new territory. This is why actress Gina Rodriguez and rapper Princess Nokia inspire me. Rodriguez has built quite a reputation as a fitness lover, often posting her workouts and affirmations on social media. While my idea of “fitness” is more like a weekly attempt to not order greasy Chinese and to make the best of a one-year gym membership, Rodriguez’s reminder that wellness starts from the inside is a wake-up call for many Latinas. Traditionally, Hispanic women take care of others. Now, Latina millennials are balancing this practice by bettering themselves before attending to others.

Princess Nokia — born Destiny Frasqueri — is another Latina taking her self-care practices public with her collective, Smart Girls Club, and her constant posts about her pampering process. Princess Nokia is one of the women of color today who are championing self-care as a tool to reconnect with ancestral roots. For example, she takes baths with roses and uses affirmations to connect with her indigenous and Afro heritage. When Hurricane Maria battered my island, it was impossible not to apply some of Princess Nokia’s tools for self-care. I had to trust the strength of my people to move on despite a natural disaster, and like Princess Nokia, that entailed stepping back to learn more about the paths of recovery and survival my ancestors paved for themselves.

More than obsessing over Instagram posts and celebrity gossip, these women are the epitome of inspiration for other Latinas on their way to success. It pays to see that women at the top, who have broken new ground for generations of Latinas to walk through, also feel anxious, sad and dubious about their own futures. In a world that’s trying to suppress the magnificence and accomplishments of our ethnicities, it’s good to have a Rita Moreno, a Jennifer Lopez, a Gina Rodriguez and a Princess Nokia to remind us of the Latina excellence within each of us.