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Gina Rodriguez is one of PEOPLE's 25 Women Changing the World

By Ale Russian
November 02, 2018 02:39 PM
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The 2nd Annual Moet Moment Film Festival
Credit: (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Gina Rodriguez is one of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World — and she was only 13 when she first heard the call to action.

AS a young teen, the Jane the Virgin star tagged along with her dad Genaro, who worked as a union rep for factory workers in Chicago, as he went to defend a single mother in danger of losing her job. Rodriguez watched as her father defended the woman and won the negotiation to let her keep her job. Afterward, the two were driving home when Rodriguez asked why he was so passionate defending a woman he didn’t even know.

“He goes, ‘I did it because she couldn’t do it for herself, Gina. That’s what you do, you’re a voice for the voiceless,’ ” Rodriguez, 34, recalls. “I was so young and I remember thinking, ‘That is so badass. That’s what I want to do.’ My artistic mind and my artistic heart said that’s what I can do in this space — I can be a voice for the voiceless, I can be face for those that are misrepresented, I can create opportunities for those that haven’t had their voices or their stories told. I can be my father in that negotiation room but in the world of art. And that’s what made me do what I do.”

For full coverage of PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday

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Gina Rodriguez with her dad Genaro Rodriguez in 2015

Two decades later, Rodriguez kept her promise and now works to combat racial and gender disparity in Hollywood with her production company I Can and I Will.

The group’s mission is to create projects with minority and Latin representation in front of and behind the camera, something Rodriguez realized she’d have to take on herself soon after getting her start in Hollywood.

“I Can and I Will was birthed out of the idea that if I wanted to see my [Latin] community on screen, and if I wanted to see women’s stories told, I had to do it myself and I couldn’t sit back and wait for others to do it for me,” she says. “It is very powerful to think that what I do have in my control, I will work my hardest to do the best.”

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For Rodriguez, it’s a vital cause brought on through her own experience in Hollywood and beyond. After years of noticing she was the only person of color in the room when walking on sets or attending meetings, the actress felt she had to force change.

“We need to reflect every part of our lives with inclusivity to reflect the world that we live in,” she says. “It’s necessary for people of different communities to be there to speak up for that community. That’s a necessity for all of us to continue the movement towards equality, tolerance and growth in understanding other cultures, religions and sexual orientations.”

She continues, “[I Can and I Will] is about finally being able to put people in spaces that reflect not only what I see in the mirror, but what I see when I walk outside my door.”