Actress Yara Martinez Discusses Her Career and Latina Heritage
News Actress Yara Martinez found strength in her Latina heritage. Now she wants to take that pride to every part of entertainment.
A strong family can be a launching point for great success. No one knows this better than Cuban actress Yara Martinez, who made a name for herself as Dr. Luisa Alver on CW’s "Jane the Virgin" and as Ms. Lint on Amazon’s new series "The Tick." Martinez sat down with Mediaplanet to reflect on her success and share what heritage means to her.
“My personal and professional goals are embodied in my great-aunt, the prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso,” she shares. After just one year at the American Ballet Theater, Alonso was forced to leave due to eye problems — a difficulty that persisted throughout her life. “While bedridden for a year, she practiced [the role of] Giselle by using her fingers to stand in for her body. Her perseverance and stubbornness proved everyone wrong, and she eventually made a triumphant return to the stage and had one of the longest careers in ballet ever.”
Martinez is following in her great aunt’s footsteps, making a name for herself in Hollywood by telling stories that often go untold in movies and television.
“I am extremely proud of my recent roles; especially as Luisa on "Jane the Virgin,"” she shares. “I’m so grateful that Jennie Synder Urman created a character who is funny, complex and not defined by her sexuality.”
“We need more stories and characters that are fully realized and three-dimensional.”
Though many studies have found Latinos to some of the most avid moviegoers in the U.S., many directors fail to accurately portray Latino experiences.
“‘Jane the Virgin’ was my first job where the Latina that I am was Latina enough,” she continues. “I wasn’t asked to ‘Latina it up.’”
Outside of "Jane," programs such as “One Day At a Time” are encouraging signs that television is finally headed in the right direction.
“These shows have a reverence and sense of humor about our culture without exploiting it,” explains Martinez, “but the fact that these shows are the exception is proof that there needs to be improvement.
“I wish I could say that when I started acting in TV I focused on this. But the truth is, all I wanted was to work and was happy if I got to play dead on CSI. I was focused on making a living. Now, I’m fortunate enough to have the luxury to make better choices, and I definitely feel a responsibility to do so. I am extremely proud of my recent roles; especially, Luisa on “Jane the Virgin” and Ms. Lint on “The Tick.” I’m so grateful that Jennie Snyder Urman, creator of “Jane the Virgin,” made a character who is funny, complex and not defined by her sexuality, and that Ben Edlund, creator of “The Tick” came up with a grounded supervillain who is not defined by her gender or ethnicity.”
Behind the camera
From TNT’s crime drama "Southland" to the ABC Family’s “The Lying Game", Martinez has spent a great deal of her career in front of the camera. But now that she sees the beginning of progress on screen, the actress is advocating for more diversity behind the scenes.
“We need more people behind the cameras telling these stories and more people supporting them in front; we need unity,” Martinez urges. “We need more stories and characters that are fully realized and three-dimensional.”
When preparing for a new role, Martinez draws inspiration from her family. “My dad and stepmom are the culprits for all my artistic tastes and discipline,” she laughs. “And my mom provides an almost delusional optimism that [helped me] to believe I could become an actress.”
Wherever her career takes her next, Martinez vows she’ll never forget her roots. “Heritage for me is my abuela, my grandmother, Titi, my great-grandmother, and Cuca, my great-aunt; the Cuban golden girls I spent every Thursday and Sunday with while growing up in Miami,” she reminisces. “Politics were rarely discussed yet quietly understood, family was the top priority, and manners were a must. [For me] heritage sounds like ballet music, smells like a croquetta and dances all around me like the mariposas (butterflies) Cuca used to love.”