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Hispanic Heritage

Actress Isabela Moner Discusses Embracing Her Peruvian Culture and Being Herself

Isabela Moner, known for her role as teen adventurer Dora in “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” relates to her character: They’re both bilingual in Spanish and English, they both love to travel, and each focuses on being her authentic self. 

“I think Dora is such a role model to Hispanic girls because she’s herself in every situation,” says Moner. “The movie is so funny because it shows the dynamics between Dora and the real world and how somebody like her, who’s relentlessly themselves, would get eaten alive in a setting like high school. 

“She’s been surrounded by venomous spiders and snakes her whole life, yet this is the scariest place she’s ever been! Still, despite all of this, she is still herself.”

Moner of many talents

Moner, who’s studying French, also learned Quechua, a Peruvian indigenous language, for her role as Dora. She says the original animated “Dora” show was ahead of its time. 

She calls the film, which also stars fellow Latinos Eva Longoria, Michael Peña, Benicio del Toro, and Danny Trejo, “a celebration of culture.” She credits producer and actor Eugenio Derbez for making sure the dialect was right and correct ethnicities were cast.

“I love Dora because of how positive and strong she is,” says Moner. “The movie highlights this so well, because there’s this common misconception that if a female character is tough, she has to act emotionless and cold. 

“Dora is the complete opposite of all of those things. She’s a ball of light, but also happens to be like a real-life superhero — just minus the supernatural powers.”

Peruvian pride

Like her character Dora, Moner loves to explore, especially when she visits Peru. Her mother Katherine is from Lima, Peru, and her father Patrick is from Louisiana.

“During a trip to the Amazonía, my favorite part was seeing the beautiful nature and everything as it is,” says the actress, who’s looking forward to bringing her rescue dog, Pluto, to Peru soon. She loves eating the local cuisine when traveling there too.

Moner is proud of her Peruvian culture, especially the “really strong and powerful women” in her lineage. 

“If it weren’t for my family, my mother specifically, I wouldn’t be half as proud and knowledgeable about this part of who I am today,” she says. “She made me.”

Not always easy

Still, fitting in at school was tough for Moner, an honors student, who grew up in Cleveland.

“Whenever I was bullied for my accent at school or… teachers [thought] I was a slow learner because I didn’t know much English, my mother made sure it wouldn’t stop me from embracing my heritage,” she says. “My mother would say, ‘You’re not not going to speak Spanish!’”

Her mother sent her to school in Peru for a semester. “My time there taught me to appreciate my culture rather than throw it away,” she says.

When she gets a break from her busy schedule, the teen relaxes by jumping on the trampoline with Gyovanni, her younger brother, and Jared, her older brother.

Stand out

Moner, who studies voice, dance, and acting, loves writing songs in her spare time. She plays piano, guitar, and ukulele. Her solo album with Republic Records hasn’t been released yet.

The young star, who was named one of Variety’s “10 Latinx to Watch in 2019,”knows the pressure of wanting to fit in. Still, she says it’s more important to stand out than blend in.“It’s better to just embrace being unique from the start,” she says. “I can’t say it’ll be easy, but being yourself is always worth it.”

Kristen Castillo, [email protected]

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