America Ferrera is an actress and producer best known for playing Betty Suarez on the ABC show Ugly Betty. Ferrera has also served as ambassador on the campaign America4America, joining Voto Latino, the leading non-partisan national youth empowerment organization. She has also been an artist ambassador for Save the Children and traveled to West Africa to raise funds to build a school in southern Mali.
It took you ten years to finish your college degree — which you completed after having success with Ugly Betty. Why do it?
I was working throughout going to school. I’d start school, then get a job and have to finish the semester via satellite and e-mail. I managed to get most of it done before I had to go off to shoot Ugly Betty, but that veered my attention for a good six years. But I went back. Of course, I waited until the end to do my general education classes that no one ever wants to take, and I was in classes with kids who, when I started college, were in first grade. Doing that math was unbelievable. But I loved going back to school as an adult. It was easy. I was so appreciative, I was so excited. When you’re young, you think, what does this have to do with me? When you’re older, you realize, this has everything to do with me. A basic geology class turns into something so important, because it’s about climate change and what’s happening and what’s going to happen. I feel like I was finally in a place to appreciate it.
Was it hard for you to pursue your dreams growing up?
I always felt like an underdog. My parents are immigrants, they came to this country with nothing, and we grew up with very little. My mother was a single mother with six kids, and come hell or high water we were all going to go to college and graduate, and we did. My whole childhood, I knew what my dream was, and for so many people who saw me, it was an outsize dream that a girl who looked like me or came from my background or didn’t have training — they didn’t look at me and say, oh sure, you’re going to be an actress someday. But I persevered and built a career for myself. My experience and my heart always reaches out to that person who’s doing it against all odds.
What would you say to a kid who wants to pursue a career in acting but feels she can’t?
Find out exactly who you are and find people to say yes. People who will say I relate to this person instead of the stale old ideas that are being pushed through. I think today more than ever before there are so many platforms and opportunities for you to be yourself and embrace yourself. And that’s what I would say to a young person is don’t waste your time trying to conform to anybody’s idea of what good enough is. Be exactly who you are and find a way to use your voice and strengthen your voice and know who you are, and those platforms will be there.
Ferrera is currently starring in the NBC series Superstore, premiering Jan. 4 at 8:00 p.m.