'Ugly Betty' star speaks
America Ferrera urges students to mentor and help others
2:59 p.m., Oct. 25, 2011--Award-winning actress America Ferrera believes that the journey to success and self-acceptance begins with education.
Ferrera shared the lessons of her life experience with a standing-room-only audience of more than 500 students and community members on Monday, Oct. 24, in the University of Delaware's Trabant University Center.
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The recipient of the 2011 Global Action Award for Childhood Development and Education for her work with Save the Children in Mali, Ferrera is perhaps best known for her Emmy Award-winning performance in the hit television series Ugly Betty and movies including Real Women Have Curves.
Welcomed to UD by a cheering audience, Ferrera recalled what it was like as a youngster at the beginning of her life’s journey with no way of knowing how she was going to achieve her dream of being a performer.
“I’m 9 years old and lying in bed, wide awake, but my eyes are screwed shut. I can just make out the audience who will love me more than they have ever loved anyone. I can see the cut diamonds on my ears dripping off on the red carpet that I’m walking on. The diamonds alone are valuable enough to insure my future house, one that would never be without water or power or have a refrigerator that was without food, as mine was on occasion,” Ferrera said. “When you are 9 years old, questions like 'when' or 'how' do not occupy your thoughts.”
While her dream became a reality by her late teenage years, Ferrara said she also had to face self-doubts about who she was as an actress and a person.
“A certain man who I had hired to represent me as an actor said to someone that 'that girl has inflated ideas about what she can accomplish as an actor,’” Ferrera said. “This gave fuel to my worst fears.”
Ferrera worked through the period of self-doubt by realizing that she really did want to be an actor more than anything else in the world.
“I took this one statement, spoken by a bitter man, as if it was the truth,” Ferrera said. “I came to realize that I would never be the actress I truly wanted to be until I could find out who I really was and become a person that I could truly respect.”
Ferrera’s period of self-doubt and soul searching also coincided with the release of the 2002 film Real Women Have Curves, and her enrollment as freshman majoring in international relations at the University of Southern California.
When her schooling confronted her with the discovery of how many people in the world faced serious problems, Ferrera considered abandoning acting for an academic career to learn to help others in need.
“I thought I would quit acting,” Ferrera said. “I would stop chasing this childhood dream and do something valuable with myself.”
When a professor told her about the positive impact Real Girls Have Curves had on the life of another student, Ferrera began to see that she could use her acting ability to effect change and still be faithful to her childhood dream.
“I had permission to stay connected to my passion,” Ferrera said. “What the professor wanted me to understand was that the industry of make believe can have a profound effect for people in the real world.”
Connecting with others through her screen characters affords Ferrera the opportunity to help raise money for underprivileged families and youths at home and abroad.
“I asked my Facebook followers to contribute whatever they could towards building a new school for children in the East African nation of Mali,” Ferrera said. “We raised the $44,000 to build the school.”
In urging students to get involved with mentoring and volunteerism, Ferrera said that meeting and working with others is what provides the real and lasting values in life.
“I can’t help but thank all the individuals that have come into my life, because what they have left me with is the ability to learn more about myself,” Ferrera said. “I hope that during your time at UD you will learn about yourself and how you can influence others.”
Ferrara's talk was part of UD's Latino Heritage Month and Beyond 2011 activities.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry