Praise and backlash for indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio

As Oscar night approaches, the 'Roma' star is dressed by Yucatecan designer David Salomón

Yalitza Aparicio's image is transformed in ¡Hola! magazine by Yucatecan designer David Salomón. The Oscar-nominated actress is making indigenous Mexicans proud. Photos: Netflix, ¡Hola
Yalitza Aparicio’s image is transformed in ¡Hola! magazine by Yucatecan designer David Salomón. The Oscar-nominated actress is making indigenous Mexicans proud. Photos: Netflix, ¡Hola

Leading up to Oscar night, best-actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio is in the glossy pages of ¡Hola! magazine.

Her glamorous look — in stark contrast to her appearance in “Roma” — is the result of a collaboration with Yucatecan designer David Salomón.

Seeing Aparicio in a new light, social media went wild, and the photos went viral. But not everyone applauded.

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She’s also on the cover, in a bright red gown by another Mexican fashion designer, Iann Dey. On the inside spread, she’s posing before a Los Angeles skyline in a multi-colored full-length number by Salomón, who is from Merida but works out of Cancun.

“Yalitza and me,” Salomón captioned the image on social media, despite not being actually in the frame. “This is the name of this photo. I mean, it’s not called that, but for me, it’s Oaxaca and Yucatan together in Los Angeles.”

Aparicio has a growing fan base among Mexican-American women who identify with her indigenous roots, but in Yucatan, a newspaper poll finds readers fairly lukewarm about her chances at the Academy Awards.

More than 50 percent of Diario de Yucatan’s readers think she’ll win, but more than 40 say she won’t. One commented that her nomination could be chalked up to political correctness.

Another said she had “no more merit than being indigenous. Her trajectory will be seen after ‘Roma,’ ” snarked one Facebook user, adding that he was glad this gave her “an opportunity to travel.”

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The newspaper concluded that Yucatan has the most sour reaction to the nomination, compared to other parts of the country, where more than seven out of 10 are optimistic.

Still, the nominee has endured racist and belittling attacks online from across her homeland and scorn from some Mexican actors, such as Sergio Goyri, who was caught on video criticizing Aparicio’s nomination and calling her a slur that translates in English to “damn Indian.” He later apologized.

After she appeared on the cover of Vogue Mexico last year, Aparicio was hit with a tirade of online racist comments that criticized her physical appearance. Some also accused Vogue of Photoshopping her to appear thinner and whiter.

“I am proud to be an Oaxacan indigenous woman and it saddens me that there are people who do not know the correct meaning of words,” Aparicio, who is of Mixtec descent, said in a statement earlier this month.

In the U.S., some Mexican-American women report being glad Aparicio’s high-profile role is challenging typical images of light-skinned Latinas in Spanish-language films and TV shows, and they are expressing pride that she’s the first indigenous woman to be nominated for best actress at the Oscars.

“She’s brown girl magic,” said Jennie Luna, a Chicano studies professor at California State University. “My students can’t stop talking about her.”

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In “Roma,” Aparicio plays Cleo, a downcast domestic worker in the 1970s. The 25-year-old primary school teacher is nominated alongside Glenn Close, Lady Gaga, Olivia Colman and Melissa McCarthy at Sunday’s Oscars.

Astrid Silva, an immigrant rights activist in Las Vegas whose parents are from Mexico, said many Mexican-American women and Mexican immigrants in the U.S. see themselves in Aparicio.

“She’s a dark-skinned woman (who) comes from a poor region in Mexico, like many of our families,” Silva said. “She’s not only challenging old notions of beauty that always involved blond hair and light skin. She’s threatening them.”

Aparicio’s popularity is especially strong in California where many Mexican-Americans can trace their roots to migrants from the southern Mexican states with indigenous populations.

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“We’ve been working to rediscover our indigenous roots and Aparicio’s presence is showing that we matter,” said Lilia Soto, an American Studies professor at the University of Wyoming, who grew up in Napa. “The racism she’s facing in Mexico also is an attack against us.”

Soto said Aparicio also is popular among Mexicans in New York City who largely come from Puebla — another state with a large indigenous population. When Aparicio visited Manhattan last year, she was treated to a hero’s welcome.

Silva said she hadn’t planned on watching the Academy Awards until she heard about Aparicio’s nomination and “Roma’s” best-picture nod.

“It’s hard to describe. It’s not just pride we’re feeling,” Silva said. “Yalitza is just … us.”

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With information from the Associated Press

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