Actress Judy Reyes, best known for her role as Carla on “Scrubs,” spoke to DePaul students and faculty about Latina representation in TV, taking leadership and working towards goals Thursday afternoon at the student center.
Andrea Ortiz, a member of D.A.L.E., DePaul Alliance for Latino Empowerment, a program focused on cultural and political awareness, introduced Reyes to the crowd. Professor Lourdes Torres of the Latino Studies department also spoke to the audience, recommending certain Latino Studies courses and thanking Reyes for her visit.
Reyes, a Dominican-American, grew up in The Bronx in New York City. She always wanted to be an actress, but grew up in a very sheltered household where her mother told her that acting was “for white people.”
Despite her mother’s wishes, Reyes pursued her dream. She took part in a church talent show where she says she had an epiphany. Reyes received a standing ovation, and told her mother she was going to follow her dream of being an actress. “I never looked back,” she said.
While attending Hunter College in New York City with an undeclared major, Reyes took some acting classes, but purely as a hobby. Eventually, she began taking acting jobs. However, they were inconsistent, forcing Reyes to move back home at one point and go back to working at restaurants and in retail.
Eventually bigger opportunities such as “Scrubs” came along and Reyes was given the role of Carla Espinosa on the show for nine seasons. Although “Scrubs” became widely popular and successful, Reyes soon began to see the prejudice that comes along with being both Latina and a woman. Despite her upbringing, which told her to never “ruffle any feathers,” Reyes realized she had to stand up against these prejudices and work to be portrayed accurately as a Latina. More specifically, she was the butt of many Mexican jokes. “I’ll play a Mexican because I’m an actress, but I’m Dominican,” she said. “I would sh*t my pants to find the courage to go ahead and have those battles with writers…those are the rules that you find in terms of embracing your narrative as a girl, as a female, as a Latina.”
In the face of these prejudices, Reyes certainly learned to channel incidences into positive learning experiences. Although she was raised not to make waves, Reyes says she has gotten far better at doing so when it comes to combating racism and sexism in her job. “You have to use it to your advantage,” she said. “Pull up your panties, roll up your sleeves and get to work.”
Reyes, who has a young daughter, discussed women’s leadership roles in TV and movies. “I want her to be a leader, a queen,” Reyes said of her daughter, adding, “What the f*ck is up with princess movies? I’d rather run the show!”
Reyes is, in fact, running the show. She is creating her own animated program called “La Golda,” about a Latina soccer player who is also a superhero. In addition to “La Golda,” Reyes also plays Zoila Diaz on “Devious Maids,” a series about four Latina maids working in California.
While the actress is demonstrating the importance of leadership, breaking barriers and resisting stereotypes, she was also able to offer sound advice to DePaul students: “Surround yourself with people smarter than you. That’s how you learn.”