Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

AQ Top 5 Champions of Gender Equality: Yalitza Aparicio

The actress-turned-advocate fighting for marginalized women in Mexico.
Aparicio at a fashion show in New York in 2019.Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
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This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on closing the gender gap | Leer en español | Click here to see the rest of our Top 5

MEXICO CITY — Yalitza Aparicio’s star turn in the 2018 film Roma gave the 26-year-old from Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, an unexpected platform from which to highlight the challenges facing her community.

Suffice to say she’s made the most of it.

Since auditioning for the movie on a whim and earning an Oscar nomination for best actress, Aparicio has become a powerful voice for the marginalized and underserved — especially indigenous women.

She has spoken at the UN on the need to protect indigenous languages, written on racism in The New York Times, and supported campaigns for reproductive rights.

But the fight for legal protections for domestic workers — 95% of whom in Mexico are women — is particularly close to Aparicio’s heart.

“At the beginning I took it as a personal issue, because my mother was a domestic worker,” Aparicio recently told PBS. “But I realized that she wasn’t the only woman who was unaware of what she was deserving of by law.”

Aparicio’s advocacy — and her role in Roma as Cleo, a live-in maid — are part of a broader push to raise awareness. In July, Mexico ratified ILO 189, which sets minimum labor standards for domestic workers. Of the country’s 2.4 million domestic workers, fewer than 1% have social security, according to NosotrxsMX, an NGO. Few have access to formal credit — and amid COVID-19 are especially vulnerable.

“They have two choices: give up their jobs, or run the risk of being infected,” Aparicio said in a message for the UN, where she’s a goodwill ambassador. “(We need to) ensure domestic workers’ right to stay healthy without falling further into poverty.”

Aparicio’s latest project is a YouTube channel that mixes personal stories with serious discussion of issues facing Mexico. In one video, Aparicio talks about indigenous women she admires, including Yásnaya Elena Aguilar, a Mixe linguist, and Nancy García, Aparicio’s co-star in Roma who now runs a program promoting gender equality in sports.

“I’m not alone,” Aparicio said in the video. “There are so many others — we just need to make sure we get to know them.”


Benjamin Russell is a writer based in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and a former editor of AQ.
Tags: Gender, Indigenous Rights, Social inclusion
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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