In a near-full auditorium, actress and activist America Ferrera urged Penn students to take their education beyond the classroom.
“Until you dare to engage in the world around you in a hands-on way — which can be scary at first — you’re not going to feel as if you are challenging yourself,” she said. “Whatever it is that you passionately care about, seek ways to get involved.”
Ferrera delivered the keynote address in Huntsman Hall Wednesday for the 29th-annual Festival Latino, a week-long event celebrating Latino culture hosted by the Latino Coalition and La Casa Latina.
Though she is best known for her award-winning role as Betty Suarez in the show Ugly Betty and her work in movies such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ferrera spoke on March 30 about the importance of education and activism.
Most recently, Ferrera has voiced support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which helps undocumented students attain citizenship through education and military service.
“I went to Arizona and heard the same stories over and over again from students for whom life has met a dead-end [because of their immigration status],” she said. “Education would open a lot of possibilities for them.”
The University of Southern California graduate also spoke about how her own education affected her life.
“College opened up my world,” she said. “I would not trade my college education for anything in the entire world … it busted my world open.”
Her college experiences influenced her decision to integrate activism into her life. Along with acting as an ambassador for Save the Children, Ferrera has campaigned with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visited American soldiers in Iraq.
“It’s very easy to sit in your dorm room until 4 o’clock in the morning and yell at the TV… but you start to realize the world isn’t as black and white as you want it to be,” she said.
This year’s Festival Latino — themed “miPenn” — aims to inspire self exploration. Ferrera spoke to this theme by acknowledging the difficulty she had coming to terms with the labels she faced as a first generation Latino.
“I didn’t realize how Latina I was until I started acting,” Ferrera said. “I had no labels for myself … the world had these labels for me and that was hard at first. I’m not trying to be a role model for Latinos, I’m trying to be my best self.”
Ferrera also discussed the scarcity of women and minorities within the movie industry, particularly behind the camera.
“I think we need more women telling women’s stories, I think we need more Latinos telling Latinos’ stories, instead of letting one dominant culture tell all stories,” she said.
The event drew positive responses from the Latino community and her fans.
“What I really liked to see was that there were more than just Latinos in the audience, and that’s what Festival Latino is all about,” Wharton sophomore and Finance Chairwoman of the Latino Coalition Amy Hernandez said.
“I really liked how she was so easy to relate to,” Ugly Betty fan and College junior Misha Chakrabarti said. “I felt like she could be my friend, and she’s funny. She’s just got it all.”