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After Years Of Hard Work, This Cubana Is Killing It In Hollywood

If you don’t know who Selenis Leyva is, allow us to introduce you.

Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

She’s a Cuban-born, American actress best known for her role as the fierce Gloria Mendoza on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”

CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Netflix

She’s also an insanely inspirational and strong Latina who is paving the way for fellow actresses of color.

Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty

Before Leyva booked her role on “OITNB,” she was a struggling actress facing the same hardships that plague Latinas in Hollywood.

Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

It may seem like Leyva came out of nowhere, but some of you may remember her stints as Tita Rosa in the Nickelodeon series “Taina”…

Credit: Nickelodeon

And as Detective Mariluz Rivera in “Law & Order.”

Credit: NBC

Recently, Leyva spoke to students at Florida International University about the trials of being an Afro-Latina actress in the United States.

Just some of the beautiful people I encountered today at #floridainternationaluniversity #spc thank you for having me . It was so great!! I felt the love Mi gente! My people I felt the love!! #grateful #youareenough #hardworkpaysoff #oitnb

A photo posted by Selenis Leyva (@selenisleyvaofficial) on

Credit: @selenisleyvaofficial / Instagram

It wasn’t because she isn’t an absolute boss at acting. It was because of the lack of solid roles for Latinas – especially Afro-Latinas.

Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

For Leyva, even the telenovelas which she grew up watching didn’t feel like somewhere she belonged. “Those women (in TV shows) were fair skinned, and they all had long, flowing hair,” she said in her speech at FIU. “Their features were different. They didn’t look like me. And maybe there was one person who maybe could’ve played my long-lost cousin, but she always happened to be the maid.”

Leyva also points out there’s nothing wrong with playing a maid or a junkie — but that’s not all you should see.

CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Neflix

And that’s part of the reason she’s so grateful to play Gloria on “OITNB.” Even though Gloria is in prison, she’s a layered character with depth and history. This kind of character development is something every actress hopes for in a role and sets characters apart from the stereotypical Latina roles that are still being written today.

Leyva is extremely outspoken about diversity in the film and television industry.

CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Netflix

Leyva told FIU students there are still many stories to be told: “It starts when they’re having conversations about a story, and who they think they want to cast as this person, or this lead. Let’s just open it up. We’re living in a world where there’s difference, and there’s a lot of different stories to be told. And it’s okay to tell all stories.”

Leyva is also an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community; she is the sister of a trans woman.

CREDIT: Michael Kovac / Getty

In June, Leyva penned a blog for The Huffington Post entitled, “What Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover Sparked For Me As A Sister Of A Trans Woman.”

After the initial joy at Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, Leyva realized some harrowing truths.

Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

“I feel sadness today because the majority of the trans community struggle to simply get decent health care, never mind public acceptance. So yes, yesterday I, like millions, celebrated the Vanity Fair cover. Today, I hope we don’t lose sight that this is not the norm for your average transgender person. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s continue to educate. Let’s continue to have conversations.”

Leyva has leveraged her fame to share a message and speak up for those who need it. That’s just badass.

Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty

READ: These ‘Flaritza’ Moments Prove Flaca & Maritza Deserve Their Own Show

What’s your favorite Gloria Mendoza moment from OITNB? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to share on Facebook and Twitter!

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These Brooklynite Afro-Dominican Twins Are Unapologetically Reclaiming Brujería

Fierce

These Brooklynite Afro-Dominican Twins Are Unapologetically Reclaiming Brujería

Brujería is practically second nature to Ph.D ‘Social Science Brujas‘ and yoginis, Dr. Griselda Rodriguez-Solomon and Dr. Miguelina Rodriguez. For the Afro-Dominican twins raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the ’80s, their spirituality emerged in their youth.

The twins were raised Catholic and watched their faith parallel the private rituals their mother practiced. Surrounded by altars and religious objects common of the 21 Divisions or Dominican Vudu, brujería seemed normal.

Yet, in the public eye openly claiming such practices were shunned.

“Unfortunately, that mystery is not because the practice itself is mysterious and dark; it’s because main society and religion has made it so that we have this fear of brujas, brujería, and santería,” Miguelina told Refinery29.

Known as the Brujas of Brooklyn, the twins sought to create a space dedicated to the solace of women of African descent further dismantling the harmful ties once associated with brujería.

Launched in 2016, Griselda and Miguelina work to normalize ancestral practices and heal generational trauma.

As scholars and professors at the City University of New York, they tackle conversations around gender, religion, race, and anti-blackness in the community through meditation.

“With Brujas of Brooklyn (like so many other platforms), we really create a space for Latinx people to explore what it means to be Latinx, and to understand that who we are doesn’t exist in a box,” Griselda told Bustle.

Syncretic traditions and rituals descendant from the Yoruba faith are a source of resilient strength in the face of historical brutality within the Latin American diaspora. Out of the 11.2 million Africans that survived the transatlantic slave trade, only 450,000 arrived in the United States. The rest were dispersed in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Resistant to the cultural erasure, these spiritual practices have remained and expanded within the diaspora. Now a resurgence is evident.

Thanks to social media, spirituality and witchcraft have grown among millennials. Formerly, private practices have become mainstream as today’s brujas are working to unravel folk myths that have led to the miseducation of many.

You see them everywhere through astrologers, tarot readers, and holistic healers.

Brujas live their lives unapologetically and the twins are no exception.

Spirituality in Latin America is complex. Demonized by Christianity, the fear of brujería is also rooted in sexism.

“The word bruja for me, it’s very political… it has been demonized for so many years. And a lot of it, we’re starting to understand, is because women are inherently powerful people,” said Miguelina to Refinery29. “I think that when a woman taps into that power, she becomes so powerful, and the patriarchy is scared of that.”

In order to reclaim a practice, one must first decolonize the mind and spirit as well as empower the women that paved the way for witchcraft.

“The people that were considered witches in Western Europe, Africa, or Latin America, were curanderas, herbalists, midwives, doulas, astrologers. There are generations of women whose powers couldn’t manifest because those in power were afraid of us,” said Griselda for Bustle.

Like those that came before them, the twins are ‘womb-healers,’ aimed to heal the inherited intergenerational trauma, which disproportionately affects Black women.

In the United States, Black women historically have the highest maternal mortality rates. Due to health conditions and institutional racism within the healthcare system, in 2018 Black women were 2.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.

Practicing Yoni, an ancient Sanskrit word for ‘vulva’, they tap perform an act called “woke womb work” in retreats and workshops. They also involve Kundalini yoga in their craft which involves chanting, breathing exercises, and poses meant to activate Shakti; spiritual energy located in the spine.

Both containing origins in Hinduism, the practice is tied to divine feminine energy.

With workshops serving up to 100 people, now virtually during the pandemic, the Brujas of Brooklyn having taken their practices to the public sphere. As they continue to work to revive a legacy robbed from them, in part due to anti-blackness, those that engage are discovering inner magic they never knew they had.

“Women have been reclaiming this word for generations,” Griselda shared to Bustle. “But we’re seeing it a lot more today because of social media, thank God. What better ancestor to reclaim than the witches who took no sh*t 700 years ago. We’re living through her in a new way.”

Read: More Mothers Are Hiring Doulas, But What Is A Doula? Here’s What You Need To Know

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9 LGBTQ+ Latinas Making The World A Better Place Through Representation

Culture

9 LGBTQ+ Latinas Making The World A Better Place Through Representation

Women are a driving force for change. It has been proven time and time again in history. LGBTQ+ Latinas are part of this tradition whether it is in activism, media, or representation in comic books. Here are 9 LGBTQ+ Latinas who are doing their part to make the world a better place.

Stephanie Beatriz

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Stephanie Beatriz is known for her character Rosa on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The actress wanted to create a character that someone like her could relate to and she made it happen. Rosa came out in the show as a bisexual Latina and it gave Beatriz a chance to play a character that reflects her real identity. For the first time, bisexual Latinas have someone on television that speaks to a very real and important identity.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson publicly came out of the closet as bisexual in 2018. The actress revealed her relationship with musician Janelle Monáe and fans were there to support her. Thompson made a real splash in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when she portrayed Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok.” She will be slaying again as Valkrie in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

Bamby Salcedo

Bamby Salcedo is unapologetically trans and fighting for trans lives and rights. Salcedo founded the TransLatin@ Coalition to create a network for trans Latinas to connect and help each other thrive. Salcedo is often in protests for trans lives including against Pete Buttigieg during a CNN/HRC Town Hall.

Victoria Cruz

Victoria Cruz is a gatekeeper of LGBTQ+ history. The indigenous trans woman was there for the start of the Gay Liberation movement in 1969. Cruz has been a leader in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Cruz has continued to her fight for trans rights even in the face of transphobia in the LGBTQ+ community. As the LGBTQ+ community tends for forget its history, Cruz is here to remind them of how important the trans community is in gaing LGBTQ+ rights.

Carmen Carrera

Carmen Carrera first came into everyone’s home as a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This was before she started her transition. Since embarking on her transition journey, Carrera has had a very successful career as a supermodel, became a stepmother, and has been championing trans rights in the U.S. and Peru. The activist has spent years breaking down stereotypes about trans people wherever she goes.

Salice Rose

Salice Rose is a major name in social media. With more than 16 million followers on TikTok, Rose has created a place for people to feel safe and included. Using comedy and her spirituality, Rose has been able to tackle important issues, like coming out.

Gabby Rivera

Gabby Rivera was tapped to write for the America Chavez comic book in a move by Marvel that was widely celebrated. Rivera was able to give American Chavez, a queer Latin superhero, an authentic voice. Rivera is also the author of “Juliet Takes A Breaths.’ The young adult novel follows a Puerto Rican girl who comes out to her family right before going to an internship on the other side of the country.

Martine Gutierrez

Martine Gutierrez is a famed photographer and artist that has displayed work around the world. The art critic Barbara Calderon wrote about Gutierrez’s identity that has been an elusive yet broad identity. Calderon spoke of terms used to identify oneself yet none seemed to accurately describe who Gutierrez is.

Lido Pimienta

Lido Pimienta is an Afro-indigenous Colombian Canadian musician who is transforming Latin music, especially the scene with her sexuality. The queer musician is unapologetic about her identity for the sake of visibility. Pimienta feels a need to stay ver visible to change the long-running history of no queer visibility in media.

READ: Here Are Some Queer Films And Shows To Watch To Start Pride Off Right

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