From The Roots To Flower: Here’s What It Was Like Growin Up With Isabela Moner

To the world, Isabela Moner is known as Dora the live action exploradora, singer and Unicef ambassador but to a small few she is just Bela who likes to eat pollo a la brasa. Isabela’s story does not begin at the height of success but it begins in Ancash, Peru. Her grandmother Yolanda was born in Ancash, Peru and in her youth moved to Lima- the capital city. Her grandmother was business savvy, kind and shares a striking resemblance to Isabela. In Peruvian culture, it is said that our ancestors fly through the sky like el Condor. For Isabela, her mother has been her greatest inspiration. “I come from an immigrant mother and I’ve been lucky enough to have someone that made me appreciate my culture,” she says. Ironically the Dora film also parallels her life; her character is also learning about Incan culture. The film even showcases Quechua which is the most spoken Native American language in the world. Isabela says this film will teach kids about Incan culture and that in itself is amazing. She says that one day when she has kids she wants to expose them to culture. Culture is a collective group of people’s art. Isabela says she is inspired by culture and her art is not only her livelihood but her life. “I am currently working on music and it will be the most profound thing I’ve done as an artist.” “What I love about music is you can hear a song and it will explain exactly how you are feeling and sometimes you don’t always have the words to describe that feeling.” Isabela hopes to be a voice that people can relate to and are inspired by. She says that’s the goal. However, many would argue that at 18, Isabela has already become a voice for young people.

When discussing the first Latina leads we saw in a major film or TV show we could only think of a handful. Some of the women we remember were Christina Vidal from Nickelodeons Taina, Jennifer Lopez in Selena, and Adrienne Bailon in Disney Channels The Cheetah Girls. These women are all iconic and their resumes go beyond this role. However, they represent a small group in Hollywood. In February of 2018 UCLA released a Hollywood diversity report that showed Latinos only appeared in 2.7% of the speaking roles and writers and directors were practically non-existent. There is also the issue of harmful stereotypes that prevail through most movies and shows with a latinx character. The Dora film is being recognized for its outstanding latinx representation and strong female lead. “It’s amazing and I hope people feel represented,” Isabela says. She also recognizes that the Dora film is breaking barriers with its majority latinx cast. She also hopes that there is more racial diversity in Latinx films. “I recognize that as a bi-racial Latina I have privilege and I hope that Hollywood casts more Indigenous, Asian and Afro-latinx.” “There isn’t one way for a Latina to look and I hope we see that in films and TV shows.”

Isabela spends her free time hanging out with family, friends and her cuddly three-legged dog Pluto. When she isn’t traveling for work she likes to spend her Sundays with our family eating Peruvian food, dancing and laughing. She also likes to travel to Lima, Peru. She says while she loves Lima it isn’t her favorite city and she enjoys going to the Jungle (la selva)and Cuzco (la sierra). “There are certain family members of mine in Peru that speak Quechua and when they speak Spanish it sounds like they’re singing.” One of those family members being her grandfather who she jokes around with and listens to huayno (folklore music). Her trips abroad have been instrumental in her upbringing. She’s even attended school in Lima which she describes as a very interesting experience. “South American math is so different and it was really cool learning it,” she says. Isabela says that the spirit of home is also in Peru. While she will always define home in Cleveland, Ohio- her hometown; Peru has this warm feeling that transcends into nostalgia without you even having an abundance of memories of it.

Recalling memories of growing up together, one particular one stood out. When Isabela was 12 and I was 18. I, going through the tribulations of an 18-year-old entering College Isabela attentively listened as I complained about a particular boy and school. Suddenly this conversation ended in us filling my bedroom floor in laughter. Isabela always cared even with the most minuscule things. That same foundation is dispersed in all of her professional work. She simply cares. Whether she’s doing charity work, a film or sitting with family and discussing life compassion and understanding are lingering in the air alongside the smell of Lomo Saltado.When the women in our family get together and sit around the kitchen table we discuss our dreams, struggles and hopes. Some of the most intimate and emotional conversations were unearthed there. Both our mothers were immigrants who came to this country with the hopes of attaining the American dream. While they did not come at the same time, nor did they end up in the same city their goal was the same. One day their children would not have to survive instead they would focus on thriving. Isabela is the product of a dream that was conceived as her mother sat on a plane and watched border and oceans being crossed as she went from Peruana to immigrant.

At the Instant family premiere also starring Isabela Moner my mother and Isabela’s mother held their hands together and my mother looked over and said, “we came as two immigrants and look at where we’re at, look at where were standing,” and then they embraced each other. Reminding one another that despite every obstacle, they prevailed and resilience is inherited. Perhaps el condor que pasa, spreading its wings really is the ancestors protecting us and guiding us so we can also fly through mountains.


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