Gina Rodriguez: Walking has always been an opportunity to just go through my thoughts, work out problems and just kind of let it go away with the wind, you know, leave it on that walk. It’s kind of a release, a moment to reflect but then also to let go. I think both are so important. I need this time to just, like, listen and to be present and to remember how blessed you are to walk, to breathe, to take another day.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives. Actor Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for her role in the award-winning television series “Jane the Virgin”. On this walk, she talks about learning resilience from her dad and how she built confidence in everything from belonging to body image.
Gina Rodriguez: So, right now, we are on the Playa Vista Bluff. I sometimes like to bring a friend here and use it as an opportunity to talk out whatever either of us are going through either with one another or elsewhere and just kind of, again, leave it on that walk.
It’s a really great trail that I love so much. Me and my dogs like to do it. And it winds down the side of this bluff. And it goes in different environments. Right now, it’s a little bit drier up here, and as we get closer to the little park and the water, the L.A. River, it starts to get, like, greener and almost swampier. So there’s a lot of variations on this bluff.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
My dad’s name is Gino Rodriguez. I was named after him. He was the youngest of nine, and I am the youngest in my family, as well.
My father has always been the most optimistic, most positive, spiritually grounded, very, very emotionally intelligent human being, but also has lived quite the life. I mean, my dad served in Vietnam, and he’s a boxer. He’s a fighter. He’s a champ.
He had quite the tumultuous, one would say, upbringing. But he really came out of all of that like those stories that you read of people that make gold out of dirt because that’s totally what my dad did. And his perseverance and his drive to take our family out of our circumstance was tremendous because he knew education was the way for us to get out of, you know, the ‘hood in Chicago. And he did everything he could to give us the best education. My parents, unfortunately, didn’t have that resource, and they didn’t have that access. But they made sure that we did.
Around like 15, 16, my dad would start coming to my room when I was asleep and telling me in my sleep that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up, that the sky’s the limit, that nothing could hold me back, that I was strong and smart and fearless. And then I would wake up and say, “What are you doing, Dad?” And he would be like, “I’m going to need you to go back to sleep because I’m talking to your subconscious.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “I am telling your brain to fight all the naysayers. I’m telling your subconscious so that it will make sure that you go after everything you want one day.”
And I was like, “You are a nut, and I love you so much. But get out of my room.” You know, I was… I’m not going to say I was a bad student. I was definitely not the best student, and I was definitely quite the clown.
And I’ll never forget when the intercom went off in sixth period, and I heard, “Gina Rodriguez, will you report to the dean’s office?” And I was like, “Oh, man, here we go.” But I was preparing myself for, you know, a rebuttal or some kind of awesome debate as to why, I’m sure, whatever they thought I did was wrong and I was right and… you know?
And as I came down the stairway, I saw my mother standing there right in front of the dean’s office, like, tiny and shriveled up and crying. And I walk up to my mom, and I said, “What happened?” And she said, “Your father’s in the hospital.”
She said that he was seizuring in his car, and he got into an accident, and they didn’t know what was wrong. They were assuming it was a tumor in his brain. And I just thought, “Man, the foundation of my strength, the pillar of my positivity, the man that told me I can be anything I want to be could not be anymore.”
And so, when we got the hospital and we get to the room, and I see this frail body just sunken underneath the sheets, and I couldn’t… I couldn’t… I couldn’t go in. I, I started to cry. And I didn’t know what to do.
He was there a few weeks, and they were doing lots of tests. And we got neurologists, and that’s when they found out that my father had a parasite, a parasite that he had probably eaten through some sort of red meat that was in his stomach and then traveled up to his brain.
And then it was two years of steroids and medicine and stay out of work. And this is an athlete. This is a man who is busy, busy body, busy mind. And he had to be still. And so he read, and he learned, and he optimized his already beautiful, brilliant perspective of the world. And he sat with himself and his fears and his mistakes, and he evolved before my eyes.
He just was educating himself on how to appreciate, love, be present, because he wanted to live. He wanted to live live. He wanted to live every day in the moment for the moment. Like, I was watching my dad, as a teenager, become this guru of positivity, of… of commitment, of focus, of being able to accomplish anything you wanted to be in life.
And that’s when he started to tell me, “Today’s going to be a great day. I can, and I will.”
And I’ll never forget it. We were driving to school, and he pulls down the mirror of the passenger side, and he says, “Wait, wait. Before you go, look at yourself in the mirror. Look in your eyes. Say, ‘Today’s going to be a great day. I can, and I will.’” And I was like, “What? I love you, Dad, but I’m 16, you know? Like, I just can’t right now.”
And he said, “Just say it. Just say it, and eventually you’ll believe it.”
And I said it, “Today’s going to be a great day. I can, and I will.”
And then he made me say it the next day and the next day. He was trying to instill in this young girl confidence and faith and empower me to feel like I was capable of doing anything. And now, 20 years later, I don’t even have to say it. It’s, like, written in my… in my soul.
I saw my father prove that anything was possible, that anyone can face what comes before them. I saw firsthand what it meant to go against all obstacles and all challenges and that I had those genes in me, that that was my DNA, that that was my dad that did that.
You know, I find that, over the course of my life, I have shared this mantra, “Today’s going to be a great day. I can, and I will,” with many people, especially, I would say, people that feel like they’re in a space where they just… they’re ready for that daily reminder of their capabilities, of their confidence, of their value. And I think we all… We feel this essence in ourselves when we’re alone and life is quiet. You know you’re powerful. You know your strength. But there are a lot of obstacles to hear that voice, and it’s usually drowned out by so many things. Sometimes you just need that reminder.
And I think, “I can, and I will,” is really important because it’s not about getting your way or some magical thing happening to you or winning the lottery. It’s about that daily check-in of life is right now, it is today, and I am going to face it with love and kindness and optimism. And I’m going to open my arms to receive the good. And so I think that, “I can, and I will,” can really help you because it is… It is more than a saying. It is the reminder of that feeling inside where you’re like… you know you can.
[SOUND OF DUCKS QUACKING]
Look at this, these little duckies. And the babies. This is wild. How beautiful.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
I had gone to… Prior to the high school I went to, I went to Andrew Jackson Language Academy in Chicago, and it’s a public school in Chicago, but it was definitely one of those, like, more difficult public schools to get into, and it was all about… Like, if you were lower-income, you were definitely trying to get your kids into it because it was just better education.
So my parents were all over education, and, boy, do I thank them for that. So they made sure that we all went to Andrew Jackson. From that school, because that school was so great, it really helps set you up for a good high school in Chicago. A bunch of us went to really great, elite high schools in Chicago that were, you know, predominantly Caucasian, white… white kids.
And there were only, I would say, four students of color for the four years I was there, and they kind of trickled out as I got older, and they didn’t really trickle back in. So it was really difficult. The otherness was really apparent growing up, I would say. And I felt different, very different. And we all did, and all the kids that I grew up with at Andrew Jackson that had then went off to these elite schools, they all felt that otherness.
And so, when school was out, we all got together, and we all did what we loved to do, which was paint the town. We were a crazy crew of graffiti artists. And my name, given to me by my incredible best friend growing up… She gave me my name, Muse.
In retrospect, it wasn’t the most legal form of art. And I won’t suggest my children to do that or my nieces and nephews because you can definitely express yourself many different ways. But we were silly. We were all crazy artists, painters, actors, dancers, hip-hoppers. Like, we had this little community, this group. And one of them, ooh-wee, his name was Commie. Super cute. He went to one of the elite schools, as well, and he liked me, I thought. I think. I don’t know. Who knows?
He asked me to go and paint with him, and when you do that, I mean, that is like… At the time, that was just swoon-worthy. Like, “Oh, my god. Commie wants to paint with me? What?”
And my silly self thought that it would be really cute to go on a freight train graffiti run with Commie. And I said, “Oh, this is going to be the one, yes. I’m going to make out with him by the freight trains. It’s going to be amazing. I cannot wait.”
And we get on up there. It is just a graffiti playground, freight trains galore, and so I’m thinking, “This is it. This is the jam.” We get up there. We have our cans. And as we were about to start painting, I hear, “Hey, hey, you guys,” and I turn my head to the right. And I see two cops about 200 feet away. And in that moment, I said, “Oh, no. I’m going to get it. I’m going to get the chancleta from my mom. It’s a wrap. This is done.”
And as soon as I turn my head back to Commie, he’s like, “We’re jumping.” He jumps over. It had to have been like a 10 to 12-foot drop. He gets to the ground, which is all covered in gravel, and he says, “Jump in my arms.” I said, “I’m not jumping into your arms. Are you crazy?”
He said, “Jump into my arms.” I said, “Well, what else am I going to do?” And I jumped off the freight train. I jumped off the train track right into his arms, slipped through his arms right onto the gravel, knocked the wind out of me. And I’m, like, heaving. I have Commie who, at one point, I thought I was going to get my first kiss from, is now just trying to control the fact that I’m heaving from this compressed spine, and helps me… shovels me up and half helps me wobble away.
And we made it. We made it out, and got on the bus by myself. Got to my house, thought I was going to just, like, you know… I was going to shake this one off. Couldn’t sit, could barely lay. I was like, “I’ve got to tell my parents.” Told my parents, and that was the end of Muse. Muse… Muse was gone that day. That was the end of Muse and rightfully so.
But the community… the community was what I hold so important and what I do cherish so very much. We found each other because we needed each other. You know, we were a community of kids from all over the city, from all different kinds of backgrounds, majority from, you know, socioeconomically challenged backgrounds, families. And we were all just seeking one another. We were seeking a community of artists that saw each other. And we saw our strengths in one another, and we saw our uniqueness. And I think that is so incredibly important. And to value those relationships but also to cultivate them with love and respect because that’s what we did.
We all saw our pain, and we didn’t push on it. We all saw our strengths, and we held them up. And I try to carry that kind of community in every circle that I’m in, in every space that I’m in. And it is important, but it is so important that you also value yourself so that you may create that space, that you know that you are deserving of good community, of loving community, of kind, reciprocal community. And finding that is not easy. But when you do, it is wonderful, and treasure it.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
When I was 19 years old, I was at NYU, junior year, and I got sick. And we didn’t know what it was. I was sleeping like 18 hours. I could barely hold my body up. I had body ache and fatigue and fever and everyone assumed it was mono. I mean, we’re in college.
And I went to the doctor, and they told me I had a hypothyroidism. It was petrifying. I had already had my own relationship to my body, which was tumultuous to say the least. I mean, I was a woman living in this world and faced with many images that are not always reflective of what you look like. And then, when I got thyroid disease, my biggest fear and my biggest worry was to lose control of the one thing I thought Hollywood cared about the most, and that was weight, body.
In order to be the lead like I had always wanted to be, and I’m sure many do, I didn’t see myself or my body figure as representation of a sexy woman, a desired woman, or a woman that was powerful or that was successful. And that’s scary. Feeling like you are now limited because of this condition that you have no control over is super daunting. And it was already difficult enough that I was Latina. But to then feel like I was going to be a… a victim to this made me feel a little out of control. And for many years, I did that. I stayed out of control.
I had that voice that would pop up any time I was in a bikini or any time I wanted to, you know, pull myself together or had to look in that mirror and have a shine of confidence. She’d show up, “Hey, hey, you’re not that good. Ooh, what’s that? What’s going on with your thighs, and what about that? Ooh. Oh, nobody wants to see that.”
There was nobody that could say anything meaner to me that my mind hasn’t already said. I didn’t know how to stop that.
I only discovered that 15 years later when I was in Thailand with my then boyfriend of four months, and we were training Muay Thai. He’s a Muay Thai fighter, a martial artist. And I’ve boxed my entire life, and, you know, self-defense has always been a really big part part of my upbringing because of my father. And so I thought, “What a great experience. I’m going to go, and I’m going to expand my knowledge of self-defense and martial arts and self-confidence. And I’m going to get strong.”
And so we go to Thailand, and we’re working out three hours a day. Mind you, that was a super huge privilege for me and not always the way in which one can transform or does need to transform their body. But this was my experience. And we’re there, and my body is transforming in ways I had never seen before in my life.
And I… I start to journal. I started to walk with my thoughts as to how I started to feel about my body changing, how I started to feel about the fact that I was for the first time in my life really comfortable. And I remember being in our place in Thailand looking at that scale, deciding to get on it with all strength because whatever that number was, it didn’t matter.
And my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, comes in and is like, “Oh, hey, what you doing?” And I was like, “Weighing myself.” And he’s like, “Oh, what does it say?” very nonchalant like an athlete would just thinking it’s totally okay to ask me what my weight was. And the voice wasn’t there.
In my mind, I’m screaming, “She’s not here! The voice, she’s not here.” And I called him over, and I told him to look at the number. And he said, “Look at you! Look how strong you are.” That was his response, very chill, nonchalant. “Yeah, super strong. You look great.”
I said, “Thanks, but you have no idea how hard that was for me to do.” And he was like, “Really?” I was like, “Yeah.” When I am strong and fit, it’ll be a reflection of what I’m doing. And if I am not, it is a reflection of where I’m at. I’m going to talk to myself and have real conversations with myself. For the first time, I was okay in meeting myself where I was at.
That, to me, has been liberating. It has been liberating to know that I am really good today, and I can be great tomorrow or great yesterday, but I’m just meeting myself where I’m at now. I’m no longer wishing I was something else. I’m saying, “I love you today, and you’re going to be okay.”
You know, so it’s not just the journey with my body, but it’s having a relationship with my mind. When the voice wasn’t as loud or as prominent but did show up, it was a matter of having a relationship with it.
And so now I’ve started to give myself the advice I’d be giving my friend. So, if someone showed up and said, “Hey, Gina, you know, I hate the way I look. And I just wish I was this or that,” and I would say, “I love you. I love you so much. What can I do? How can I be here for you?”
I have started to treat that voice like a good friend that I could just maybe love up on. And so maybe that’s a good place to start, making friends with those mean little voices in your head, giving them the advice you would your best friend.
Then your best friend goes home and deals with it. So you can also tell that voice to go home and deal with it. “Now go bother somebody else, all right?”
[SOUND OF CHURCH BELLS]
We are arriving to the end of the walk, and the bells are playing. And there are a bunch of beautiful yellow daisies all over with, like, touches of wildflowers that are just gorgeous. These little bright neon yellow ones are beautiful, too. Oh, look at those beautiful purple flowers. It’s stunning. And it’s just a gorgeous day in L.A.
I grew up a dancer. I was a salsa dancer from the age of 7 to 17. And my whole family dances. My parents dance salsa together. It is the most precious thing in the world, and when they’re dancing, they just radiate love and joy. And so music, to me, has always brought me back to those moments.
Music is reunion. It’s family. And music moves you in a way… I mean, there’s just, like, nothing that can bring me to tears like a song.
When I was like 16 years old, I was in a dance company called Los Soneros Del Swing, and we opened for Marc Anthony. And Marc Anthony is like, to me, just he has the best voice in the entire world. He is just silky smooth butter. He is just velvet delicious. His music just destroys me.
And when I got to perform for his performance in Chicago, I met him backstage, and he was super sweet. And I was just like, “That’s a wrap. I’m a Marc Anthony fan for life.” “Tu Amor Me Hace Bien” is my favorite song ever, and me and my husband danced to that song in our wedding.
[MUSIC - “TU AMOR ME HACE BIEN” BY MARC ANTHONY]
Lizzo, I love Lizzo. I think Lizzo is just a goddess. “Truth Hurts” was a song that we picked for “Someone Great”, the movie on Netflix, and I got to lip sync to it in the kitchen with my best friend DeWanda Wise. And that memory, to me, is one of my favorites in any movie or any project I’ve ever done. And it was Lizzo. So Lizzo holds many, many special places in my heart.
[MUSIC - “TRUTH HURTS” BY LIZZO]
I was shooting a movie in New Orleans when I was introduced to Leon Bridges. And I played out his album that whole four months, and I think all of New Orleans heard my car, and all of New Orleans participated in their love for Leon Bridges. “River” is probably the most beautifully, lyrically written song, and he is… He’s just a stellar, stellar, stellar artist who I think has a tremendous voice that pierces through your soul.
[MUSIC - “RIVER” BY LEON BRIDGES]
I really enjoyed this walk. You know, I think, so often, you aren’t given the opportunity to think about all the incredible, monumental, structural moments in your life. I really think it was… it was good for me to remember those moments. They bring me strength.
Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.