Zoe Saldana is hoping her upcoming year is filled with blockbuster movies. The 35-year-old actress is set to star opposite Christian Bale and Woody Harrelson in Out of Furnace, and of course her role as Nina Simone. In a recent interview with Glam Belleza Latina, Glamour’s newly launched magazine catering to Latina women, Saldana not only discussed her childhood, but also what it means to be Latina.
GLAM Belleza Latina: You moved to the Dominican Republic from New York at age 10 to live with your grandparents after your father’s death. That must have been hard, yet it’s an experience familiar to a lot of first-generation Americans, with so many immigrants sending their kids back home as they settle into the U.S. Do you think that’s part of why you are so strong?
Zoe Saldana: Strength is something that either you’re born with or you acquire. It’s nature and nurture, you know? I do believe that it runs in my family, but it’s mostly the way that we were raised—by really strong, confident women.
GLAM Belleza Latina: Do you feel there’s a lot of pressure in being a first-generation American?
Zoe Saldana: There’s something really beautiful about being first-generation. You’re in the middle, and you have to bring your parents and your grandparents to the other side. Yet, once you’re on the other side, you want to maintain the beauty of tradition. I feel like I was raised in a very balanced way. My mom wanted us to always be who we are, but she told us fables and stories of where we come from.
GLAM Belleza Latina: Do you ever feel like you have to educate mainstream media about what a Latino family is really like?
Zoe Saldana: The only time I feel the need to take the podium is when somebody makes a very ignorant comment about Latino culture. [Laughs.] But 99 times out of 100, it’s an innocent ignorance. There are very few times that I’ve come across people who are just being mean for the sake of being mean. I’m not sensitive about a lot of things. And whether you get me or you don’t, I’m happy to be who I am.
GLAM Belleza Latina: How does being a black Latina inform your identity?
Zoe Saldana: I am proud to be Latina. I will not accept [anyone] telling me that I’m less or whatever, because to me, that is just hysterical. But I don’t like to break and divide myself into all these small little categories like, “I’m an American, a woman, a Latina, a black Latina.’’ No. I am Zoe.
GLAM Belleza Latina: You don’t like to characterize yourself in a certain way.
Zoe Saldana: In my house we never talked about “oh, black this, gay that, woman this, lesbian that.” It was just Fulano de Tal y Francisquita. That’s it. My mom never knew who we were going to bring to dinner at the house. Es dificil para mi hablar de este topic because it’s very foreign to me. I’ll talk about it because everybody else talks about it, but deep down, when I’m with my sisters, we don’t talk about ourselves in that way. We talk about life in food, flavors, and music. [Laughs.] That’s how we are.
GLAM Belleza Latina: How does this influence your feelings about portraying Nina Simone? Such a big deal was made over whether you were black enough or looked like her enough. Jennifer Lopez got a similar reaction when she was cast as Selena because she wasn’t Mexican. How did you get past the criticism
Zoe Saldana: You know, I do wish that people made their own judgment after they watch the movie because right now, it isn’t even edited yet, and there’s been so much uproar. I can’t say that I’m not affected by it or that it’s not valid. But the one thing that we all have in common is an unconditional love and admiration and respect for Nina Simone. Something that’s done out of love, in my mind, can’t be right or wrong.