As a Latina, low-income, and first-generation college student, I have felt that certain spaces were not made for me. The feeling of not belonging to a space, despite the hard work you put in to be there, is a common symptom among those given little elbow room to exist in historically exclusionary social spaces. It feels like I have already been put at a disadvantage, and this feeling has only intensified as I approach my graduation from USF with a degree in media studies.
Before deciding on a major, I was encouraged by my family to chase my dream of going into film and television production. I remained realistic and understood that making a name for myself in this industry would be challenging, especially as a person with no connections, no prior familiarity with the industry, and no personal access to the equipment necessary to build a portfolio. If I failed, I would have nothing to fall back on, but my mind was set that I wanted to work in media. I threw myself into my studies to learn all that I could during my time at USF.
Despite four years of passion-fueled hard work, I have struggled to land an internship. At some point, I began to feel that I didn’t belong where I wanted to be because everywhere I turned, people all looked the same — but not the same as me.
There is a significant discrepancy in the demographics of who creates movies and television shows versus who watches them. Latinx make up 24% of frequent moviegoers, but between 2007 to 2018 they landed only 4.5% of speaking roles. The role models I had growing up were America Ferrera and Adrienne Bailón, two Latina actresses who have found success. Besides them, I remember very few other Latinx people who were able to make a space for themselves in the film industry when I was growing up.
Latinx are one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the U.S., but they are often treated as invisible or are ignorantly stereotyped in western media. According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, across 1,300 top-grossing movies, 2.2% of lead and co-lead roles went to Latinx actors over 13 years. In the same 1,300 movies analyzed, the overall percentage of Latinx directors was 4.2%. When we filter the results to Latinx women in multiple departments, the percentages become smaller. Less than 1% of the producers across the 1,300 top films were Hispanic or Latinx women.
Thinking about the dedication and drive it will take to pursue a career in a field that is infamous for discluding and mistreating women of color is overwhelming. I thought as I inched closer to the finish line that I would feel excitement about my future, but all I could focus on was the anxiety of not knowing what was next for me. After being rejected by company after company, despite hours spent revising my resume, joining clubs, and focusing on independent projects to make myself stand out, I began questioning if I had a place in this industry and if I was aiming for a goal that was unattainable for someone like me. What if my dreams weren’t realistic enough?
When the odds are stacked against you, no matter how much you love something or how hard you work for it, you can’t help but feel like an imposter. As a first-generation college student, I’ve experienced my fair share of anxiety that accompanies this “imposter syndrome.” The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as, “a feeling of inadequacy that persists despite evident success. Self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
My feelings of self-doubt have heightened as I begin to navigate and shape my future. My accomplishments tell me I am not an imposter, but it can be hard to remind myself of that. I have taken advantage of my classes in video production, motion graphics, journalism, and media study. Even outside of USF, I have been editing my own YouTube videos, creating podcasts, freelancing, and taking on projects that were accessible for me to improve. I have the commitment and determination to learn what I can, and my eight years of professional experience is an example of this. Now I am ready to adapt the skills I’ve learned and apply them into any job, I just need the opportunity.
The feeling of being underrepresented is familiar amongst women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other minority groups. We don’t have access to networks that hold power and influence and who can teach us how to fill in the spaces. The connections we have teach us how to build a career and navigate the workplace, but without them it makes it more challenging.
Although we may be made to feel excluded from the realms of television and film, it’s important to remember those of us who are studying media, who are from low-income communities, who are first-generation college students, who are people of color; we are not imposters in these spaces. Our opinions, experiences, and points of view are, and should be broadcasted and given the liberty to create. Just because the present picture of the media industry does not reflect an encouraging appreciation and employment of Latinx creators, does not mean we stop trying to create an industry culture that will. Do not feel discouraged on your journey, understand that we cannot rely on others to tell our stories, and remember that we must push through this adversity of feeling outcast to achieve the representation we deserve.
We are here to create space for ourselves and join the table. I have learned to take rejection as redirection on the path I am meant to follow. We should not believe we are out of place, because we do belong. If there is no table, then we build one.