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Afro Latina Actor Julissa Calderón Touts The Power Behind Journaling

The “With Love” and “Gentefied” actor turned her journaling into an entrepreneurial venture — and explains why writing things down is so essential.

Actor, producer and entrepreneur Julissa Calderón believes writing a journal has the power to challenge, heal and make things happen, “like writing down the script to your life.” CraSH / imageSPACE / Sipa via AP file

Life, according to Julissa Calderón, one of the few Afro Latinas in the TV and film industry, requires pivots.

“You need to know how to pivot so you can maintain your happiness,” Calderón, best known for her roles in Amazon’s “With Love” and Netflix’s “Gentefied,” said in an interview with NBC News.

In 2020, she decided to bet on herself and become an entrepreneur with the launch of The Dream and Manifest Journal company. Years of journaling, Calderón said — she wrote on her website that she’s been journaling since college — has helped bring her dreams to life, and she aims to help others manifest theirs.

Journaling has been a constant amid the fluctuations of her acting and producing career.

Two months after the release of Season 2 of “Gentefied,” Netflix canceled the show. Most of Netflix’s cancellations and renewals are driven by viewing, not by cost. It was a big blow for fans who praised the funny, bilingual show centered around young Latino adults juggling careers, family life and a gentrifying L.A. Latino neighborhood. Calderón played Jessika Castillo, a gay Latina activist in a relationship with one of the main characters, Ana Morales (Karrie Martin).

“So many other shows do afford the opportunity to have some ups and downs and ebbs and flows,” said Calderón about the cancellation. “We (Latinos) don’t have that. We’re like three strikes in one.”

Julissa Calderón walks among activists on a city sidewalk in a production still of "Gentefied."

Despite some strides in recent years, Latino representation in television and film — in terms of the percentage of stars, co-stars, showrunners and directors — has dropped to 2019 levels, according to a report from the Latino Donor Collaborative, a nonprofit that researches the U.S. Hispanic community.

According to Calderón, it may be time for shows to pivot and take a page from Latino music artists. This year, Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti” album became the first Spanish album to receive a Grammy nomination. Despite Bad Bunny’s massive success, he initially got backlash for choosing to keep singing in Spanish instead of English.

And like Bad Bunny, other performers have reached the top of the music charts and still stayed true to their Latino roots and their Spanish language, such as the Colombian singer-songwriter — and recent Latin Grammy winner — Karol G, the Dominican rapper Tokischa and Peso Pluma, who’s put a spotlight on regional Mexican music.

“The music industry is booming in Latinidad, the Latin market is crossing over everywhere. The Drakes want to jump on our music,” Calderón said.

When it comes to TV and film, “who are we catering to when we make these shows … I think that’s where the problem lies,” she said.

Before Calderón booked her first breakout TV role, she had already garnered fans — and laughs — through her “Pero Like” Buzzfeed videos, recreating funny and relatable Dominican mom moments. Calderón didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a pivotal moment in her career. It allowed her to build a fan base while she did multifaceted work writing, producing, acting and doing behind-the-scenes camera work.

Buzzfeed was one of the pieces to her life’s puzzle, she said. “Every time I win, I have a group of people that are championing me,” Calderón said. “That support allowed people to join me on this journey, not only to see me on TV and screen but also to support my entrepreneurship.”

Without this base of support, Calderón believes she wouldn’t have had the platform and sales when she launched her journal company.

Calderón believes in the power of written words. All the things she had written down in her journal, she said, were coming to life. Her first journal published in 2020, “Manifest That S,” was a direct reflection of that. At that time her career was booming. She was on hit shows and the covers of magazines.

In the author’s notes, she wrote that “To me, writing down what you want out of life is like writing out the script to your life! You are the producer, writer, and director of YOUR life film!”

This month, she launched her second journal, “Are you ready to Manifest?” Unlike the first, this one is aimed at introspection and came to be during a low period in her life. The actor and writing strike were underway, Calderón explained, she had lost a few friends and was fresh out of a relationship.

The journal includes questions aimed at challenging people to be their better selves. “Until you nurture, love and heal that little person inside of you, you’re never going to walk in your authenticity,” Calderón said.

Healing and manifesting require work. The journal is an avenue. Calderón explained her four steps to the manifestation process. No. 1, truly believe in yourself or whatever it is that you’re trying to manifest. Two, write it down in full detail and work for it. Lastly, trust it and let it go.

Calderón champions being a Black woman who is Latina on and off the screen. As the world evolves, so does the understanding of Blackness within the Latino diaspora. 

“That term comes from understanding our backgrounds and knowing where we come from and our ancestors,” she said of the term Afro Latina. “Growing up we didn’t use that; I always was just a Latina because I’m Dominican. Spanish is my first language.”

recent study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found only eight Afro Latinos were cast in leading or co-leading roles in the 1,600 top-grossing movies made from 2007 to 2022. In the 100 top-grossing films of 2022, only one protagonist was played by an Afro Latina.

Calderón’s career has not been linear, but she’s always strived to remain authentic no matter the room. Now that the strikes have ended, she’s ready to dive back into the TV & film world.

The second season of “With Love” was released earlier this year. Calderón plays Annie, who’s Dominican like her and is best friends with one of the show’s leads, Santiago Zayas, played by Rome Flynn.

There’s no word yet if “With Love” has been picked up for a third season.

“I know that there’s going to be so many opportunities to play so many other brilliant women on TV; I’m excited for that,” Calderón said. “And maybe, you know, some Broadway stuff.”

Source: NBC