A few months ago we got the news that SNL had casted its first Latina lead, Melissa Villaseñor. But Melissa is not the only outstanding Latinx comedian. She is part of a group of comediantes chingonas that have been hustling in the competitive world of entertainment.
SD: You’re an LA girl, and also a first generation Mexican-American. What were some of the challenges you faced growing up, and once you wanted to break into the business?
K: Well, is kinda of a long story for me, I had a lack of community, there wasn’t social media, resources or any of these amazing platforms back then. It was literally the limitations of your neighborhood. So, there were definitely challenges as far as being exposed to different things that I wanted to explore with my career, my life. With that, came the identity issues. Because, I was lacking representation. In school you have the jocks, the cheerleaders, you had all these different “cliques” and I never felt like I fit in. So then you fit in with the whole cholo/chola culture. They spoke my language, they understood me, but that wasn’t a good route either.
I finally found a home in theater class. That was what got me into this business. I found so much peace and freedom in playing so many different characters. I have the power to be different people without being judged. It became this part of these two people in me, the performer and Karina.
Also, being first generation, a lot of people want to put you in a box. They want to force you into ESL, put you in almost a lower level. But my mom set her foot down that she didn’t want me in ESL, she wanted in the regular classes.
I’ve been talking about this on my social media, and it boils down to three words: Educate, Elevate and Activate.
It’s amazing to have platforms such a SupaDaily where girls can see themselves, same as those who look like them and are on TV.
SD: Once you discovered theater, and that it was what you wanted to do. Comedy is competitive, and especially in LA. Were there any comedians you looked up or influenced you?
K: Growing up I loved In Living Color, my parents wouldn’t let me watch it so I had to sneak around into the living room. We had one of those old school TV’s that sat on the floor with the wooden frame. I had to put it on level zero volume and I could still listen to it. In Living Color really shaped my humor (David Alan Grier, Jaime Foxx, Eddie Murphy…)
Also Lucille Ball, she was a comedy genius. But you know, I actually didn’t think I was going to be a comedian. I didn’t see anyone like me so I never gave it much thought. But, throughout my years of acting in drew me in. Locally, there’s a lot, Monique Flores, Angelah Johnson.
I’m still finding my voice, people say it takes ten years to find your journey, but I don’t even know what I’m doing half of the time. I know that I have a message and I just have to find a way to connect. There have been people that I’ve met along the way who have helped me on my journey. There’s a local comedian named Jeff Garcia, he gave me a talk and basically said, “Don’t Stop!” There’s also Aida Rodriguez, Aida is a Puerto-Rican comedian, and to me she’s classy, she’s funny. I had been doing comedy for about two weeks when I met her. And man, I was not good. She pulled me aside and said: “Mamita, don’t you stop!” “We need you not to stop. There are few of us out there. If you need me, you call me.” She’s someone I know I can trust to give me a word of advice. Comedy is a solo sport, but it’s encouraging to know that there are those people I can go to for advice.
SD: The cholos/cholas have been a huge success. Did you anticipate that the clips would go viral, or just how popular they were going to be?
K: It’s so crazy, I really didn’t. A friend posted on Instagram that another friend was looking for a chola. I was born in Boyle Heights and raised in La Puente, so my friend thought it was the project for me. I had no idea what I was going for.
So, I showed up to the MiTu studios in Santa Monica, and I was presented with this improvised, organic setting. It was just us being ourselves. We are piggybacking off the success of Carlos and his kale and kombucha. It blew my mind that it’s been so huge. Right after the video dropped, my phone was going bananas with all the notifications I was getting.
It’s been such a fun ride. The love that we got has been so special because I feel like Hollywood has marginalized that culture. It has made it one-dimensional. I feel like people like it because they gravitated towards it, they saw themselves in the videos. I get messages of people telling me “Oh My God, Karina, you remind me of my prima. You remind me of my tia.” Everyone can see a dimension of a tio, a primo. It warms my heart to see that.
SD: These videos catapulted your career, so with that, where do you see yourself in 5 years, as a woman and as an actress?
K: As an actress, working, I mean, hello, can a girl get paid? Acting, using my talent to motivate, to connect, to give back. I’m enjoying my journey. My gift is for a purpose. I also went back to school because I want to be an influencer. I want to act, I want to write, I want to direct. I want to be in the position to hire Latinos. I want to help others find their gift.
As a woman, well, girl, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve been married, I’ve been divorced. I don’t know where I’ll be. I know that I want to be healthy; I want to be successful and that’s all that we all should aspire to be. Once you are in your path and your purpose everything else will manifest. I’m a chingona and I will continue to be that.
SD: You want to use your voice to reach out to your community, so now we have the mandatory question. Now that the election is over, and there’s a new “President Elect.” What do you want to tell your community? Your fellow Americans?
K: I’ve been talking about this on my social media, and it boils down to three words: Educate, Elevate and Activate. At the end of the day, the world didn’t end. This is the consequence of people not voting. These are the cards that were dealt. Ten years from now we are going to look back on this as a small bump.
We gotta educate ourselves, and please don’t rely on Facebook to get your “news.” Go educate yourself, challenge the information you get.
Elevate. Understand others, we need to learn to function out of wisdom and not emotion. And then we need to activate.
We need to make powerful impact. I applaud those who are using their right to protest. But unfortunately it’s inciting more hate.
I feel that as a society, what’s that saying? ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link.’ Right now, this division is a consequence of these small fractures within our community. We all have the responsibility to be better. We can’t change the world until we change ourselves.
SD: Thank you for this powerful message and for taking the time to talk to us!
K: Thank you so much, thank you for existing and being a platform for us to be featured, and to be able to continue to inspire the next generations.