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ABC’s TGIT lineup has long been seen as a color-blind utopia dominated by all kinds of ambitious women. Last year’s failed Still Star-Crossed took that ethos to its most revolutionary end, giving viewers a Black prince-turned-king (Sterling Sulieman) with an Iranian sister (Medalion Rahimi) for an ultra-competent princess. This rainbow-hued nuclear family, along with many others in the period piece’s Verona, were telegraphed as simple matters of fact. No explanations needed.
Yet, among all this purposeful inclusion produced by Shonda Rhimes, TGIT has yet to give us a show with a Latina leading the soapy proceedings. There have been lots of TV-changing Black heroines (your Olivia Popes and Annalise Keatings) and white ones (here’s to the woman who started it all, Meredith Grey), but nary a Latina handling things. That is until Thursday night’s Station 19 debuted with a two-hour series premiere, officially kicking off the story of Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz). After almost five years of TGIT, Andy is exactly what TV needs right now.
In pilot “Stuck,” we learn firefighter Andy is the kind of fearless woman who runs into burning buildings and hopped on a plane solo at 12 years old to drag her father Pruitt (Miguel Sandoval) back home to Seattle when he went to help in the aftermath of 9/11. In follow-up episode “Invisible To Me,” she saves her entire crew and an unconscious man from dying by a blue-flamed ethanol fire with a plan so bold it’s nearly inadvisable. But, as is the case for all Shondaland heroines, Andy’s daring idea turns out to be the only correct choice.
“She’s not driven by a man. She is not driven by relationships. She’s driven by success, and that is the core motivation of her life,” Andy’s portrayer Jaina Lee Ortiz told Refinery29 over the phone. “That’s a quality everyone can look up to … I think her being a firefighter adds even more of a badass element in the sense that yes, she’s emotionally and mentally strong, but she’s also physically strong.”
Every girl who looks like me, who comes from where I come from, can watch the show and go, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’
Jaina Lee Ortiz
But, as is tradition for all Shondaland productions, Andy could have come from any background. Executive producer Rhimes began the policy of color-blind casting over a decade ago with Grey's. So, it wasn’t until Station 19 tapped Ortiz to be its star that Andy was given her culturally-appropriate last name. “She was not written Latina on the page. I think that’s what's so great about Shondaland … they cast for talent, not for race,” the actress explained. “It was really special, and after they found me, then they gave my character the last name Herrera.”
By giving Andy a last name after they found the woman to bring her to life, the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off signals it could be anyone’s story — including a petite Latina. Essentially, no one has a monopoly on being a hero. “She’s Latina, but she’s actually just a woman who happens to be Latina,” Ortiz explains of her character.
While Andy’s heritage is simply a small part of her vast identity, it’s easy to assume we’ll be getting to know which part of the rich tapestry of the Latinx community she hails from. After all, Jane Villanueva's (Gina Rodriguez) Venezuelan roots play a major part in Jane, and nearly every episode of Netflix’s One Day refers to the Alvarez family’s proud Cuban heritage. But, Andy isn’t getting such treatment for now.
One might say that game plan is a cop out, yet Ortiz, who is second-generation Puerto Rican, disagrees. Instead, she sees the narrative choice as a reminder of Latinx unity. “The showrunner Stacy McKee has kind of left it open, and I don’t mind that,” the actress said. “As Latinos, we separate ourselves under that umbrella by dividing, ‘You’re Puerto Rican; I’m Dominican; she’s Cuban; this one’s Mexican.’ And we’re all the same. We’re all Latinos.”
Although Ortiz says this now, it’s entirely possible we’ll get a deeper look at Andy’s culture down the road on Station. Longtime Grey’s Anatomy fans will remember Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) didn’t even realize his live-in girlfriend Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) was Jewish until the season 2 midseason finale, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
Until we learn more about the Herreras, Ortiz will continue to perform her own little nod to all the Latinx viewers out there. “I figured, ‘Okay, I’m playing a Latina, so let me give back to my culture and celebrate my roots. Let me do something I personally am afraid of,’ which is speaking Spanish,” she revealed. “I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. [But doing so as Andy] was my way of paying tribute to the Latino community.”
Hopefully, that Station 19 tribute leads to more Latinas populating our screens and maybe even fighting our fires. As Ortiz said, “Having a Latina as the lead on a TV show creates another door of opportunity for more Latinas, which I think is crucial in today’s political climate … And every girl who looks like me, who comes from where I come from, can watch the show and go, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’”
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