Haters Are Cierra Ramirez’s Motivators. But Don’t Come For Her Latinidad
Getting into Good Trouble isn’t enough for Cierra Ramirez. She wants the world.
Being Latinx in America is no easy thing. Fighting pressures to abandon our culture, traditions, and heritage, we’re carving out a unique identity in America that’s all our own. In a series of essays, reported articles, and stories for Refinery29's #SomosLatinx, we’ll explore the unique issues that affect the community during Latinx Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15.
“I love haters. Literally live for them. It’s my favorite,” Cierra Ramirez announces as she leans back in her chair, her winter-frosted eyes and elf hat looking odd against the sunny September day. It’s wintertime on the set of Good Trouble, the Freeform dramedy that Ramirez co-leads with her best friend Maia Mitchell, and there are dozens of extras in their best Christmas threads milling about. If you search hard enough, you’ll find llamas and goats around the corner on the Santa Clarita Studios set, waiting for their manger debut.
Ramirez’s Guns N’ Roses tank top is the only thing that isn’t dripping with yuletide spirit, but the actress promises that the rest of her look for Good Trouble’s two-hour holiday episode is even more festive. Apparently, it’s so very fabulous that she didn’t want to endanger it by wearing it in a cafeteria trailer filled with banana splits and salad dressing.
Which brings us back to the haters. Ramirez loves being 200% herself, and her unapologetic gushing about her on-screen ensembles, passion for the limelight, and Miss Thang persona attract a reliable sort of internet troll. Just last month, Ramirez posted a cute selfie of herself smiling in front of an orange tree, and someone felt the need to write “Too much.” Particularly as a Latina, Ramirez can’t stand it when people suggest she make less noise or take up less space: “Haters are your motivators, and you should want to prove them wrong,” she explains with an easy sigh.
These wise words haven’t failed Ramirez yet. In just 24 years, she has starred in one cable hit (The Fosters) and co-leads and executive produces its spinoff. When Ramirez wasn’t acting, she was releasing an EP and multiple singles that would make anyone turn their volume up five notches. Her latest track, “Broke Us,” pairs her with fellow Freeform breakout Trevor Jackson, star of Grown-ish. Now, she’s putting the final touches on her first full record. Promo took Ramirez on a summer-long radio tour that ended just in time for her to get back to the Good Trouble set to film the holiday special.
With Latinx Heritage Month in full swing, it’s impossible to look at Ramirez’s schedule and not think of the multitalented Latina artists who came before her and dominated every industry they touched, like Good Trouble and Fosters executive producer Jennifer Lopez, actress/business mogul Jessica Alba, and primetime soap star/producer Eva Longoria. As a self-described Mexilombian-American, Ramirez is aware that she’s following in the footsteps of those icons.
But she’s also interested in testing just how far she can challenge the rules, her own schedule, and even society’s definition of what’s Latinx.
Cierra Ramirez can’t speak Spanish fluently. At least not yet. Like many second-generation Latinx Americans, her parents — Sonny, a former consultant/current dadager from Colombia, and Cris, a now-retired kindergarten teacher of 25 years from Mexico — never taught her the language while she was a kid growing up in Houston.
“I don’t speak Spanish. But that doesn’t make me any less of a Latina,” Ramirez tells me over the phone one day in August, while sitting on the lawn of her L.A. home. “I’ve never understood that criticism. You know Selena [Quintanilla] didn’t grow up learning Spanish? She learned through making music.”
Along with Duolingo and online classes, Ramirez has also begun practicing her español through song. Her first 2019 single, "Liquid Courage,” is a bilingual bacchanal in which Ramirez croons, “I've been drinking our liquid courage. Solo quiero que tú, tú me ames,” telling a would-be lover the drink has given her eyes only for them.
While those internet haters have accused Ramirez of not being “Latina enough,” that ever-elusive benchmark of acceptability for a diverse community of millions, she’s also faced the opposite prejudice in certain casting rooms. “Growing up in this industry, a lot of times when I would audition I would get that I was either ‘too Latin’ or ‘not Latin enough,’” Ramirez says of her whiplash-inducing notes.
How one could supposedly occupy both sides of the Latinx spectrum speaks to a pervasive problem: There simply isn’t a wide enough idea in Hollywood of what a Latinx person can be. A recent study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports that only 3% of lead roles in top-grossing films between 2007 and 2018 were held by Latinx people. In the top 100 films of 2018, 70 movies were missing a single speaking role for a Latinx woman.
Latinx-led series like Jane the Virgin, Vida, and One Day At A Time may be powerful fan-favorites now, but Ramirez booked her first national acting job in 2006 when Teri Hatcher was at the front of every Desperate Housewives poster instead of Eva Longoria. So, before Ramirez had her name, track record, and current 2.9 million Instagram followership behind her, audition opportunities were for parts like “the gardener’s daughter” or “the maid’s daughter.” “We’re lawyers, we’re doctors, we’re teachers. We’re so much more,” Ramirez fumes.
Did Ramirez bend to casting directors’ stereotypical notes just to score another part? If you’ve seen her spout off on her proudly opinionated social media channels, or watched her form the relentlessly bold Mariana Adams Foster over the last seven years, you can probably guess the answer. “I didn’t as a point,” she reveals.
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Ramirez has been at the forefront of TV’s long-awaited movement toward actually investing in complex Latinx stories told by Latinx creators. Before Jane’s Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) ever watched a telenovela or One Day’s Elena Alvarez (Isabella Gomez) nerded her way through a family argument, there was Ramirez’s Mariana Foster, a fluent Spanish speaker, former foster child, and brilliant coder destined for MIT. Now that Mariana has graduated from The Fosters to the naturally more mature Good Trouble, which wrapped the first half of its second season in August, Ramirez’s character is investigating the gender pay gap and the race gap within that already punishing chasm. When Good Trouble season 2 continues into 2020, the software engineer will tackle some thorny conversations about sexual harassment in the workplace.
“To be able to play a girl who really believes in equality and not taking shit from anybody? It’s so rad,” Ramirez says. “Good Trouble deals with things that are uncomfortable for a lot of people to talk about. But it’s necessary.”
Though Good Trouble tackles everyday feminist topics, there are plenty of pearl-clutchers out there who don’t approve of the show’s themes. Some of the greatest pushback Ramirez has witnessed in her career came before The Fosters even premiered — or filmed the pilot, for that matter. When the series was first announced by Freeform forebearer ABC Family in 2012, homophobic group One Million Moms demanded its followers protest the series for featuring a lesbian couple as parents, desperate for the network to cancel The Fosters before it ever hit the airwaves.
“That’s when I knew this was going to be a good show,” Ramirez says with a smile. “I knew we were going to get conversations started.”
Ramirez was right. The Fosters was nominated for GLAAD Media Awards for four years in a row; it won in 2014. It also won two Television Critics Awards, one Teen Choice Award, and a bucket of Teen Choice nominations over its tenure. Good Trouble’s ratings were strong enough to get a 16-episode second season, and today’s supersized holiday special — an honor only reserved for high-performing programs. The downtown L.A.-based saga is currently waiting to see if it gets renewed for a third season.
If those moms were terrified to see two women raising a loving family back in 2012, Good Trouble might actually send them into catatonic shock. The cast hits nearly every number on the Kinsey scale, with explicit, beautifully shot sex scenes. Just this February, Ramirez debuted her sexiest performance yet in season 1’s episode “Swipe Right.” The installment reaches its climax when Mariana realizes the heterosexual couple she ends up “hanging out” with for the evening is actually trying to seduce her into a threesome. After a pep talk she gives herself in the bathroom, Mariana obliges. In the morning, she’s not regretful. She’s satisfied.
If a similar scene aired during TV’s dark ages, the episode would have ended with Mariana rushing out of the pair’s home, disgusted by their advances but amused by their “kinky” ways. This near-encounter would have been a joke to share with friends. But, no, Good Trouble is here to tell us group sex is not a gag. “She was going through her things at work and just wasn’t getting attention in the right places,” Ramirez says. “She got it from this couple, and that’s amazing. She had a fun time. That’s all it should ever be.”
Ramirez, who also voices Marvel Rising’s queer superhero America Chavez on Disney Now, is ready for a world that doesn’t ask queer people to dramatically “come out” or label themselves. She’s happy to be on back-to-back series that are dedicated to showing all the facets of LGBTQ+ lives.
“It’s been really fun to be in something that shows people a different side of what they weren’t taught,” she explains. “It’s eye-opening for some. I’ve seen a lot of people really come around.”
Some of those people may just be Ramirez’s own family and friends, some of whom were shocked to hear that the Catholic-raised Ramirez would be joining a series that regularly dealt with sex and queerness. After all, religious conservatism is the bedrock of Latinx life. Her voice goes up as she recalls telling her Texas family about her new show. “They were like, ‘Ohh. Wow. That’s interesting,’” Ramirez says with a laugh. “Now there are certain episodes of Good Trouble where I’m like, ‘Okay, Momo and Popo’ — that’s what I call my grandparents — ‘please don’t watch this one.’”
It’s not just Momo and Popo. Some fans of The Fosters, where Ramirez played the dutiful daughter to Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena Adams Foster (Sherri Saum), won’t let Ramirez grow up. After a racy sex scene airs or she publishes a skin-baring, tongue-in-cheek Instagram post, Ramirez gets her fair share of finger-wagging.
“People are like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m telling Stef and Lena on you!’ I’m like, I’m 24!” she jokes. “No matter what you do, people are going to put you in a box. It’s up to you to just stay true to yourself. And with that, you’ll get out of that box.”
With an attitude like that, it’s no surprise that the relentless performer is already thinking about what’s next. Ramirez is plotting what she calls her “empire,” and no, that doesn’t include babies or weddings, at least not yet. “Those are things I would love to have in life and love to accomplish. But not anytime soon,” she says. “These are really, genuinely my selfish years.”
That means there’s more to Ramirez’s plans than her current executive producer gig. She’s planning to shadow some directors on the Good Trouble set and is even open to one day producing music. She even teases the possibility of guest starring in one of her favorite new shows of the year, HBO’s pitch-black teen drama Euphoria, saying, “Let’s put it into the universe. Let’s manifest it.”
“I”m so here for her selfish years,” gushes Ramirez’ Good Trouble costar and best friend Maia Mitchell. “I’ve seen her come out of a long relationship and really find herself through that. She’s prioritizing herself in a way that she hasn’t been able to in the past.” That’s why the pair is planning an upcoming trip to Napa, CA. “I’m just reaping the benefits of her selfish years,” Mitchell jokes.
While Mitchell and Ramirez can be spotted on red carpets or at the former’s accidental “rager” of an August birthday party (“My boyfriend took over and basically invited the whole of Los Angeles,” Mitchell quips), selfish doesn’t necessarily mean putting in more work. Sometimes, it’s just lying down in your bed, sans makeup, with a cozy sweatshirt and a phone. That’s how I found Ramirez hours after our chat in the Good Trouble cafeteria.
“You know what I really miss?” she asks in an Instagram story, red glasses covering the place where icy shimmer used to be, her hair tied up in a bun instead of underneath an elf hat. When the video switches to the next clip, all you hear is War’s “Low Rider” blaring, reminding us of the one classic Latinx sitcom of the aughts. “Falling asleep to George Lopez,” she writes, for anyone who didn’t get it — and fade to black.
Goodnight, fans. Goodnight, trolls. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.