Project Spotlight: 'La Identidad', Rejecting Society's Beauty Standards for Latinas

Vanesa Moreno is a 17 year old creating work way beyond what society believes a 17 year old brown girl is capable of. Born in Bolivia, she immigrated to the U.S. when she was 5 years old. An aspiring filmmaker and senior in high school, her future goals include learning the ins and outs of the film industry and creating films of substance for brown and black women. Growing up with an extraordinary amount of struggle via generational gaps and cultural differences, “La Identidad” is truly a beautiful snapshot of her experience as an immigrant. Many believe that teen girls are over emotional, vain, or in some cases- unintelligent, Vanesa smashes all of those stereotypes and those also facing Latinas, by embracing her identity, dissecting it, and allowing art to flow from it. We’re so proud to show this piece.

When did you create this film?
I created this film in the span of 7 months. I had gotten the idea of creating my first film while I was atwork, daydreaming about ideas that would be good to start with. It took several months to find the motivation to finish gathering my clips, writing an actual script for it and editing just took forever. I’m happy it came out the way I wanted it to. 

Why did you create this film?
I wanted to make my first short film that would be shared, to be of importance to me. I wanted it to mean something to people. I thought one way or the other I needed to talk about myself and my journey. It would make the most sense since I personally know my own story and I just felt I had to do this for people of color and immigrants. 

How did you feel being in front of the camera?
Being in front of the camera was challenging, I’m not gonna lie. I received no help from anyone and it took me multiple tries to focus the camera on the good spots with no help and trying different settings/lightings to get a good shot. I still felt comfortable being in front of the camera because the majority of the time, I was alone by myself in my empty house, figuring out how to start this off. It would be more anxiety-inducing for me to be around people filming this as I am a little particular on how I want it to look. I don’t think I could have done that.

How old were you when you started to dissect your identity?
I was around 16 when I was starting to dissect my identity. I actually researched everything about Bolivia, my culture and by asking my parents because I wanted to know more. I realized what it meant to be a woman of color, the labor we put in for our families, it’s a lot to grasp. It still is hard explaining to my own parents that we are considered Native American for our race even if we are disconnected descendants, because these concepts are never explained to us. Latinx folk tend to believe we are Hispanic and Latino as if that’s a race, so yeah I wanted to know what it all really meant. However, I always knew I was an immigrant that was something that never left my head. I knew I was different, it followed me all throughout my adolescence. 

What are some fears you have as an aspiring filmmaker?
My fears mainly come from my parents and that immigrant daughter guilt I still face. My mom was just explaining to me that they wanted us to continue their family business that they’ve built up since we came here. I just think that it’s so difficult for them to grasp how different it is here and in Bolivia within the culture, that you CAN have a job in the visual art world. In Bolivia, no one can live off of being an artist, that doesn’t happen and it’s typically seen as a hobby. It’s my doubts and their own doubts that really just force me to think of another job or have a backup plan. But there’s levels to this, I’m a woman, and a person of color. You never see us on screen or behind the camera. And if you do, our own art is labeled specifically to the what we create. For example, I could make one film on immigration and suddenly I am gonna be seen as a filmmaker who only makes films on immigration/latinx problems. Not that it’s bad at all to labeled as that, but that is toxic because we are only seen or expected to create based on our trauma, this happens to black folk as well who are expected to make art based on being black and that experience, but you can make art on whatever you’d like. Artists deal with this kind of problem all the time, I think it’s important to have a conservation about that too.

Was it difficult to be so open in this work?
Of course, it was extremely hard for me to open up. But I had to be vulnerable to get the message across. Those moments made me rethink to myself, “oh that’s too much to say”, but it’s those moments that will make the film even better and touch people closely, even if we might not like being exposed to.

How do you feel watching and listening to yourself in it?
I’m an introvert and I hate talking about myself and listening to my own voice was so cringe-worthy. Watching myself in some of the clips made me feel so happy to finally be at peace with my own presence. I love the one clip where I’m outside and I’m talking about how being a person of color will have its struggles outside and within, I look so beautiful and bad ass and it’s my favorite shot of the whole film next to the last shot where I’m just like “FUCK it I’m proud”.

Do you feel filmmakers should be political because of the current administration?
Yes, very much so. All media is political. I stand by that so much. Whether we want to think of it or not, it is almost our job to talk about it. Some can argue really shouldn’t be because that kind of labor is exhausting but as artists, it’s only right to speak out on our own community’s issues. I definitely wanted to hit on that in this film. I don’t always want to talk about it that’s for sure, I am more than that emotional labor.

Do you feel a responsibility to discuss identity in your art?
Again, yeah I do have a responsibility in discussing all levels to my identity. I haven’t figured it all out yet I still struggle with growing out of self-loathing and my depression with also I’m not necessarily sure about my own sexuality. But of course, I need to showcase these parts of myself for other brown/black girls to relate to. Many of us never really had anyone to look up to so yeah I’d like to see that happen.

How did you start to learn about representation in media?
I started learning about representation in media when I began to realize that even my own favorite movies were all majorly white. Movies like Ghost World, American Beauty, the Doom Generation were all white women based and it didn’t cross my mind until I began watching more movies with representation. I still find it hard to find a non-white Latina being a central character in Latinx movies, so there’s not much progression if I’m being honest. You’ll only find indigenous or black latinx folk playing minor roles in media/film, there is still a TON to dismantle in our community. I’m glad I’m aware of this though, I no longer will accept it. Even identity politics can get extremely complex and problematic when we try to use it as an excuse or as way to not be critical. People have to be accountable for their own messiness that’s just facts.

Follow Vanesa’s journey as a creator here:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/v__nesa/
If you would like your short film to be featured by The Light Leaks, email us at kim@thelightleaks.com!