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Growing up in Chicago, Gina Rodriguez never really saw herself represented on TV. The actress shares in an interview with the Washington Post that as a little girl, she — the youngest daughter of Puerto Rican parents — assumed her "parents must have started the Puerto Rican race" because she never saw Latinos on TV and had "no concept of any kind of discrimination or any kind of limitation in the industry."
Because they featured non-white actors, she would watch shows such as "A Different World," "The Cosby Show" and "Family Matters" — all shows with predominantly African-American casts — because she said it was the closest she could come to finding characters of color to identify with on TV that were portrayed in a positive light.
"That lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world," she told the Washington Post. "It really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be."
Now, at 31, Rodriguez — who famously passed up a role on Lifetime's "Devious Maids" series because it didn't feel right and that Latinos deserve better roles than maids and gardeners — is the star of the hit CW show "Jane the Virgin."
She reveals in the interview, though, that she did second guess her decision to turn down the "Devious Maids" role — and that her family questioned the decision as well.
"I found it limiting that that was the one that was available to me," she said in an interview during the 2014 Television Critics Association summer press tour.
She told the Post that later on after turning down the "Devious Maids" role, only five pages into reading the pilot script before she auditioned, she knew she had to be Jane.
Rodriguez has since become an outspoken advocate against Latinos being represented in television and film by unsavory characters such as drug dealers, criminals, maids, janitors and other kinds of stereotypical roles.
Rodriguez said her dad always told her that "anybody that created change pissed people off." She said, "You're always going to piss some people off because you're taking action. Because you're speaking up for the voiceless ... It's how I was born. I don't apologize for being outspoken about trying to create change."
And although her outspokenness has been met with lots of support, there have been critics too, she told the Post. Especially when she did an interview with People en Español this summer. Rodriguez, who like her character on "Jane the Virgin," is not fluent in Spanish, understands Spanish but prefers to speak in English. When she shared the cover of the magazine on her Instagram feed to promote her interview, she was met with plenty of criticism about her Spanish-speaking skills and people asking if she was actually Latina.
It was eye-opening for Rodriguez, who said the negativity and "interracial Latino racism" isn't something she'd previously experienced. But she took it in stride, following up with another post asking her fans and critics to be kinder. And despite backlash (even from within her own community), the actress isn't backing down or backing away from advocating diversity.
"Jane the Virgin," which airs Monday nights on the CW network at 9/8 CT, returns with its season premiere October 12.