Almost overnight, 11-year-old Sarai Gonzalez became a Latina icon thanks to her role in the "Soy Yo" ("I'm Me") music video by the Colombian electro-cumbia duo Bomba Estereo.
In it, she plays a sassy and confident girl who owns her unconventional self. As it turns out, Gonzalez said, a character who is much like herself. The video – with over 6.5 million views to date – follows her on the streets of New York City, from an encounter with bullies to dance-offs with street performers, and she holds her own, leading the song to become the Latina girl power anthem.
Now, the New Jersey native is back, this time a speaking role in a Get Out the Vote ad.
It consists of a playground scene with a boy who admits his father isn’t going to vote. Casting director Richard Jordan knew she would be perfect for the role seeing as they needed a young girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Right up Gonzalez’s alley, he told Fox News Latino.
“I can’t believe all the positive things people have been saying. It’s like all happening at once,” Gonzalez said while walking around New York City. Her father, Juan Gonzalez, is equally in awe.
Since her music video debut, Dominican author Junot Diaz has shouted out to her on Facebook, she was invited to attend the Hispanic Heritage festivities at the White House and she's getting to work on a project with People for the American Way.
Sarai is half Costa Rican by way of her father, and her mother, Diana Gonzalez, is Peruvian. They live in Greenbrook and decided to home-school Sarai this year so she could go to auditions.
So far so good; Sarai is an excellent student.
Her appearance in “Soy Yo” was her acting debut, if you don’t count the plays she writes when her cousins come over the house.
“She writes them in almost no time. The whole family is always impressed by her. But I’m not surprised, she’s always loved being the center of attention,” her father said.
He says after "Soy Yo" was released, the family received an overwhelming amount of messages from Latinas thanking Gonzalez because her performance in the video made them feel like they finally belonged. One woman even sent a grade-school picture saying how seeing the video motivated her to embrace her former nerdy self, big glasses and all.
Fans have started making art as a tribute to Gonzalez and her character, sharing it on social media using the hashtag #SoyYo, sometimes alongside throwback photos of themselves at that age.
Even Bomba Estereo has gotten into the act, reposting fans’ artwork, usually accompanied by the lyrics, “Y no te preocupes si no te aprueban cuando te critiquen tu solo di … 'Soy Yo!'” ("Don't worry if they don't approve of you, and when they criticize you, just say ... I'm me!")
“Sarai came to our community at the perfect time,” Patty Rodriguez, the senior producer for "On Air With Ryan Seacrest" and the co-founder of Lil' Libros bilingual books, told FNL.
In part, Rodriguez was referring to how this year among Latinas, much of the cultural conversation has been centered around female empowerment, identity and self-worth. Combined with the negative rhetoric about the Latino community that has dominated much of the election year, and it seems only natural for Gonzalez’s role to have set off a large response.
“This beautiful girl is a representation of what Latinos in this country are currently feeling. We are confident, this our time, and we are no longer waiting for anyone,” she added.
“I love that video so much. It reminds me of my childhood and of who I wanted to be when I was young. I wish I [had been] that confident,” Rodriguez said.
When asked what else Gonzalez wants to achieve with her newfound fame, she quickly replied, “I want to sing. I always sing at home, but I want to do it along with acting.”
She’s also wise beyond her years when it comes to gaining self-confidence touting her mantra: "Don’t care about what other people think about you. Be true to who you are.” And, oh, yeah, get out and vote.