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Actress promotes persistence

Sonia Rao | Friday, September 22, 2006

The keys to success are persistence, the ability to stand up for yourself and having the courage to make your own decisions, said actress, author, TV host and jewelry designer Jackie Guerra, who spoke at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies Wednesday as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Guerra, perhaps best known for her role alongside Jennifer Lopez in “Selena,” described her transition from growing up as a “Mexican valley girl from Los Angeles” to becoming a public figure advocating for improvement in a variety of social issues, including racism, body image and self esteem as a remarkable learning experience.

Before starring in the WB’s “First Time Out,” making her the first Latina to star in a network sitcom, Guerra said that she “never planned on being in show business.”

“It was never important to me,” she said.

Guerra said she realized her calling when she entered a talent show in a bar, hoping to use her time on the stage to raise awareness of a boycott she was working on against a major hotel chain. After following “a drag queen that sung Gloria Estefan through his nose … I stood on the stage and it was the most seductive experience I had ever felt in my entire life,” Guerra said. “I thought, ‘This is what I was born to do.'”

Following her epiphany, Guerra traveled as a standup comic for a year before landing her deal with the WB, but found herself truly tested when she vied for the part of Selena’s sister Suzanne in the Jennifer Lopez film and was initially turned down based on the fact that she was too light-skinned and not Mexican enough.

“I’ve been Mexican my whole life and you’re telling me I can’t play a Mexican?” she quipped.

Guerra remained persistent, sending faxes and leaving messages with the director every hour until she was finally granted an audition, but the part was given to another actress. It was not until the real Suzanne saw Guerra on “Politically Incorrect” and called the director of the movie in Guerra’s favor.

“There are so many times when someone is going to say ‘No, you’re not good enough’ … and if you listen to those people and you let them define what you’re going to do in your life then you’re always going to lose,” Guerra said. “Those fools do not pay rent to live in your head.”

Guerra also spoke of other obstacles in her life besides those concerning acting, including her struggle with weight loss. After undergoing gastric bypass surgery, which she proclaimed to be “the best thing I ever did for myself,” Guerra lost 170 pounds.

“[I did] every diet known to mankind,” she said, including the color diet, which involved eating only one color of food for each day of the week. “Luckily M&Ms come in every single one of those colors,” she said.

Guerra has recently been named spokeswoman for obesity health and has made a “deliberate decision” to move away from acting and more towards activism. She is currently the host of “Workin’ It” on Air America Radio and has recently published the motivating book “Under Construction.”

“You have to make the choices that are right for you and not the ones that will make someone else like you,” she said.