Always staying true to her roots, Julissa Calderon introduced millions of viewers to the “Latin mother.” While this character makes us laugh and reminisce on the days our mothers would pull out la chancla, Julissa brings so much more to the table. Employed by BuzzFeed’s Latin channel, Pero Like, Julissa acts in, produces, and directs numerous video projects. This multi-faceted artist is a force to be reckoned with!
Although I was born in New York and raised in Miami, I come from a Dominican family. We spoke Spanish at home and family was always a priority. A lot of my material is based on Dominican culture because that’s what I know.
When did you discover your passion for acting?
I’ve always had a big personality. Since I was little, I was super dramatic and had no shame in taking the spotlight. My mother made sure I got involved in the school play and the chorus. By the time I was five, I was acting and speaking in public. I always liked performing, but it wasn’t until 8th grade that I said I would see my name in lights ten years from that moment.
Was it in 8th grade that you began to pursue acting professionally?
No. Acting wasn’t the cool thing to do at that time. My family also wanted to make sure I followed a career that would give me wealth and success. So, when I started college I enrolled into a nursing program because it was cool and paid well. After my second semester though, I knew it wasn’t for me.
Since quitting that program, I returned to acting. I still didn’t expect to do much because a lot of the plays we did in college weren’t diverse. I never got a lead role. There just weren’t characters made for me — a Spanish-speaking, brown Latina. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I realized I could do it. I could make it happen!
What was your “A-ha” moment in senior year?
I got the lead role in a play about Salvador Dali. I killed it! Everyone came up to me after the play and told me how much they loved seeing me on stage. And I felt really good about my performance. There were even professors asking me where I had been, as if I were hiding or something. I responded with, “I’ve been here the whole time. There just weren’t any roles made for me.”
Since that play, you began auditioning everywhere! Have any of those auditions led to opportunities you didn’t expect?
In 2013, I found out about an audition in LA and I bought a round-trip ticket from Miami. But something about being in LA and chasing this opportunity told me to stay. I thought to myself, “if not now, then when?” So, I missed my flight home and risked everything to stay in LA. I was very ambitious but I just knew I had to try.
What did your family think about your “One-way trip” to LA?
They were very supportive. My family was always there for me and I cannot thank them enough for it. But my mother had an ultimatum. She gave me two weeks to find a job otherwise, I had to move back home to Miami. By the end of my two-week period I didn’t have two jobs. I had three! Once my family realized how serious I was about this, my mother began shipping all my things to LA!
I can’t imagine this experience was easy. What kept you motivated despite facing moments of doubt?
I gave myself six months to work hard and save money before I continued auditioning. I made a game plan. During that time my family was super supportive and always reminded me of how strong I was. Growing up, my grandmother and brothers were a big influence. My grandmother was a strong woman and my brothers toughened me up. With both inspirations, I had “ganas,” or desire, to pursue my dream.
The video above shows your growth within the past year. How do you feel about getting so personal and real with your followers?
At first, I was hesitant to let the video be published, let alone make it. I was very vulnerable and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to let audiences see that side of me. But, when I realized that viewers like to see people struggle and rise from that, I knew it was time to share my story. As soon as the video was posted, it received thousands of views and many people thanked me for helping them.
Reflecting on your journey, what advice could you give Latinx audiences aspiring to pursue their dreams?
First, never give up but also be prepared. You have to love what you do. Otherwise, you won’t have the drive you need to overcome all kinds of challenges. I think the most important thing is support. There is strength in numbers, so support each other!
The industry is tough and you won’t always be 100% sure of yourself but as long as you have faith, you work hard, and you love what you do, then you’ll make it. And always be the most authentic version of yourself possible!
The round-trip adventure that became a one-way trip was just the push Julissa needed to find her path. Do not be afraid to discover something new. As Julissa stated, the universe works in your favor!
A special thank you to Julissa for this incredible interview!
Currently working on new and exciting projects, Julissa won’t stop representing the Latin community through her humor and talent. Stay in the loop by clicking here to check out Julissa’s videos. Also, follow her social media for live updates on upcoming projects!