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The actress, who lends her voice to the Shrek spin-off, Puss in Boots, zeroes in on what makes her strive to reach her goals.
People often ask me if I have a role model—another actress I admire, or someone in my life I aspire to be like. For years I wasn't sure how to answer. But when the question came up again recently, I finally realized that I've always been most moved by the women in my family who never became what they could have, who were magnificent in so many ways but who didn't get to live to their full potential.
My grandmother was energetic and fearless—a talented poet and songwriter. She was also interested in chemistry and history and medicine, taking care of the people in her hacienda in Mexico, delivering babies. She could have become anything, but this was the 1930s, and she was forced into an arranged marriage. When she finally got the courage to leave her husband and move to Mexico City, she found it difficult to begin a career—there was so much prejudice against women, even in the big city.
My mother, too, had to put aside her dreams. She wanted to be a singer, but that was looked down upon in the society she grew up in. She told herself she wasn't good enough, and married and had children instead of studying music. She didn't work to develop her extraordinary voice until later in life. If she had studied earlier, maybe she could have been the next Maria Callas.
When I started acting, I was told over and over again, "You're no good." But I said to myself, You've got to keep it up. I see now that the experiences of my mother and grandmother inspired me profoundly. Thinking about them impacts every aspect of my life—including how I raise my daughter, Valentina. I want my little girl to tell me who she is so I can encourage her, and not impose my desires for her on her life. I want her to dream big and to know that if she is willing to earn it, she can have anything—and become anything.
I realize now that I've hoped to be great—as an actress, as a mother—because I want to embody the greatness of women who didn't get to be all they could have been. Their dignity, their courage, and their brilliance make me strive to be better. They're a part of me. So any accomplishment I get to have is a little bit of an accomplishment for them, too.
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From the December 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!