New York-based actress Carolina Ravassa has lived her life divided. She grew up in Colombia until age 13, had a taste of the American middle- and high-school experience when she spent two years here, then returned to Colombia. At eighteen, she moved to the U.S. for college and she’s been here now for the past 12 years.
I spoke with Carolina about her cosmopolitan tendencies, her first play, and her new creative project, a web series called Hispanglosaxon; stay tuned for part two of our interview, where we’ll discuss the series in more depth.
Hip Latina: You speak four different languages?
Carolina Ravassa: [laughs] Yes.
HL: How did that all come about?
CR: Well, I grew up speaking Spanish and English at the same time. At home we spoke English with my mom and my grandma and Spanish with my dad. Even though everyone spoke both languages. That’s just how they taught us since we were raised—I have two sisters—we all spoke both languages at home.
I did an exchange program with a friend and we studied in Italy. I learned Italian that summer and then kept studying it. So I was trilingual through part of college and then I decided to go abroad to Brazil because I had always wanted to speak Portuguese and learn capoeira and samba and all this crazy kind of fun obsession with Brazilian culture; it was only six months but it was a super intense experience where I only spoke Portuguese because I was working with only Portuguese speakers. And with the romance languages I feel like it helps, so the Portuguese just came very naturally.
HL: Right. I studied in Spain for a couple of years and I minored in Spanish. I’m not a native speaker. I can carry on a conversation in Spanish but it’s still spotty. But it was weird, when I went to Italy, I could understand more or less what they were talking about.
What got you started in acting?
CR: Honestly, I was just a hyperactive child. My poor mom had to deal with a very loud little girl running around. They gave me a solo in like a Christmas concert, where a bunch of kids sang different parts. The director of the chorus was like, “Oh, she should audition for the musical!” I got the role of Gretl in The Sound of Music.
HL: Oh, my dad wanted to name me after her.
You’re also working on a web series, right?
CR: Yeah. It’s hard enough as an actor to try and get work, so this was me creating something that I know really well and making it happen on my own.
HL: That’s empowering.
CR: A lot of actors are doing that nowadays.
I had this idea for a short film in my head and I kept trying to do it with other actors and a crew and lights and everything. I finally said, I’m just gonna do it all by myself. So I play all the characters, and it’s basically making fun of the fact that I’m a very white Latina, so I, in a lot of typical casting situations, go in and audition and they question my Latin legitimacy. They actually say, “Oh, but you’re white,” or, “Do you speak Spanish?” And when I say yes, they say, “Are you sure you speak Spanish?”
CR: And then I end up auditioning with people who, you know, might look like you, or a little darker and with a perfect, like, Latin fro—and they don’t speak Spanish, but they don’t question them because obviously they look so perfectly Spanish, whatever “Spanish” is.
I think some people in the U.S., they just get so—even when they meet black Dominicans, they don’t understand. “Oh, I just thought you were black!” “I am black, and I happen to be Dominican as well.” It’s like they don’t understand that they’re two things that aren’t mutually exclusive.
My manager told me, “I couldn’t get you in for the Colombian role, they didn’t think you looked Colombian enough.”
HL: The irony.
CR: My manager’s like, “Honey, they won’t see you for the Colombian, but they want to see you for the Brazilian role.” I’m like, “Okay, bring it on.”
And I’m glad to go in for other ethnicities. I just think it’s funny I can’t go in for my own.