Mexican-Jewish actress Mandy Gonzalez has devoted most of her career to stage work, which she recognizes doesn’t get nearly as much attention as working on-screen. But the 42-year-old mom’s passion, dedication and talent have led her to some incredible experiences throughout her career including pioneering the role of “Nina” in acclaimed Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s In the Heights. The film adaptation hit theaters on June 11 and stars Dominican singer Leslie Grace in the role of Nina. Gonzalez also played the role of Angelica in Lin-Manuel’s subsequent Broadway hit, Hamilton from 2016 until Broadway shut down due to the pandemic.
Now the actress and singer has switched gears and written an empowering young adult novel entitled Fearless – out last month – that was inspired by both her relationship with her Mexican abuelita and her devoted social media followers. Mandy’s book is a mystery novel for middle grade readers featuring a 12-old-theater lover who has to unite with her cast mates aka her “squad” to end a curse in their theater to ensure a successful opening night. It is the first in what will be a three-part series aptly called the “Fearless Series.” The idea came about back when Mandy was working on Hamilton, sparked by a hashtag that has come to mean so much more. At the time, she was connecting with a lot of fans on social media and their stories inspired her to do more.
“A lot of young people were writing me with stories of feeling alone, so I said, ‘If you don’t have a place to belong you can just be a part of my fearless squad,” she tells HipLatina and #FearlessSquad was born. In her words, “To be fearless isn’t about living a life without fear, but to feel the fear and keep trying anyway.” Over time, Mandy found that the idea resonated with many, and she continued to explore what else she could do with it.
Eventually, she decided to record an album for her growing #FearlessSquad and recruited her friend and colleague, Lin-Manuel to write the title song. “He wrote the anthem ‘Fearless,’ which encapsulates the movement so beautifully,” Mandy says.
Mandy is a creative through and through and had already been writing stories for quite some time and at some point she realized that the characters she had been writing about could be a part of her #FearlessSquad too. “I felt very lucky because this story really centers around Broadway, and I was doing Hamilton and just full of inspiration.”
The story of 12-year-old Monica Garcia and her abuelita traveling to New York City from Northern California so she could fulfill her dream of being on Broadway echos Mandy’s own story.
“I was constantly looking for names and characters who looked like me when I was younger and I didn’t have a lot of luck with that. To know that a life in the arts is possible. That has been my inspiration,” she said of her motivation for writing the characters she did. In keeping with her own priorities, Fearless highlights the importance of Latinx representation and inclusivity in the arts as well as the benefits of introducing the arts to children, which Mandy credits almost entirely to her own grandmother.
“I was very lucky because I had an abuelita who loved Broadway,” said Mandy, whose father’s parents are both originally from Mexico and worked as migrant farm workers most of their lives after moving to the United States.
“It was important to write the story for my abuelita. My grandparents worked hard,” Mandy said describing sweet memories of time spent with her grandparents, like how she would get up early to make tortillas for her grandchildren’s breakfast before going to work. She would make the flour ones especially for Mandy who didn’t like the corn tortillas. “My grandma never took time to travel or do anything like that and it was important for me to write a story so that we could have that.”
With Fearless, Mandy is literally bringing Latinx stories to the mainstream in a way that will impact future generations. It’s an utterly powerful thought to imagine her story, which represents so many of our own, sitting on shelves in school libraries and on racks at the book fair. And she’s doing it simply because she’s putting one foot in front of the other, carving a path for herself in mostly unchartered territory. When we asked her—an actress and singer—how she knew she could write a book and get it published, she quoted Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. “The path is made by walking,” she said. She’s had to do it herself on more than one occasion.
Mandy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 leading her to find a strength within her she didn’t know she had and a passion for advocating for herself and those in her community. “I was diagnosed early. I had just recently turned 40 and she asked me if I wanted to get a mammogram because it didn’t run in my family,” Mandy shared. She agreed to the mammogram, which revealed some abnormalities and led to the discovery that she had Stage 1 breast cancer. Because the cancer was caught early, Mandy was able to fight it and underwent her final treatment in the spring of 2020 and is now a cancer survivor.
“On my mother’s side they knew everything and on my father’s side nobody knew about it. My abuelos didn’t go to the doctors unless they were super sick. They would heal themselves. Bisabuela was a healer,” she told us. And while we can all agree there is value in bisabuela’s remedios, Mandy knew she now had an opportunity to help other Latinx people in similar situations.
“I felt like because I had this platform because I could use my voice not just singing but to advocate for others. It’s important for me to tell the Latinx community that if you are putting off an appointment, know that taking care of yourself is also taking care of your family,” she said. “I can only continue this journey. The next part of my journey is advocating for people.”
But now that Broadway has reopened and TV shows are filming again, you can expect to see this poderosa back doing what she loves the most. In addition to writing the Fearless sequels, Mandy is set to return to television in the upcoming Hulu original comedy series Only Murders in the Building, alongside Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez and Aaron Dominguez. Yes, that’s three Latinx actors in the same series which we are all for!
But perhaps even more significantly, Mandy is already set to perform on Broadway again. Although she can’t reveal details on that one yet, she can’t wait. “I’m excited to perform. Excited for the audience to be back…there’s nothing like live theater. I just can’t wait to be with the company and the stagehands. I can’t wait to walk up Eighth Ave. and see somebody I know,” she confessed. ““I feel there’s this new energy coming from new York and from the arts.” And Mandy, we’re so thankful you’ll be a part of it, making sure our people are seen and heard in so many areas of the entertainment industry. Now a younger generation will be introduced to a young and powerful Latina character through the Fearless series and with a total of three books it’s sure to make an impact.