Comic and Actor Selene Luna Creates Her Own Narrative in Hollywood
On the biggest pleasures we got from producing the Women’s Equality Summit this summer was meeting so many incredible women with such diverse stories of equality. One of the women had the good fortune to connect with along the way is Selene Luna. Her most prominent credit is her work voicing Tia Rosita in the Disney Pixar animated film Coco. But perhaps her most important work is being an advocate for people living with disabilities, including a 2019 visit to Washington to DC to meet with legislators Maxine Waters Speak at a rally on Capitol Hill alongside US Senator Chuck Schumer.
Selene participated in our storyteller event during the summit and her presentation was powerful, we needed to know more. Her interview was so moving we couldn’t edit out a word of it. So we decided to make it into two parts. She talks about her life as a stand-up comic and actress as well as her work fighting for disability justice. But what we found most compelling was her story of growing up with a disability and her determination to creative her own narrative in her entertainment career and get life in general.
We also, knew Selene had so much more to share that we asked her to help us produce our first Passionistas Project Equality Exchange event. And so, next Wednesday, October 28, Selene and five other performers will be coming together for the first ever virtual line-up of all female performers with disabilities. The comedy event will be followed by a roundtable where we can continue the conversation about the challenges faced by women in the community. Find out more here.
The following is an excerpt from our conversation with Selene.
Passionistas: What are you most passionate about?
Selene: What I am most passionate about is disability justice. And I guess you could call me an advocate for disabled justice. And it's not necessarily a fire in my belly that I must do this. It's a necessity that I have to do with, I have better things to do with my time. Being an advocate for social injustice is really exhausting. And it's an absolute shame to me that we have to go to such measures just to be heard. And so that is why I am an advocate for disability justice because it impacts my life personally and those and those around me, people in my life. As early as I could remember, as a little child, nothing got under my skin, then things that were not fair. Unfairness drove me nuts and it still does. And so, I'm very passionate about injustice and it's driven by my own personal challenges in a society that openly discriminates against people with disabilities. So, it's not a joyful passion. It's just a necessity in my life.
Passionistas: So, take us back to when you were a young girl and what your childhood was like.
Selene: My childhood was I'm riddled with adversity. I'm a Mexican immigrant. So, my parents brought our family to the to the United States from Mexico when I was three years old. I don't really have a memory of that, but the challenges we faced were a lot of racism and bigotry because we were Mexican, we were new to the country.
And I was the only person who with a disability in my family. Actually correction. My father is actually disabled as well, but he wasn't born with a disability. He was in a horrific accident when he was 18 and he lost his entire right arm. He's an amputee. But I forget honestly, because the way we grew up was never really talking too much about it. I grew up in the seventies, my parents are old school. You just suck it up and you get on with life. So that was great for me in many ways, but it also was not good for me because then I felt very isolated. No one in my family was a little person and nobody really had a disability that was addressed directly. Everyone's needs were met, but there wasn't a conversation about disability at all. And my dad was busy working two jobs. We just don't even talk about feelings.
So, my upbringing as a disabled little girl, it was very isolating. It was very dark. I felt very alone. I was never immersed in any type of support network. I was never exposed to a disabled community. And my only point of references were disabled people being ridiculed on television. And I grew up watching Billy Barty, the Buggaloos, things like where the creatures on television were, little people in costumes. It was very dehumanizing. And the irony is, and I grew up to do that myself, but as a child that had a lot of internalized shame, enablism, it's the only images I identified with, were the dehumanizing images of little people on television and movies, including the Wizard of Oz that brought up a lot of anxiety for me.
I didn't feel human. I felt like I'm not a human being like my siblings or my parents, like I'm something different and it must be really shameful cause we don't talk about it. So, it was really awful, no gentle way to say this. But grew up old school, you just bare and grin it and you chug along and you don't complain. And so that's where the funny comes in.
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