Julissa Calderon used her platform as a Buzzfeed content creator to bring Latinx voices and experiences to light.
Now, she looks forward to doing the same with the upcoming release of her new Netflix show.
The 2011 UF alumna, now 30, describes herself as an artist, although she started at UF as a nursing student. After getting a 62 percent on a chemistry exam during her freshman year, Calderon was walking to the bus stop and came across theater students dancing.
“It looked like recess,” she said. “And I was like ‘Wait what the hell? Why am I over here bummed because of a chemistry test and here are these kids in the theater building having a blast?’”
She called her mother immediately and told her she was changing her major. Calderon found her place on campus as a theater and telecommunication double major, which set up her career trajectory as an actress, writer, producer, editor and director.
While she didn’t know what she was going to do at the moment, she knew the change would make her happy.
She quickly found herself spending weekends in Gainesville instead of going home after changing her major and meeting her best friend, who she bonded with over being from the Dominican Republic.
“We started embracing being there and going out and going to parties and going to events and learning the culture of Gainesville and UF,” she said. “I think that kept us from going home. By sophomore year, we were so immersed.”
The most validating moment of her college career was during her senior year when she was cast for the first time as a character who she truly connected with: a Latina woman.
“It was definitely so rewarding,” she said. “I learned so much. I got to actually enjoy that semester because I felt included for the first time.”
In 2013, she went from Miami to Los Angeles for an audition and decided she was there to stay.
Again, she immediately gave her mom a call, but adapting to Los Angeles, like Gainesville, took time. She was rejected from auditions because her “accent” was too strong — an accent she didn’t know she had.
In 2016, she started working at Buzzfeed where she acceptance of her culture as part of “Pero Like,” a Buzzfeed department for Latinx audiences. Her job as a producer combined her undergraduate degrees because she was acting and producing content by editing and directing.
“I was so happy and so engaged and so involved making the content that I feel like we needed,” Calderon said.
She is now looking forward to the release of “Gentefied,” a Netflix show that was rewritten for her to star as a Dominican activist.
“It allows us to show that all Latinos are not the same,” she said. “We all don’t speak the same, we all don’t look the same. But at the end of the day we speak the same language so our stories are the same, they’re just different colors.”
Until its release, Calderon is visiting colleges around the U.S. telling her story and sharing experiences with students.
Her tour started a year ago when she was invited to speak at UF for the 2018 Hispanic Latinx Student Assembly.
Madison Rodas, a 21-year-old UF political science senior, was the event director for HLSA when Calderon came to speak.
She said her team wanted to bring someone to the event that embodied a Latinx success story.
Rodas said that hearing stories from people who have lived similar experiences validates students.
“She talked about moving to California, how she had nothing and basically how all of the hard work she had put in and the chase paid off in the end,” she said. “I think a lot of people need to hear that.”
To Calderon, speaking at UF made her story come full circle.
“I never imagined I would be speaking to my alma mater, just talking to them about me and my life,” she said. “I felt like such a small fish in a big pond at UF, and here I am getting recognized.”
Julissa Calderon is looking forward to the release “Gentefied,” a Netflix show she will star in.