She?s Mercedes: The woman from the clouds.

Yalitza Aparicio, from Oaxaca, got the leading role in the movie “Roma” purely by chance. Her brilliant acting led to a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress – the first indigenous Mexican ever to be nominated. Instead of leading a glamorous life in Hollywood, she prefers to campaign on behalf of Mexico’s indigenous community.

For a descendant of the “Cloud People”, you might think the gods are just a small step away. But when Yalitza Aparicio, the proud daughter of an indigenous Mexican from the highest echelons of Mixtec culture, walked down the red carpet as an Oscar-nominated actress in 2019, it was clear that she was still reeling from her rise to the Hollywood heights. She was accompanied by her mother, also a descendant of an indigenous minority in multi-ethnic Mexico. When asked by an excited reporter what she made of the hype around “Roma”, the mother simply whispered: “Unbelievable.”

“Roma” tells the story of a maid in 1970s Mexico City, and was the Oscar-crowned film that transformed Aparicio into an international star. For her role, the leading actress – who had never stood in front of a camera before that day – learned a variant of the language spoken by the Mixtecs, or the Cloud People, a dialect that is today only known to some 20,000 people in Yalitza’s home, Oaxaca. The 25-year-old recalls how her paternal grandparents talked in Mixtec, while her maternal grandparents spoke Trique. “Whenever our grandparents called us in for dinner, I would immediately run to the table. But if they wanted me to go and do something that I just didn’t feel like doing, I’d say: ‘Speak Spanish, Nana, I can’t understand a word!’”