Noemi Gonzalez of Netflix’s ‘Selena’ Speaks on Defining Beauty, Selena’s Legacy & More

Photography by Vince Trupsin

On December 4th, 2020, Netflix delivered the highly anticipated Selena: The Series. In 9 episodes we can be witnesses in Selena’s life as she and her family make their journey in the music industry to find success with the band Los Dinos alongside her brother, A.B. Quintanilla III, and her sister, Suzette Quintanilla. 

Played by Noemi Gonzalez, who stands out with her own charisma when she acts as Selena’s older sister, drummer, and closest confidant. 

The California native is, until recently, best known for her standout role as ‘Soli Gomez’ in the hit Hulu Original series East Los High (2013-2017) and now as a Mexican American artist, this role is a point of pride and very near and dear to Noemi’s heart.

We had the opportunity to speak with the actress about her career, her role in the Selena series and how important it was for her to become a part of the Quintanilla family on this project among other things.

Interview by Michael D. Monroe. Video editing by Daniel Rivera.

What’s your philosophy in life? My philosophy in life is love the life you live; live the life you love. Because you only have one chance. So never lose sight of the fact that you have the ability to make your life what you want It to be and to live up to your fullest potential. Don’t live in your fear, live in your love and embrace this experience.

How do you define beauty? I define beauty for me as personal as self-love, self-confidence, knowing that you have the dignity and your integrity and that you are kind from the inside out and you will radiate. Well, that’s all that matters.

Share about your highs and lows: My highest point in my life was probably playing “Como La Flor” for six minutes for the show because it ties with the lowest times of my life, specifically when I experienced the loss of my brother so young, that I went dark… Having been through so much hardship, when met with a new challenge, it was easier to shrink and go into my shell and be defeated. In this challenging instance, I had to do a six-minute live song, and I had only learned how to play the drums two and half months beforehand- I turned the challenge into opportunity- I gave it my all for the story, for Suzette. For Selena. For the siblings’ experience as a band onstage together. 

It really made me choose to live. It made me choose to emote. It made me to choose not to run away. It made me choose to not just be alive, but to thrive. I really could have sabotaged that experience because of the pressure. Instead, I connected not only with my higher self, but with Selena, Suzette, with the camera, with my crew, with everyone in that sound stage. That moment was very powerful. It was incredible. And I’ll never forget it.

What is a common misconception about you? A common misconception people have about me most often is that I’m always happy because I have such a strong, unique, laugh and it’s really signature. Like I remember going to the movies and people would know I’m there…I’d laugh at the movie and someone’s like “Noemi, is that you?” and I’m like “Hey!” We’re human, you know. There’s this idea of like as soon as they have what they love about me, which might be my laugh, that that’s all that they want and expect. And so I’m human just like you. We have our waves that come and go. 

And because of that, I’m often misunderstood. You know, my strength is really misunderstood, my passion is really misunderstood for anger and just in general, my passion is full throttle. And so whoever is on the receiving end, coming in with their own history, their own baggage, they interpret that as negativity. And it’s not, it’s love and passion.

Write a note to your teenage self in 6 words. If I could write a note to myself and it was only five words to my 16 years old self, it would be: “You are strong. Capable. Resilient. Unforgettable.”

How do you relate Suzette? I relate to Suzette with the family dynamic. I was raised Jehovah’s Witness the way that the Quintanilla was raised Jehovah’s Witness. So I know the experience of having such an insular, tight knit family that you can’t really hang out with people that are outside the family or who aren’t Jehovah’s Witness themselves. So that really strengthens the bonds of family. So that family first pillar that is so definitive in Suzette is clearly in me. I also lost my brother when I was eight years old and he was 14 and he was like the light of the family. 

Obviously, he’s not Selena, but to lose someone like that is a similar experience to anybody who’s had a sibling that they see as the heart, the light of the family, siblings. And to lose them is another similarity to Suzette. And then lastly, probably always trying to stay positive, regardless of how tough things are. Just trying to laugh is always to put your best face forward and try to look your best like she does.

What does Selena’s Legacy mean to you? Selena’s Legacy represents so much for me. It represents womanhood. It represents the hard-working Mexican-American experience. It represents a working family, the American Dream, you know, humble roots to stardom, and that it takes a village. Represents true creativity and love. It represents Latinidad, you know, it represents Female equality, and it represents always knowing how often we can be caught as the underdog under fire and still survive and thrive, and she’s that example of being who she is, regardless of the barriers. There were no barriers to her. There was nothing that she could not do because of her positivity.

What do you want to contribute to Latin Culture? What I want to contribute to Latin culture is not just for Latin culture, but for us to be human right alongside our Caucasian counterparts. We are all children of the same god, of the same universe, spirit, whatever you want to call it. 

And if my work contribution, my presence, my voice, using it right now with you helps represent not just the Latina little girls watching me, but Latinas that are alongside me acting. It’s also representing all the Latinas and Latinos that come after me. And I want to be sure that I’m a pioneer in such a critical time where there is so much change. So I hope that I am serving it with goodness and grace and truth to power.

What’s your advice to women that want to get into film? My advice to girls and women who want to get into the film industry that are afraid is to remove your fear, remove your insecurity, remove any second thought. Own who you are and whatever energy you have about your insecurity or your fear, transcend that, because that’s wasted energy and you’re wasting time worrying that could be spent creating. So go to school. You will be 90 percent better than the people that are going for the same jobs if you go to school and if you don’t go to school necessarily like I did at UC Santa Barbara, then go to plenty of vocational schools. Commit to like watching clips on the internet so that you can learn something. 

There are always ways to strengthen your confidence. So if you don’t like something, change it. But don’t stay down for too long. My sisters do no stay down for too long for anything because it is wasted energy when you could really enjoy life and live your dreams.

What makes the series different from the film? The true development., the true coming of age of Selena. I feel that the movie just fast forwards and there’s a lot content that people will get to enjoy the ride to what it takes to be the star that Selena became. 

What makes you strikingly different? What makes me strikingly different is my spirit. I focus on my spirit. I focus on that more than I do my beauty. More than I do my work of anything that is trending. I always take a step back and think about how to strengthen my spirit so that my spirit can shine. And that is what transmits people to see the beauty in me, to be attracted to what I have to offer because energy doesn’t lie. And when you take care of your spirit, you shine.