Meet the DON'T EAT THE MANGOS Cast: Elena Estér

Hunter Nelson
Behind the Scenes
Mar 11, 2020

In our first interview for DON'T EAT THE MANGOS, Elena Estér tells us about the limits of translation, veganism, and telling Latinx stories.

How did you get into acting - what was your first gig?

My first gig was the holiday plays I used to direct and create for my sisters and I to act in and perform for our family during holiday get togethers. My first paid gig was an airline commercial that made me SAG-eligible immediately.  I learned the meaning of residuals from that gig -- I did not even know what SAG was or that I would get paid for years after.  It was years later when I actually started to audition and was on check avail for a union car commercial that I was told that I was SAG eligible by the CD for that gig.  The funny thing is if you see that commercial, you won't be able to tell it's me because I'm backlit and handing something to a customer.  And it's so fast you would seriously have to pause.  But I'm so grateful because I never had to worry about becoming SAG-eligible.  

What is your favorite line in Don't Eat the Mangos (it doesn’t have to be yours)?

I love different lines for different reasons. The line that literally always cracks me up is, "cómo que pa' la romería? Una nena que quiere ir a un festival de santo?" It's when the sisters try to remember the words of a lullaby and one of them suggests that the word they are trying to remember is "romería," which would mean that the little girl in the lullaby wants to go to a religious processional commemorating a saint (the romería). The other sister retorts that little girls wouldn't want to go to a romería but the other sister defends her choice. Also the line is written in a bit of slang, so it's like saying, "watchu mean to the "romería?" instead of, "what do you mean to the "romería?" so that makes it extra authentic, real, and funny!

The other favorite line that I could immediately think of would give away too much so I can't say it!

Another one is "Sí, de mano, 'mana!" It's a play on words in Spanish so it wouldn't neatly translate. Literally it's, "Yes, manually, sis!" to indicate that she now has to do something (I'm not going to say what!) "by hand" or manually. But since hand and sis in English don't sound alike, it's not that clever in English.

What does it mean to you to be telling Latinx stories?

Ugh, this is at the heart of my being. I have a very long and nuanced answer to this question but for brevity's sake, the idea of telling narratives that you don't usually see on mainstream media in a nuanced, authentic way is what I want to do as an artist. We get lumped together and sometimes we lump ourselves together forgetting that we are a heterogeneous group of people that get represented by a very narrow identity group within the spectrum of our multitude of identities and experiences. I get excited to tell these different stories and I take very seriously my responsibility to represent in the most authentic way I can. I'm moved to tears that I am a part of this community/ies and want to continue living in this space because there is SO much work to do! So many different stories to be told! I can be here forever! I also can't wait to tell stories from my point of view as a displaced indigenous person from South America.

What do you anticipate being the most challenging part of your journey towards performance, and which parts do you look forward to?

Every aspect has its challenge and I'm taking every opportunity to learn and grow so that I can rely on myself to fully be present and tell the story. I'm soaking up as much as I can and am so grateful to be surrounded by inspiring, experienced and talented artists.  You don't even understand how grateful and blessed I feel.  I just can't wait to do more and learn more.  I always just want to do things better so I'm learning from everyone.

Estér (Yinoelle) and Marilet Martinez (Wicha). Photo Credit: Jennifer Reiley.
What’s the performance you’re proudest of in your career so far, and what roles would you like to perform in the future?

I'm proud that I'm putting one foot in front of the other and am proud that I work hard and keep going for my dreams.  

I am particularly interested in telling narratives from the point of view of displaced native people from South America.  We are originally Quechua speaking people but when my grandparents moved to the capital city, they had to hide that they spoke Quechua to help deflect discrimination. However, as darker skinned indigenous people, they did not have the privilege of "passing" for white or whiter, presumably richer city people.  So in one generation, our native language was lost (my mom and aunts and uncle only know some words/phrases).  I am in the process or reacquiring my native language and hope to be able to play a role in which I could use it.  Just thinking about it makes me cry.

Veganism is also an important topic and I want to use narratives to show that veganism is not just a diet but a tool of anti-racism work.  We need to consider the impacts not only on the animals (which is in an of itself important) but also on the non-human animals that work in or are impacted by animal agriculture:  the indigenous people that get pushed off their ancestral land to make room for cattle grazing or for the food that is given to cattle; the high rates of injuries, depression, and ptsd suffered by slaughterhouse workers who are often some of the most vulnerable members of society; the USDA's efforts to sell milk surplus to fast food chains disproportionately impacting black and brown neighborhoods who live in areas dominated by fast foods even though black and brown people biologically are more likely to be unable to digest it and are actually harmed by its consumption.  These are all great topics for documentaries but I would love take part in shedding light on these issues through narrative.

If you weren't an actor, what other job would you have?

I would be a dancer, but I am a dancer already so I guess I would be a marine biologist!  I am in love with all animals and I would love to get to know the ones under the sea, especially since our oceans are in grave danger.  I would want to learn about them so I could help.  And I love the sea.

Estér on the beach
Hunter Nelson

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