The American entertainment zeitgeist is seemingly at a turning point of representation. Historically underrepresented and exploited groups in entertainment are beginning to have more control over their narratives and on-screen representation. Television, with its ephemerality, is often the canvas on which these cultural shifts are immediately prevalent. Although on-screen narratives are becoming more diverse and inclusive, the system is still far from perfect and the industry still has a long way to go.
TMS spoke with actor Alex Meneses about her experiences as a first-generation American in the entertainment industry. Meneses has accomplished much throughout her career so far, and she doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
She is a Latinx ALMA Award-nominated actress, model and philanthropist. You may recognize her from a handful of popular television series, including “Why Women Kill,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Telenovela.”
Currently, Meneses is contributing her acting talents on The CW’s “Walker,” a contemporary revival of the 90s drama, “Walker: Texas Ranger.” Season 2 of “Walker” premiered on October 28, and Meneses can be seen playing Dr. Adriana Ramirez, the mother of Walker’s partner, Micki, and an accomplished psychologist and author. In our conversation, we got to explore this character in greater depth.
The new “Walker” spinoff
“I was very, very interested in doing this character because she is a Mexican woman and a doctor,” explains Meneses on what drew her to the role of Dr. Ramirez on The CW’s “Walker.”
“One of the comments that Lindsey makes is, ‘Oh, the cops are following her, look at this Mexican woman who’s driving it around in a BMW. Hahaha.’ You know, it’s suspicious. And the fact that that is part of the show is wonderful to me.
“Adriana is a very confident woman. She tells her opinions whether you want to hear them or not, like a lot of moms do, but does it in this sort of pseudo ‘I’m a psychiatrist,’ manipulative way that I find very funny. So, she’s a great character. She’s a lot of fun and an educated woman … so that really turned me on.”
In terms of how “Walker” diverges from the original series and what it delivers as far as nostalgia, Meneses explained, “Well, I think it’s different in a way that it’s more family-oriented, and Walker, the lead character, gets to be a full person.”
“You know, he’s a father,” Meneses divulges. “He has problems. He falls in love. He’s heartbroken; he can cry. So it’s much more full for him.
“All the characters are very well fleshed out. And his partner is a female, is a woman, a Mexican girl named Lindsay Morgan, my girl, who I love. I play her mother. But the fact that his partner is a Mexican woman is a big step, and that is wonderful. But there’s plenty of action and drama and blowing things up like the old ‘Walker’ as well.”
Latinx representation in Hollywood
Meneses herself has Mexican heritage on her father’s side (and Ukrainian on her mother’s side), so playing nuanced roles that feature Latinx storylines is something she has a vested interest in. Over the course of her career, Meneses has observed how Latinx representation has evolved, though she admits it still has a ways to go.
“I think that there are some real leaders there that are changing things that are friends of mine,” Meneses says. “And Gloria Calderon (I think she uses Gloria Kellett, professionally) … But America Ferrera, Eva Longoria, they’re doing these wonderful projects, and I am trying to, also. Everything that I’m producing has to be at an equal playing field. I’m trying to get more women involved as writers behind the camera. I have girlfriends who are directors. I want them to be directing this new show that I’m doing.
“I think there are more opportunities for actors and for producers than there were when I first started, absolutely. But I, of course, started out in prehistoric days. So, there’s that. But I still think we are wildly underrepresented on television, and it needs to get better. And let’s do it.”
Meneses finds working with other women, especially Latinx women, to be an integral part of this progressive movement toward balancing the playing field. “[I work with] women who are open and secure, who really want to lift each other up,” she says. “I mean, there’s a lot of people say that – ‘lift-each-other-up’ women – and they’re really not all about that at all. But I know fantastic women.”
As for more opportunities and representation for historically underrepresented and marginalized groups, it’s all about range.
“It’s not just about women; it’s about representation on every spectrum,” she points out. “And it’s about Latinos of every color, Afro-Latinos, you know, Black Latinos. So it needs to be put out there.
“I have Black girlfriends that are Dominican or Puerto Rican, and they don’t go on for Latino parts, they go out for Black girl parts. They’re like, ‘I’m from [the] Dominican Republic, you know, she can’t get seen for those things.’ Because it’s sort of not recognized in our culture that a Latino can be Black. But that’s what a lot of Puerto Rico and Cuban Latinos are, they’re Black. And that really needs to be represented also.”
“You are American”
From September 15 through October 15, the United States celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month, and Meneses celebrated in her own way. “It’s really important for me to have an ofrenda table, which is a table of offerings forDía de Los Muertos.
“I’m older, so there are a lot of people that have passed away. My mother passed away, my father, my brother. So you put things at the ofrenda table that symbolize what they liked. For instance, I put Raisin Bran at the table because my father loved to eat his Raisin Bran every single day and play the music that he loves. And my mom likes to eat cake and something gooey. So we do that and a cup of coffee; she drank coffee all day.
“So that is important for me to honor them. And it turns a sad, kind of scary holiday into something that’s full of music and remembrance and love. It’s really important for me to do that for my daughter. So that’s how we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and you know, just playing music, make sure that she knows all the fun stuff.”
Regarding her childhood, Meneses explains her own identity was something she sometimes struggled to understand.
“It’s wonderful because the United States is a melting pot. I mean, it’s strange; my dad’s from Mexico, my mom was American, but all my relatives on that side of my family were from Ukraine, and I’d be like, ‘What am I? Am I Mexican? You’re speaking Spanish; you guys are speaking Ukrainian. What am I?’
“My grandmother used to tell me: ‘You are American. Number one, you are American.’ So I’ve always grown up with that. In my head, in my mind, I am American, number one. But, I come from somewhere, and it’s nice to embrace that. Also, it’s nice to have that in your life for children so they know where they come from.”
Apart from her 9-year-old daughter, Meneses spends a lot of time around children through her philanthropic work with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She’s also been involved with United Hope for Animals and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Chicago Historical Society.
“I only get involved with things that … I’m very passionate about, that I can say things about, that I can really help with, you know, not just, ‘I can write a check,’ which I do,” Meneses explains. “But when I speak about it, I can give information about it to turn other people on, to get them involved. And so for me, it’s children, animals and culture, especially in Chicago, because that’s where I’m from.
“Chicago is a very, very layered city. It’s a fabulous city. It’s probably one of the prettiest cities, I think, in the United States, architecturally, and it’s got tons of great restaurants … I would love to concentrate on the history of every city, but I can’t, I have a kid. So for me, the history of Chicago is very important.”
When it comes to Children’s Hospital, Meneses is especially enthusiastic. “Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles is of the utmost importance because when you have a sick kid, a sick kid is everyone’s kid,” she says. “It’s everyone’s responsibility, and I really believe in the work that they do at Children’s Hospital.
“They’re just cutting edge, fantastic – the only freestanding pediatric facility in Los Angeles. They’re completely devoted to children. It’s not just like an offshoot or a wing of a hospital. That is a huge, huge state of the art hospital that is devoted solely to children and is in cahoots with USC, so it’s a teaching hospital, also. They’re doing good work. And there’s nothing worse than a sick child.”
Meneses’ charitable work has naturally affected her own life and sense of priorities. “A big thing for me at Children’s Hospital was to give tours,” remembers Meneses. “I mean, I personally wouldn’t give the tour. I had an administrator from Children’s Hospital come with me. I would bring my friends over to take a tour of the hospital to get them involved. And every time I took a tour of the hospital, and it was clearly about a dozen times in like one year, it changed my life.
“It sounds dramatic, but it honestly changed my life to see the strength of these children, to see the happy faces of the nurses and the doctors doing what they do every single day. You know, not to feel that it’s grueling. It was a blessing. People were so happy to be there. The children were so grateful, and it just shows you what’s important in life. You forget [things like] Instagram. I’m on Instagram, I’m looking at silly stuff and … you forget.”
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