Diany Rodriguez: Leading With Empathy

We care deeply about causes that are close to our heart. There is an undeniable zest within for justice, equality, and inclusion—but most of all for harmony and balance. When someone is unkind to others, call it an aggressor or oppressor, that unkindness originates from the lack of experiencing their own unconditional love that is within all of us. We tend naturally to support and fight on behalf of those who are victims of some unjust circumstance. However, we often forget that if at the root of any aggression is fear, by shining the light not only on those who are bullied, but equally sending love to the bullies, will amplify the energies of love—unconditional compassion. Those who are driven by fear the most are seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places and ways, but in essence want and need love.

Artist and activist Diany Rodriguez says, “I am a person who—maybe I wasn’t born to—but I definitely feel the most equipped to fight on behalf of a cause or a person, people, a country, a nation… And as I’ve grown into my adulthood, I have positioned myself in a way that I can take on any specific fight or problem or issue and not worry too much about reprisal. I own it. Every morning I wake up, and I’m like, ‘What can I fight for today? How can I challenge myself or challenge other people today?’ So I feel like my whole life, in some way, I’ve pretty well sort of lived my essence in that sense.”

Pushing against each other brings resistance. Each of our unique perspectives, even those who seem to agree, will invariably differ: all of our opinions, judgments, and beliefs, also continually changing, are based on our unique life experiences. What we do have in common is our essence of love—who doesn’t want to be, receive, and give love? The feeling of love defies description. It’s just that some of us have been looking for too long away from who we truly are. And to make a difference in the world, first and foremost is to fully be and shine that love, so others, those who forgot, can be reminded that they are that love too.

Born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and raised in Jacksonville, Alabama, Diany recognizes her roots and embraces who she is continually becoming. “I still equate Christmas with bandanas and a lot of music. And it’s very strange, but I was maybe 26 or 27 before I learned the English word for pork chops, which I usually would call in Spanish chuletas. I remember distinctly in college going to what people were calling a party. And there was soft music in the background, and people drinking and talking to each other, and there was no dancing. And I was thinking, where’s the dancing? It’s still very much these very strange cultural identities and I still am constantly finding and exploring them. It’s a lovely mishmash inside. It’s fascinating, but it’s also what makes you beautiful. It’s what makes you interesting. It is what makes other people see themselves in you. We all matter.”

Cultural identities are based on what we have observed and learned from our immediate environment. We are not born seeing ourselves being different and conscious of our cultural contexts. Our upbringing influences our perception of who we are, which we eventually identify with on an unconscious level. Someone might have told us we are this or that, and others tell us what we should be or should not be—but all of it in essence becomes our choice. If this is true, then we can choose to embrace, love, enjoy, and proudly carry with us all of those characteristics and identities we resonate with on the micro and macro scales.

“I have a lot of anxiety, in general in my everyday life. I think it’s kind of always a matter of, ‘Oh no, I will never work again.’ And it’s like 90% a joke, but 10% very in earnest. I’m constantly looking at am [for example] I gonna go to grad school now if I don’t work as an actor again. I’m very service minded. So the potential to work in other service industries is actually quite exciting for me. But, yes, I often may get the job with my representatives, so when they bring me in for something, especially if I’m being seen for more than one role, I’ll be like, ‘Tell them I will.’ I will absolutely throw myself into doing all the roles. But I generally don’t look at things as far as competition because we all can gainfully employed. It may not look like we expect it to or wanted to, potentially, but there’s enough room for all of us. For me, it’s more, if I’m not constantly working, I feel like I’m letting everyone around me down. I feel like I’m lucky enough to get to play pretend right as a job. So if I’m not doing it, then I’m not living up to the opportunity that I’m being given to get to play pretend as a job when so many other people would love to get to play pretend as a job. And the more success that I get, the more I find other people are dependent on me to make money. And if I’m not making money, I’m almost literally taking food out of their mouths. I’m very intentional with everything that I do—as a woman, as a woman who represents any kind of Latina, as a woman who is white passing, but who always tries to sort of bring her culture and her race into everything. I feel like I’m not not doing enough to represent my people and my sex or my race when I’m not working. So it’s just—it’s this whole sort of snake eating its tail.”

Energetically, competition or a sense of lack come from a belief that if we are working on something we love, we then owe something to those who are not enjoying their work, which is the perception of limited opportunities. When we take too much responsibility on our shoulders, it will eventually become unbearable, because we can really have the ability to respond only to our own state of being. We can’t change others, but we can empower them by leading with love of our own example. Our responsibility, if anything, is to see ourselves and others in our fullest potential—empowering inspiration. Catering to our state of being first is of utmost importance: what can we offer to others when we feel anxious, tired, fearful, or depleted?

Photography // Robert Mitchel Owenby

When feeling depletion, there are many tools that can help us to release resistance. Here is a simple way to do so, “When in fear, put your two arms on your heart chakra. Close your eyes and gently breathe in and out, so you can soften up your physical senses and tune into your divinity. At that moment, gently ask your inner-self to transmute all fear, release it, and you naturally will be wrapped in love.”

“I was saying earlier how I’m very intentional about the things that I pick that goes both ways. I am very intentional about the things that I would like to audition for and that I’d like to see myself in. I think it’s very strange and short-sighted. I find sometimes that people in production, or casting people, a lot of the time aren’t led by their imagination, and instead are led by whatever they’ve already seen, or they have been indoctrinated with. So, for example, right now, I get a lot of lesbians and I’m always like, ‘Hey, I don’t have that experience.’ And until we, across the board, are able to give my beautiful LGBTQA+ community the opportunities to tell their own stories. I’m reticent about taking that opportunity from somebody who has that life experience. So whether I will or I won’t, I genuinely will ask no less than 30 people about whether I should even audition.”

Diany smiles and continues. “But even then, for a long time, I got a bunch of maids, because I think people think that a Latina is best represented by either a woman running from ICE, a maid, or general service worker. A lot of the things that in The Valet—themovie that I did and recently came out on Hulu—shows the invisible workforce, the people that you depend on to be there, but you don’t necessarily see them. And in the beginning of my career, I got a lot of those. And that’s not offensive to me, I’m not offended by that. I just made the conscious decision that if I’m gonna get to play pretend as a grown up job, then I’m going to push those boundaries. I want my work to not only speak for itself, but to speak to my community. I want people to reflect and see a Latina woman who can be a doctor, or someone who can be a mother who loves her children and family and isn’t also necessarily running from immigration. If we get those opportunities, we can thrive and grow and be wonderful and be full-fledged human beings. So it’s my goal to sort of mirror that, look how we can be full-fledged human beings—and we can be shitheads, too, but we can also be the better part of the world.”

In The Valet, Diany stars as Natalie. “She is confident. It’s so very strange. I’ve run more towards the introverted side, to the point where I don’t even like to raise my voice. Loud noises made me nervous. But Natalie is so bombastic. I tried to pull a lot of confidence from her. There are many different Diany’s. There’s Diany who plays pretend. And then there’s the Diany that fights for social justice. So I did learn and took on some things from Natalie’s character into my regular life. I’m much louder now in expressing myself. I’m much more confident and much more assertive. I can speak eloquently and not question everything that I’m saying for every second that I’m speaking. And I found through Natalie that she was very charming, even when she wasn’t at a podium trying to fight. So I realized that in my mind, without knowing, I was judging assertive women or confident women. And I do that a little less now. Because I was able to see her, I got to see the movie two different times, before it was released to the public widely. And not only was I like, ‘Oh, I think she’s kind of charming, in both respects, but it’s also me. I have that inside me. And maybe I can try to access that more and not judge it so much.’ Seeing Natalie also allowed me to feel confident about myself internally. I have scars on my face, so it was always very difficult for me to see myself on screen, because I feel like I’m not exhibiting some sort of unattainable film and TV aesthetic. But I saw Natalie and I see that she’s very likable and pretty,” candidly shares Diany.

She goes on, “Seeing The Valet is seeing humanity of these different people that have been taken out of context, but you also see how we span a whole color spectrum, how we are everything, how we are not only the invisible workforce, but we’re the people that you deal with every day, and who are just as well-rounded 360 degree human beings who live and laugh and love and, and husbands and wives and—and brothers and sisters and caretakers, and boss bitches. So it’s my hope that maybe by watching this movie, the audience gains a little bit more perspective and context and starts to see people who have been very othered as less than others and more than just a different side of the same coin. And maybe they get a little bit more in touch with their humanity or their empathy. That’s my dream. That’s my hope.”

Diany is a founding member of the social justice organization Coalition for Racial Equity (CREAT), which strives to make the art form of film, TV, and theater more accessible and much more open. Diany says, “We’re creating a rating system where we basically measure the capacity rating of individual organizations. We ask questions such as, How many people of color are in power making positions within your organization? How many people of color have salaries commensurate with the number one and number two people in your organizations? How many writers of color specifically do you have? Do you hire how many actors, how many directors of color? We’re creating a system that’s very transparent, so that we can see how the power is doled out, and how we can reach the ultimate equity of 50/50.”

“I love my ability to make uncomfortable situations a little bit less uncomfortable. That also helps me be a walking safe space for other people. And I love to see in other people the ability to stop and think before they speak, instead of immediately being defensive about something, and maybe challenge whatever was triggered, and then they lead with empathy or a genuine question.”

When something throws you off, have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” What is here for me to see and maybe recognize? How can I be more proactive and less reactive right now?” Every single person’s reflection and relation to us has value, and everyone gives us an opportunity to look within and consciously expand into becoming more loving, more compassionate—a fuller version of who we are continually becoming.

Photography // Robert Mitchel Owenby

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