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Román Zaragoza: Striving To Give And Do Good

Román Zaragoza: Striving To Give And Do Good

When we embody that which we want to be, it’s inevitable that we inspire others to want to know what we are doing to accomplish it. But we can’t really assert or influence anyone unless others allow themselves to be influenced. We can only lead by our own example. 

Artist Román Zaragoza, who stars as Sasappis in the series Ghosts on CBS, begins, “I want to be a leading man that for so long, didn’t feel like I was. I like to think I’m a kind person. I’m a fun extroverted introvert that enjoys being around people and the community. And I think that I’m a person that strives to do good.”

Aside from growing up in a multicultural city such as New York, Román and his sisters were born in a mixed-race household, with a father of Mexican descent and a mother of Japanese-Taiwanese descent. Often, we try to fit into the unfittable, contradicting the essence of who we are. When we realize the delicious uniqueness of who we are continually becoming, then we release the need to fit in, and we embrace the innate worthiness to be impressed in everything we choose to create. 

“I was feeling lost a lot of my childhood, not really fitting into different friend groups. Just by the way that I looked, it made me really have to ask those difficult questions early. Luckily, I had my two older sisters who were able to support me. But they were just as lost trying to find their way being mixed race. My parents were amazing, and they could always be there to help, but they didn’t really understand what it meant to be mixed. Because my mom identifies as Asian, Japanese, and Taiwanese, and my dad identifies as Mexican-indigenous—they both walk the world mono-racially. But a lot of my life, my upbringing has been so much about meeting people and them saying, ‘Who are you?’ And I think, trying to ask myself why they kept asking those questions at such a young age, I learned a lot about myself quickly. And so I think having those challenges at a young age, and even today, has led me to feel passionate about representation, especially in film and TV. And so that’s why I love what I do, because there are so many mixed kids out there who are as confused as I was,” says Román.

He goes on, “If anything, life has really taught me that the things that are difficult in your life really can turn into such a superpower. And I felt like being mixed race is like now such a superpower that I possess, because I’m such a chameleon. I can really adapt. I’ve been traveling through Central America and Mexico recently, and people look at me, and they’re like, ‘Asian, or I don’t know what you are.’ But then I’ll start speaking Spanish. And they’re like,’ Okay, he’s one of us.’ And it really shows me how connected we all are. And I think that’s a really exciting thing about being mixed race.”

Weola, the wider perspective of inspirational facilitator Kosta Trifunovic, says, “Everything is One. When you get to see yourself from the perspective of Self, while being aware that the separateness between physical and non-physical does not exist, everything around you starts becoming a reflection. And that reflection can turn into all inclusiveness, given your desire for a consistency in finding the balance while giving attention to anything. When you activate the perspective of softer thought more often, you allow yourself to experience more of Oneness.” 

We all are born equipped with infinite potentialities of expressing ourselves through as many different creative identities we choose in our physical form. More and more people, especially with the accessibility of technology nowadays, are imprinting, storytelling, and bringing their creations to life with the help of the many tools available, taking control of their stories. The reins are in their hands. 

“Looking at YouTube and Tik Tok and Instagram, I think we’re at a time right now where people are creating their own content and people are seeing the agency that they have in their storytelling. And so for a long time actors were told that we shouldn’t be the writers, we are the actors, we are interpretive artists, we will interpret someone else’s work. And then we make it part of that creative process. But now we’re seeing that you can be an actor and in addition, you can write your own projects, you can direct your own projects, you can produce, you can do whatever. So I think a lot of actors have really seen the agency that they can have when they can, when they start writing their own stories,” shares Román about his experience of expressing beyond acting. 

Photography // Kim Newmoney

We all have a specific ‘role’ within a project’s unfolding. But when we blend all with everyone involved for the purpose of enjoying the process of collaboration and not just for the end result, then that is co-creation at its best. 

Román says, “Especially being an actor, you are constantly wanting to give your feedback, or your two cents about a character. For some projects, it’s a little harder because of the turnaround time, but it’s really nice when you have that agency to speak up because as an actor, you aren’t just saying words, and moving, and blocking. And I think the more that actors embrace the fact that they are a collaborative artist in that production, or in that film or television show, you have to know when and how to approach those conversations. But I think being part of the Ghost series has really taught me that your voice does matter. Joe Port and Joe Wiseman are amazing show runners. They really asked us, ‘Let us know what you think,’ or, ‘Do you think Sasappis would go this way or that way?’ It’s been really nice to have show runners that are willing to listen and willing to hear me out. And they brought in some amazing native collaborators, like an amazing writer by the name of John Timothy, and Joe Baker, who were our monopoly consultants. So it’s been nice to feel very heard.”

Life is in a constant movement that adds new layers of awareness with each experience. The thoughts that we think, often, eventually become our beliefs. Therefore, being aware about what we think will allow us to deliberately direct our thoughts in the direction of the movement we want to experience most. 

Román recalls, “I’m a very spiritual person. I love manifesting, I love meditating. And I definitely pray. And I think there’s so much belief that comes into play, when you’re in a career like this, where it’s just so unpredictable. And so much of it is not up to you, where you can do such an amazing audition, but if you’re just not right for the role, you’re not what they were thinking, you’re not going to get it. So a lot of the time, you just have to believe that your time is gonna come, and it’s all going to work out. And I think there’s so much of that in this industry and as being an actor and keeping a positive mindset, because it’s easy to fall into a negative mindset for sure.” 

About the meaning behind the name, Sasappis, the character that Román embodies in the series on CBS, the actor says, “Our show runners were working with consultants during the pilot in trying to find a name for Sasappis, which means firefly. I think there’s a lot of different explanations for why his name is obvious, and I think they’ll probably learn more in later seasons about it.” Then Román continues, “Sassapis is such a blunt, honest guy. If he’s thinking something he’s gonna say it, which it’s something I don’t necessarily do in my own life. I don’t always say what I think. I’m honest. But I’m not blunt. I think I’m more of a people pleaser, I’m more of a let’s just keep it calm. We don’t need drama right now. And he’s above the drama. So I think it’s fun to learn more about that. And about the importance of honesty. We don’t want to be mean, but being honest is incredibly important to relationships and communication. So he’s taught me a lot about that, and to really not care about what people think. I think I’ve started to adopt a little bit of that to my life.”

Román has enjoyed so much being part of the series Ghosts, and the process of becoming Sasappis, that he expects nothing but that joy to be translated into the audience’s experience watching it. 

“The series Ghosts as a whole, I think that people really will see how these ghosts have come together from all different walks of life, all different time periods, so many different backgrounds, different beliefs, and yet they come together and make a big happy family. So I think we can really learn from that and see how we all can come together and do the same, even if we don’t believe the same things, even if we have some lapse in our knowledge or we don’t know something. It’s really powerful to see how Ghosts shows that we’re very similar and how we can all be kind to each other. I hope that people really see Sasappis as a full, three-dimensional person and not just like the “native character.” He’s Lenape, as he’s from the 1520s. But most importantly, he’s this cynical guy who’s a cynical storyteller who’s lost in this purgatory along with so many other people. And, he’s just trying to find his way,” excitedly says Román.

Román’s other passion is producing films. One of the upcoming short films he produced, which is currently in post-production, is called, This Is Their Land. “I was very involved in the process of exploring the Modoc communities, and different native creatives on this project, which is really exciting for me. My dear friend Michael O’Leary wrote and directed it, and he is not native, he’s not Modoc; however, he is a historian, and he wanted to write this story about the Modoc war between 1872 and 1873, which happened close to where he grew up. Luckily, I had some friends who are friends with people who are direct descendants from the Modoc people that fought this war, so they contributed to create this film too. I am very excited!” exclaims Román.

Empowerment comes from knowing that there is value in every situation. At the moment we are faced with challenges, we can’t see what the value is, but we can recognize that we eventually will. From there, we can move rather quickly to discover all the gift boxes along the way of experiencing the value that was born from the particular challenging event. That brings growth, expansion, and wisdom. 

Román shares an example of that remembering. “When I was 17, I would apply for universities, and I was all set and wanting to go to UCLA for musical theater, because that’s where my oldest sister went. I knew people there. I had a feeling I was going to get in because I just had such a big head in high school, I thought I was hot shit, I thought I was very talented. And, I got my rejection letter. I was not even 18 yet. And my whole life plan just turned on its head. I was so lost. I didn’t get into any of the schools that I applied to, except for my safety school, which was Cal State Northridge. And I ended up deciding to go there for film productions. And so I went to school to learn how to produce my own films to direct and write to learn how to use a camera to do all the things. And so I definitely think that that was a challenging event in my life that I was able to turn the tide and then because of that, I ended up working at this Shakespeare Festival for three years and so I ended up learning more and more about theater and about acting. I was acting of course outside of school, but it was one of those things—I’m so grateful I did not get into UCLA.”

Giving feels good. But to give in a more unconditional manner, we first have to cater to our own steadiness. Then, we have so much more to offer to others without getting tired or expecting anything in return, and give for the joy of it. 

“I am giving. I think that’s one of the things I love about myself. I love to give and I love it. I love being a giver. And I love to see pure joy in people. I think that is something that is kind of underrated because I think we think it’s easy to obtain. But it can be difficult in our current climate in the world because we have so many things we’re worried about. We’re fighting through that, which is great. But I think joy is another way to fight oppression and another way to fight a lot of negativity, we can really brighten life. And I think joy is one of the most beautiful things to see in people.”

Are you fully aware, like Román, of how much you are enjoying the process of living your life?

Photography // Kim Newmoney

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