This story originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Latina magazine.
For Adria Arjona, “there’s no place like home” has intrinsic meaning — not because of the superficialities that come with being the daughter of a Grammy Award–winning singer (Ricardo Arjona) and a pageant queen mother (former Miss Puerto Rico Leslie Torres). Quite the opposite. Her parents made it a point to shield her and her siblings from glitzy red carpets, opting instead to instill the importance of staying humble.
“I never saw my dad as a famous rock star,” says the 24-year-old Guatemalan and Puerto Rican actress. “My parents taught me that it’s always about the people—the human connection and the fans. It’s something I aspire to do.”
And what better way to fulfill that goal than by playing Dorothy Gale in NBC’s Emerald City — the network’s reimagining of the classic The Wizard of Oz — for a legion of new fans. Directed by Tarsem Singh (of 2012’s Snow White–inspired Mirror Mirror), EC is based on L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books and is stylistically more Game of Thrones than Judy Garland tapping her red ruby shoes. But the series doesn’t rely on CGI. Instead producers searched the globe for almost untouched earth — 15th-century castles in Hungary, coastal roads in Spain, a park in Croatia, and more — on which to film.
“We built the yellow brick road in that location; no one’s actually ever filmed there,” Arjona marvels. “It was impossible to get to before we got there, so we built roads and we built an infrastructure around it.”
Yet, with all the awe and wonder of the magical locations, the true enchantment is that of Arjona’s casting as the first Latina to portray Dorothy from Kansas — perhaps the whitest fictional character ever on screen. It’s a sign of the times—diversity is steadily increasing in television demographics in spite of a Trump America.
“I’m 100 percent ready,” Arjona says of any possible backlash. “There’s nothing I could be more proud of than being a Hispanic female actor. And if there’s one thing I’m ready for, it’s to fight for Latinos. I hope I’m a role model, and little girls watch and get courage. [I hope they’ll] put their heads up high and say, ‘Yes, I’m Dorothy, and my Dorothy is Hispanic.’”
Papi would be proud.