The road to Tlaxiaco is long and serpentine, up a rugged mountain covered with pines.
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Locals were curious about us the moment we set foot in the tianguis , the bustling market held each Saturday in the central plaza.
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Advertisement > “Weâre here about Yalitza Aparicio,” I told Rosa Maria Hernandez, 60, who was busy selling black mole and chicken soup.
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She and the other women working nearby instantly smiled and let down their guard.
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“Oh, of course,” Hernandez said with affection. ” La Yalitza .”
Two thousand miles away in Los Angeles, Yalitza Aparicio is a celebrity, the Oscar-nominated star of “Roma” who has been hitting the red carpet with the likes of Lady Gaga and Tom Hanks.
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Before she left her hometown, she was just a girl like so many here with cinnamon skin, Mixteco and Triqui roots, dreams of becoming a preschool teacher.
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A Mexican town watches its ‘Roma’ star shine. Another treasure’s fate is less clear » No one imagined that one day a big movie director would pluck her from the crowd
Times photographer Gary Coronado and I arrived in Tlaxiaco without notice and with a simple premise: to explore how Yalitzaâs fame has affected her humble hometown
Nearly 3 years have passed since Yalitza Aparicio left her job as a preK teacher to bcome the 1st indigenous Mexican nominated for an Oscar. On our final day in her home, Tlaxiaco, I’ll give u a glimpse in2 just how much her improbable fame has impacted her far-flung town. pic.twitter.com/9QRQgkcLly
— Esmeralda Bermudez 🦅 (@LATbermudez) February 6, 2019 I began filling my notebook the moment I boarded the plane from Los Angeles to Mexico City
My seatmate, a stylish Mexican woman with blond highlights, said to me: “Whyâs everyone making a big deal about this girl? She was just a maid in a movie. She didnât do anything special.”
My next flight into Oaxaca put me next to a council member from the stateâs capital. He spoke to me for nearly an hour about how much Yalitzaâs indigenous roots had rocked Mexicoâs racial, class and socioeconomic core
“She opened the door to all the ugliness we Mexicans carry just beneath the surface,” said Luis Silva Romo. “You could easily fill a book.”
To some, he said, what mattered most was: What is she going to do with her fame? Will she lose herself in the glitz and money? Will she reach back and help her people?
In Tlaxiaco, there was little such scrutiny
Most people had not seen the movie. There are no theaters here and thereâs limited access to Netflix
Advertisement > Still, on the eve of the Oscarâs, Tlaxiaqueños were rooting for their hometown girl
Many young women were devoted fans tracking her online: Yalitza in London , Yalitza on the cover of Vogue Mexico , Yalitza on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show .”
They were aware of the criticism — from trolls on social media, from other Mexican celebrities. They‘ve called Yalitza “India , ” her skin “burned,” her nose “smashed.”
“It hurts,” said Nancy Cortez, 25, an architecture student who sells steak tlayudas at the market. “It hurts because she looks just like me.”
Most girls in Tlaxiaco smile @ the sound of Yalitza’s name. La Yalitza they say w/ affection. They know there’s criticism across Mexico. They c it on TV. They call Yalitza “India”, her skin “burned”, her nose “smashed.” It hurts says Nancy Cortez. It hurts b/c she’s just like me. pic.twitter.com/AWj70EYKKY
— Esmeralda Bermudez 🦅 (@LATbermudez) February 6, 2019 In recent months, journalists have flocked up Yucunino mountain hoping to uncover any personal details about Yalitzaâs life
They visit her grade school, high school and college. Also, the three-room preschool where the 25-year-old taught for three months after filming the movie
Children work on their writing inside Jardin de Niños Mexico, the three-room preschool where Yalitza Aparicio briefly taught after she filmed the movie “Roma.” If you venture down the dusty road that leads you out of Tlaxiaco hoping to find Yalitzaâs mother, sister, brothers — you wonât have much luck
The corrugated metal shanty where she lived recently with her family has been empty for nearly two weeks, said next-door neighbor Geronimo Silva
Outside, Christmas tinsel still hangs from a shrub, the wind whistles in the hillsides and stray dogs roam about. The piñatas the family has always made to get by sit unfinished in the backyard
This was Yalitza Aparicio’s home before she left to Mexico City film #Roma . She lived in this little shack made of wooden planks & corrugated metal, a few minutes outside of Tlaxiaco. Her family moved here recently. They made piñatas for a living. (The cows belong 2 a neighbor) pic.twitter.com/jwWLZpiyIt
— Esmeralda Bermudez 🦅 (@LATbermudez) February 2, 2019 Yalitzaâs sister, Edith Martinez Aparicio, later told me her family doesnât want any more media attention. Sheâs also signed a contract for an upcoming project she wasnât at liberty to discuss
At this point, few in town believe the girl up north “making movies with the gringos” will ever come back home
One of Tlaxiaco’s great prides is the Casa de Cultura. It’s been around 4 decades. This is where @YalitzaAparicio auditioned 4 @ROMACuaron . Yalitza came 2 keep her sister company. She was persuaded 2 participate @ the last minute. The Casa’s director is good friends w/ her family pic.twitter.com/qTqq6iaRUJ
— Esmeralda Bermudez 🦅 (@LATbermudez) February 4, 2019 Since Yalitza left, sheâs come back only a couple of times, said Miguel Martinez Oseguera, director of Tlaxiacoâs Casa de la Cultura
Martinez Oseguera is a longtime friend of the starâs family. He helped the “Roma” crew set up the casting call where Yalitza was a final, last-minute candidate
“Sheâs a very simple girl,” he said. “When she comes back to town, I see her out on the plaza eating chicharrones from her favorite stall.”
Not far away, he said, her driver and bodyguard stand by