Julissa Calderon is a Dominican-American actress from Miami who first became known for the viral videos she produced and starred in for Buzzfeed’s “Pero Like,” with the mission to use her platform to create the Dominican representation and storytelling she wasn’t seeing online. She broke into Hollywood after landing the role of Yessika, a queer Afro-Dominicana, in Netflix’s “Gentefied.” She was later cast in Prime’s “With Love,” where she also got to play a Dominican woman by the name of Annie.
For Latine Heritage Month, we asked women we admire how they are prioritizing descansar and restoration amid today’s prevailing grind culture. Read Calderon reflect, in her own words, ahead.
Being a Dominican kid from New York, raised in Miami, and the daughter of immigrant parents, my understanding of work has always revolved around trying to survive. Growing up, my mom was waking at 6:30 in the morning getting us ready for school before heading to work. We often wouldn’t see her again until late in the evening. I didn’t see my mom or the women in my community rest. That wasn’t something I witnessed growing up.
Being a Dominican kid from New York, raised in Miami, and the daughter of immigrant parents, my understanding of work has always revolved around trying to survive.
I understood at a young age that adults had to work and there was no time for rest. Everything she was doing was to better her children’s futures. It has only been in recent years that I have been able to break out of that surviving mentality to more of a thriving mentality. But it hasn’t been easy, and I still wrestle with it to this day.
My acting career story is not a typical one. It took a few unexpected turns. My dream was always to be an actress, but for a while, I worked as a digital content creator producing and acting in videos. That’s not something that I wanted to do. I came to Los Angeles to be an actress — I have a theater degree.
I had initially gone in for an audition at Buzzfeed for a commercial, because they also do brand stuff. But someone stopped and saw something in me, and he was an intern at the time. Shout out to him — I’ll never forget him for introducing me to the team that later called me in to do a video. I started taking the work seriously, and the videos started taking off. The responses I received from the community meant a lot to me, because I was essentially creating the representation that I didn’t grow up seeing as a kid.
But eventually, I felt like I had hit a ceiling. I felt like I did everything I needed to do there, and I was ready for more. In fact, the way things quickly started happening the second I was ready to move on really speaks to the power of manifestation. It was barely a transition from Buzzfeed to my debut acting role in Netflix’s “Gentefied.” It all happened in fewer than two weeks. I didn’t have the gig lined up. I put in my two weeks’ notice. I auditioned for the role, and they initially turned me down. They called me back only to turn me down again. It wasn’t until the third time around that I finally landed the role — third time’s a charm.
After I landed the role of Yesika on “Gentefied,” I learned how to relinquish control — because I felt like if that’s what God does when I let go, then letting go is what I need to do. I just need to let go and trust. Obviously, I need to do the work, but I can also relax and trust that what’s for me is already written — it’s done. This is when my relationship with survival and rest started to change.
I hit a pivotal moment where I realized I was ready for a change.
I had been experiencing severe burnout my last few months at Buzzfeed, and I was also in a relationship that was draining me. Both of those things simultaneously attacked me. I hit a pivotal moment where I realized I was ready for a change. I told myself, “I gotta get out of here because this ain’t it no more.”
I was leaving work, and driving home, and instead of going inside my place, I was finding myself sitting in my car for over 30 minutes — just reflecting on the day and on my life. So many of us have found ourselves sitting in the car not wanting to go inside because you don’t want to deal with what comes with going home.
Journaling is one of the self-care practices that has helped me to prioritize rest and my mental health. It is also a tool that’s allowed me to manifest. I journaled for 14 years. I was always journaling, but I wasn’t necessarily conscious of what I was really putting down on paper. I was just getting my thoughts down. Once I realized the power that comes from journaling, I was inspired to create my own dream and manifest journal called “Manifest That Sh*t,” which I launched in 2020. Now I’m looking to release a second one later this fall. The first journal was for reflection, and the second one is more about introspection.
Believe it or not, breaking into acting has taught me how to rest. I think that social media has people thinking that my life has been back-to-back work, but that hasn’t actually been the case. I had a really slow year last year. “Gentefied” had got canceled, so there was no third season. It was later that “With Love” happened and I realized I wanted to do more. But self-care inspired the journal.
This year has also had its slow seasons. The strike has been happening, so I’m not going on auditions. But I’m not panicking. I’ve been resting. Working out has become a newfound love of mine. I really am in the gym five to six days a week. It’s not something I planned on getting into. I just fell into it and it’s become part of what I do to feel good and to feel healthy. I traveled to Mexico with my mom this summer, just the two of us. I’ve also been working on the release of this new journal.
One of the things that has helped me the most throughout this journey has been being able to have these times of rest. It is ultimately what has allowed me to listen to source and understand who I am and what am I supposed to be doing. I am so grateful for these moments because had I not had the time to slow down and reflect, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
— As told to Johanna Ferreira