She plays a feisty, hands-on single mother on Jane the Virgin, but offscreen, Andrea Navedo says being a mom—to Ava, 11, and Nico, 8—is a lot harder than it looks on TV.
Q: Your mom was a single mom. Do you see her in your character, Xo?
A: I see more of my maternal grandmother in Xo. She was always the life of the party. For some portion of her life, my grandmother was a single mom raising eight children, so I don't know how she didn't kill people! I've got an education, a spouse, a sitter, and financial means, and it's still hard.
Q: You were raised in the Bronx, New York, sometimes on welfare. How did your upbringing come in handy as an actress?
A: Growing up, I didn't think it would be possible to be an actress—I didn't see a lot of Latina faces on TV or in movies. But that didn't stop me from trying. I realized early that anything I really wanted was worth working for.
Q: Your show incorporates fun telenovela daydream sequences. Did you grow up watching them?
A: I didn't speak Spanish as a kid, but I remember they were very dramatic: a lot of facial expressions and hand gestures. My grandmother was so titillated by what was happening on-screen that she was gasping, so it was fun to watch them even if I didn't understand them.
Q: When did you learn Spanish?
A: I started studying the language about 15 years ago. My parents wanted to assimilate, so while they spoke Spanish, they were very American and were more comfortable speaking English to me. When I was 11, my parents sent me to Puerto Rico for a month. My grandmother spoke English, but the rest of the family didn't, and I felt so much shame for not speaking Spanish. I felt like, "Who am I?" So I learned Spanish to reclaim my identity.
Q: Are you teaching your kids Spanish?
A: The first five or six years, I had Spanish-speaking babysitters. But my daughter started resisting. Yet my son recently asked for a Spanish tutor, so I got him one. I realized that the only reason I was able to learn Spanish is that I wanted to for me. I can't force it upon them.
Q: How else are you exposing your kids to their Latin roots?
I'm really Americanized. The only real Latina thing I do is cook rice and beans with chuletas and tostones. I do the healthier version of what my grandmother would have made: a lot less salt, a lot less fat, a lot more vegetables. Sometimes I serve it with brown rice, which is, like, sacrilegious.
Q: How has being a mom changed you?
A: It's made me way more compassionate. Now that I'm a parent, I realize it's no joke, so I don't judge other parents.