Tragic Details About America Ferrera's Life

Trigger warning: The following article contains references to suicide and sexual assault.

America Ferrera has been in Hollywood for decades, starting with her role as Ana Garcia in the 2002 film "Real Women Have Curves."In 2007, she won an Emmy for her role in "Ugly Betty," becoming the first — and, as of this writing, only — Latina to win the award for Oustanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Her role in 2023's hit blockbuster smash "Barbie" introduced her to a whole new wave of audiences and Ferrera enjoyed a career renaissance on the back of director Greta Gerwig's sensational movie. She went on to be nominated for a string of awards and scooped the Critic's Choice SeeHer award for her groundbreaking roles over the years as well as her advocacy for women in the entertainment industry.

It's easy to think that Ferrera has it all, a loving husband, two kids, and many wonderful credits — but the reality isn't as golden as you may think. The Honduran American star has been candid about her struggle to get recognition in Hollywood as a Latina entertainer. What's more, growing up with a single mom and six siblings presented its challenges, as did a harrowing sexual assault when she was just a child.

Ferrera is at the top of her game now, but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there — let's take a look at the heartwrenching story of this brave star.

America Ferrera's dad walked out on the family when she was little

We've all heard stories from celebrities about rough childhoods, but some gain more attention than others. We've heard about Oprah Winfrey's desperate times, lamented over Usher's estrangement from his father, and even marveled at how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's divorce has impacted their kids. America Ferrera's story isn't as widely known. The star doesn't often talk about her parents, but in an interview with Honduras News  in 2010 (via ESME), she explained the intricacies of her family life growing up. Ferrera explained that her mother and father, América Griselda Ayes and Carlos Gregorio Ferrera, moved to the United States from Honduras in the 1970s when the "Superstore" star was little. 

"My father, Gregorio, walked out on us when we were kids so it was all down to her," Ferrera said, before going on to explain that her mom turned down state benefits and worked hard to support her six children, of which Ferrera was the youngest. With no father figure present, Ferrera had a prime example of what hard work and dedication look like thanks to her mother.

Though the actress doesn't openly complain about her childhood, it's not a stretch to assume that things weren't always peachy. After all, a single-parent household can be tricky when there's just one child to feed, let alone multiple mouths.  

She struggled to fit in as she grew up

Growing up can be difficult for everyone, with hormones running rampant and different experiences that have to be navigated. Adding to the pangs of adolescence for America Ferrera was the difficulty of growing up in a Latino immigrant family. The star gave a speech at the Academy Women's Luncheon with Chanel in 2023 that dove into the challenges of navigating two cultures. "I was given the assignment to assimilate, excel, and succeed," she said (via People). "That meant leaving my heritage behind and trying to fit in." 

She went on to say that, despite how much she tried to be accepted, she constantly felt like she was on the outside. She described herself as "too Latina to be fully American, and too whitewashed to be accepted as Latina." Carving out a place in Hollywood was especially difficult. "After all, there were no successful actresses like me," the actor explained. "I was brown, short, overweight, and poor." 

Ferrera went on to say that she didn't have the money to participate in expensive acting courses, and though she hoped for a community, there simply wasn't one. It was up to her to move forward and make the dreams she had come true. Even when she started to achieve success with projects like "Ugly Betty" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," Ferrera still felt the same sense of isolation, as she was often the only woman of color involved in the project. 

America revealed she was sexually assaulted as a child

In 2017, the #MeToo movement was in full swing, with women across the entertainment industry and beyond sharing their own experiences of sexual assault and abuse in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It can be incredibly difficult for survivors to come out and share their stories, but America Ferrera bravely added her voice to the conversation. In a since-deleted Instagram post, the star revealed that she had been sexually assaulted as a child. "I told no one and lived with the shame and guilt thinking all along that I, a 9-year-old child, was somehow responsible for the actions of a grown man," Ferrera detailed (via the Independent).

The impact of the crime against her continued to play out over the years, as she had to see her abuser daily for many years. "He would smile at me and wave, and I would hurry past him, my blood running cold," she explained. Ferrera ended her post with a call to arms, asking others to speak up so that future generations don't have to suffer in silence. Living through it is one thing, but laying bare the harrowing tale for the public to dissect is incredibly brave. Heartbreakingly, Ferrera told Harper's Bazaar that she received backlash for telling her story from some people close to her, who believed she shouldn't have said anything. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

America Ferrera felt she didn't deserve her first big award

Even after she found success with "Ugly Betty" in the noughties, America Ferrera was often led to believe that she wasn't worth the hype. In 2007, she was recognized for her work on the sitcom, scooping the Best Actress in a Comedy Series prize at the Emmy Awards. It should have been an amazing victory that Ferrera looks back on fondly, but sadly, that couldn't be further from the truth. 

During an appearance on Dax Shepherd's podcast, "Armchair Expert," in 2020, the actor explained that all she remembers from the night is a feeling of inadequacy. "When I won the Emmy, I can't bring myself to go back and watch that because the only thing I remember about being on that stage, accepting that Emmy, was the feeling that no one in the room thought I deserved it," she said. Instead of being proud of her achievement, Ferrera said that people she knew were making her feel that she shouldn't have won. 

"There were people in my life perpetuating those narratives and making me feel like I hadn't earned this moment," she continued, before adding that her heart breaks for the 22-year-old version of herself that wasn't able to bask in the glory at the time. 

She has always struggled with being stereotyped throughout her career

While no one is immune to typecasting, actors of color experience often experience this to an extreme degree. America Ferrera has been open about the lack of well-developed roles for women of color, as many are scripted as racial stereotypes.

In 2019, Ferrera gave a TED Talk that went deep into her experience as a Latina in Hollywood. On her first professional audition at the age of 15, she was asked to "sound more Latina," not realizing at the time that the casting director wanted her to speak in broken English. "I didn't get the job," she recalled. "I didn't get a lot of the jobs people were willing to see me for: the gang-banger's girlfriend, the sassy shoplifter, pregnant chola number two." Ferrera was understandably frustrated by the roles she was presented with. "I wanted to play people that were complex and multidimensional," she said.

Despite her hopes for her career and where she wanted to go, her early days were marred by trying to fit in. In order to get the roles she wanted, Ferrera tried to give up her own identity, resulting in staying out of the sun to avoid getting more tan, straightening her naturally curly hair, and constantly trying to slim down. Eventually, she came to the realization that it was the industry that needed to change and not her. In a powerful statement, Ferrera told the audience, "Identity is not my obstacle, it is my superpower."

There have been continuous rumors about fights with co-stars

Hollywood might be all about entertainment, but there's another layer to the industry that many famous faces wish didn't exist: salacious gossip. Unfortunately, a widely-printed rumor can make just as much money as a blockbuster movie for the media if it's handled correctly. Some actors find that it happens to them more than others, but America Ferrera hasn't been immune to tabloid fodder. There have been rumblings about feuds between her and her co-stars on more than one occasion. During the press tour for "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" in 2008, Ferrera was spotted rolling her eyes when her co-star, Blake Lively, started to talk about her new series, "Gossip Girl." Of course, media outlets were quick to notice this and took it to mean that Ferrera had beef with Lively, forcing the "Green Lantern" star to deny there was any trouble between them. 

Around the same time, Lindsay Lohan was appearing on "Ugly Betty" alongside Ferrera, and reports circulated that Lohan's stint on the show was cut short because of issues between the pair. A source told Page Six that Ferrera and Lohan were rehearsing a scene in which Ferrera's character pulls Lohan's pants down, only Lohan wasn't prepared for it and was so embarrassed she was left crying. The source, a friend of Lohan's, told the magazine that Ferrera was "mean" to the starlet, while Ferrera's rep said that she was simply grateful Lohan appeared on the show. 

America struggled with workplace sexism after giving birth

Every parent knows that going back to work after having a baby is a difficult thing to do for multiple reasons. You have to cope with extreme tiredness and a host of other challenges, but at least you know you have a job to return to in most cases. When you're an actor, though, things aren't quite that simple, and according to America Ferrera, sexism is rife in Hollywood when it comes to working parents. In a cover interview with Glamour in late 2023, the "Barbie" actor said that she experienced a different type of equality since becoming a mother. 

"Since becoming a parent to my now 5 year-old-son, and 3-year-old daughter, I've experienced a whole new category of imbalance in the workplace. I've seen the inequalities that put the burden of parenting on women," she explained, going on to detail that she noticed that being a mom often came at an unfair detriment to a person's career. Ferrera certainly isn't the first woman in Hollywood to point this out. In an interview with The New York Times, director Marielle Heller explained that she had female executives say that they often wanted to work with women directors until realizing they had children.  

Ferrera's plight may be nothing new, but it's another obstacle that she has had to overcome in an unjust world that seems to stack the odds against her. 

She's had several shows canceled too soon

Everyone in the television industry knows that the longevity of a show isn't promised. It's the nature of the game, with cancelations often coming out of the blue. However, America Ferrera knows the sting of a premature cancelation better than most. Despite the rip-roaring success of ABC's "Ugly Betty," in which Ferrera played the titular character, the series came to an end after just four seasons. The show started strong and even won Emmy awards, but by 2010 the golden shimmer had worn off and viewers started peeling away, leading the network to give it the chop.

Ferrera lamented the loss of the series at the time, telling PopcornBiz (via NBC San Diego): "It's going to be hard to say goodbye but it will always be such an incredible period of my life. I'm so proud of what we've done." Sadly for the star, the disappointments didn't end there.

Years later, Ferrera helped to create "Gentefied," a show centered on a Mexican American family starring Annie Gonzalez and JJ Soria. The show lasted just two seasons on Netflix before it was canceled in 2021. Ferrera took to Instagram to voice her disappointment in a since-deleted post. She wrote (via Deadline): "It's a small miracle and a monumental feat every time one of our stories is birthed into the world. Let's keep figuring out how to nurture and support our storytellers and stories — there's still so much work ahead."

She was left heartbroken when Ugly Betty creator died by suicide

In January 2020, news broke that Silvio Horta, the creator of "Ugly Betty" had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Horta, who was just 45 years old, was found dead in a Miami motel. The talented producer was both the showrunner and the head writer on the hit ABC series, meaning that America Ferrera knew him well thanks to her time on the show and was understandably devastated by his passing.

She took to Instagram to express her sorrow. "I'm stunned and heartbroken to hear the devastating news of Ugly Betty creator, Silvio Horta's death," she wrote in a now-deleted post (via Today). "His talent and creativity brought me and so many others such joy & light." The actor went on to give her condolences to Horta's family, adding, "the whole Ugly Betty family ... feel this loss so deeply." This was undoubtedly a devastating start to a year that would bring a lot of global unforeseen challenges with it, especially considering that Ferrera was pregnant with her second child at the time of Horta's death. 

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

Her acting roles dried up before Barbie came along

By 2024, America Ferrera was riding high on the wave of success, finally getting the recognition she deserved for being a phenomenal actor, advocate, and all-around gem of the entertainment industry. But before being cast in "Barbie" movie, Ferrera's career prospects looked so dire that she simply stopped waiting for projects. In late December 2023, she appeared on the BBC Radio 4's program "Women's Hour." What she had to say, given the hype around her at the time, may have come as a surprise to fans. 

"I feel like at a certain point, I stopped expecting the phone to ring in terms of some brilliant Academy Award-nominated director to call and say, 'I wrote a part for you!'" she confessed (via the Daily Mail), going on to say that she was on the brink of having to produce her own roles when Greta Gerwig called and asked her if she would be involved in "Barbie." One of the biggest things that drew Ferrera to the part was that, while the character was Latina, there was more to her character than her ethnicity. "She had written the character Latina, but that was not a part of her journey," she explained. "It was more about her being a human in a pretend world."

The award winner went on to elaborate that while her career wasn't what she thought it would be, it was better — even though she had to find a different path. "There was no path for someone like me," she said.