Rachel Zegler says being a 'white Latina' in Hollywood comes with responsibility to 'open up the doors'

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 07: Rachel Zegler attends Disney Studios' Los Angeles Premiere Of
Rachel Zegler, star of West Side Story, is speaking out about her privilege as a "white Latina" in Hollywood. (Photo: Jon Kopaloff/WireImage)

Rachel Zegler is opening up about the responsibility she feels about being a light-skinned Latina in Hollywood.

Zegler, who is currently winning the hearts of America as Maria in the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story, recently sat down with Variety and addressed critics who’ve claimed she isn’t Latina enough for the role.

"Because I'm a white Latina, I hold a lot of privilege, and if that's the conversation people want to have, about my privilege in this industry, then I am absolutely welcome to have that conversation,” Zegler, who is half Colombian and half white, said. “Because yeah, it falls on my shoulders to open up the doors for the people who aren't — or they are disenfranchised in this industry.”

“It's pointless to box people and say that you're not this enough or you're not that enough. What dictates that? Who dictates that?" she added.

“I’m more immersed in my Colombian culture than I've ever been immersed in my American culture, so why does someone else get to tell me what I am?" she noted of her critics. "I don't know, I grew up in a house that spoke the language. It was never really taught to me, because there was this idea from my abuelita since my mom was a kid and when I was a kid, that you will be American. You will speak English. You will go to an American school and you will get a good job and make money and have a family. And that's the life that's set up for you before you're born."

“The thing about my identity is that it's my own,” she continued. “This is the way that I navigate through the world, and nobody knows my day-to-day struggle.”

“I’m a white Latina,” she explained. “I don't get stopped on the street for the way that I look. That's my privilege, but when I speak Spanish on the subway, I've been spit on. I've been told to go back to where I came from, even when I was born in suburban New Jersey. It doesn't matter to these people. But they're the same people that will hide behind a profile on Twitter and tell me that because my dad is American or because my mom wasn't born in Colombia or because I wasn't born in Colombia that my identity is invalid."

“I'm a white Latina in an industry that is not necessarily kind to Latinas but definitely more kind to white Latinas than anything,” she concluded. “And so it becomes my job to make sure that those doors are open to other Latinos who … don't fit the box.”

Zegler has not been a stranger to addressing online criticism recently.

Earlier this month, after many users accused her of being disrespectful, the Snow White star apologized for a since-deleted video in which she gave a dramatic reading of Britney Spears’s Twitter messages to sister Jamie Lynn Spears.

"Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Britney and am rooting for her always. While I meant no disrespect whatsoever, I should have thought about how this could be perceived, and I'm so sorry for upsetting or disappointing anyone," she tweeted at the time.

"This is not a situation to be taken lightly, and we should all be lifting Britney up in this pivotal time. Thanks for hearing me out, and a big thank you to all who held me accountable," Zegler added in a second tweet.