The night before the Radio Disney Music Awards on June 22, Jenna Ortega knew she wanted to make a statement on the Trump administration’s now-reversed (but still controversial) policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border. The problem for the 15-year-old actress, known for her roles in Disney’s Stuck in the Middle and the CW’s Jane the Virgin, was that she didn’t know exactly what to say.
Then she saw the jacket that Melania Trump wore while traveling to visit some of the children being housed without their parents in McAllen, Texas. It read, “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?”
That’s when it came to her.
“At that moment, I knew exactly what my statement was going to be, how I wanted it,” Ortega tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I worked with my stylist. I told him, ‘I want to get this jacket made with this message on the back.'” The finished garment read, “I Do Care And U Should Too.”
The response was big. Ortega says her phone was “blowing up” by the time she left the awards show.
“I was kind of thrown off,” she says.
People were leaving comments for Ortega on social media, telling her to “Stay in your lane” and “This is none of your business.”
That wasn’t an option for Ortega, who states matter-of-factly, “I’m the kind of person who stands up for what they believe in.”
“In three years I’m going to be able to vote,” she continues. “So I’m superexcited for that. I still have so much more to learn, and I know that. I’m kind of picking up things as I go along. But this isn’t a political issue, this is just having kindness in your heart. I really wanted my fans to get that and to understand that, because it’s something that everybody should care about, no matter what side you’re on politically.”
Ortega, who has described herself as “75 percent Mexican and 25 percent Puerto Rican,” wrote about her maternal great-grandmother coming to the U.S. as an illegal immigrant in an October 2016 essay for PopSugar Latina. Ortega wrote that her ancestor did so “in hopes to make a better life for her four daughters.”
It was other members of Ortega’s family, her parents, who taught her to fight for what is right, the actress says. She’s advocated for other issues on social media, too.
“I really want people to know that I did it, not even about being political, just about being kind and respectful towards one another,” Ortega explains. “I think that’s something that our country’s lacking at the moment. I wanted to get my word out there and let people know what I thought. It wasn’t right. It isn’t OK. It’s insensitive.”
Either way, Ortega believes the first lady’s wardrobe choice was simply “uncalled for,” and she doesn’t regret sending a message of her own.
She’s now looking ahead to the end of her Disney series — she thinks she’s ready, she says — on July 23. The final episode is about her character’s quinceañera, the traditional Latin American celebration marking a girl’s 15th birthday.
“It’s a beautiful way to end the series,” Ortega says. “The writers did a really great job closing the show.”
Ortega herself didn’t have a quinceañera, so the one for her character, Harley Diaz, was all the more special.
“I have a big family. There’s six kids, and there’s four girls, and with all of our different schedules. … And I was actually filming,” Ortega says. “So I didn’t have time to plan and get all that stuff [done]. Instead, I just had my own special party with a small handful of my family to celebrate.”
After her show ends, Ortega will continue acting. She also plans to go to college, and she’s already studying for her SATs.
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