by Athena Wu
Despite the utter chaos of the past year and a half, actress Jennifer Cheon Garcia has had her moments of celebration and success. Syfy’s “Van Helsing,” where Garcia plays Ivory, a vampire turned human, just released their fifth and final season this summer, giving the cast a chance at heartfelt goodbyes. Meanwhile, Garcia has a new show up in the works, “The Wheel of Time,” which is set to premiere on November 19th. I had the chance to chat with Garcia about her shows, her inspirations, her struggles, and her strength in fighting for representation.
“That’s the great thing about the resilience of humanity. You gotta do what you gotta do. You get the job done and just go forward, right?” Garcia pauses as we both reflect upon her words. While the pandemic has driven the world mad with frustration and exhaustion, it is true that we have done everything but give up. Garcia takes on a similar attitude of determination. She would stare a beast straight in the eyes and dare it to test her years of Taekwondo training. Still, that is not to say Garcia is unaffected. Like the rest of us, she has endured painful times. She has persisted through a world whose expectations and judgment attempt to pull her back again and again.
“I am human!” Garcia exclaims. “I have my dark days! Don’t let the lipstick fool you.”
Growing up, Garcia, who is of Korean and Mexican heritage, rarely saw anyone like her on TV. The first time she realized acting could actually be a career option for her was upon seeing Jason Momoa and the Asian women in the Hawaii edition of Baywatch. As a child, not having that recognition can have a big impact on self-esteem and self-perception. Garcia opens up about her struggles, “It took many years of reprogramming my brain to really believe in myself.”
On top of the film and TV industry’s glaring lack of diversity over the years, societal expectations placed another burden on young Garcia’s shoulders. Children bend over backward trying to fit into the rigid mold of who they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to act. This mindset took hold of Garcia for years.
“It definitely was a hurdle. A barrier that I had to get over and breakthrough,” says Garcia. Her voice sounds far away as if her mind was being transported back in time. She continues, “It did take some time. I had my days where I felt like I could charge through, and then there were some days where I felt, ‘what is the point?’ The system’s not built for people who look like me.”
Yet, Garcia never surrendered. In fact, putting a positive spin on it, she acknowledges that while these relentless expectations have undoubtedly affected her, it has made her into the person she is today. Passion creeps into her voice as she says, “I’m really glad I didn’t give up because now I feel like I’m part of a movement and a change that the world has been screaming for.”
Garcia’s upcoming show, “The Wheel of Time,” takes on these ideas of representation. Garcia explains, “I’m really big on everybody feeling seen, and everybody feeling heard, and everybody seeing themselves in their entertainment and their inspiration. That’s something I think this cast really embodies. I’m just so excited for you guys to meet all of the cast and to fall in love with them like I have.”
“The Wheel of Time” breaks the glaring lack of diversity that continues to be a prominent issue in the film and TV industry. Garcia admits that as a child, it was rare to have an inspiration of the same race or ethnicity to whom she could relate and connect on a more personal level. However, as the world slowly progresses, Garcia is proud to be part of the growing influx of an empowering and diverse set of actors, being the role model for others that she wished she had growing up.
However, the road to this point has not been easy, and Garcia has had to climb out of tough times again and again. One piece of advice she shares is a quote by Carrie Fisher: “Take your broken heart, and turn it into art.” Garcia has learned how to express and process her emotions through acting, music, painting, fashion, makeup, and writing, physical manifestations of her mind and thoughts. “That’s what kept me alive in dark times,” she confesses.
To those struggling with acceptance and self-validation, let Garcia be your guide. Her advice to you would be: “Follow your gut. You’re going to have that instinct. You’re born with it. And society is going to tell you differently––but no, follow your gut. You have the power to do and be anything you want to be, go anywhere you want to go, and make anything you want to make happen. But it takes action. I’m just here in spirit for all of you and cheering all of you on.”