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Venezuelans Seeking Political Refuge Face Impossible Odds

Venezuelan asylum-seekers are willing to face the pain of starting over in the United States as they leave the Latin American country in droves. 

Venezuelan flight to the United States has soared to critical heights amid the Latin American country's economic crisis under Nicolás Maduro. As food shortages, inflation and crime reach staggering levels, Venezuelans are setting their eyes on "the land of the free."

Research shows that applications for U.S. asylum filed by Venezuelans has shot up by 168 percent since 2013, but the transition to American soil is littered with challenges. NBC Latino reports that many Venezuelans are arriving to the nation with tourist visas, which quells any opportunity to work legally in the U.S. Those filing for political refuge also face up to a three year wait before their cases are reviewed.

Patricia Andrade, founder of non-profit organizations Venezuela Awareness and Raíces Venezolanas, stands on the frontline of the effort to donate household goods to newly arrived Venezuelans, but she reveals that influencers in the position to help have opted not to give back to those in need of shelter, medication and food.

"Sometimes I just want to cry," she told the news outlet. "There are a few small donors who give me $50 here and there. But I have not received any help from the wealthy Venezuelan community in Miami, those who have millions."

Yet, returning to Venezuela isn't an option for many asylum seekers who have chosen to bear the dire circumstances that tugs at their livelihood. A hopeful refugee, who chose to identify as "Carlos," believes that his problems will disappear once he receives a paying job, stating, "The impact of returning to Venezuela would be worse than the impact of staying here."

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Jennifer Lopez Was Pleasantly Surprised By Keke Palmer's Performance In 'Hustlers'

The all-star cast of the upcoming film Hustlers features plenty of heavy hitters, but it seems Keke Palmer shines the brightest.

Speaking with Billboard last week, Jennifer Lopez dished about what fans can expect in her upcoming film. The all-female led feature was inspired in by "The Hustlers at Scores", a New York magazine article about a real-life group of former exotic dancers who teamed up to overthrow their Wall Street clientele.

While Lopez got tips from visits to the strip club and chats with Cardi B, she enjoyed Palmer's gift of improvisation. "She was great at improv, and not everybody has that knack, you know what I mean?," she said. "But they were all great. I expected Cardi to be good, I expected Lizzo to be good, but I didn't know enough about Keke. I had seen her audition tape. I did a little bit of research on her when they were thinking [about her role]. We went through so many people for that part, so many people."

Palmer kicked off her acting career at the tender age of 9, with leads in films like Akeela & The Bee, Jump In! and starred in her own series True Jackson, VP on Nickelodeon from 2008 to 2011. She's also stolen scenes in Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens and the live rendition of Grease. But it was her bubbly personality that caught Lopez's (who executively produced the film) eye.

"When I saw her -- I had watched a couple of interviews of her and stuff like that -- I was like, 'This girl has something. She has personality,'" she said. "And she was awesome. We had fun from the first scene. I was like, 'OK. We're gon' have fun!'"

Lopez recently shared with Entertainment Tonight some of her biggest challenges in the film like pole dancing.

"Learning pole dancing was probably one of the most challenging things I've ever done for a film," Lopez said. "But it was worth it. I love this character. I love this story. It's a really gritty New York story with women at the forefront -- the thing actresses dream of -- and to be able to produce it and star in it was very special."

Hustlers opens in theaters Sept. 13. Check out the trailer below.

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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Sentenced To Life In Supermax Prison Plus 30 Years

After a three-month trial period, a Brooklyn judge sentenced Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to life in prison plus 30 years on Wednesday (July 17), CNN reports. The Mexico native faced 10 charges stemming from narcotic dealings that stretched into the United States, to other criminal activities including money laundering and murder conspiracy. He was once deemed the captain of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel.

Guzman will reportedly carry out his sentence at Colorado’s Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, a place that the news site deemed “the highest-security federal prison” in the United States. According to The Washington Post, Guzman believes justice wasn’t served in his trial. “When extradited, I expected to have a fair trial where justice was blind and my fame would not be a factor, but what happened was actually the opposite,” he said. “The government of the United States will send me to a prison where my name will never be heard again. I will take this opportunity to say there was no justice here.”

According to CBS News, Richard Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, said in February that the possibility of parole was unlikely for Guzman. “His conviction is a victory for the American people who have suffered so long and so much while Guzman made billions pouring poison over our southern border," he said. Guzman's attorney Mariel Colon said the legal team is weighing an appeal.

The government is also demanding that Guzman turn over $112.6 billion while a restitution fee will be solidified at a different point in time. The verdict arrives nearly two-and-a-half years since he was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico. While detained in the latter country, Guzman escaped from prison on two separate occasions before landing in captivity in the states.

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Gina Torres attends The Hollywood Reporter's Empowerment in Entertainment event 2019 at Milk Studios on April 30, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
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For Gina Torres, The Mission Is Afro-Latina Excellence In Her New Series 'Pearson'

That’s what the formidable Jessica Pearson, a disbarred New York lawyer who enters Chicago’s dirty politics as a fixer, warns her new boss, the mayor, in the trailer for the forthcoming Suits spin-off series, Pearson.

For fans of the eight-season USA Network legal drama, Jessica’s tough-talk and self-assurance is par for the course. Exuding power from the top of quick-witted head to the tips of her pointy stilettos, Jessica isn’t intimidated by status. An opportunity to tell the man how it only bolsters her own vigor. She’s commanding, incredibly skilled and feared–and she knows it. She’s the kind of powerhouse woman Gina Torres, the Cuban-American actress reprising the role, has taken on throughout her lengthy career.

“I’m very fortunate to play strong, significant women,” Torres, 50, tells Vibe Viva. “It’s been an incredible blessing and one I didn’t see coming early on.”

The Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised Torres got her start on the soap opera One Life To Live but has made a name for herself bringing sci-fi badasses to life. Famously playing Zoë Washburne, an ass-kicking fan favorite in Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly, the Afro-Latina actress was also Nebula, a Sumerian princess and pirate in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys; Jasmine, a demon who takes human form and devours people into her super slaves in Angel and woman warrior Hel in the two-season Cleopatra 2525–a role that won her an Alma Award.

The sci-fi goddess, who also had roles in Hannibal, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias and Westworld, says she, like many aspiring actresses, initially pined for the coveted girlfriend part in films and shows about the mundane life of some American man. But she was rarely cast as anyone’s sweetheart. Instead, she says, each snub guided her down a more fulfilling theatrical path.

“I got to play far more interesting roles,” she says.

For Torres, Jessica’s comeback in Pearson is an evolution of all the fierce women she has played in the past. Unlike in Suits, where the character, a former managing partner at New York law firm Pearson Specter Litt, is somewhat of an enigma, its spin-off, which sees Jessica as its lead, introduces viewers to the complexity of an influential woman of color who understands her might and value.

She is, to quote Torres, a “fully realized human,” who we see restarting her life in the Windy City, navigating the cutthroat, grimy political world as the mayor’s right-hand, grappling with relationship woes that stem from her controversial career transition and reconciling her incessant impulse to win by any means necessary with her drive to do the right thing.

“As I have evolved over the years, as a woman and as an actress, Jessica is a beautiful realization of so many roads taken and not taken. It’s why I think this character will resonate with a lot of professional women,” Torres says. “It shows the sacrifices it takes, the things you have to go through and let go along the way, the rewards and benefits you gain as well as the peace you have to make with it all.”

The idea for the gripping new series, where Torres will make her co-executive production debut alongside Suits veterans Aaron Korsh and Daniel Arkin, came to the actress while she was home watching the 2016 election explode on her TV.

Looking at the key players, their nasty tactics and the cult-like supporters they cultivated from her small screen got her thinking about her former Suits character Jessica and how she might move in this messy political landscape.

“I was perplexed by the different characters who inhabited this world, and I have to say on both sides of the aisle. I was looking at blind loyalty, true believers, people who just want to power grab. I was fascinated by all of that,” Torres said. “Jessica, as a character, I think was particularly interesting to people because she was a loyal, intelligent character who did whatever she had to do to keep her people safe and the firm together. So I started to think of her in this political arena, because she does have a specific skill set that can be seen in a different way, but she ultimately wants to use her power for good.”

She brought the idea to her agent, who told her she “had a show,” and Suits creators agreed. The then-unnamed spin-off was picked up by the USA Network in March 2018. The series casts Morgan Spector (Homeland) as Chicago Mayor Bobby Novak, Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill) as an ambitious city attorney, Eli Goree (Riverdale) as a journalist-turned-press secretary, Chantel Riley (Wynonna Earp) as Angela Cook, Jessica's cousin, and Simon Kassianides (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the mayor's tough-guy driver.

As a co-executive producer with influence behind the scenes, Torres has taken the responsibility to drive diversity in the writer’s room. To start, she pitched the character and arc for Yoli Castillo, a DREAMer who is just starting her career in Chicago politics as Jessica’s assistant, who will be played by Puerto Rican actress Isabel Arraiza (Driven).

“Because it was my idea and I brought it to them, the powers that be have been incredibly open to my story ideas and respectful to my original vision of the show, which was to create and mirror Chicago as it is: a diverse world, socioeconomically, culturally and racially,” she said.

Being in the room where stories are created and decisions are made, an experience Torres calls “incredible,” also helped her make a lifelong career dream come true: playing an Afro-Latina character.

“I was very specific about reinventing Jessica’s mythology and making sure, for the first time in my life, I would actually be playing an Afro-Latina character,” she said, excitedly. “In the past, it was never an issue for me because I wasn’t in a position of power, but now, in this instance, I was, and I got to say, ‘this is who she is and we are going to reintroduce her to the world as a proud Afro-Latina character.’”

The Black Cubana, who has played multiple African-American characters during the span of her career, has long called out the mainstream media’s Eurocentric representation of Latinidad.

In 2012, she discussed how casting directors continuously passed on her for Latinx roles in NBCUniverso’s documentary Black and Latino, famously saying, “When I became an actress, I quickly realized that 'the world' liked their Latinas to look Italian and not like me.”

The following year, she told Latina magazine that despite the film industry needing to “figure it out and catch up,” her view of herself never changed, adding, “I know who I am. I’m Cuban American.”

For a Black Latina trying to make it in an industry that not only didn’t understand her but operated to erase her from the popular imagination of Latinidad, self-awareness was survival.

“They didn’t care about the Latina part of me at all because I didn’t look like the Spanish, Eurocentric standard of what Latina women were supposed to look like. But the way I counteracted that was by hiding in plain sight, never pretending to be anything but what I was,” she told Vibe Viva.

Years after Torres criticized the media’s whitewashing of Latinidad, we are seeing more Afro-Latinx characters on TV. On FX, the drama series Pose, which follows the lives of trans and queer African American and Latinx young people in New York's ballroom scene in the late '80s and early '90s, Afro-Puerto Rican actress Mj Rodriguez and the nonconforming Puerto Rican-Dominican-Haitian performer Indya Moore both play lead trans Afro-Latina characters. In the streaming space, even wider representation of Afro-Latinidad is prevalent, with Black Latina main cast members in Orange is the New Black, The Get Down and On My Block.

“We’ve always been around, Afro-Latinx people, gay people, indigenous people, we’ve always been here. Dealing with immigration, diversity, LGBTQ rights and inclusivity isn’t new,” Torres said. “The fact that there has been such a stranglehold on acceptance and inclusivity really boggles the mind. All of our contributions through time are significant, and so what this, [having women of color behind the scenes], brings is a point of view, a truth to what life is, a truth to how society functions.”

While there have been gains for Afro-Latinxs in film and TV in recent years, Torres’ anticipated role in Pearson marks another feat: it’s among the first hour-long, primetime network drama series to have an Afro-Latina lead, alongside FX’s Pose. While social media has been abuzz, praising the legend actress for the triumph, and Torres, too, understands its significance, she also recognizes that representation, alone, is never enough.

“My hope is that people watch the show and enjoy it because it is a great show and the performance is wonderful. I want people to get sucked into it because the success of the show means that I get to be on television for other girls, boys and women like us,” she said. “It’s not always about what you see, but about excellence and creating excellence. So often we are told our stories don’t matter or the talent pool isn’t wide enough, so we need excellence and success for this to last.”

If there’s one thing we can expect from both Torres and Jessica, it’s Afro-Latina excellence.

Pearson airs on the USA Network starting July 17, 2019.

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