Francia Raísa Wants to Elevate the Latine Community Through Food

A close-up of Francia Raisa's face at the NAACP Image Awards
Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic/Getty
Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic/Getty

This story is part of Como Celebramos, in which we're sharing how we're honoring our favorite summertime Sunday rituals.

Francia Raísa has always been vocal about being a proud Latina. In her years working in TV and carving out a place for herself in an industry that lacks opportunities for women like her, the actress has made it a mission to use her platform to empower the Latine community. And one of the ways she has been able to engage and uplift la comunidad has been through her love of cooking Mexican food. Last year, the "How I Met Your Father" star partnered with La Victoria to release a pair of new salsa flavors for a limited time. And this year, she partnered with influencer Jesus Morales and Modelo to give back to the street-vendor community, and also released her own expansion of Modelo's Spiked Agua Frescas line for spring and summer.

Born and bred in Los Angeles, Raísa, who is half Mexican and half Honduran, grew up immersed in Mexican culture and traditions. In her home, her family only spoke Spanish and only ate Mexican food, she says — which is why she has always been passionate about bringing people together through food. The 35-year-old is a firm believer in "all roads to connecting with people lead back to food," and this summer, she plans to do just that.

"My favorite childhood memories [are around] food. I'm that Mexican that had frijoles every day," she says. "I still make them every Sunday myself. I have my mom's old pot. I make salsa all the time."

It all began with inviting close friends and family over to her home on Saturdays for an authentic, homemade Mexican meal. But after enough push from her Hollywood friends, who told her to lean into her love of food and elevating Latine culture, the opportunities started coming in. As Raísa remembers, "Hilary Duff gave me the idea. She was like, 'Your food is so good, you can do something with it.'"

That was, in part, what led to Raísa's partnership with Modelo. She grew up drinking Mexican agua frescas, which are refreshing, non-alcoholic drinks that originated in Mexico and are popular in other parts of Latin America. They're made by blending either fruits, flowers, seeds, or vegetables with water and sugar, and while most agua frescas don't contain alcohol, Modelo's Spiked Agua Frescas contain malt liquor.

"Agua frescas were a huge staple growing up, especially when we were running around as kids. That was the only thing we could drink, so the fact that this idea came out, I thought was super genius," she says. "Growing up, I loved tamarindo, but out of this collection . . . I want to say pepino y limon [is my favorite] because I have an obsession with lemonade."

Raísa's undeniable connection to food goes back to early childhood. She says that her parents "had no money" when she was born. "At one point, I had to move in with my grandma because they couldn't even afford milk, and I wasn't breastfed. That's a whole other story that I just found out about," she shares. "They would dip a tortilla in frijoles and put it on my gums so I would nibble on it. I had frijoles out of the womb; if I had a last meal, it would be that."

It wasn't until she went to school that she learned what pizza is, Raísa says, and that's why she's "such a frijolera" today. She learned how to cook when she was 18 and started with salsa before working her way to making frijoles and other traditional Mexican dishes.

As someone who grew up attending carne asada cookouts, Raísa has naturally fallen into hosting people around home-cooked meals — and that's something she hopes to make more time for this summer. While she was mostly raised around Mexican culture and food, she has been looking to explore more of her Honduran roots. Her dad is a Honduran-born radio personality who inspired her to pursue a career in entertainment.

"My dad was busy working. He didn't really teach me much about Honduran culture, which is unfortunate, so I'm just catching up right now," she shares. "I found out America [Ferrera] was Honduran, and I was like, 'Girl, help me eat some baleadas — I've never had them before.'"

Raísa is interested in learning more about Honduran culture and cuisine because she sees a lack of Central American representation in the States, particularly in entertainment. However, she ultimately wants to see more opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood as a whole.

"Especially now, after the strike, everything has gotten just a lot harder. What I appreciate is that people are more willing to listen, learn, and understand that there's a difference between all of us," she says. "I'm Latina, so I can play a Cuban even though I'm not Cuban, but now there's a backlash about that, and I'm like, no, we can play each other. J Lo played Selena, and she's Puerto Rican. It's acting. At least we're Latino. I think there's such a lack of everything, and we all need to stop being so catty with each other."

For Raísa, it's important to continue fostering community among Latine actors. "Being around people that remind me of my cousins, my family, and how I grew up has been really filling my heart a lot, because I lost myself for a little bit in this industry, and so I'm giving back in any way I can," she says. "I've personally gone through a lot as a first-generation Latin American, not just outside of the industry but within the industry. I haven't really spoken too much about it, and I'm slowly telling stories here and there."

For example, Raísa penned a personal essay for Marie Claire in 2018, in which she shared her family's immigration story and the dangerous decision to end DACA.

She's also been vocal about the importance of prioritizing mental health, particularly for Latines. There's a great deal of pressure of being ni de aquí, ni de allá, especially if you're first generation with immigrant parents, Raísa says. That's just another reason why she's starting these conversations and continuing to bring together the community around her table this summer.

"Having peers around you that remind you of yourself is so important," she says. "I didn't have Latina friends for a really, really long time, and I didn't realize I was missing that so much. I feel like I'm human now. I don't care what Drake says — you can have new friends."

Johanna Ferreira is the content director for PS Juntos. With more than 10 years of experience, Johanna focuses on how intersectional identities are a central part of Latine culture. Previously, she spent close to three years as the deputy editor at HipLatina, and she has freelanced for numerous outlets including Refinery29, Oprah magazine, Allure, InStyle, and Well+Good. She has also moderated and spoken on numerous panels on Latine identity.