Sociology major Chanel Zaldaña never dreamed that when she first came to UC Santa Cruz that she’d be pursuing acting, but now she’s taken the lead role as Nya in the upcoming African American Theater Art Troupe’s (AATAT) production of Pipeline that opens on February 24.
“If you told me when I was a freshman, that by senior year I would be an actress, I would have been shocked,” she says. “I always had an interest in acting but never felt I had the resources to develop my acting skills in time to be fully prepared for a full-scale production. It was to my surprise that on campus organizations like AATAT were able to hone my skills to become an actress.”
Born in Long Beach, Calif., Chanel was raised as an only child by her El Salvadorian father and her American mother, so she enjoyed being bilingual and can speak both Spanish and English fluently. When it came time to choose where to attend college, UC Santa Cruz attracted her with its unique setting. “UCSC offered an environment unlike any other UC or university in California,” she says. “Not only did I find its environment breathtaking but the environment helped me heal as a person. The community fostered my creative talent but also my soul.”
She’s passionate about seeking equity and justice for marginalized people domestically and globally, and chose to study sociology to gain a better understanding of these issues as well the systems of oppression that harm these particular communities. “Growing up, I experienced many forms of discrimination and have borne witness to it,” she says. “I come from a city with a long history of redlining which was evident in our educational system. This led me to craving answers as to why the systems of oppression worked as they did.”
Chanel currently is the finance officer at Anakbayan Santa Cruz, a national and global organization that strives for national democracy in the Philippines. She hopes to see housing become a basic human right and improved conditions for the working class. One person she especially admires is the actor Laverne Cox, who is not only an LGBTQT+ advocate but was the first transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in an acting category for her role in the series Orange is the New Black. Cox is considered a trailblazer in the transgender community and has won many awards for her activism. Chanel describes Cox as a woman who has opened many doors for many Black women in the film industry and who also advocates for better representation of themselves in the media.
In her free time, Chanel has fun with her friends shopping for makeup and clothes and playing a wide variety of PC and consul games. As she gets ready to graduate from UCSC, she advises new students to join organizations on campus, make connections, explore campus resources – and to definitely reach past their comfort zones.