Gina Rodriguez, the Latina Meryl Streep?

Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for her role in "Jane the Virgin."

Story highlights

  • Gina Rodriguez says her show, "Jane the Virgin," gives an authentic picture of a Latino family
  • She is smart and brave to challenge Hollywood's prejudices and blind spots, says Ruben Navarrette
Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Introducing the Latina Meryl Streep, Act I.

When she was growing up in Chicago, that's what Gina Rodriguez wanted to be. At the time, as the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants, that dream must have seemed unattainable. Now, not so much.
For the last several months, the NYU graduate has been winning praise for her acting chops. And Sunday, she became only the second Latina to ever win a Golden Globe award for best actress, for her role in the television show "Jane the Virgin," which airs on the CW network.
    Ruben Navarrette
    The first was America Ferrera, who in 2007 took home a Golden Globe for her role in the television show "Ugly Betty."
    Among the performers in the audience cheering on Rodriguez's win Sunday night: Meryl Streep.
    What turns this from a good story into a great one is that Rodriguez -- recently dubbed the entertainment industry's "Next Big Thing" by The Hollywood Reporter -- is more than just a talented actress.
    We've seen those before. True, given Hollywood's antiquated predilection toward telling stories in black and white -- to the exclusion of Hispanics, Asians and others who don't fit into that narrow color scheme -- not enough of the talented Latina actresses who came before got the recognition they deserved or roles that reflected reality. But they were there, on screen and on film.
    Many Latinos have had Rodriguez on their radar for the last several months. It's all because of a series of thoughtful and provocative interviews that she has given about her priorities, world view and career choices.
    Read the interviews and you'll see: What makes Rodriguez special is not that she can play a character, but that she has character. They don't teach that sort of thing in acting school. You get it from your parents. And, in this case, Rodriguez obviously got it from hers -- Genaro and Magali.
    In July, on a panel during the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Rodriguez discussed why she had turned down a role in Lifetime's "Devious Maids" where Latinas are cast as -- oh, the suspense -- housekeepers.
    She explained: "I found it limiting for the stories that Latinos have. For the stories that Americans have, I feel like there's a perception that people have about Latinos in America specifically -- somebody growing up in Chicago, English being my first language, Spanish being my second -- that we are perceived a very certain way. Our stories have been told, and they're not unmoralistic -- you know, being a maid is fantastic. You know, I have many family members that have fed many of their families on doing that job, but there are other stories that need to be told. And I think that the media is a venue and an avenue to educate and teach our next generation."
    She turned down a steady paycheck, with no guarantee that something else would come along.
    "I didn't become an artist to be a millionaire," she told the gathering. "I didn't become an actor to wear Louis Vuitton. I have to give this dress back when we're done. I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on screen. I have two older sisters. One's an investment banker. The other one is a doctor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers. And I realized how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, 'Well, there's no way I can do it, because I'm not there.' And it's like as soon as you follow your dreams, you give other people the allowance to follow theirs."
    When "Jane the Virgin" came along, Rodriguez thought the show -- which is loosely adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela -- was the "most authentic, genuine representation" of a Latino family that she had ever seen on television, she told The New York Times. It has the alluring spice of cultural references, but not to the point where it overpowers the palate.
    "For once, I was reading a script where they weren't talking about my ethnicity," she told the Times. "They weren't putting a Puerto Rican flag on my shoulder. They weren't putting a taco in my hand."
    In an industry full of people who are known for being shallow, self-centered and afraid to make waves, Rodriguez is none of those things. She is smart, brave and eager to challenge those in power to confront their prejudices and blind spots.
    Oddly enough, these are the kinds of things that are supposed to get you in trouble in Hollywood, where people think of themselves as liberal and don't much appreciate those who tell them otherwise. Remember the Sony hack story, and how flustered the liberal studio executives, writers, producers and actors became when it was revealed that some of what they say in private isn't very progressive?
    But Rodriguez isn't in trouble. Instead, she's on the fast track to stardom. And, best of all, she seems intent on taking her community along for the ride.