By Latoya Coleman
Edited by Madeline Blue Schussel
Photos by: Krissy Saleh
Styled by: Ronald Gravesande
Hair and Makeup by: Barbara Ferrer
Emily Tosta comes into the studio with a bright smile and immediately introduces herself and her mom to the people in hair and makeup, the photographers, and everyone else on set. She reaches to give me a hug next. She has on no makeup, sporting her natural waves, and wearing a grey cap that says “Honey” on it–she’s dressed in a white sweatsuit set that she adorns with a ripped denim jacket.
This 21-year-old actress–who arrived in the country by way of the Dominican Republic at 12 years old with only $500 dollars between her and her mom, barely knowing the language and her mom knowing none–is just starting to see the rewards of that risk.
“It was just like a movie, but we just made the decision. We were like, ‘let’s do this because if we don’t decide right now, we’re just never going to do it.’ And no matter what obstacles were in our way, we were just like, ‘we’re going to do this and that’s it,’” Emily tells me.
This experience of pursuing the American Dream makes Emily incredibly excited about her latest role as Lucia in the reboot of the TV classic Party of Five. Set to debut on Wednesday, January 8th, this new take on the ’90s hit series will follow the lives of 5 Mexican-American siblings who must come together after their parents are deported to Mexico. Already previewed at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the new Party of Five is a highly-anticipated show. The original show was about 5 White kids who had to come together after the death of their parents. As an immigrant herself, Emily is very excited to tell a story that’s so similar to hers. “It was just something that I relate to in the sense of immigration problems because I went through them myself when I first moved to this country. I still have to go through [these things] myself, because I’m on a work visa, so I have to renew it, and I have to go through that anxiety of like, ‘okay, are they going to approve [it this time]?’” The show is in tune with our current political climate. In a time of ICE checkpoints (#AbolishICE), children being detained and separated from their parents (#FamiliesBelongTogether), and campaigns for and against building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (#NoWall, #CheeseWall), this modern twist on Party of Five taps into the struggles of the foreign-born–a significant portion of the U.S. population. Emily and her castmates are all of Latinx descent, and they have already formed a family bond that includes a regular group text.
Conversations about immigrants, race, and gender are at an all-time high, and Emily Tosta symbolizes a more diverse and genuine future for our media and its viewers. “I just think that you should be authentic to who you are and be able to portray that. And I’ve always said that if something matters to you, you should speak out about it…especially if you are able to have a platform.”
And singers, actors, and visual artists are indeed using their social media platforms to speak out on issues that matter to them. After Variety’s Power of Young Hollywood Party this August–which included having a glam squad help Emily and her mom get prepped and primped in their home, getting picked up by a car service, going to the event, and walking the red carpet surrounded by people she grew up with–Emily realized: “‘Holy crap. Like four years ago, we had no money for food.’ I was like, ‘you know what? I’m going to write about this and see how people take it.’ And that’s when I decided to post,” she tells me.
So she shared the details of her inspiring immigration story with her 179-K Instagram following, under a photo of her and her mom at the party that night. Part of her caption read: “After so many years of battles, tears, scrounging for money (sometimes even for food), countless obstacles, rejections, discrimination, and so many difficulties, here we are: our dreams are now our reality ❤️ i write this because i want to encourage EVERYONE. no matter where you come from, what language you speak or what you look like, anything is possible. DO NOT give up on your dreams. persevere, have faith and work hard.”
While Emily has only recently appeared on our radar both for Party of Five and in her current role on Mayans MC (a spinoff of the FX original series Sons of Anarchy), she has been working hard to pursue her dreams since a very young age. Born Emilia Gabriela Attias Tosta in Santo Domingo, DR, she first fell in love with singing, acting, and dancing at her Catholic school when Teacher Carmen, her instructor in the DR, started developing a theater program. She began writing school plays, and her first was an adaptation of Little Women, which she translated into Spanish, and then added her own twist.
Her early career in DR included theater, commercials, and print modeling. At 8 years old, she landed a lead role in her acting camp play, in the well-known musical The Pied Piper of Hamelin. She then began honing her skills and started getting roles in other musicals, including Annie, The Miracle of Fatima, Alice in Wonderland, Cats, and A Christmas Adventure in Broadway. She went on to host her own 4-hour children’s variety TV show on Saturday mornings, titled Sabado Chiquito, where she interviewed stars like the Jonas Brothers and Enrique Iglesias. When she reflects on interviewing the Jonas Brothers, Emily admits, “I was, like, freaking out. ’Cause I loved them so much when I was little. And I remember I barely spoke English and I was, like, trying to come up with questions in English. And I was like, okay, how are we going to do this?”
After feeling like she had achieved a good deal of success in DR, she thought, “‘I really want to do this on a bigger scale, [so what’s] the next step? America!’” So at 12 years old, she and her mom moved to Miami, leaving behind her dad and older sister. After four years living in the Miami heat, they settled down in the acting capital of the world: Los Angeles.
These days, Emily is just trying to take it all in. “Like, sometimes I’ll wake up at five in the morning and go work on one show, and then at 5:00 PM, I’m on the other set, and it’s like things that I, I always dreamed up–and they seemed so…far, you know? And it’s like, now, I’m actually living that reality of the truth and dream that I had for myself.” She admires actresses like Angelina Jolie, ‘cause she’s “just such a badass,” and she also looks up to other Latinx actresses, like America Ferrera, who delivered one of Emily’s favorite TED Talks highlighting how our identity is our superpower. She includes Gina Rodriguez on her list, and adds that “they [all] are just so proud of who they are and where they’re from, and I love the fact that they’re always fighting and striving for more representation and for more characters that look like us.”
Emily’s American Dream may sound like it’s ended up perfectly, but the hurdles she faced along the way were unforgettable. Outside of the challenges that inevitably come with moving to a different country–such as the initial language barrier, leaving family back in DR, and the financial hardships–Emily remembers constantly going on auditions that didn’t focus so much on her skills as an actress. As a teenager, she was often told “your boobs are too big,” or “you’re too curvy,” or “your face doesn’t match your body.” During this dark period of her life, she would just return to what she calls her “Zen place”: reading, which meant spending endless hours in a corner in a library, cuddled up with a book.
Now, when Emily isn’t in her Zen place, coloring in a coloring book, or studying her characters in a “massive notebook” where she writes out her storylines, you can catch her in her electric car, eating a Monty’s burger (yes, she is a vegan), or volunteering at a charity. She says she wants to open up her own charity dedicated to helping women and children. But the very next goal on her vision board is to get a role in a film.
Emily is a modern twist on the Hollywood “It” Girl. From her effortless beauty to her passion for the environment, her charm to her charity work, Emily’s every thought and answer seems to be naturally cut for the screen. Her smile bleeds authenticity, and her whole vibe is warm and hopeful.
“Every day, with shoots–like now–I feel like I’m growing more into myself, and I feel [more] comfortable with showcasing my personality and being honest [about] who I am. So I don’t get that nervous anymore. Yeah…I think it’s just more fun now,” she smiles.