True Survivor | Tamara Mena Spreads a Message of Hope and Fights for Disability Inclusion in the Media

Tamara Mena is a bilingual motivational speaker, actress, host, model, content creator, ambassador, survivor, and eternal optimist. She was born and raised in Leon, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. At 19, she suffered a horrific car accident that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down and killed her boyfriend. After miraculously surviving a near- death experience, Tamara chose to dedicate her life to sharing her message of hope.

She attended California State University Stanislaus, where she majored in Communication Studies and, despite several hospitalizations, graduated summa cum laude. Although she lost her voice for some time after the accident, when her lungs collapsed, she recovered. At CSU Stanislaus, she was the first commencement speaker in a wheelchair to deliver an inspirational speech in front of 10,000 people, and received a standing ovation.

She has spoken at major international conferences, such as Ciudad de las Ideas, Creative Inspirational Forum, and Hispanicize. She has also been on numerous TV shows, including Sábado Gigante, Aquí y Ahora, Qué Noche, The Doctors, Inside Edition, American Latino, Speechless, and El Hormiguero.

She participated in Nuestra Belleza Latina, a beauty pageant and reality TV show. She proved her talent and motivated millions of people with her story, yet states she was not given the opportunity to move forward because of her disability.

This fueled a fire inside of her. She has fought for disability inclusion and representation in the media. She has been one of very few women in a wheelchair to model for major runways, such as Milan Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week.

Tamara is also the first host in a wheelchair to work with LATV for their show American Latino. She is host and co-producer of Beauty on Wheels and See Beyond TV. She has produced, co-written, and acted in several short films that are disability-inclusive.

She was selected this year to participate in the Screenwriters Guild of America Disability Scene night. She performed a few scenes with well known actress Jamie Lynn Sigler.

This year, she appeared in commercials for brands such as Apple and Disney. She has worked as an ambassador and influencer with companies including Red Bull, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ipsy.

Along with her fiancé, Chris Matysuk, she was featured in a TV commercial for Kay Jewelers for Valentine’s Day. This was a breath of fresh air for her; she feels producers saw past her disability, creating true inclusion. They selected the couple simply because of their beautiful love story.

Tamara also strives to empower women and promote body positivity through her Embrace YOU Project.

Being different is beautiful and powerful, and our world needs to see that.”

How do you hope to continue to create impact in our community?

I plan to continue showing people what I can do. I will keep raising the bar and changing stereotypes of people with disabilities, and create more content that raises awareness and shatters negative perceptions!

What advice can you give a woman who doubts her power?

I have young girls looking up to me. A few are in wheelchairs and “want to be like me.” This is said by their mothers, and it’s so flattering and sweet, but there’s also a sense of responsibility to fight harder so that one day they won’t have to face the lack of opportunities and the discrimination I’ve had to face! My advice to any woman is to accept and embrace whatever makes you different. Being different is beautiful and powerful, and our world needs to see that across all platforms!

Was there a key moment when you decided to own your power?

Well, it’s not just ONE key moment and it doesn’t happen over- night! Your journey is part of your process and everything pre- pares you for what comes next! My mom is my biggest supporter and has always taught me to believe in myself. She’s really helped me become the person that I am now.

What’s the main lesson 2019 taught you?

Even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable, to always advocate for myself and others! I started out this year with amazing opportunities, but was also betrayed by someone I trusted. That really taught me to continue believing in myself, to stand up for myself as a woman, and to be my own boss always!

What are you looking forward to in 2020?

I’m looking forward to seeing more of my goals come to fruition. I can’t wait to see the entertainment industry create more inclusion and diversity! I’ve gone to so many more castings and have booked so many more things this year as a wheelchair user than last year. I will keep fighting for more opportunities for everyone!

What brings you ALEGRIA?

Fulfilling my dreams. Also, just spending time with my loved ones, being present and dancing! Dancing always brings a special, un- explainable joy for me, it brings such a special smile to my face!

What is a quote that you love?

“Every person, regardless of their background, deserves to see themselves represented in the media in a powerful and positive way!”

 

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