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Kimberly Norris Guerrero – I’m A Cheerleader

Kimberly Norris Guerrero – I’m A Cheerleader

Rob McClendon: Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal
once said, “Humor is the weapon of the unarmed. It helps people who are oppressed to smile
at the situation that pains them,” – a fitting quote for our next story. Kimberly Norris Guerrero is a Native American
actress from Idabel, Oklahoma – a small town girl, who’s made it big out in Hollywood. But it’s one of her early roles, more than
two decades ago, that focused our attention on the subtle racisms that still linger. Rob McClendon: For a TV show described as
being about nothing, Seinfeld used humor to often broach some serious subjects. [Seinfeld TV Show: Jerry, I really need it
back. It is mine. But you can’t give something and then take
it back. I mean, what are ya a?]. Rob: In the episode “The Cigar Store Indian,”
Kimberly Norris Guerrero made her prime-time debut as Jerry’s Native American love interest,
an iconic role Kimberly says she was born to play. [Seinfeld TV Show: You mean like an Indian
giver? I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that term
(laughter)]. Kimberly Norris Guerrero: Comedy is my wheelhouse. That’s what I love. Anybody that’s been to McCurtain County, and
I think in Oklahoma in general, I think humor is an aspect that defines us Oklahomans and
for sure Native American Oklahomans. I mean, you can’t be with a native person
in Oklahoma and not be laughing hysterically within five minutes. Rob: Adopted at 5-1/2 months, Kimberly grew
up in the Oklahoma hills of Idabel. Kimberly: There was always a sense of being
very, very loved and very protected and very included just as you would if you were a biological
child. But I grew up in time of like the “Sesame
Street” era where there was this little like song they would sing on Sesame Street, “One
of These Things is Not Like the Others.” [Sesame Street kids singing: One of these
things is not like the others]. Kimberly: It’s always kind of felt like, oh,
yeah, I’m the, I’m that one, I’m the different one. But it was never in a bad way. It was never in a way that made me feel less
than or made me feel unloved or as an outsider. It was just other. Rob: An idyllic childhood made all the richer
by her Native American heritage. Kimberly: Mom told me when I was, it was brilliant
the way she, she presented it to me, I was 3-1/2 or 4, and I know it was definitely before
I started school, and she said, you know, she explained to me that I was adopted and
what that meant and how much they loved me. And she even had a book because there was,
uh, my biological mom had put the information about my tribal heritage with my birth certificate. In this book it says that my great-grandmother
Christine George was the granddaughter of Chief Seattle and they actually called her
an Indian princess. And so that was there perception was that,
you know, if you’re a chief’s daughter you’re an Indian princess. They tell a 4-year-old that [laugh], so I’m
like, OK, I’m an Indian princess. I have responsibility to the world, to my
people, to all people. And at 4 years old it was like OK, I can do
this. And then at the same time, my father served
on the orphanage board. It was an, it was primarily Choctaw kids that
were there, and so we would go out and my dad had a department store growing up, a little,
you know, country store in Idabel, and so we would take out jeans and coats and things
like that in the winter. And so I went with him this one day, and it
was still before, probably around that time, and it shook me to my core when I’m sitting
in a nice warm station wagon with my dad on a Sunday afternoon right after Thanksgiving,
and we’re dropping off all these nice clothes, and I saw all these kids that looked just
like me. That looked just like me. And they’re just sitting out on the front
porches of, you know, essentially these like group homes, and that’s really when it hit. It was like, there’s, I’m no different. Like, that is me. That was, you know, preschool age for me,
that’s kind of what I hooked on to. It ended up being, you know, just kind of
this like, this drumbeat to my life of like how do I serve? How do I serve humanity? How do I serve our indigenous people? How do I serve the people around me that I
love? Rob: And so began her interest in her native
roots – taking her all the way to Los Angeles to study Native American history and follow
her other passion. Kimberly: I remember exactly the day that
I decided I wanted to go to UCLA and I, watching, you know, being a good Oklahoma girl I was
obsessed with college football with everybody else. And we were watching a UFC-UCLA game that
happened to be on that weekend, and I saw this beautiful pom-pom girl, Barbie doll of
a human being, with UCLA on her chest and the blue and gold pom-pom, and I just went,
that’s what I’m gonna do when I grow up. Rob: Which you did. Kimberly: And I did. I mean again, it was like this illusional
thing, and I’m like, that’s what I want to do. Rob: And from that time on the sideline came
Kimberly’s big break. Kimberly: So a casting director came to the
game and saw us and had myself and another girl come audition for an AT&T commercial. And I ended up getting that commercial, and
I promise you, I think it was more just how goofy and how off the turnip truck I had just
fallen. The guy said bring a headshot. I had no idea what a headshot was, so I brought
my senior picture from Idabel [laugh], and I handed, I mean, you know, like the one that’s
like the Olan Mills, like the really nice, you know, thick ones [laugh]. And so, I did my little audition and I said,
and I had left the casting office and I came back and I said, “Can I get that back?” And they just fell out laughing. And so they made a photocopy of it, wrote
my information down, and gave me the, and I got that part [laugh]. And that role got me with a national commercial,
and it got me into Screen Actors Guild. And it also really, I made a lot of money
on that commercial on it. I had no idea you made residuals, you know,
so these checks kept coming in, and all of a sudden my parents I think were not so afraid
of me going into the acting. That’s just, it’s a significant amount of
money for one night of work. Rob: Yet Kimberly stayed in school, earning
her Native American studies degree. Kimberly: I personally didn’t have any native
professors in history at UCLA, which was fantastic program. But there were no natives teaching native
history – I thought, how cool would that be. Rob: But rather than fall back, Kimberly caught
on. Kimberly: A big role had just come out for
a miniseries called “Son of the Morning Star” that ABC was doing and then it just kind of
rolled from there. I went to work on “As the World Turns.” By the grace of God right after that, I got
into “Northern Exposure,” and I played Ed’s girlfriend on “Northern Exposure.” And I got the Seinfeld – the epic Seinfeld
job. [Excerpt from Seinfeld TV Show: It’s late,
I should probably just go home. I had no idea. (Knock, knock, knock) Hey Jerry, look what
I got (Wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha-wha) (Laughter)]. Rob: And from there Kimberly began playing
predominantly native characters. [Movie Excerpt: I was wrong. I feel endeared to the Lord]. Kimberly: I wasn’t the classic native maiden,
you know, or I probably would have gotten a lot more work. But I just, it’s OK. I mean, I really, it’s beyond OK. I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled to have, you know, carved this
path. Rob: That led her to a favorite role – Oklahoma
native and Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller. [Movie Excerpt: I’m not considering running
for deputy chief, I am running]. Kimberly: Talk about not stepping up to the
plate – that was still, that even for me was a little bit, you know, overwhelming to think
about trying to fill, you know, those shoes of such an iconic woman and leader and thinker
and just an incredible human being. But getting to come back to Oklahoma, really,
it gave me a lot of peace, and I know that I’m home, and this is one of our stories. Being able to take the two things that I love
which is home, Oklahoma, and filming, I’m like, I’m happy it’s on a film set. So to have, to be on a film set in Oklahoma,
you know, it was just, you know, the joy of my life. And to get to be telling Wilma’s story, and
it was actually how I was able to connect with, how am I going to be, I, Kimberly, how
am I going to be able to personify this woman that’s bigger than life? And Wilma herself said, she said at the heart,
at my heart I’m a cheerleader. And when I heard her say that, I went, OK,
we’re good, we’re good. Because in my heart, I’m a cheerleader, and
so that’s where I started building the character from and just always remembering that shared
common thing that we had about, you know, just cheering other people on and helping
them be their best. And just to remember why I love this place
I love so much. Rob: And with those lessons learned, Kimberly’s
life has started to come full circle. While still actively acting, she’s also producing
now, currently shopping a reality TV series focused on native peoples, as well as working
with tribal communities throughout North America as a public speaker and an advocate for personal
and community development. Now, if you’d like to learn more about Kimberly,
I have my full interview with her streaming on our website. Not only is she a delightful person, she has
valuable insights well worth the watch. Just look for it under our value added section

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