From Olvera Street to landing a role in 'Coco': Guatemalan immigrant nurtured her children's artistic gifts

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Marta Lilian Gonzalez shares a deep bond with her children.

"I want to be your best friend every moment," she said to her oldest as they sat on a bench and held hands. The mother of five embodies what many Spanish-speakers call "ganas."

You may have heard the expression in "Stand and Deliver," the film about legendary Garfield High School teacher Jaime Escalante.

Gonzalez describes "ganas" as a deep desire paired with action, pouring all your heart into what you do.

"You need to have dreams. Dream big and you need to reach for those dreams. Nobody is going to bring the dream to you," she said. "You need to go and reach them."

She arrived from Guatemala at 24 and said she fell in love with the U.S.

"When I came here, I would say 'How can I contribute to this beautiful country?' So, I went to an adult school. I learned English," she said.

Gonzalez then earned an associate degree in art and obtained a cosmetology license.

"My siblings and I are all in the arts. I don't know how my mom does it. She's incredible. She's our super woman," said Lilian Gonzalez, the oldest of five.

She knew her children were gifted performers early on. But she couldn't afford most acting and dance classes.

"I just started checking nonprofits. You know, if they have programs for low-income families, if they have a scholarship," she said.

The kids went from performing on Olvera Street to competing in talent shows on Spanish-language networks. Then, in 2016 her son Anthony landed the role of Miguel in Disney/Pixar's "Coco."

"So unbelievable," said an emotional Marta. "Oh my god. I couldn't understand what was happening in that moment. I was crying, crying and crying. I say 'Thank you, God' because this is the best gift ever," she said.

The five siblings are tight knit. They're also navigating the challenges of attending college, middle and high school together from home. Gonzalez lost her three jobs due to the pandemic.

"It was very tough because the first question was 'How am I going to do this? How am I going to continue?'" she said. "There is always a way, and I'm so grateful to turn around and to say thank God I have time to spend this time with my kids."

Lilian Gonzalez was ready to put her dream of earning her masters at USC on hold, knowing her mother was out of work.

"My mom turned the coin over and she was like, 'You can do this. You can do this,'" said the actress and student, tearing up. "In that moment, I felt OK, I guess that God has a plan for me, even when things are uncertain."

Marta Lilian Gonzalez didn't have the same support growing up.

"I didn't have a mother that talked to me, that listened to me. You don't choose who is going to be your mom, but I chose to be the type of person that I am," she said.

Gonzalez believes God sent angels to provide support and guidance along their journey.

"I have not movable faith," she said. "That type of faith that is kind of special, and you need to believe it no matter what."
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