How Zay Zay Aquino Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative

Posted on

BE GRATEFUL! I can’t stress this enough. Gratitude is a dominant Feeling. When you’re feeling gratitude, you can’t really be feeling anything else in that moment. There’s something magical about that. A grateful mindset is such a beautiful place to be, and it truly allows you to step back from everyday stresses and negativity and see things from a different perspective.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Zay Zay.

Zay Zay is the host of the podcast and web/YouTube interview show “When Zay Zay Met…”. His vast experience in the entertainment world spans everything from voiceover work to being on air talent on television. On his show, he interviews celebrities and others in the entertainment world. The focus of his show “When Zay Zay Met…” is to highlight people in the world of pop culture who are expressing their “Latinidad” through their particular mediums and making positive inspirational impact in the world. While being Latino focused, the show is rooted in diversity and inclusion and is meant for everyone. He is a true entertainer at heart and uses this talent to bring some joy and laughter to both the interviewee and to the audience.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Being an entertainer is something I’ve always wanted to do. From the time I was a small child, I remember trying to entertain family and friends in the living room by doing anything I could figure out how to do. From dancing to singing and rapping to telling jokes, I wanted to use entertainment to try to evoke any kind of positive emotion from the people I loved. As I grew up those desires to entertain grew with me. When I went to college, I initially felt as though I needed to have a more traditional education, so I decided to study something more traditional in nature. I majored in economics with a concentration in finance. I know, very specific. Pretty quickly I realized that this career path was nowhere near my passion. After quite a bit of soul searching and a very and enlightening conversation with my mother, I decided to be bold and truly pursue an education that was more in line with the things I was truly passionate about. It’s interesting, life has a way of taking you down many winding roads on your way through life. My entire college career was dedicated to the pursuit of learning about music. The ins and outs of music production and the business around the music industry consumed my every day. I absolutely loved it. As a minor for my degree, and something I tended to pay very little attention to was video production. I tended to do pretty well in the classes but to be honest I don’t remember too much about what was actually taught in those classes. A lot of it didn’t quite stick with me, nowhere near as much as the music. Ironically, my first internship led to my first job that led to the career that I have now began working in video for a music television network. Funny how that happens. I wouldn’t change a thing. One thing you learned as you grow is that life has many chapters. And every chapter has great and pertinent information that will inform the next. So, enjoy every chapter. The book will be amazing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most interesting stories that happened in my career began at the very beginning of my video career. I remember being trained for a position over the weekends. And my boss took me into this big room with a lot of machines and computers and such. I remember looking around feeling a little overwhelmed. Nothing in school had really prepared me for walking into something like that. I wasn’t really giving the video side of my education my all. He took me over to a set of scopes that would measure video levels and he proceeded to ask me if I knew how to read them. I nervously said that I sort of knew what I was seeing and asked if there was anything specific that I should be looking for. He then took me to one of the machines to ask me if I knew how to set the machines for very specific reading on the scopes. At that point I had to come clean and tell him I did not. I’ll be honest. I got a little nervous and at that point thought I may be losing the job. He looked at me as though this was something so simple and so basic, how could I not possibly know. His ever so slight impatience turned into haste as this man did not have time to be frustrated with me. In the next 5 minutes he proceeded to teach me more about video then I learned in the past two years in college. That was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned. I realized that for me college was a place of learning but more importantly it was a place of opportunities, and the real learning would come after I availed myself of those opportunities. I’ll always be thankful to that man for that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A lot of mistakes are funny when you have the benefit of time with which to look back and laugh. The truth is, the biggest mistake that has spanned my entire career, and one that I continue to make today is that I talk too much about my plans. Not everyone wants to, or really should be hearing about what you have planned. Not all attention is good attention. I think it’s kind of funny that I make a living as a communicator, and I need to learn to be quiet!

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

The aim of my show “When Zay Zay Met…” is to highlight people in the world of pop culture who are expressing their “Latinidad” through their particular mediums and making positive inspirational impact in the world. It isn’t strictly a “Latinos Only Zone” by any means, but diversity and inclusion are certainly cornerstones in our foundation.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

I first started on this path when I was cast on my first television show that was on and NBC/Universal cable network called mun2. We had the privilege of reaching 11 million households a night with our entertainment news show called “FuZion”. As well as being on that show I was also blessed with being on a few other shows plus being the voice of the network as well. We all got to meet fans of the shows fairly often and one thing that I would hear over and over again was how elated people were to be able to see themselves on television every night. Not necessarily only people of Hispanic descent but people just like them with similar likes, similar dispositions, and similar backgrounds; and when you see the sense of joy on their faces, not just because they think they’re meeting a pseudo celebrity, but when they look you in the eye and tell you that they are proud of you… It’s a lot more about how they impact me than how I could ever impact them.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

Popular culture has always been more representative of the people in charge of it than anybody else. The truth is we can’t really expect or depend on others to tell our stories. Being at the mercy of someone else’s kindness to garner inclusion is not ideal. So, we must all take it upon ourselves to create situations where WE are telling our stories and WE are including ourselves in the conversations. WE are the only ones we should depend on.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Start, start & start! We all have it within us to make the change we want to see. I know it sounds cliche when you say it out loud but, cliches begin with truth. I know it’s not easy. Truth be told it’s never really been easy for me, still isn’t. However, there is a motto that I’ve been working tirelessly to live by for half my life ”I shall find a way or make one”. I encourage anyone who might be reading this to FIND YOUR WAY and if it’s not something that exists, make it. I personally believe that the biggest and best way to address the root of diversity issues is to become part of the solution. Not necessarily to talk about it, debate about it, or complain about it. Get out there and BE about it. Start.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

This is a big one for me. I find a lot of people conflate being a boss with being a leader. Those two things couldn’t be more different. Bosses are people who tell others what to do. Leaders are those who SHOW people what to do. There’s a big difference in that. Bosses always feel like they need to know everything. A leader never feels like he needs to be the smartest person in the room. As a matter of fact, a true leader feels that if they are the smartest person in the room, then they’re in the wrong room. In the world of bosses there’s a lot of fear and disdain. In the world of leaders, there’s a lot of power and respect. I know which one I always want to be, and I choose leader every time.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Here are 5 things I wish someone told me with applicable life experience:

  1. Hard Work (for others) does NOT necessarily get you ahead in life, It gets the people you’re working for get ahead and life.
  2. Learn about Money and how it works. Knowing how to make money and knowing how to have money are two very different things. Making money is a constant grind in one form or another, whether you’re the one grinding or someone else is. Knowing how to have money DETERMINES whether you’re the one grinding or someone else is.
  3. There are three types of workers in the world. Implementers, unifiers, and communicators. Implementers do the work. Unifiers manage implementers. Communicators run everything whether they know how to do the other two things or not. If you can communicate with confidence people will ask you to lead.
  4. Always create your own relationship with others. Some people may tell you their experience when dealing with someone you may know in common. That relationship is theirs exclusively. The relationship you create with that person is also exclusive and may be completely different then the relationship you’ve heard about. Give someone the benefit of knowing you firsthand before you pass any judgments.
  5. BE GRATEFUL! I can’t stress this enough. Gratitude is a dominant Feeling. When you’re feeling gratitude, you can’t really be feeling anything else in that moment. There’s something magical about that. A grateful mindset is such a beautiful place to be, and it truly allows you to step back from everyday stresses and negativity and see things from a different perspective.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I would want to inspire is one of self-representation in the United States. The more places I go and the more people I’ve visit, the more I realize that the vast majority of people in this country are not governmentally represented by people that are like them. More often than not government leaders are very similar to one another, while growing less and less similar to those they represent. I feel like that needs to change. I would encourage people to be more involved in representing themselves or creating situations where they select people like them to represent them. It’s pretty simple. There’s really no reason why someone who doesn’t understand me, doesn’t relate to me, and doesn’t necessarily have my best interest in mind, should represent my voice. So why do they?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are actually two quotes that have had such a meaningful impact in my life that I feel it necessary to share with anyone who will listen. Both of these life lessons were taught to me a little later in life than I wished I had learned them, and both were taught to me by 2 gentlemen who couldn’t be more different than one another, but who I consider brothers.

The first was when I decided to make a big change in my life and relocate from one city to another. When I made the decision, I thought to myself that it would only be temporary, and I would be back sooner rather than later. I thought I had this plan from which I would not deviate and more importantly… I thought I was right, surely there is no way I wouldn’t be back! Well, I was running my plan by my brother Wills when he threw me for a loop and questioned my entire way of thinking. Then he gave me some sage advice in the form of my first “life lesson quote”. He said, “Don’t take on a new adventure with one foot in and one foot out. Go and give it your all. You never know where you’ll find fulfillment.”

Maybe it was the right place at the right time. Maybe it was the way he said it. But in that moment, it felt like nothing I had ever heard had resonated more than those three sentences. I internalized them immediately and still live by them today.

The second was when I was on a big work trip in another country and was feeling some kind of way About how the work was going and how I felt the performances we’re being received. I was on the phone with my brother Paul who asked me what was wrong. I told them what I was feeling and how I was trying to deal with things at which point he gave me some different sage advice in the form of my second “life lesson quote”. He said, “Well, Zay, you are certainly allowed to feel how you feel. How you ACT about it is who you are.” Wow. Again, another moment where the right words hit me in the right way at the right time and change my life forever. Those are also words I still live by.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Honestly the people I would have most wanted to share a meal within my life are unfortunately no longer with us. I was truly fond of Regis Philbin. The way he commanded an interview in such an effortless way all the while making his guests feel comfortable an entertaining us at the same time was truly inspiring to me. He is someone I always regret never having been able to meet. Another person who has inspired me passed away decades ago. His name was Danny Thomas. Danny Thomas was an entertainer, actor, comedian who not only entertained millions and millions of people in his time live on stage and through his sitcom on television but he was instrumental in helping launch the careers and television shows of other legends such as Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and produced shows at Desilu studios which was famously owned by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. All that being said one of his greatest legacies was that he founded St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. He did it to fulfill a promise he made in a prayer. There’s something incredibly special about that to me and I truly wish I have gotten to meet him as well. Both of these gentlemen have children that are still alive today. The actress and philanthropist Marlo Thomas is the daughter of Danny Thomas. Regis Philbin has three daughters named JJ, Amy & Joanna. I think it’d be pretty amazing your meal with anyone of them.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

IG, Twitter, TikTok



This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

How Zay Zay Aquino Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.