On Born This Way, viewers follow Cristina as she hangs out with her friends, cooks with her family, and spends time with her boyfriend, Angel. We spoke to Cristina about her friends, her dreams, and her plans for the future. Her dad Mariano was also on hand to share stories about his daughter and discuss what she has taught him.
What's your favourite thing about doing Born This Way?
Cristina: I can be on TV. I want to be famous.
Has your life changed since being on the show?
Cristina: Some people do recognise me when I'm on the street. They ask me for autographs and pictures.
Which of your friends on the show are you closest to?
Cristina: My favourite friend is Rachel. I like to hang out with her, talk with her, have dinner with her, have a sleepover with her.
Do you like when people recognise you?
Mariano: Yes she does. She was born to famous.
What do you want people to learn from watching you on TV?
Cristina: I want people to see I can be entertaining. Everyone can see I can do a lot of things. I can dance. I can cook. I can work.
What are you most proud of in your life?
Cristina: My best moment was when my boyfriend proposed to me and now he's my fiancé.
What's your big goal for the future?
Cristina: My fiancé and I are engaged. We are going to live by ourselves. We are going to have our own apartment.
How did he propose to you? Were you surprised?
Cristina: One time when my fiancé took me to a special restaurant and he got down on one knee. He asked my dad permission to take my hand in marriage, and I said yes. Yes I was surprised.
Mariano, what moment have you been most proud of Cristina for?
Mariano: This year part of what Cristina challenged herself to do was to participate in a ballroom dancing competition, and that was a very special moment for us. Seeing her on the dance floor with everybody else – nobody else had Down's syndrome – this was not an adapted competition. It was a very special moment to see her be just one more of the dancers and it was quite the moment. Of course the proposal was special too.
What should viewers take away from watching the show?
Mariano: When we started, it was just about having an opportunity for Cristina to be on TV and sharing her gifts with an audience. What has been amazing has been the feedback from the viewers – how much this has meant to them and how seeing with Down's syndrome who can lead a pretty normal life and who has her challenges, her strengths, her weaknesses. The feedback we have been getting from parents is tremendous. A lot of parents are telling us that they are seeing their 6 month old, their one-year-old in a completely different light. It's made a huge difference with their families. Their families now see their grandchild, nephew or niece very differently.
One of the takeaways that I personally have for the viewers is I wanted them to see how 'mundane' our lives are. Yes it does show some glamour or special things like them going to a concert or participating in a ballroom competition but the everyday lives that we lead and the stuff that they do for the most part – it's mundane. That's a message that I think is important for parents of young children with Down's syndrome. Life isn't going to be much different than the parent's of kids who don't have Down's syndrome. Their lives are going to be pretty much the same – with the same joys and challenges.
Have you heard any stories from fans?
Mariano: Three months ago, my wife and I met these parents who told us that a month after their baby was born they were in a very depressive state. The whole family was having a very hard time dealing with this. At one o'clock in the morning they were lying in bed, the baby was fussing, and they just by chance they happened to come across the show. After that moment, they realised their life wasn't going to be miserable, it wasn't something to be depressed about. Seeing our cast members cook and go bowling and being proposed to on TV gave them hope.
Why did you decide to do the show?
Mariano: We were very hesitant. It took quite a number of conversations with the producers because this has never been done in the US to our knowledge, an entire cast of people with Down's syndrome, their families being exposed. I think we were a little naïve thinking that this was going to have the reach that it ended up having.
Have you been doing things on the show that you hadn't done before?
Cristina: Not much
Mariano: What she does on the show is what she does in real life. Cristina's been dancing since she was six years old so now dancing in the show is just another part of her love for dancing. She's been cooking on the show, but she took cooking classes at school.
Cristina: I volunteer at a senior centre. I work at the cafeteria. I do soup and cornbread.
Is it important that the show is about everyday life?
Mariano: Yeah. At first, the whole reality format wasn't my cup of tea. I really didn't like that this was going to be a reality show, but I've got to say this is the perfect format to showcase who people with Down's syndrome are. This is not a feel-good documentary. This is life and they are being portrayed with their strengths and weaknesses, and their good moments and not so good moments. It works, it really works.
How did you feel when you found out the show had won an Emmy?
Cristina: I was shocked and speechless. I started crying.
What lessons have you learned from Cristina?
Mariano: When she was very young, like three days old, my wife had one of her lowest moments. Her way out of that depressive state was telling herself that nobody was going to tell us what Cristina could or could not do. We were going to listen to Cristina and be facilitators for her. She would be the only one who told us where her limits were, and that's pretty much how we've led our lives. Cristina has taught us time after time where her limits are and she keeps surprising us. They told us she wouldn't talk. Well she talks constantly, for hours with her boyfriend. They told us she would have trouble walking. Well, she's a dancer. She holds a job in a school as a staff assistant plus a volunteer job. She takes the bus independently. She wants to move out and is preparing to move out and live by herself.
Tune in to brand new episodes of Born This Way every Monday at 10pm