Amanda Diaz on Immigration from Cuba, Learning English Through YouTube Makeup Tutorials, and Becoming an Activist

I bought this huge ELF eyeshadow palette – it was around $10 and came with 100 shadows, and I used it for a very long time. It was so beaten. My mom realized how much I loved makeup and suggested that I work for her friend, a makeup artist, to earn some extra cash and continue building my kit. I started following her.

I was still a freshman in high school, mind you. But on weekends, my dad and I would get up at 5 a.m. and drive to meet our family friend, then drive two to work weddings and events. I used to make up so many people that my back hurt so much, even though I was 14 years old. And I looked so young. People were probably thinking, This little girl is going to do my makeup?! The first person was always so confused, but then they would see that I had done a good job and everything was fine.

Over time, I saved enough money to buy a camera and equipment and started making my own makeup videos. They were only for my friends. I didn’t think they would reach this many people – you never think it will be you in these situations. But then it took off. One day, after about a year, boom: one of my videos did really well and I gained 100,000 subscribers within a week. It was unheard of at the time; it just didn’t happen. It just kept growing from there.

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After six months, I was so busy with beauty advertising that I had to drop out of school. I collaborated with friends and traveled for work. It was such a whirlwind. My parents really sacrificed during this time and really believed in me. They didn’t really understand or “understand” the internet, but they took time off to accompany me and make sure I was safe. I mean, what was I going to do alone in Los Angeles at 16?