As the sixth and youngest child of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera says she had plenty of fish-out-of-water moments growing up in the predominantly Caucasian community of Woodland Hills, California. "As early as second grade I remember feeling really different and isolated," she says. "I had the hugest crush on a boy, and my best friend had a crush on him too. One day he said to me, 'I like your best friend more because she's paler and she has freckles.' And it was right then that I began to feel like, Oh wow, I'm different." At the same time, she says, she never felt like she fit in with the Latino community. "I mean, I grew up in the Valley," she says. "All my friends were white Jewish kids. So the Latino kids thought I was this white girl."
Ferrera's parents divorced when she was seven, and her father returned to Honduras, leaving her mother, a director of housekeeping for a Hilton hotel, to raise their son and five daughters on her own. Ferrera, who was named for her mother, says that her parents never encouraged her showbiz dreams. "Acting was not something that they came to this country to have me do," she explains. Still, she fell in love with the spotlight early and, despite her best efforts, was never able to shake the acting bug. "For a time I thought I could be a lawyer," she says. "As a kid I even went to law camp at UCLA. They had us watch My Cousin Vinny, which was great. But then we went to the courthouse, and we had to do these mock trials, and once I saw what it really meant to be a lawyer, I realized that it wasn't for me. I thought it was like in the movies, like, 'You can't handle the truth!' That kind of thing."