Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, carries a certain vibe. Its charm and beauty can be found on every corner, and one can see panaderias and taco carts for miles. It is very Latino, and the community there provides a sense of family. Roughly twenty minutes away, in Hollywood, lies another charming and beautiful place—Paramount Pictures. There, the world of make-believe is alive and well. But unlike Boyle Heights, Paramount is a place where high-ranking Latino executives are few and far between. While close in geography, these two spaces are worlds apart, each with very different access for people with brown skin. But that didn’t stop Areli Quirarte.
Quirarte is a natural storyteller. When she shares her personal memories, it’s easy to get lost in the vivid detail and emotion. As a listener, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
“I remember coming to the United States illegally from Guadalajara with my grandmother when I was a kid. I remember meeting the man who would help me cross the border, the coyote,” Quirarte says. “My first memory of entering the United States was ending up at a McDonald’s and enjoying a Happy Meal, and for me that is exactly what I was in that moment—happy.”
Quirarte was an accomplished student growing up and extremely dedicated, but in the fifteen years she lived in Boyle Heights, she lived in constant fear of being deported. On top of that, as the new kid and an immigrant, she had to put up with frequent teasing from her classmates.
“Kids can be cruel, but when it is coming from your own people it definitely hits you a little harder,” she says. She remembers a time in which some of the kids in her school found out that she was undocumented and used names such as “beaner” and “wetback” to taunt her daily.
Despite the bullying, Quirarte knew her performance in the classroom would be her ticket out. It was this motivation that led her to receive a scholarship to a college prep school, which gave her that reassurance she needed—that there would be life after high school and a world of opportunity.
After college, Quirarte got a job as an assistant in the music publishing division of Twentieth Century Fox. After twelve years at the company, she worked her way up to the top and became its director of music before she moved to Paramount Pictures. Now, she serves as Paramount’s senior vice president of music, and has earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished Latinas in Hollywood. It’s clear that at thirty-six, Quirarte knows what it takes to get to where you want to go.
“Excellence requires perseverance and dedication. You must stay on your path and be open to opportunities,” she explains. Indeed, when Quirarte first entertained the idea of leaving Fox for Paramount, she knew that it wouldn’t be easy to leave the comfort of a studio that let her cut her teeth creating and pairing up music for hit films like 500 Days of Summer.
It was at Fox where she learned her earliest lessons and where she eventually rose up the ranks to land in the area where she knew she could make a difference: music and film. “Music is universal. It’s an easy integration to reach a wide audience. All music can resonate with audiences,” she notes.
“We had the idea to use Spanish music to authenticate the reach to this community . . . I wasn’t sure if it would work. But I thought it could be a huge success.”
At Paramount, this way of thinking inspired Quirarte to consider Spanish music choices to implement into films so she could connect with a demographic that was outperforming other demos in ticket sales. Just as she began working on her next project—the soundtrack for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run—something miraculous happened.
“One day, I was walking in Boyle Heights and I came across a child’s notebook that had probably been dropped by accident. Flipping through the pages, I noticed a drawn figure of SpongeBob, which instantly clicked for me,” she explains. “This character, like so many other animated characters, is a way of life for these Latino kids.”
Quirarte quickly got to work, determined to use music to help this audience connect with the film. “We had the idea to use Spanish music to authenticate the reach to this community,” she recalls. “It had never been done before for the SpongeBob franchise, so I wasn’t sure if it would work. But I thought it could be a huge success.
“I came in with passion to a production meeting,” Quirarte continues. “I simply told them that the content we make needs to reflect the world we live in, and it needs to be shown on the screen. They gave me the benefit of the doubt.”
Soon, Quirarte was setting up meetings with J. Balvin and reggae musical powerhouse Tainy—who is an “incubator of culture,” Quirarte says—and screening the movie for them and their teams.
The rest is history. Ultimately, the SVP spearheaded a partnership with NEON16 and Tainy to executive produce The SpongeBob Movie soundtrack. The soundtrack’s first single, “Agua,” digitally accrued more than five hundred million streams and became a viral sensation thanks to the “Agua Challenge” on platforms like Instagram, Reels, and TikTok.
Today, Quirarte remains certain of her path. “I know I got this job for a reason,” she says. For this young Latina—who still resides in Boyle Heights and brings her authentic self to the table every single day, who loves music and pop culture, and has an ability to see the big picture—putting two and two together is all the insurance she needs to know that this is exactly where she is supposed to be.