Actress Jackie Cruz speaks to students about Latinx representation in Hollywood
The “Orange is the New Black” star shares her life story and challenges she faced in the entertainment industry
The Kennedy Political Union and Latinx and American Student Organization hosted “Orange is the New Black” star and musician Jackie Cruz on Tuesday to discuss her life’s story and experiences as a Latinx actress in Hollywood.
During her speech, Cruz talked about her journey from childhood to adulthood, her years spent as a homeless teenager and her various struggles trying to succeed as an actress and musical artist in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. The Eagle and other student media organizations also interviewed Cruz in a closed-door round table.
In the interview, Cruz shared her thoughts on Latinx representation throughout popular media.
“Why are you working with all white people?” Cruz said. “They already saw that story. It’s time for us to tell another story. Now things are changing so this person is feeling like ‘oh, maybe I should’ but it’s been like 20 years already.”
Cruz also spoke about her difficulties finding work in Hollywood due to her Dominican identity.
“I couldn’t find representation,” she said. “They didn’t want to take me, they’re like ‘I don’t know, you speak Spanish but you don’t look Mexican,” because I’m not! But there were no opportunities for Dominicans.”
Following the round table interview, Cruz gave a speech to students, faculty, and others gathered a Kerwin Hall lecture room. She talked about her decision to leave home at 16 and live with a child actor that she had befriended, which eventually left her to be homeless.
“My friend’s mother stopped sending her money, and my mother obviously didn’t have money for me to move out on my own,” she said. “So, I knocked on my Mother’s door with this girl and I said ‘Mom can we move back? Can we move back in?’”
Cruz said her mother responded with “‘You said you wanted to be an adult, go be an adult.’” Her mother closed the door on her.
Cruz emphasized that she wished she had just listened to her mother.
“I was skipping school,” she said. “I never did that before. I was skipping work. I was just being this person that I didn’t know who I was because I was following this girl who was a bad influence on me.”
Additionally, she discussed when she was in a near-fatal car crash that was caused by the same friend. She said they were on their way to a concert, not wearing seatbelts and speeding 80 mph down the street. The car hit a curb and flipped over three times.
“I do remember saying ‘Yo, slow down. What are you crazy? Slow down,’” she said.
Following this, Cruz discussed the taxing and extensive recovery process that she endured as a result of being in the car accident. She said that during her recovery she considered committing suicide multiple times and was ready to give up hope, due to the disfigurement she initially suffered from and her low chances of survival.
Her attitude completely changed when she met a little girl named Melly, who was a patient in the same rehabilitation center as her. Cruz describes Melly as giving her the will to live once again.
“I’m looking at this Melly girl and the doctors supposedly talked to her because she was so strong,” she said. “They’re like ‘You think you have a moment to go talk to Jackie. She doesn’t want to live anymore but you’re so strong Melly. Can you talk to her?’”
Cruz said Melly went to her room and “something switched in my brain.”
“I started to volunteer in the hospital,” she said. “I was the only one who could walk. I would paint nails. It was an amazing experience, and thanks to Melly, I’m here really.”
Among other topics, Cruz touched on her struggles with finding success as a musician, and her eventual success with being cast as Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales in the critically acclaimed Netflix show “Orange is the New Black.”
After Cruz’s speech, she showed the audience the music video for her song “MELLY 16” and then performed live, with two guitarists, a handful of her songs including “La Hora Loca.” Cruz closed out the event by allowing audience members to ask her questions.