Latina industry leaders gather to mentor the next generation.
On February 23, Orgullosa, self-defined as “a community for Latinas by Latinas”, hosted its annual Living Fabulosa event at the Paley Media Center in Manhattan.
The host of the event and moderator of the panel of mentors was actress Diane Guerrero, known for her work on Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin and a return panelist from last year. The other panelists, representing a wide range of industries, were singer/songwriter Raquel Sofia, Vixen Workout founder Janet Jones, Project Enye founder Denise Soler Cox, personal branding expert Emmelie De La Cruz, and Google’s head of multicultural marketing Eliana Murillo.
Other Orange is the New Black actors and actresses in attendance included Berto Colon, Jackie Cruz, Karina Ortiz, and Laura Gomez.
The goal of the Living Fabulosa event is to motivate the next generation of successful Latinas through the mentorship and panel discussions of today’s top Latinas in the entertainment and business industries. As the stars began to arrive, we were able to catch up with Jackie Cruz to talk about herself and Flaca, her character on Orange is the New Black.
Are you excited to be at Living Fabulosa tonight?
Jackie Cruz: Well number one, I’m here to support Diane. And also the other Latinas that I didn’t really know much about, I want to know their stories. I really think it’s important for everyone to support each other. But Latinas, we’re all that we got so I feel like we should really support each other. It’s not done very often and it should be done more often.
Can you talk about your experience shooting the most recent season of Orange is the New Black?
Cruz: Things are getting shaken up. New people are coming in. It feels like high school over again. It’s going to be crazy!
And how do you feel your personality compares to the personality of Flaca?
Cruz: She’s way cooler than me. I think I’m cool because of her now, but I was a big nerd in high school. I think I still am, Diane makes fun of me 24/7. But yeah, she loves music, just like I love music and that’s the one thing we have in common. I wish I could say what’s on my mind, but Flaca does that for me.
So I hear you actually do make your own music! Can you talk about that?
Cruz: Yeah, I’ve been singing my whole life! I have a music video out that I did for Selena’s twentieth year death anniversary, because she’s a Latina that I grew up listening to and I said, ‘Wow, she did it, I can do it too!’. So it’s good to have people like Diane, like me, showing the world that it’s actually possible, because that’s what Selena did for me.
Other than Selena, what musical influences do you draw on?
Cruz: Oh Tracy Chapman, Elvis Costello… I’m more of a bluesy type, like Billy Joel. It’s more Flaca, but yes The Smiths. I’ve been listening to a lot more ‘80s music because of her. I like to emulate a little bit of everything that I love. So you know, rock and roll, Rolling Stones…
What actresses inspired you as a child and made you want to become an actress?
Cruz: Can I tell you something funny? When I was six years old, I saw The Bodyguard and I was like, ‘Mommy, I want to be like that actress, and I want to sing like her’. Even though when she was talking, she was talking in Spanish, but singing in English because it was all dubbed in Spanish. But it was amazing! That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be an actress, when I saw Whitney in The Bodyguard.
After our chat with Jackie, we were able to snap some pictures of the other celebrities on the carpet and talk to some of them informally about their stories. Particularly interesting was Denise Soler Cox, one of the other panelists. Soler Cox is the founder of Project Enye, a multimedia documentary film-based project devoted to helping first generation Latinas and Latinos found an outlet to tell their stories to the greater Latin community, reminding them that they’re never alone. Soler Cox’s short, documentary style videos were screened in a compilation in a private showing for the panelists and are available for viewing publicly on the project’s website.
Later on, we were finally able to sit down with Diane Guerrero for a nice long conversation about herself, her goals and values, and her work as Maritza on Orange is the New Black and as Lina on Jane the Virgin.
How do you feel about being here for Living Fabulosa tonight?
Diane Guerrero: I feel so happy that I’m here. This is such a great program, and I feel really lucky that they’ve asked me to join the panel again. I was a part of the panel last year and it was a great experience for me to gather with such amazing women who were doing really, really, really great things and were inspiring others, and then this year the panel’s so interesting. It’s motivating through mentorship, which for me a little light bulb was lit because this is exactly what my mission is, and what I want to do with the work that I’m doing as far as, yes as an artist, but as an activist and with all my different little jobs that open up is I want to be an inspiration and I want to be sort of a guide for people who are looking to live more of their lives with purpose. Now I know I have a long way to go, I’m not saying that I’m the almighty one to look for, but I know that through my experiences I haven’t always had it easy, I’ve had difficulties in my life, and I’ve been able to overcome them. And I just want to share a little bit about my experience and how I did some of those things. And I know that a lot of the girls here, like everyone else, have had hurdles to jump and they have some really, really great advice and some great stories to share as well.
You talk about how mentorship is a big part of it for you. Did you have someone who was a mentor for you when you were younger?
Guerrero: You know, it’s funny, I took a lot of my strength from my parents. They didn’t have a lot, and they certainly didn’t have the resources that I had, even though, it’s funny once you compare your resources to others you would say, ‘Woah, I didn’t have that many resources’. But the fact of the matter is that I had some great resources to pull from, whether in my pilot school that I went to, by listening to some of my teachers… So I drew from my parents. They were resilient. Even though they didn’t have much they always instilled in me the importance of moving forward and if you try something and it doesn’t work out, keep looking to see what your thing is, keep looking to see what you’re good at and explore that and see what happens. So I would say my parents and, what I was telling someone downstairs was as I grow and continue this journey in my life, I discover new mentorship everywhere I look. You would think a mentor should just be one person who is in your life maybe in the beginning, no, mentorships or mentors don’t stop, they’re infinite throughout your career, throughout your life if you just bother to look for one.
What was it, when you were younger, that made you want to become an actress?
Guerrero: Well I love storytelling. I would watch these films, and I would listen to music, and I would listen to the way even my mother would tell a story about her day in the supermarket. And I remember she would tell it with such gusto — just this and that and she would transport me to that day, to what she was telling. So I kind of caught on to that and so as a kid I would always tell these elaborate stories and would just love listening to other people tell them. I just always wanted to do it, I always wanted to take a crack at it and see if people responded to what I was saying and so far some people have, which is great, and as long as they let me, I’ll continue to do it, for sure!
And how has your experience working on your two shows, Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, differed? Considering you play such different characters.
Guerrero: Well first and foremost, the stories are so different. Not only the characters, but the stories are different. In Orange is the New Black I get to work with a very large ensemble, and it opens up this world that is so not your own. I mean, being in prison you no longer have all that much control over your own life and so experiencing that with a hundred other women is so interesting, but so different from what I experience in Jane the Virgin. In Jane the Virgin there’s an ensemble, there’s a family, and there’s just a little life there. Maritza obviously has gone through a harder time, has taken a darker path, and the way she is, a little rough around the edges, certainly shines light on that. And Lina is a lot more fun to play, she’s kind of carefree and she’s just there for her friend. Even though they’re both comical characters, I feel like Maritza’s humor stems from a place of sadness, where Lina, her comedy stems from something else, from just living.
How does Orange is the New Black influence your idea of mentorship? Since prison does foster a sense of community.
Guerrero: I think that the stories that we’re telling are so important. I think that we’re doing really great work in shining light to these stories that are rarely told, that are often hard to tell. I think that maybe someone watching the show can listen to one of these stories or watch one of these stories and say, ‘Wow, sometimes I’ve felt this way, I’ve felt marginalized, I’ve felt lonely’. Maybe you have ideas of what prison would be like, and then you get to see it. I think certainly if you’re feeling like you have it rough you can definitely take a look at these women and say ‘What is something in my life that I can do differently so that I won’t end up here?’. Or ‘What can I do so that I can maybe be a part of the solution? In creating a better environment, in creating a better community so that this doesn’t happen, so that some of these women won’t go to jail, and won’t have to experience such hardship’. So I think it’s definitely motivating.
How do you maintain your personal identity and keep it different from you characters?
Guerrero: I think there’s always a little part of you in every character that you play. Honestly, I’m a very shy person, believe it or not. I know that I’m probably like, over here, all over the place, kind of a busy bee, but inside I do like quiet, and I like being alone. And I think that sometimes I’m more fearful than I would let out. And when I get to play these characters, I kind of get to release myself, which is the fun part. And I think why I do it, why I put myself through that every day … going on camera and playing with other people, telling a story, is hard. It’s not the easiest thing to do. But it’s so exhilarating, and so freeing.
And do you have any tips for young Latinas and Latinos who maybe are only just now starting to see role models in mainstream media?
Guerrero: Not to be discouraged. When we see a lack of something in our community or in our society, that should be a driving force for you to want to bring more of that about. Whatever’s missing, you want to replace, you want to implement. I would say that the wrong thing would be to get discouraged not to see enough role models or mentors. I think that you should see that and say, ‘Wow, well there’s a lot of room for me then, to be that, or to encourage others to be mentors and to be role models’. I think that’s the way we should look at it.
Photo Credits: Steve Zak Photography and Noam Galai via Getty Images.