Jackie Cruz

In her own words: Jackie Cruz talks of her humble beginnings and launching her production company

The 'Orange is the New Black' star opens up about her fatal accident and how she brought herself back on her feet

HOLA! USA wants to empower the Latinx community with narratives about the contributions that Latinos have made in the U.S. across the full spectrum — music, fashion, entertainment, business, health, beauty and wellness. It is time to celebrate our Latinidad in all its glory. These are our stories; this is Latinx.

Actress, singer, and songwriter Jackie Cruz has come a long way since moving to Los Angeles from the Dominican Republic at the age of 15. In her own words, the 33-year-old star talks of how her dream to standout in the entertainment industry came to be – even after suffering a life-altering accident that almost cost her her life. After getting back on her feet, Jackie chose to leave her fears behind and once again found comfort in music, but Hollywood continued to call her name.

Noticing the lack of representation, the Orange Is the New Black star took matters to her own hands and made the brave decision of launching her own production company, Unspoken Film. Keep reading to find out how Jackie is conquering her dreams and leading a life of inspiration for the Latinx community.

Jackie talks of her humble beginnings from the Dominican Republic to L.A.

I moved to L.A. when I was 15. I'm from the Dominican Republic, and it was the first time I ever lived with my mother. When I moved here, it was hard because, again, it was the first time my mother and I were by ourselves. She was always studying and making sure that my life was the best it could be. She worked two jobs, and she knew I wanted to be an artist. She worked harder in order to pay for my extracurricular activities which were saxophone lessons, acting lessons and all that I wanted to do. She put me in everything, and I was always busy but so was she. She never really showed up to my plays or anything because she was working. She actually became a doctor in the Dominican Republic, and when we moved to California she left who she was so I could live my dream. It was really cool to have my mom support my dream so early on.

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When I moved here, I was the brown-skinned girl with long, curly hair that spoke Spanish but had African features but light skin. Hollywood has this one vision of what we are. A lot of the Hispanic people here in California are mostly Mexican or Salvadoran. You know, they assume that's everyone, which is not the case. I went to a magnet school called Hamilton Music Academy. We had a little studio apartment in Koreatown, and my blow up bed was in the kitchen, and there was no space for a teenage girl really to mature and grow up. All those teenage problems.

If I wanted anything for myself I had to get it on my own so I worked at Baha Fresh. I also worked coat check at club 17. It was a club for 15 and over. I was surrounded by all the little kids that were in Hollywood like the Disney kids. My aspirations started to feel possible even though I never saw a representation of me on screen. I was friends with them; I felt like I'm just like them; I can do this. And I was feeling good since no one looked like me. I felt unique. I felt like my hair was so long and beautiful. Everyone always complimented it. I thought that I was going to be the first [actress[ to represent the Dominican Republic.

The brunette beauty picked herself up following a near-death experience

It didn't really go that way… From what I remember the car flipped three times, and I went out the window 20 feet away from the car. I was rushed to the emergency room where they shaved my head and performed brain surgery. I was in a coma for 72 hours, and they literally sent a priest to my mom saying she had to say goodbye.

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I woke up two weeks later and everything that I considered beautiful about myself was gone. My eyes were crooked, and my hair was shaved off. I had scars all over my head. You know, I was lucky to be alive, but I wanted to give up. My mother was there for me, and she said that I cannot give up because there's a reason that I'm here, and I need to make it even more now. But of course, she's always going to think I'm beautiful. Her words really didn't mean anything to me at the time. I continued to be depressed and stressed out.

I went to a rehabilitation center called Rancho Samuels and met this little girl Millie. She was 10 at the time, and she got hit by a car when riding a bike. She can never walk again, and she came into my room and said she had brain surgery too. She said to me, “I think you're really pretty.” I realized that this little girl is looking up to me, and she wants to be like me. I needed to wake up. Things just started to become possible again and hopeful. And I think mainly for that and that's one of the reasons I created my song medley 16 which I've been trying to write since I was 16/17 actually.

Music always saved me. Even though Hollywood didn't know what to do with me, I still wanted to try again. It was a struggle. I didn't look like myself. I didn't feel like myself, but I came back and tried again to find representation. And it was hard. My first role was in 2006, and the jobs were far and few. I turned to music, and it saved me. I moved to Miami where this guy, who said he worked with Selena Quintanilla, took advantage and took my money. It was not true, so I ended up going to New York. After five years, I missed acting and tried again.

The 'OITNB' star is expanding on her own production company

'Flaca' was my first audition. It was two lines, and I didn't know what to expect. Now that I think about it, I've been training my whole life for that role. She has made me believe in me. I’m not afraid to speak up and not afraid to not be liked. Just be yourself and stay true to you. It’s taken me a long time, and I'm still at work on it every single day. I stopped complaining about Hollywood not having opportunities for me.

And three years ago, I had this idea to just create my own production company. Why was I sitting waiting for Hollywood to say yes; I say yes to me. I bet on myself. There’s a lot of misrepresentation of Latinos and also underrepresentation of Latinos and especially my Caribbean community. And that's the kind of opportunities I want to give –whether it comes to writers, producers, actors. I want us to tell our stories, and I want us to represent our stories. And now I'm creating a TV show based on my relationship with Millie.

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It’s reasons like this why I started my production company. When it comes to music, I created my own label. I put everything out on my own. I've been getting a lot of love and support from Carmen Perez. She's been teaching me how to lead, how to fight for what's right and how to use my voice in the most powerful way. And we created our own company, which you'll hear about soon.

After all of the ups and downs, I can honestly say, ‘Believe in you and bet on you.” I've worked so hard to be where I am today. I'm so excited because there are so many stories to tell. It's time for us to speak up, and I'm not afraid anymore. I love you; I love my community and Republica Dominicana –I love you!

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