We’ve loved Orange Is The New Black for years, ever since it changed the TV game and first blew our minds back in 2013. Now that the end is near and the Netflix show recently announced it would be coming back for its seventh and final season this year, we have mixed feelings. Like any meaningful and life-altering relationship, we’re happy for the good times we’ve had, we’re forever grateful for the characters that have entered our lives, but we’re sad to say goodbye. And that’s especially true of Jackie Cruz, who plays fan-favorite Flaca on the hit show.
Cruz is a Dominican-American with a whole lot of sass, style and even more talent. Sure, we love her character — after all Flaca’s crime is basically that she outsmarted kids at her school by selling them fake drugs, which backfired and landed her in prison after another student committed suicide — but it’s more than that. We really love Jackie Cruz for what she brings to the role, and the more we learn about her, the more we respect the total boss that she is.
Jackie Cruz’s road to fame wasn’t always easy and it certainly wasn’t always a straight shot to her final destination, but everything she has been through and has learned has only made her stronger, more interesting, more talented and more ready to conquer the world one role, one production company and one solo album at a time. And it seems she’s just getting started. Here are 18 reasons OITNB’s Jackie Cruz is a total boss and a total inspiration for us all.
18 She Grew Up in The Dominican Republic But Left to Pursue Her Dreams
Though Cruz was born in Queens, New York, she was raised in the Dominican Republic for most of her young life. Many of her childhood memories and the experiences that shaped her occurred when she was living in the Dominican Republic, and it wasn’t until she was 15 years old that Cruz’s family moved back to the United States, while she was in high school. Cruz’s mother moved them to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of stardom, a dream she had had since she was just six years old.
17 She Earned Her Spot at The Alexander Hamilton Music Academy
Once they settled in LA, Cruz applied to the prestigious Academy of Music and Performing Arts at Hamilton High School, a school frequented by Hollywood elite and gifted performers who go on to do great things in the entertainment world and beyond. Think Fiona Apple, Emile Hirsch, Shia LaBeouf, Nikki Reed and more. But her spot in that renowned school program didn’t come on a silver platter. Cruz had to earn her spot in this audition-only magnet school. She got in, and spent her high school years being, what she calls a bit of a nerd. She focused on signing, dancing, playing instruments and performing.
16 She is Proud of Who She is and How She Looks
Growing up Cruz knew she wanted to act, but she also felt that she wasn’t pretty enough to be on TV. She never quite felt she fit in with her curly hair and brown skin, and even later in life she was told she didn’t look “the type” for certain Latina parts. During her teenage years Cruz was in a tragic car accident that almost took her life. She had brain surgery that left her temporarily cross-eyed, unable to properly move her face and having to relearn basic movements and actions. Through that experience and all of the adversity that went along with it, Cruz has learned to appreciate who she is and how she looks. She’s learned to embrace her beauty inside and out. “All I would see in Hollywood are like beautiful people and I’m like there’s no way that I could make it but let me tell you something, beauty is something that comes from within and I learned that the hard way,” she said in a Latin Times article.
15 She Fell in Love With Hollywood Thanks to Whitney Houston
One of the first moments that Cruz knew she wanted to be a star, on screen, in Hollywood, was when she saw Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. I mean, who can blame her. Whitney was epic and breathtaking in that role, she could have made anyone fall in love with the Hollywood dream. But Cruz knew she was destined for stardom. “My mom took me to the movies one day to see The Bodyguard. I think I was probably like, seven at the time,” she remembered in an Ebby article. “The movie was dubbed in Spanish but Whitney sang in English, and I fell in love with movies and singing the minute I heard Whitney Houston sing. I was just in awe… and then the lights went out. We don’t have electricity all of the time in the DR, so we all just sat there in the dark and chilled until the generators kicked in so we could finish the movie.”
14 She is a Powerhouse Latina, And People are Noticing
Despite the fact that her road to fame was rough with many obstacles and rejections along the way, Jackie has certainly made a name for herself. She was named one of the “Top Latino Powerhouses in Hollywood Under 40” by The Hollywood Reporter in November 2013. And to give you some perspective, other Latina powerhouses on the list include Eva Longoria, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. So yeah, it’s a big deal.
13 Her Talents Go Beyond the Screen
Jackie isn’t just an actress; she is also a talented singer and is currently working to evolve her music career. Last year she self-released the single, “La Hora Loca,” a bilingual song that blends mambo, rap and boogaloo. Her music honors her Dominican roots and just like her, it’s fun and full of energy. And it’s not just one type of music or one specific genre. In a Billboard article, Cruz explains “I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, so I want to make music for the kids like me…I want to make bilingual music. I really don’t want to say, ‘What’s my genre?’ My genre is my life. Everything is going to blend well but will also describe who I am and what I grew up listening to.”
12 She Won’t Let Anything Stand in the Way of Her Dreams
Her car accident really served as a wake up call to go after her dreams and not waste any time or take anything for granted. So she got to work and started going after roles, doing anything she could to open doors and go after opportunities. But it didn’t come easy. It took several years for Cruz to book her first role in 2006, when she was just 20 years old. It was a small role in The Shield, a role that only came with a couple of lines, but it was a TV role. Cruz told Refinery29 that “I got my SAG card and I felt like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this…I booked something!’ It wasn’t an easy road after that, though, either. My first jobs were very few and far between.” But after what she had been through, nothing was going to stop her.
11 She Is a Proud Latina, And She Wants The White Girl Lead Roles
In her piece for Refinery29, Cruz talks a lot about the lack of complex, layered and positive starring roles for Latina actresses. Most roles she comes across are either stereotypical cross-the-border roles or they are looking for someone who is a more glamorous Hollywood Latina type. Most of the leading roles go to white women, and the goal is to get that gig. Not to take roles from other deserving actresses, but to be the deserving actress, regardless of her skin tone or ethnicity. “I also hope that eventually, we’ll get to a point where people like me can book roles or get jobs simply because of their talent — not the color of their skin,” she has said.
10 She Has Won Three Screen Actors Guild Awards For Her Role in OITNB
Cruz worked her butt off to land her role in Orange Is The New Black, and she’s worked even harder to change the industry for future generations of Latinx talent. And her efforts have not gone unnoticed. As a part of the ensemble of OITNB she won Screen Actors Guild awards in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
9 She Started a Production Company to Create More Opportunities for Latinas In Film
Cruz recently launched Unspoken Film, a production company that works to create more diverse opportunities for women in film, specifically for Latina women. And her focus isn’t on her own career opportunities, though her personal struggles to find roles are clearly a key driver for her company’s mission. The goal is create more opportunities for the diverse and talented women who come next. “Everyday I promote women rights,” said Cruz. “I reflect that through my art and that’s why I started my own production company Unspoken Film. I want to give more opportunities to diverse women and break barriers.”
8 She Stands Up for What She Believes In
In an interview with Bustle’s Alicia Menendez for her podcast “Latina to Latina,” Cruz talks about what it took for her to finally feel confident enough to speak her mind and stand up for the issues that she believes in. Once upon a time she was nervous for how people might perceive her or judge her based on her opinions, but thanks to some guidance from her mentor Carmen Perez, among other strong and powerful women, Cruz has learned to open up and take a stand. “I just feel like she’s just helped me become myself when it comes to activism, and understanding that I want to change a lot what’s happening in the world. And that you can’t do it alone. Since I have a platform, I put my messages out there, bring awareness to the things that I believe are true and need to be changed. If you like it, you can unfollow me. I don’t care anymore,” she said in her podcast interview.
7 She Is Curating a Playlist Dedicated to Her Latina Roots
Music is a big part of Cruz’s life, her identity and her skill set. So she is partnering with Spotify to curate a playlist of music and content that speaks to her, to her experiences and her life. The playlist is in under the streaming platform’s “Soundtrack De Mi Vida” (or “Soundtrack of My Life”) series.
6She is A Feminist Inspired by Her Family
Strong females inspire strong females, and Cruz credits her mother and sisters as strong women who have inspired her to be a confident, powerful feminist. She witnessed women who had to work hard to achieve their goals and saw that they could accomplish anything, regardless of their skin color or where they came from. And now she wants to be that role model for a younger generation of Latina women.
5 She Used to Keep Up With The Kardashians
While we have a hard time keeping up with the Kardashian drama (there’s a lot of it!) we still love when our guilty pleasure and TV worlds collide. Back in the day, before she was a star on OITNB, you may remember Jackie Cruz as the woman who was kissing Kourtney Kardashian while out clubbing in Miami. And no, they don’t still speak, which is understandable since Cruz is a bit too busy with a bustling acting and singing career, a new production and her social activism.
4 She Relates to Flaca as a Latin American
While Flaca, her character on OITNB is a Mexican American and Cruz is a Dominican American, the two do have a lot in common, and that helps her get into her role on a personal level. In fact, the similarities are what first drew her to the role. “I’m first-generation American. There are a lot of people like me and Flaca who speak both perfect English and perfect Spanish. We should be represented on television, and that’s why I think Orange Is The New Black is so popular, because people are finally seeing themselves on TV.”
3 She’s Tired of Competing Against Other Latinas
Because there are only so many roles for Latinas in Hollywood, more often than not Cruz has ended up competing against her friends and colleagues for the same handful of opportunities. It’s an unfortunate reality to be faced with — the fact that you have to beat a respected friend and fellow Latina actress for a role that you both desperately want, but it’s the reality Cruz has been faced with time and time again. And it’s a scenario she is tired of, so she is taking steps to try and encourage more diversity in Hollywood.
2 Her Instagram Account is Epic and Empowering
From gorgeous glamour shots to snaps with famous friends to behind-the-scenes looks at OITNB, Cruz’s Insta account is all kinds of entertaining. But it’s also empowering and uplifting. She’s a self-professed “wild feminist” and in true Jackie Cruz fashion, her Insta posts are pretty hilarious.
1 She Was Named a Top Millennial Role Model On Inaugural Levo 100
In 2015, Cruz was named a top millennial role model by Levo as a part of its inaugural Levo 100 list. The list recognized standout Millennials who exemplify the traits of modern day role models in terms of passion and drive in their careers. In response to that honor, Cruz talked about her road to success and what keeps her going.
“Every day I wake up and I feel like I just want to pause this moment in my life because I don’t want it to go away. It’s so beautiful. It’s a dream come true…people need to understand that dreams do come true. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Passion and perseverance come hand in hand. If you really focus and dedicate yourself to what you want to do, it will happen…Latina Millennials like me are motivated by success. We just want the same respect that everyone else gets. We want to be treated the same.”
We see you Jackie Cruz. We see you, we celebrate you, we honor your hard work and passion and talent, and we cannot wait to see what you do next.