Actor Jackie Cruz started her speech on a somber note. She said it was hard speaking to Brandeis students after the tragedy of losing a peer within that same week. But she reflected that the story she was about to tell might be especially pertinent in this trying time. 

Cruz was speaking to a packed Schwartz lecture hall on Thursday evening. The 30-year-old Dominican-American actress has earned a name for herself playing Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales on Netflix’s number one rated series, “Orange is the New Black.” She was invited to speak through the Brandeis Television club. 

BTV member Rachel Goldstein ’18 explained to the Justice that the club had become interested in hosting an actor from “Orange is the New Black” after secretary Mica Unger ’17 was cast as an extra on the show. “It kind of spiraled us all into this crazy obsession,” she said. Goldstein also noted that the club was looking to put together a larges scale event for the campus: “We really wanted to get our name out there more, and we really wanted to have a public event that everybody would go to.” 

During the talk, Cruz spoke about her life story and how she overcame obstacles to get where she is today. Cruz was born in New York but grew up in the Dominican Republic with her mother and her four aunts. She used “tiás,” the Spanish term for aunts, and spoke about how they all took part in raising her. Cruz said that,at age 7, she became inspired to be a singer when her mother took her to see a Whitney Houston film. She took lessons in the Dominican Republic and when she was 15 her mother decided to move out to Los Angeles in hopes that Cruz could start a career in Hollywood. 

Cruz spoke about being thrown into a high school that had already formulated cliques, working a job at Baja Fresh and at a nightclub and then eventually moving out of her mother’s apartment at age 16 to live with a friend. She went on to tell a story of a traumatic experience that she says changed her life. At age 17, Cruz ended up in a car accident and woke up two weeks later. “It’s really hard to talk about this knowing what happened this week,” said Cruz, as she started to choke up, and stopped for a second to take a breath. The audience started clapping in support and she continued. 

She spoke about being in rehabilitation after the accident and an experience with an 8-yearold girl who was recovering from brain surgery. The girl would stop by Cruz’s room every day, look at her and then wheel away, she said. When Cruz decided to introduce herself, the girl told her she had been sent to cheer her up. 

Cruz could not believe it — this little 8-year-old girl, who would be paralyzed for the rest of her life, was attempting to cheer up a girl twice her age. “That little girl changed my life,” said Cruz. She would later reconnect with Cruz through Instagram and they would meet up again, this time at a Pink Taco restaurant in Los Angeles. “I cried the whole time — I’m super sensitive. She was crying, too,” she said. The two are still in contact. 

Cruz spoke about how difficult it was to get a start in Hollywood. She started singing in a band and earned a few small roles on screen. She then traveled to Miami at the urging of an agent who claimed to see her vocal talent. It turned out to be a scam and she was out $10,000. But it was in Miami that she was offered an audition for the show that would eventually be her break: “Orange is the New Black.” She spoke fondly about the mission of the show, sayinghat the characters are “not the stereotypical beautifies I grew up watching.” 

After her talk, Cruz took questions from the audience. Questions mostly focused on her role in the Netflix hit. One question was about her favorite moments filming. Cruz spoke about the scene in season two when she kisses Maritza (Diane Guerrero) and the vulnerability that came with filming the scene. Another focused on her character’s backstory, revealed in season three. 

Cruz spoke about the coincidental similarities between her character’s story and her own. They both had family members in the clothing business. “A lot of the backstories are very close to our real lives — it’s weird. They’re like psychics over there,” she said. 

Cruz also spoke about Latina actors being stereotyped for roles: “I’m really upset with Hollywood right now. You got me at a really hard time. … I [don’t just] want to be Flaca. I love Flaca, and I’ll play Flaca until they [stop] paying me. But I also want to try other things.” 

A long line stayed after the talk to take photos with Cruz.