Jackie Cruz On 'Hija De Chavez' Jackie Cruz plays a convict in the series Orange Is the New Black, but she's also a singer. She talks to NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about her debut album, Hija de Chavez.

Jackie Cruz On 'Hija De Chavez'

Jackie Cruz On 'Hija De Chavez'

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Jackie Cruz plays a convict in the series Orange Is the New Black, but she's also a singer. She talks to NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro about her debut album, Hija de Chavez.


Singer and actress Jackie Cruz tried on lots of different identities breaking into the entertainment industry. The one you might be most familiar with is fictional, as the convict Marisol "Flaca" Gonzales from the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black."


JACKIE CRUZ: (As Marisol "Flaca" Gonzales) So after flossing my teeth and doing that under-eye cream we talked about, I go through here. I know it looks...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there have been several real-life identities, as well, for Jackie Cruz, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. She's gone by Jacqueline Rose, Jackie Travis, Jacquelinecita (ph). But the one name she's had the hardest time wrapping her head around is her family name, Chavez. And it's the theme of this song off her debut album, "Hija De Chavez."


CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Jackie Cruz joins me now from our studios in Culver City. Welcome.

CRUZ: Hi. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm great. The album's title means daughter of Chavez, named after your dad, who was absent in your life growing up. Why is he the person that you centered this album around?

CRUZ: You know, I've changed my name a lot of times to fit into what Hollywood wanted me to be. And I never really connected very well with my father's name because I didn't grow up with him. But I still am his daughter. And no matter how far I go, my name is still Chavez, and I wanted people to know me from the beginning.


CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Almost all of the songs are named after a woman in your life. Tell me why.

CRUZ: Yes. I was raised by the most powerful, incredible women, and that's my tias and my mother, my - and my godmother, who's Italian. So you know, I always have to mention their name in every interview, or else one of them gets mad. So I was like, why don't I just...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that. I know that. I'm also Latina.

CRUZ: Yeah, you know. So it's like everyone wants, you know, to be honored.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jacquelinecita was a nickname of yours when you were little, but it's really a song dedicated to your mother. Let's listen.


CRUZ: (Singing) I want to go live. I want to go live. I want to go live with you. I'm going to go live with you.

My whole life, I felt like I've always chased, like, my mother's love and my father's love. And the only reason why I chased my mom so much - it was because she was working so hard so she could move me to America at 15 to California so I could live my dream. And she left her dream behind, which was being, you know, a doctor that she actually became and becoming nobody here. So her name is Jacqueline, too. So I'm Little Jackie - Jacquelinecita. So it was just something, you know, dedicated to my mom and showing her, like, I come from you and, finally, like, we're on the same page.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you, I mean, really struggled when you first moved to the United States. And there was a lot of challenges, right?

CRUZ: Yeah. Like - so we had, like, this little studio apartment in Koreatown, and my bed was in the kitchen. And, you know, it was a blow-up bed. And if I wanted anything for myself, I had to work and get it. So I had two jobs at 15. I worked at Togo's.


CRUZ: And I worked at a Baja Fresh while going full time to school.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then around this time when you were a teenager, you also suffered from a terrible car wreck.

CRUZ: Yeah. I - you know, my mother - even though she wasn't around, she made sure that everyone followed her rules. So when we moved to California, just me and her, I really didn't like her rules, and I became a little bit rebellious towards her. And I started to work at this underage club where I was doing coat check and go-go dancing. Again, I'm, like, 15, 16 years old. And that's when my accident happened.

You know, I wasn't wearing my seat belt. I went through the window, and I was saved, actually, by a person I don't even know. He was on a bicycle, and he called 911. So I went to emergency and had to have emergency brain surgery. And I woke up two weeks later. And they actually - the first thing they did was send a priest to my mom 'cause I didn't have a chance of making it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness.

CRUZ: And they were going to open my trachea, but my mother's like, she's a singer. That's all she ever wants to do. At least save her voice. Give her one more day to breathe on her own. And the grace of God - I started to breathe on my own.

But when I woke up, I didn't look the same. You know, my eyes were crossed. My face was swollen. I couldn't smile 'cause half my face was paralyzed. And everything that my mother said that was beautiful about me, which was my face and my hair, was gone, you know? So I tried to give up on life a few times. And I went to a rehabilitation center, and that's exactly where I met the little girl Melly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's listen to the song "Melly 16."


CRUZ: (Singing) Not made of honey, never been little. Sweet 16, she had big dreams. She saw big things she'll never see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about Melly.

CRUZ: She's awesome. She was 10 years old. She was brave, this little girl, and she was in the rehabilitation center before me. And they said, there's a girl coming in that doesn't want to live anymore. Would you talk to her, Melly? And that was me.


CRUZ: I try not to cry. I tell this story all the time.


CRUZ: I got this. So Melly - she saw me, and she said, you had brain surgery, huh? And she had, you know, a shaved head, too, 'cause she was also hit by a car. But she wasn't as lucky as me. She's in a wheelchair. And she said, you're really pretty. To a little girl like me who saw, you know, a young kid like her look up to me - I was like, what the heck is wrong with me? And I'm so lucky to be here. And I got to do something about it.

So Melly and I are best friends till this day, and she's incredible. And I want people to know her because she saved my life. But she's so inspirational.


CRUZ: (Singing) Innocent girl, you meant the world. The things you didn't know - emotional, hard to let go. It taught me to grow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seems like that accident profoundly changed you.

CRUZ: Absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did it make you more confident in your ability to do all the things that you've done?

CRUZ: No, it didn't. It didn't make me more confident. It just made me believe that I was here for that. I don't know. I just feel really blessed. And I do - life is different for me because I'm just grateful. Now that everything that I dreamed of is happening, like, I stay in the same page because I know how easy it can go away. And I just want to be myself. And "Hija De Chavez", I don't want to say is the old me, but it is still me. And I want people to understand that that's where I come from and that's who I am before I start to show them my layers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jackie Cruz's new album is "Hija De Chavez." Thank you very much.

CRUZ: Thank you so much for having me.


CRUZ: (Singing) You speak with nothing to say.

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