Actor, Singer, Musician, Producer, West Side Story
“… education is the base of humanity… everything Is about being prepared…”
You are moving back to Brooklyn, is that where you started when you hit the U.S.?
No, I’m moving back to New York, but it’s my first time in Brooklyn so I’m new to the area. I’m also a new puppy mom–I’ve never had a dog in my life. So it’s a whole adapting moment for me, but I’m really happy. After the Covid pandemic hit and being in Puerto Rico for a year and a half, I did it [moved back to Brooklyn]. I feel like a lot of people did a lot of thinking and analyzing and I’ve been appreciating this moment even more and moving back to New York I want to make sure it feels like home.
I don’t feel like I’m struggling or I’m hustling for a dream, I just know this is home and from here I’m going to have fun auditioning. I’m going to have fun pursuing my dreams or keeping doing what I do. So, to answer your question, I used to live in the upper Eastside, but I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and then I moved to Miami for four years. But the reason I moved there was because I was representing Puerto Rico in an American idol kind of competition and then I won it, so for that reason Universal Music Latino signed me and then I moved to Miami and I was there for four years focusing on music.
I was basically doing that and I released two albums and I was touring. All of the experiences have been incredible, but that one in music was one of my best times singing and then I moved to New York. I moved to New York in the upper Eastside, which was always my neighborhood. But, again, after the pandemic I’m finishing my acting studies here in Brooklyn, so I figured it was best to be here. I’m also in front of the park so I have my puppy and I can walk her in the park every day.
How old were you when you were in Miami and you won the competition?
When I won I think I was 19. I was really young and yet, I feel like I started my career so young. I started back in Puerto Rico and I was very lucky and blessed to start working when I was maybe in fourth grade. I was a backup dancer for a famous boy band. Then I started doing musical theater and then I started writing songs. So I’ve kind of always been in the industry, so when I moved to Miami I was 19 but I felt like I already had experienced that. It wasn’t the beginning–it was just the beginning of a new stage. Just like when I moved to New York I felt like okay this is another beginning. The beginning of another level.
Where did your base of music come from? Do you come from a history of music?
Yes, my mom and my dad are both musicians. My mom was in a children’s choir more than 40 years ago in my hometown, Caguas, and I grew up in that environment. I was literally training with my mom every single day with the choir and she used to teach guitar and I was always involved in things related to art. My dad is a trumpet player. He played with most of the big salsa singers in Puerto Rico. So yeah, I grew up in that environment and my brother is also a great pianist and a singer. So I have it everywhere!
We know that you’re part of West Side Story that is being produced by Steven Spielberg. Tell me about that part of your journey and your chapter.
I don’t even know how to describe it but I am in that moment where I can’t even believe it sometimes! I don’t even know what to expect for what’s coming and what’s happening because it feels so nice and it’s so magical to be part of this film.
Knowing that you’re going to be part of history and that my grandchildren will see this movie and will say, “Oh my god that’s my grandma,” is crazy. It’s like knowing that you are playing in this classic musical to a new generation–it’s just incredible. Plus my dream has always been to work with Steven Spielberg, so all of that is a dream come true and I feel so privileged and so blessed to be part of it and to be bringing my authenticity, my roots to the big screen in Hollywood–it’s just something amazing.
How did the audition happen? Was it something that kind of landed and you were doing it without a question? Or did you really have to put the boxing gloves on and fight for the part?
The second part you just said. That was literally it. I went through so much that I could take an hour talking about the whole process, but yes I confronted a lot of challenges in my journey to get this role. I proved to myself that I have to believe in myself and I have to fight hard for my dreams—harder and smarter all the time because I have what it takes and when I trust my gut, great things happen. And that’s what happened with this movie. I really trusted my gut and I went for it and even though people were telling me, “no, you’re not quite right for this,” I kept going.
I sent maybe five self tapes in and then I went to Puerto Rico because the casting director asked me to go there since the whole creative team was going to be there auditioning. I had to be there. At that moment my manager actually recommended that I do a self tape, but I said, “No! I want to be there.” I actually wanted to meet them and there’s a certain magic you experience in-person, so I really wanted to do that. So, long story short, after all those self tapes I went to Puerto Rico for my first in-person audition. I always describe the process like a scene from A Chorus Line, the famous musical, because we literally danced with numbers and they eliminated people and called out my number. I was like, “God I hope I get it, I hope I get it!” and I eventually made it to the last three ladies. We were all so different, one of them was really young and the other girl looked very different from me, so I didn’t know what they were looking for.
It was so exciting! I met the choreographer and I think my singing audition was the one that created that bond between the team and I think that was the moment they gave me the part. I will always remember that moment because it was really special to me: she asked me to sing “America” in a very different way than it is normally done. It tends to be a big number with a lot of dancing, but she asked me to sing it like a Puerto Rican would and to tell her a story, talk to her with my eyes like I was in a film.
So, I was actually given the opportunity to sing “America” in that way for the first time. I had just finished playing Anita at the Orpheum theater in Minneapolis, so I came from doing a big time performance, so singing “America” in that way gave me such a different vibe of the song. I even got sentimental and a lot of emotions came out and she was almost in tears and said, “I’ve never heard ‘America’ like that before.” I think that was my click moment in the audition and after that I got an email from Cindy Tolan at the casting directors in New York saying Steven Spielberg loved your audition and he wants to meet you in person. So that was the last round.
I had to do two more auditions in front of Steven and I just have to say it’s incredible how I didn’t feel nervous about it. I just wanted to give it my all and it was a really fun experience to be there in the room with all the sharks, like the final group from all over the world. There was only about 20 people in the room and I was like, “no matter what happens, I feel like I already…”
I also couldn’t believe how humble Steven was. He literally got his iPhone and just started taking videos of us, since there were no professional cameras, and I remember my partner and I dancing at the time and Steven did a close-up of me and said “are you having fun?” and I thought did Steven Spielberg just ask me if I was having fun? It was that vibe.
As a Moves Power Woman, tell us a little bit about what you feel you still need to do? Do you think that would be choreographing a set or is that something you see yourself doing in the future?
To be honest, I will never say “no” but I actually never thought of that. I am writing my own show, and having my own show, that I co-wrote, is a dream of mine and might be producing and perhaps directing as well. But for now I just want to keep playing these types of roles where I can transform myself, or be myself and represent my people in a great way. Also as a singer maybe I will travel the world even more. Shooting in different sets and singing–that’s the type of vibe that I’m looking for right now.
I love coming to the city because it inspires me and I get this incredible energy. You meet people from all over the world and from different cultures and you get to see so much talent–it’s mind opening. I always come here and I get inspired and creative and I just want to achieve more and more and more.
I love my island and I spent a year and a half there because of the pandemic. I was rehearsing In The Heights Puerto Rico, a production of the musical In the Heights and that’s when I got stuck in Puerto Rico, so I had to stay there for the entire pandemic, but I’m grateful for that because I was able to be with my family during these difficult times. But I was missing New York. I love my island, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about the city that is so special.
Obviously there is a lot of change that’s taking place, do you believe that there is any gender specific role a woman has played in the Covid-19 pandemic? Do you believe that the response female leaders have had related to the pandemic naturally shows the resilience that women have? As women, one of the things people forget is that women are so diverse and resourceful and you probably have had first-hand experience, both generational and in the role that you play as in your entertainment arena. How do you get to think outside of the box? One of the reasons why we raise this question is because many female leaders handle Covid very differently from the male approach.
I would say something so simple as spending the pandemic in the house when I feel like so many families were and men maybe, given my example I was at my house with my dad and my brother who came from Fossett at some point and it was such a different vibe the way they approached it. My dad and my brother didn’t want to get a haircut. They had beards and were super depressed because they were at home. The difference in their way of approaching it compared to me and my sister or my mom and grandmother who are like “what? Let’s learn how to cut hair! We will cut your hair! Let’s work out together! Let’s just go to Zumba on YouTube!”
I feel like that is why women nowadays are in this movement of women empowerment and feminism because we have such a special strength and we’re hungry for that opportunity to be leaders, create opportunities, and have more opportunities to shine. We want to lead and bring stuff to the table because for so many years we’ve been limited by their side. I feel like now a door has opened and there are so many examples like Michelle Obama and women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—we have so many great women trying to become leaders and have a voice, so to me in the pandemic I feel like it’s been a great opportunity for us woman to start taking what’s ours and claiming it and having a voice.
Is there a way that you feel that if you were to approach the importance of gender equality you would take a very specific path or do you feel passionate about it in different ways? How would you pursue making gender equality more equal?
I feel like it’s a challenging question in terms of if I could go different routes. I’m so happy that right now there’s been doors opening to acknowledge that there’s different kinds of personalities and different kinds of gender. There’s people trying to just be able to be. To be without being judged. To be without being cornered or silenced. I would have to think about what I would do specifically or what would be my suggestion, but I think that I am grateful that there’s a door opening and there’s more voices leading towards gender equality.
I think even the fact that we’re having the conversation is progress. Obviously we need to go further. Sometimes I feel like we need to have a sense of urgency with this matter and not just wait for more years to pass until we solve it. But again, I’m just happy there are so many organizations, movements, and conversations occurring about this topic. I believe in equality, I believe in respecting and loving. It might sound cliché, but we need to build a world where we are more about love and less about judging and hate.
Was there a defining moment in your life that has brought you to where you are today? Was there a moment that you feel had you not done that, something else wouldn’t have happened?
I feel like West Side Story is that to me right now. I can’t wait for all the things that this is going to bring to me. But talking about the things that took me to where I am right now…wow! I would say when I won the competition. My everyday hustle. My everyday journey to believe in myself and I feel like people take the small steps you take towards your goal for granted. They are so important because if you allow yourself to grow and to really believe that you can make it happen, you will elevate yourself.
I’m saying that because I’ve had great opportunities and I feel like those steps helped me get my role in West Side Story because even though I did a great audition, I have a great fan base on my island. But I would say there’s nothing like being open and being honest with yourself to admit when you need to grow and when you need more. For example, right now I’m back in school. A lot of people ask me, “Why are you in school? You don’t need that! You’re working with Steven Spielberg!” And I’m like are you kidding me? All the actors that I admire, they are continuously studying. Continuously getting ready because once you settle and you think you have it all and you know it all, it’s when you’re dead, honestly. You’re dead in every way. You need to keep aspiring for more and I feel like that’s what’s opening the next door. That desire that I can do better. I can be better. I can learn more.
Education is one of the top three responsibilities of civilized society. If so, why is it prohibitively expensive and if not, why not? Why is it that they talk about education being so important coming from a Western society? How do you feel and what do you feel is wrong about that?
I definitely agree with what you’re saying and it’s unfortunate that it varies. In this country it is so expensive and then in other countries it’s free. It’s the same as public health. There are some places you can go to the hospital for free and here it’s just expensive. If you don’t have insurance, some people are dying in the street. I would really love to become an advocate for this kind of conversation and go deeper and what we can do to make it better and I feel like what I can do is try to lead by example and get involved in terms of giving workshops and not charge. Right now I’m working on a master class that I want to release at a certain point to give tips to young talent out there that are somewhat lost and they don’t know what to do.
Honestly, education is the base of humanity. If you want to have great professionals in the future, give them some type of education. Give them some type of, hand them in some type of tools so they can confront or whatever comes our way with more preparation. I feel like everything is about being prepared, so I have to dig deeper in this topic.
You said that it’s important to make it accessible, but why do we need to have it in a place where people have to pay for it? If people really believe in the country that believes in young people then why do they want them to have them come out of education loaded down with all these loans that they have to find a way to pay and they’re going to continue to pay for the rest of their lives?
I have so many friends with student loans. I agree.
If you could be anybody for a day who would it be and why?
Wow, I don’t know. I hate talking about politics but I will. No offense to our leaders or anything but I would love to be the president for one day. Just for one day I’ll try to sign important things that I feel need to be addressed. Having that power must be a lot of responsibility. Like Superman or Spiderman says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Or, maybe not the president, maybe the ruler of the world for one day. Have a super power and become the ruler of the world so I can fight hunger and not have one kid in the street or one person suffering from hunger and I will maybe battle against drugs too. I don’t know, there’s so many things that I would lift up the power to eliminate.
What was your funniest Covid moment? And did you have one?
I think when I had to cut my dad‘s hair. Me as a hairstylist? No way.
What makes you feel like a Power woman? What would you say makes a power woman?
Somebody that has a voice and is not afraid of using her voice to make an impact.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
I always say there’s a piece of art in my house in Puerto Rico with a quote of a famous cello player named Pablo Casals, and it says (Spanish) “The bigger you get in your career or life, the more humble you should be.” I have to find a more poetic way of saying it in English, but now that I’ve met people like Steven Spielberg, for example, and when you’re on a set like that maybe people will think “oh now she’s working with Spielberg and she feels like she’s on top of the world” or… like no.
He is super approachable and he is so humble. He is Steven Spielberg. He is always laughing. Always approaching us with respect. With love. Not making us feel like we were below him or something, we are all equals and we all have a voice. We all have the opportunity to share that moment with the same passion and the same level of respect for each other as artists. That was the environment of the whole crew and cast and that’s why we became a family. That saying has been with me through my whole journey and remaining humble, remaining down to earth. It’s what sometimes opens more doors than even talent or other stuff. How you are with people, how you address people, how you treat people that you think are “lower“ than you define you. Having a good attitude will take you farther than having a bad attitude. I’ve had that quote in my house since I was little and it’s always with me.
It’s going to make me so happy to be recognized because I know what it’s like to work hard, receive nos, to sometimes be ignored and rejected, so it feels so good and I appreciate it so much when people actually take me in and give me opportunities. I really appreciate that because it’s a dream to be acknowledged!