What are some of your favorite memories of growing up in Chicago?
"Oh, Chicago was incredible! Some of my favorite memories are snow fights, Chicago food and smells, and Montrose beach. Pretty much all of my favorite memories are doing all of the free things in life."
It's no secret Chicagoans know and love their food. Any favorite homemade dishes from your childhood?
"I love her so much, but my grandmother can't cook to save her life — maybe we shouldn't put that. Actually, she only speaks Spanish, so that's okay! Anyways, the one dish she could cook was Greek chicken. Let me tell you, she got that Greek chicken on lock, so that was definitely one of my favorite meals growing up."
As an accomplished salsa dancer, what's your favorite move/dance?
"I was actually just riding horses with my choreographer from when I was a kid. I was saying how I wanted to get back into dancing because it was such an amazing time in my life. Salsa dancing is definitely my favorite. I don't really know if there's a particular move, but there's something about two bodies joining in one beautiful movement that is kinda nice."
Name a song that gets you going on the dance floor.
"'Turn Down for What.' That song makes me feel like I can make the earth shake. I was listening to 'Turn Down For What' in the car when we had our last earthquake [in L.A.] I was dancing and getting into it when I noticed that the buildings I stopped next to were shaking. It was like they were shaking because of me. But, of course, I don't have that kind of power."
How did you make the transition from a dance/theater background to TV and film? What was your first big break?
"I was a dancer all the way until I finished high school, but I was also involved in theater. So, doing theater was about getting my feet wet and getting excited about that type of performance art aside from just dancing. I definitely did a few plays in high school that helped me decide that I wanted to go to theater school. But, most of the students at NYU feel that it's all about "theatah," and you can't do TV and film — that would be a disgrace. Then they all get out of college and they realize that they're broke, so the idea turns into something else. For me, I always wanted to do TV and film. There was no part of me that ever felt like I was limited to one medium of performance art.
We love that your father was the turning point in your career and not some bigwig!
"Oh, yeah! A bigwig person doesn't validate what I'm doing. But, a man who has seen me grow up and has seen my hard work is the person to me who matters the most. He is my be-all and end-all. He is my bigwig."
In several of your movies and TV shows, your character is dealing with multicultural issues. How was this like — or not like — your own upbringing?
"It's very much like my own upbringing. I wasn't just multicultural, I was multi-religious, too. It was interesting growing up with sisters who looked vastly different from me even though we were from the same parents. My eldest sister is blonde with green eyes, my middle sister has super curly dark hair and skin, my father has blue eyes and super dark skin, my mom is French and Puerto Rican and has freckles all over, so it was just like this hodgepodge. And, I look Asian, so it was like, 'Are you sure we all had the same parents?'
What are some of the most rewarding/impactful projects you've worked on with Inspira and the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts?
"I have to say that working with Jenni Rivera who is no longer with us. I'll never not remember every moment with her. It's like a reminder to never forget the moments with the people who we still have with us. I feel blessed that we participated in the exposure of Latino talent in movies like All She Can that put Latinos on the map. I am grateful not only for all my amazing memories with Jenni, but also for what it did for my career, as well as so many other Latino actors' careers. So, now going on with Jane the Virgin, it's a whole other kind of pride and blessing. I'm living a dream, girl!"
ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said that "shows now that seem to lack diversity, they actually feel dated, because America doesn't look like that anymore. People want to see what they live, and they want to see voices that reflect the America that they know.” How do you feel Latino entertainers are changing the shape of television and movies today?
"I love that Paul Lee said that because I think things do feel dated. You watch these TV shows, but then you go outside your front door, and they don't reflect reality or society. I don't know any show where Caucasians have a lot of ethnic friends. That just blows my mind. I mean, I have all kinds of friends in different colors, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. I think the old ways of life are moving out, and it's generational. It's an evolution, but it's been too long. So long that it's almost preposterous.
Your character in Jane the Virgin is a driven young women who has "big dreams" while working her day job. Do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of what many working women go through these days?
"I think that what's great about Jane the Virgin is that there are so many different story lines and perspectives going on — and not just about life, culture, and the subject of virginity and the child that Jane is going to carry. It's magical because Jane the Virgin reflects reality. So many cultures, so many ethnicities, so many religious backgrounds are all told in this awesome TV show."
"What's interesting is that my parents didn't really watch too much television growing up, so I didn't grow up on telenovelas. I was more the Cosby Show , Family Matters, and things like that. But, I could definitely relate to the joy of a multi-lingual household. That feeling of acceptance to the point that I envied crisis for a while when I was growing up. What's great is that you meet Jane, and she has no identity crisis. She accepts herself fully, doesn't feel excluded from the world, and knows what's right and wrong for her life.