After Years Of Hard Work, This Cubana Is Killing It In Hollywood

credit: Netflix and Jamie McCarthy / Getty

If you don’t know who Selenis Leyva is, allow us to introduce you.

selenis-leyva-457031012
Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

She’s a Cuban-born, American actress best known for her role as the fierce Gloria Mendoza on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”

Mitu-Selenis Leyva
CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Netflix

She’s also an insanely inspirational and strong Latina who is paving the way for fellow actresses of color.

selenis-leyva-red
Credit: Jamie McCarthy / Getty

Before Leyva booked her role on “OITNB,” she was a struggling actress facing the same hardships that plague Latinas in Hollywood.

 

selenis-leyva-489367362
Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty

It may seem like Leyva came out of nowhere, but some of you may remember her stints as Tita Rosa in the Nickelodeon series “Taina”…

taina-cast-nickelodeon

Credit: Nickelodeon

And as Detective Mariluz Rivera in “Law & Order.”

mariluz-rivera-landorder

Credit: NBC

Recently, Leyva spoke to students at Florida International University about the trials of being an Afro-Latina actress in the United States.

Credit: @selenisleyvaofficial / Instagram

It wasn’t because she isn’t an absolute boss at acting. It was because of the lack of solid roles for Latinas – especially Afro-Latinas.

selenis-maid-quote
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

For Leyva, even the telenovelas which she grew up watching didn’t feel like somewhere she belonged. “Those women (in TV shows) were fair skinned, and they all had long, flowing hair,” she said in her speech at FIU. “Their features were different. They didn’t look like me. And maybe there was one person who maybe could’ve played my long-lost cousin, but she always happened to be the maid.”

Leyva also points out there’s nothing wrong with playing a maid or a junkie — but that’s not all you should see.

OITB
CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Neflix

And that’s part of the reason she’s so grateful to play Gloria on “OITNB.” Even though Gloria is in prison, she’s a layered character with depth and history. This kind of character development is something every actress hopes for in a role and sets characters apart from the stereotypical Latina roles that are still being written today.

Leyva is extremely outspoken about diversity in the film and television industry.

oitnb
CREDIT: Orange Is The New Black / Netflix

Leyva told FIU students there are still many stories to be told: “It starts when they’re having conversations about a story, and who they think they want to cast as this person, or this lead. Let’s just open it up. We’re living in a world where there’s difference, and there’s a lot of different stories to be told. And it’s okay to tell all stories.”

Leyva is also an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community; she is the sister of a trans woman.

selenis-leyvas-454053780
CREDIT: Michael Kovac / Getty

In June, Leyva penned a blog for The Huffington Post entitled, “What Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover Sparked For Me As A Sister Of A Trans Woman.”

After the initial joy at Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, Leyva realized some harrowing truths.

leyva-huff-po
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

“I feel sadness today because the majority of the trans community struggle to simply get decent health care, never mind public acceptance. So yes, yesterday I, like millions, celebrated the Vanity Fair cover. Today, I hope we don’t lose sight that this is not the norm for your average transgender person. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s continue to educate. Let’s continue to have conversations.”

Leyva has leveraged her fame to share a message and speak up for those who need it. That’s just badass.

leyva-black-dress
Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty

READ: These ‘Flaritza’ Moments Prove Flaca & Maritza Deserve Their Own Show

What’s your favorite Gloria Mendoza moment from OITNB? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to share on Facebook and Twitter!