By Lautaro Grinspan, news correspondent
Jackie Cruz, best known for her role as outspoken hipster Marisol “Flaca” Gonzalez on the Netflix show “Orange is the New Black,” (OITNB), is coming to at Northeastern this Friday, where students will be able to hear her speak at 7 p.m.
The Latin American Student Association (LASO) invited Cruz to campus. During her 90-minute speech in Blackman Auditorium, Cruz will talk about her life and the adversity she had to fight to achieve success.
According to a Ted Talk she gave in May, Cruz grew up in New York City, Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic. A near-fatal car accident when she was 17 left her comatose and almost paralyzed. Yet Cruz bounced back and now plays a crucial role, along with her OITNB colleagues, in fleshing out the representation of Hispanics in the media landscape.
When looking for a prominent Hispanic figure to invite to campus, LASO considered other Latin American entertainers like America Ferrera before ultimately choosing Cruz, said Taylor Tomasso, LASO’s vice-president of external affairs and a sophomore cultural anthropology and international affairs major.
“She was within our budget, the agent we worked with was amazing and we thought we might as well keep the ‘Orange is the New Black’ theme going,” Tomasso said, referencing fellow OITNB star Laverne Cox’s visit to campus last semester.
On OITNB, Cruz dons a prison uniform, thick eyeliner and a teardrop tattoo, playing Litchfield Penitentiary’s resident hipster. Flaca is a kind of onscreen Latina audiences haven’t seen before – wildly different from Sofia Vergara on “Modern Family” or Eva Longoria on “Desperate Housewives.”
LASO President Miquela Burgos, a third-year biology and math major, hopes Cruz’s visit will start a cultural shift on campus.
“Jackie Cruz shows a different type of Latina than the typical one shown in the media,” she said. “I hope that the student body is able to learn from [her] experience and life lessons.”
On Friday, Tomasso expects Cruz’s identity to resonate just as much as the actual contents of her speech.
“It’s about what she represents,” Tomasso said. “A big part of our mission in LASO is empowering the Latino culture on campus, and that’s definitely what Jackie Cruz will be doing just by showing up.”
Moya Bailey, a Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, thinks showcasing minorities on TV and in films is thefirst step in enacting meaningful change.
“Representation of marginalized groups in popular culture is important,” she said in an email to The News. “Nichelle Nichols often speaks out about wanting to quit ‘Star Trek’ after the first season, but Martin Luther King Jr. persuaded her to stay on the show because it meant so much for black people to see a black person on television. That said, representation is a tool. Having Latinas on ‘Orange is the New Black’doesn’t undo the militarization of the US/Mexico border, nor stop deportation. It can help create cultural shifts, but it is not enough on its own to undo systemic oppression.”
Besides showcasing Hispanic culture, LASO hopes the event, which has been in the works since April, will boost the club’s profile on campus. When the event’s Facebook page garnered 500 attendees in less than six hours, club officials were almost in disbelief.
“We are so excited with the student body’s reaction [to the event] because LASO doesn’t have that much recognition to begin with,” said Tomasso. “A club meeting with 20 or 30 people is actually a good turnout for us.”
Events of the magnitude of Cruz’s visit are crucial in making clubs stand out, Tomasso thinks, in part because of the ever-increasing number of cultural groups on campus. This semester, the Center for Student Involvement lists 36 organizations under its International & Culturalcategory.
“There are all these clubs out there, so it’s becoming really hard to stand out,” Tomasso said. “That’s why this event is important to us. It will help us make our mark on campus. It will make our voices heard.”
Cruz’s visit was sponsored by the Student Activity Fee. Students can get free tickets for the event on myNEU.
Photo courtesy Orange is the New Black/Instagram/@oitnb