Meet Jessica Marie Garcia: you might know her as Jasmine from "On My Block", where she inspires kids of color everywhere on the award-winning Netflix series. She’s dreamed of being an actor since she can remember, but as a young woman, she didn’t feel like she fit the “girl next door” persona. With inspiration from her mother, Barbra Streisand, and other Latinx icons, a diploma from a performing arts charter high school, and a touch of sass and self-love, she departed to Los Angeles to make her break in the acting world.
We had the chance to chat with Jessica, one of our Her Conference NYC keynotes, about her passion for inspiring young women of color, the most important advice she's ever received, and words of wisdom she’d give to any 20-something who’s looking to make it big as an actor.
Her Campus (HC): Where did your passion for acting come from? Is this something you knew you’d be doing as a career one day?
Jessica Marie Garcia (JMG): It’s been in my blood from the get-go. I’m an only child, so I used to do a lot of plays and musicals for my stuffed animals and my mom. I think television was a really great babysitter for me because the entertainment industry, TV, and film have always been the biggest influences in my life. When I was seven or eight, I told my mom I wanted to act, to which she replied, “well if you want to be an actor then you have to be one of the greatest.” I remember watching Gone With the Wind and I fell in love with old Hollywood cinema. Women like Elizabeth Taylor, Vivian Lee, and Betty Davis made me think, “Wow, I want to do this.” But then again, they weren’t women that necessarily looked like me. It was hard to think that it was something that I could accomplish. It wasn’t until I saw Barbra Streisand's “Funny Girl” and John Leguizamo’s one-man show "Freak" that I began to believe this was something that I really could do.
I went to a performing arts magnet program in Orlando and that changed my life forever. Suddenly, I was this very small fish in a big pond of actors who were the best actors in their middle school. These kids went to Juilliard, NYU, and Roosevelt, and I didn’t think I had those abilities. I felt like if I didn’t take the theater route, I might not be successful, which was very rough. But, I ended up going straight from that theater program to California.
HC: "On My Block" has been received with a ton of praise for being an inclusive and diverse cast and representation for teens of color. What do you hope viewers learn or get out of watching the show?
JMG: Our show is not only diverse in front of the camera, but also behind. I am surrounded by beautiful people of color who have so many different backgrounds than me. They are also people that I can relate to because they have a similar background than me, which hasn’t always been available in the past. I felt like I was kind of everyone’s brown best friend for a long time, so to be able to be surrounded by people of color was just incredible. There are kids that come up to me and say they believe this is something they can achieve too when I didn't necessarily have that growing up. I think is the next frontier is showing younger generations, especially kids of color, that being in front of the camera isn’t everything. Kids might actually have more aspirations to be on the other side, but they might not know that those are available to them.
I would love for our audience to see us as multi-dimensional characters — especially for me as Jasmine. She puts up a really strong front as being this tough, loud, fun-loving, and sometimes annoying, character. That comes from building walls because she’s been through it. That really resonated for me personally because it’s easy for me to access my comedic side to protect myself. Not a lot of shows talk about this and I think it is really relatable for people coming from someone who looks like me.
HC: What are some words of wisdom from a mentor or a role model that resonate with you?
JMG: Some of the most powerful words that I have heard have definitely been from my mom. I am who I am because of her. She has told me, “No one is better than me and I am no better than anyone else.” I work in an industry where people are constantly competing with each other. You put that against an even smaller pool of people of color trying to do this and you get a lot of people that are trying to compete and that’s not what we should be about. We should be about raising each other up and supporting each other. My mom always used to say this, and it sounds kind of harsh, but it’s so real: “There is always going to be somebody that is faster than you, stronger than you, and better at what you want to do in life, but you have to embrace who you are and what makes you special.” It’s really easy to put yourself down or to constantly compare yourself to other people.
HC: What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
JMG: In the beginning of a career, you go to castings and readings and nobody knows who you are. But recently, I walk into a building for a meeting and the receptionist actually knows who I am. They’ll say, “my kid loves you!” — it is so amazing seeing people who are excited to see you when you have constantly fought to belong. It is a respect that I wasn’t really prepared for. The amount of recognition that I get on a daily basis is insane. I don’t take any moment of it for granted.
HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with aspirations in the acting industry?
JMG: It is going to be so tough and long. It is not going to be easy, but nothing worth it ever is. You need to just be a sponge for all the plays and all the scripts. It’s important to not just focus on acting as much as it is being knowledgeable about the business and your craft. Just know who you are before you get there. Be 100% in love with yourself before you get there.