Jessica Marie Garcia Is Changing the Game With 'On My Block'
"There was never a time in my life when I didn't want to act." The Cuban-Mexican American is ready to change the game.
Jessica Marie Garcia always knew she would be an actress. “As soon as I could speak, I wanted to perform,” she says. “Even if I was like, ‘Ooo, being a doctor would be cool, I’d be like, ‘Nah, I’ll play one on TV.’ Because then next week I can be a lawyer.”
Now starring in the third season of Netflix’s beloved series On My Block, the 33-year-old actress got her start in a sixth-grade school production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as the fairy Mustardseed. “I had like, two lines, and they were all one word,” she recalls. “But I was like, ‘Yes!’” After high school, she moved from Orlando to Los Angeles, feeling that she couldn’t “waste any more time” if she was going to pursue her dream. “I drove 3,000 miles away with my mom, my grandmother, and a 120-pound German shepherd, and never really looked back.”
Though it’s hard to picture anyone else as Jasmine, Garcia initially heard about On My Block from her Liv and Maddie co-star Victoria Moroles, who’d booked an audition for the show and thought Garcia would be perfect. “I read the pilot, and all of these amazing characters that would be just side characters on so many shows were able to be telling their own stories,” she says. “That’s just something you don’t read every day. So I talked to my people, we set it up, and that was it. As soon as I walked in there, it felt right.” Garcia describes Jasmine as a “fiercely loyal spitfire” who’s wise beyond her years. “She leads with her sexuality and her humor in order to tell the joke and not be the joke. She’s an incredibly relatable character. A lot of people see themselves in her, including myself.”
Raised by a single mom in Orlando, Garcia grew up looking for representations of her Cuban and Mexican heritage in entertainment, and initially found it in the telenovelas her mother watched. Later, actors like Jennifer Lopez, America Ferrera, and John Leguizamo gave her the push to pursue acting professionally, because she realized she could act in English, embrace her curves, and be funny on-screen. “Those were definitely steps in finding who I am and representation of who I thought I was,” she explains. “The fact that I get to be that for someone else is priceless.”
Garcia also stars on the Disney+ show Diary of a Future President, which follows a 12-year-old Cuban American girl in the years before she becomes the first female U.S. president. “I hope it encourages a generation of kids in our community to dream big and not feel like they’re stuck in whatever situation they’re in or whatever feelings they’re in,” she says of the show, which she thinks of as a Latina Lizzie McGuire. “The sky’s the limit with what they’re capable of achieving.”
Between On My Block and Diary..., Garcia is an integral part of the recent boom in Latinx-focused shows geared at English-speaking audiences. She thinks the trend has staying power, so long as Latinx creators receive opportunities behind the camera, too. “It’s 100 percent giving those opportunities to Latino writers, to producers, to directors, and also expanding what we think the Latino story is,” she explains. “There are Latinos all over the world. It’s also knowing that there are so many different shades to Latinos. There’s a lot of colorism in our industry and in our culture, so it’s important for us to focus on telling genuine Afro-Latino stories from Afro-Latino writers.”
That said, she’s not willing to take a part just because it’s there, and notes that she’s turned down auditions for parts she saw as too “degrading.” And in the future, she hopes she’s the person writing those character breakdowns. “I want to write, produce, direct. I want my own production company. I want to make the content that I want to make, make the stories that have been living in me. I’m ready to be on the same list as Mindy Kaling and Issa Rae, America Ferrera and Eva Longoria. I’m ready. Speak it into existence!”
For more with Jessica Marie, pick up the new issue of People en Español, on stands now.
Photographer: Joyce Charat; stylist: Monica Cargile; hair: Saisha Beechman; makeup: Angie Bulmer; photographer's assistant: Kay