photo: Courtesy of Karina Ortiz

We're pretty sure by now that you've already binge-watched the entire third season of Orange Is The New Black. Seriously, who hasn't? Chances are you've familiarized yourself with the critically acclaimed Netflix series' ever-expanding Latina cast, too. But there's one Dominican actress on the show that might have gone under your radar that you NEED to know and it's Karina Ortiz. The 31-year-old is just as real, confident, and badass as the character she plays: Margarita, Cesar's (played by Berto Colon) girlfriend, but without all the finger-snapping and lip-pursing, of course!

At first glance, Ortiz has a vibe to her that is somewhat unassuming. For starters, she's gorgeous. But she also has a realness and a laid-back attitude that makes you want to instantly be BFF with her. This Dominicana's passion and perseverance in following her dreams is definitely something to admire. But unlike a lot of Hollywood actors out there, Ortiz's journey wasn't an easy one.

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photo: Courtesy of Karina Ortiz

"I knew from when I was little that I wanted to be an actress, but I couldn't get the training because we didn't have the funds," says Ortiz. "When my family and I migrated to [New York's] Washington Heights from Dominican Republic, my mom was working three jobs, taking care of my brother with cerebral palsy, and just trying to help us get by."

But Ortiz couldn't find herself letting go of her dream. 

Despite her shyness, she joined the drama club in high school and immediately loved it. She then enrolled at the City College of New York, where she was originally studying business administration before switching to a BA in theater, while taking acting classes on the side.

"I was watching E! on television one day and seeing all these successful actors and actresses on the red carpet and realized they were all Caucasian. I said to myself, 'Wait, why can't I do that too? What's stopping me from doing that?' Everything changed for me after that."

After graduating from college, Ortiz went on to pursue her acting career in theater, where she performed in the Off-Broadway play Platanos y Collard Greens for four years before taking a stab at TV.

"I knew Lin-Manuel Miranda through the theater world and thought he was amazing. I fell in love with his show In the Heights," Ortiz says. "He had contacted me to play his sister on NBC's, Do No Harm, and that's how I got started."

Ortiz went on to land small roles on shows like Pushing Dreams (a webseries) and Blue Bloods, but Orange Is the New Black is where she got her big break.

"I feel like there has been an increase in roles and opportunities for Latinas since I began acting," she says. "When I first started going to auditions I would go in trying to look more Caucasian. I would make sure my hair was straightened and made my voice sound different, but my role on OITNB has allowed me to just be myself."

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photo: Courtesy of Karina Ortiz

As for her character, Margarita, while the two might come off as polar opposites, Ortiz admits they do have quite a bit in common.

"I relate to her character because she's strong and not afraid to be who she is," she says. "But she's a little braver than I am. She refuses to take s*** and doesn't care what people think."

We are clearly living in an exciting time right now, with Latinos taking over television and online-streaming shows available on Netflix, Hulu, and Yaveo. Orange Is the New Black alone is proof of that, consisting of one of the biggest Latinas casts in a TV series right now.

"When I first watched Orange Is the New Black, I was so excited to see so many Latinas and so many Dominicanas. It's one of the most popular shows right now, and I was just wowed," she says. "It's opened so many doors, and now we're seeing so many strong, non-stereotypical roles for Latinas finally opening. It's still not where it needs to be, but we're getting there."