New York State of Mind: 20 Latino Celebs with Big Apple Roots!

New York City is commonly known as “The City of Dreams,” with people from all over the world coming to the Big Apple each year to pursue their dreams. As Alicia Keys sings in her “Empire State of Mind” collaboration with Jay-Z, New York City is a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There's nothing you can't do, now you're in New York. These streets will make you feel brand new. The lights will inspire you. Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York.”

But for every import, there are a handful of homegrown talents raised with the New York State of Mind. Here’s a look at 20 of our Latino luminaries with Big Apple Roots!

1. New Yorkers: John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo, Raised in Queens

He may have been born in Bogotá, Colombia, but John Leguizamo’s family immigrated to the United States when he was only four years old and lived in various Queens neighborhoods, including Jackson Heights. Leguizamo, who started out as a stand-up comic in New York’s nightclub circuit, credits his acting abilities on growing up as one of the first Latino kids in his Jackson Heights neighborhood: "It was tough. There were lots of fights. I would walk through a park and be attacked, and I had to defend myself all the time,” said Leguizamo; whose award-winning semi-autobiographical, one-man theater show Ghetto Klown highlights his path from obscurity to stardom. “But this helped me to become funny so that I wouldn’t get hit.”

2. New Yorkers: Judy Reyes

Judy Reyes, Born & Raised in The Bronx

Judy Reyes, best known for her role on Scrubs, had daily flashbacks when working on the indie drama Gun Hill Road. Set in The Bronx, the film’s title refers to the real street that intersects Bainbridge Avenue, the street the Dominican-American actress grew up on. “I’m so familiar with the hood it’s not even funny,” said Reyes in an interview with Smashing Interviews. “Driving into that neighborhood every day, I would pass the local church where I grew up on my way to location, so it brought back very fond memories.” Reyes, who’ll next star in Lifetime’s Devious Maids, added, “Going back there and shooting actually really did a lot of the character work for us. It created that certain swagger, you know? It’s the body language … kind of gets you going in that direction.”

3. New Yorkers: Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno, Raised in New York City

Puerto Rico-born Rita Moreno, the original multi-hyphenate (singer, dancer, actress), always knew she wanted to be a performer. But it wasn’t until she moved to New York City at the age of five that she got her start. “A friend of my mother’s, who was a Spanish dancer, saw me bopping around in the living room,” says Moreno, the winner of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, adding, “And she said, ‘You know, Rosita really seems to have a talent for movement. Is it all right if I take her to my dance teacher and see what happens?’” History happened! Moreno became the first and only Hispanic performer to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award.

4. New Yorkers: Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera, Born in Staten Island

Born in Staten Island, Christina Aguilera lived in places New Jersey, Texas, New York and Japan during her childhood, due to her father being a soldier in the U.S. Army. The Grammy-winning singer was known as the as "the little girl with the big voice," appearing on television shows as a child before signing with RCA Records in 1998. Aguilera’s self-titled debut album became an international success, with singles "Genie in a Bottle", "What a Girl Wants" and "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)" all reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Considered one of the greatest women in music, the half-Ecuadorian American singer has gone on to sell more than 50 million albums worldwide. But she hasn’t forgotten her roots… Shortly after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast, Aguilera performed her iconic song "Beautiful" to open the Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together benefit telethon, with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

5. New Yorkers: Marc Anthony

Marc Anthony, Raised in Spanish Harlem

It’s no wonder Marc Anthony is the top selling tropical salsa artist of all time. The Spanish Harlem-raised Grammy-winning salsero was named after Mexican singer Marco Antonio Muñiz. Anthony, raised in the Metro North Plaza Houses housing development, began his career as a session vocalist for freestyle and Underground New York house music acts. After changing his name to avoid confusion with his namesake, Anthony worked as a songwriter and backing vocalist for pop acts including Menudo and the Latin Rascals. Initially Anthony was reluctant to become a salsa musician and declined his label’s offer to make a salsa album. But he changed his mind after hearing Juan Gabriel's "Hasta Que Te Conocí," which made him change his mind. Inspired by the music of Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe and Rubén Blades, Anthony released his Spanish-language debut, Otra nota. And the rest is history!

6. New Yorkers: Rosario Dawson

Rosario Dawson, Born and Raised in New York City

It was a slight case of art imitating life when Rosario Dawson starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Rent. Her character, Mimi Marquez, had to deal with poor living conditions, just like Dawson did growing up in New York City. The Puerto Rican/Cuban American actress and political activist’s mom moved the family into an abandoned building squat on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when Dawson was 21, where she and her husband renovated an apartment and installed the plumbing and electrical wiring for the building, creating affordable housing where Rosario and her brother Clay would grow up. Dawson has cited this part of her family history when explaining how she learned that "If you wanted something better, you had to do it yourself."

7. New Yorkers: Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez, Born and Raised in The Bronx

There’s no denying that Jennifer Lopez is proud of her Big Apple roots. The Puerto Rican entertainer, who was born and raised in The Bronx, proudly sang about her upbringing in her 2002 hit single “Jenny from the Block.” “Used to have a little now I have a lot; No matter where I go I know where I came from,” sings Lopez about her modest upbringing. And even though her rock collection has dramatically increased in the years since the song was released, la Lopez swears fame hasn’t changed her. And she even returned to “the block” in her “My World” commercial for Fiat, which depicts Lopez leaving Manhattan and driving through The Bronx neighborhood where she grew up.

8. New Yorkers: Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez, Born in Washington Heights

Talk about switching teams... Alex Rodriguez, who was born in Washington Heights, was a big fan of the New York Mets while growing up in New York City, the Dominican Republic and Miami. But the Dominican American baseball star would eventually return to the Big Apple to play for the other team – the New York Yankees – after stints with Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers. But one team’s loss is another’s win. Since joining the Yankees in 2004, A-Rod has cemented his status one of the best all-around baseball players of all time. And he’s managed to break a number of Major League Baseball Records in the process, including setting the record for the most home runs by a New York-born player.

9. New Yorkers: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Born and Raised in New York City

Lin-Manuel Miranda has managed to successfully make The Great White Way a little less white. The Puerto Rican composer, rapper, lyricist and actor added some sabor to Broadway with his hit musical In the Heights, which shined a spotlight on New York City’s Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights. The production would win the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008. Miranda, who earned a Tony and Grammy for serving as the musical’s composer and lyricist, would go on to write the Spanish dialogue and work with Stephen Sondheim to translate into Spanish the song lyrics for the revival of West Side Story, which opened on Broadway in March 2009.

10. New Yorkers: Kat DeLuna

Kat DeLuna, Born in The Bronx

The Bronx-born Kat DeLuna may have moved to the Dominican Republic at a young age, but the Dominican American pop singer never forgot her New York City roots. DeLuna – whose family moved back to the United States when she was 14, to Newark – even shares her Big Apple mindset with the world on the single “New York City Gurls,” singing, “Nowhere in the world can you experience, all of this is sexiness attitude apocalypse; if you’ve been around the world, there’s no place you’d rather be.”

11. New Yorkers: Prince Royce

Prince Royce, Born and Raised in The Bronx

It’s hard to believe Prince Royce – the son of Dominican immigrants who was born and raised in The Bronx – was a loner growing up. But Royce says he stayed out of trouble in his tough South Bronx neighborhood by playing video games and hanging out with his cousins. "I didn't have many friends," says the soft-spoken Royce. "I always got along with the girls, but I wasn't the popular kid." But the times have changed… Following the release of his self-titled debut album, Royce became an instant Latin music star with his smash hits “Stand by Me” and "Corazón Sin Cara." But when it came to making his U.S. concert debut in 2010, Royce returned to the Bronx. He performed at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. "We had to choose my hometown,” said Royce. “It's my first big production outside of the club scene; taking it to the next level."

12. New Yorkers: Rosie Perez

Rosie Perez, Born in Brooklyn and Raised in Queens

New York City native Rosie Perez had different career aspirations growing up. She actually wanted to be a marine biologist and only got into acting by accident when director Spike Lee spotted her in a nightclub and hired her for the 1989 film Do the Right Thing. The Puerto Rican dancer/actress appeared on 21 Jump Street and served as the choreographer for In Living Color, a role that earned her three Emmy nominations. She’d later become a bona fide star after starring in 1992’s White Men Can't Jump and earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance in 1993’s Fearless. But Perez hasn’t overlooked her past. The community activist serves as the chair of the artistic board for Urban Arts Partnership, a New York City arts education nonprofit that uses arts integrated education programs to close the achievement gap.

13. New Yorkers: Zoe Saldana

Zoë Saldaña, Raised in Queens

Zoë Saldaña may have been born in Passaic, New Jersey, but the Dominican American actress spent her early childhood in New York City, where she performed with the Brooklyn theater group FACES, which put on plays aimed at providing positive messages for teenagers. But it was her appearance in the New York Youth Theater’s production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat that resulted in her recruitment by a talent agency. Saldaña’s previous dance training, and her acting experience, helped her land her first big screen role as Eva, the talented and headstrong ballet dancer in 2000’s Center Stage. She’s since gained prominence for her roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Star Trek, Avatar and Colombiana.

14. New Yorkers: Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor, Born and Raised in The Bronx

Earlier this month, Sonia Sotomayor, the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, released her memoir My Beloved World, which Oprah called a “love letter” to her life growing up in The Bronx. “Because that’s what it is,” responded Sotomayor, who lived in a South Bronx tenement and the well-maintained, racially and ethnically mixed, working-class Bronxdale Houses housing project in Soundview during her childhood. “So many people grew up with challenges, as I did. There weren’t always happy things happening to me or around me. But when you look at the core of goodness within yourself—at the optimism and hope—you realize it comes from the environment you grew up in.” Now that’s one Wise Latina! The New York Times describes Sotomayor’s book as “an eloquent and affecting testament to the triumph of brains and hard work over circumstance, of a childhood dream realized through extraordinary will and dedication.” 

15. New Yorkers: Lana Parrilla

Lana Parrilla, Born in Brooklyn

Lana Parrilla is the breakout star of ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Her Evil Queen character was even named Favorite Villain in TV Guide‘s Fan Favorites Awards after the fairy tale drama’s freshman season, something that the half Puerto Rican actress could credit to her New York City roots. “I grew up in Brooklyn and was tough — kind of loaded with attitude — and then I came here [Hollywood]. I'm sure people found me kind of intimidating,” said Parrilla in a recent interview. “I didn't fit in on any level when I moved from Brooklyn to Burbank — on any level. And then I met a bunch of hippies and I became a little hippie myself. A Brooklyn hippie.”

16. New Yorkers: Gina Torres

Gina Torres, Born and Raised in New York City

Gina Torres – who was raised in The Bronx in a close-knit Cuban American family – has never thought about doing anything else but act. “It's all I know how to do and it's all I want to do,” says the star of USA Network’s Suits. “This is my plan 'A' and I don't have a plan 'B.’” Torres, a mezzo soprano, attended the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and New York City's prestigious High School of Music and Art. “Ever since I can remember I wanted to perform, needed to perform,” recalls Torres. “My junior high school chorus director made the mistake of giving me a solo in an eighth-grade production of Barnum and when I got my first round of applause, it was mother’s milk. It’s what’s called ‘being bitten.’”

17. New Yorkers: Jake T. Austin

Jake T. Austin, Born and Raised in New York City

It’s no wonder Gary Marshall cast Jake T. Austin in his Big Apple-based romantic-comedy, New Year's Eve. The former Wizards of Waverly Place star, who will be reprising his role as Selena Gomez’s little brother in the Disney Channel’s Wizards special in March, has the New York City accent down pat! “You see, I was born and raised in New York, so I was blessed—or some say cursed—with a strong New York accent,” the part Puerto Rican, Argentine and Spanish actor tells Seventeen. Not that we mind one bit!

18. New Yorkers: Adam Rodriguez

Adam Rodriguez, Born in Yonkers

The world was thisclose to having two A-Rods… Adam Rodriguez had initially set his sights on becoming a professional baseball player. But after an injury in high school, the former CSI: Miami star turned his attention to acting and began performing in a children's theater in New York. Whew! Had Rodriguez not pursued acting, we probably never would’ve seen (all of) him in last summer’s blockbuster male-stripper movie Magic Mike. Everything happens for a reason!

19. New Yorkers: Melonie Diaz

Melonie Diaz, Raised in New York City's Lower East Side

Melonie Diaz could be considered the Latina indie film queen. The Puerto Rican actress, who was raised in New York City's Lower East Side, has starred in a number of independent films, including four that were shown at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Diaz, who became interested in acting at the Henry Street Settlement and subsequently attended Manhattan’s Professional Performing Arts School, is currently earning rave reviews for her performance in Fruitvale, a film that just won the the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Diaz recently completed a degree in Film Production at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

20. New Yorkers: Ana Ortiz

Ana Ortiz, Born in Manhattan

Ugly Betty star Ana Ortiz – who was born in Manhattan, but raised in Philadelphia – originally studied to become a ballerina. But the pain of dancing en pointe forced the half-Puerto Rican actress to pursue a different discipline. So Ortiz switched to singing and attended New York City’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and later Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Ortiz, who will next star in Lifetime’s Devious Maids, made her professional stage debut in a regional theater production of Dangerous Liaisons. She’d later land first full-time television series role on Everybody Loves Raymond before winning our hearts as America Ferrera’s big sister on Betty.