Dascha Polanco on her Dominican roots, "OITNB" success

Dascha Polanco has been at the center of some of the most dramatic moments of the past two seasons on Netflix's "Orange is the New Black." 

The actress has played Litchfield Prison inmate Dayanara Diaz on the award-winning series for five seasons. The groundbreaking Netflix original marked a turning point in the career of the Dominican-American actress. Since being cast in 2012, she's been featured in various films and has also become an outspoken advocate for body confidence.

Polanco was recently honored for her commitment to the Dominican community at a ceremony for the Dominican Film Festival. CBS News caught up with her at the event hosted by New York City's Seawalk Restaurant.

What does it mean for you to be honored by this community?

It's very important to me that my own people are growing culturally, socially and reinventing the image that has been portrayed of Dominican people. It was overwhelming to hear that they were going to acknowledge the work that I have done and support me. I know this isn't the Emmys, it's not the Academy Awards, but this is what really matters to me. The fact that I am accepted in the place where I am from, encourages me to strive for more.

How have your Dominican roots shaped who you are today?

You know, it really is all about my roots. I grew up in Brooklyn and am a Spanish woman. I am in tune though with my African, Latino and Spaniard roots. That's how I feel most comfortable. I felt like an outsider when I first came to this country at just 2 years old. Now though, I am proud to confidently hold my flag high and say I am Dominican.

 What is your reaction when you hear from people who are inspired by your lifestyle and career?

Dascha Polanco at New York City's Seawalk Restaurant. Castille Photography

Not only does it touch my heart, but it also helps me realize that I am not perfect. As imperfect as I am, though, I love that people still accept me and embrace those qualities that they connect with. I never saw that in any celebrity as I was growing up. I couldn't connect with anyone and just couldn't relate. So to have young girls, women and men connect with me in such a way is very important to me.

I am always working on my career but am also working on what I call "self -lovery." It's a movement that encourages all people to speak about their insecurities. I want people from a very young age to have those values instilled in themselves. 

Do you think enough is being done by the industry to encourage people to embrace their flaws?

I think more people are speaking up about confidence and are accepting every body type. I want people to know, though, that I am constantly working to love myself now. It is not like I walk into a room and have all the confidence in the world. It is more like I am working through it. It's OK to wake up some days and be uncomfortable -- or feel like you aren't pretty. That is the kind of thing I have learned to accept.  

It's hard to believe it's already been five seasons of "Orange is the New Black." What has it been like for you to be part of this award-winning cast?

Yeah, I can't believe where the show has led me. When I walked into it, I never thought about how successful it might become. I never thought about what it would be like to be famous or that I would be able to do more projects as a result of the show.

Dascha Polanco and Slenis Leyva in "Orange Is The New Black" Season 5. Jojo Whilden/Netflix

The opportunities I have had helped me realize that it is OK to take a risk. It's important to push yourself and seize the moment. I've also realized that it is crucial to pay attention to what you want. I have met amazing and talented people because of "Orange." It has really been a blessing. This show is part of pop culture and history. There are now more conversations not just about being transgender, but also about imprisonment and the incarceration of women. The show has showed diversity in such a way that now it's a trend that should have been a reality from the beginning.

These stories are ironically focused on women in jail. Many people today, though -- in prison or not -- can relate to these characters as well. Although the women on these shows have committed crimes, that is not what defines them. We all could have that moment where we don't know where our life is going to end, and it is about that one choice we make that could change everything. So "Orange" will forever be in my heart wherever it goes and for however long I am part of it. it is something that I will always be proud of. So we will see what journey will come out of it.