She aspired to be an actress at an early age, with Orange is the New Black being her first full-time acting job. She graduated from Hunter College with a bachelor's degree in psychology and then worked as a hospital administrator while studying nursing.
Her first acting credits were in the television shows Unforgettable and NYC 22.
She moved to the US from the Dominican Republic when she was a child, and was raised in Brooklyn and Miami by parents Rubén Darío Polanco and Janet Polanco. She has three children.
Elizabeth Rodriguez plays her mother in Orange is the New Black.