Rosie Perez Opens Up About Traumatic Childhood In Memoir

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 03:  Actress/dancer Rosie Perez speaks with journalist Odie Henderson during a book signing for her new
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 03: Actress/dancer Rosie Perez speaks with journalist Odie Henderson during a book signing for her new book 'Handbook For An Unpredictable Life' at Strand Bookstore on March 3, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)

Rosie Perez has never been known to keep quiet, but the Puerto Rican actress was never truly outspoken about her traumatic past -- until now.

Known for her spitfire personality and for breaking barriers for Latinas in the entertainment industry during the 1980s, Perez, 49, said in a recent interview with Fox News Latino that she is now ready to share her story in her new memoir, Handbook for an Unpredictable Life.

While recent headlines have focused on what the Oscar-nominated star wrote concerning her infamous feud with Jennifer Lopez during their work together on "In Living Color," the Brooklyn-born actress says the book is truly about how she dealt with her difficult early years.

"The bigger issue of the book is surviving childhood," Perez told Fox. "The moral is really, how do you not allow your past to completely define you as an adult? And how do you not allow the emotional responses that served to protect you as a child [to] dictate your emotional responses today?"

In her book, released in late February, Perez vividly describes the psychological and physical abuse she endured at the hands of her schizophrenic mother, as well as some of the nuns at the orphanage where her mother eventually left her. In time, Perez found success as a choreographer and actress, starring in such hits as "White Men Can't Jump" and "Do The Right Thing."

Today, the Nuyorican actress is also focused on her activism. She was chosen as part of President Barack Obama's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2010. She also heads the community organization Urban Arts Partnership, which promotes the arts in New York City classrooms.

"We're always encouraging the kids to open up and tell us their stories, so they can get through the difficulties they face on a daily basis," Perez said about the moment she realized she needed to open up about her past. "One day one of the kids said, 'Well Ms. Perez, what's your story?' and I froze. I felt like such a hypocrite because I kept it a secret for so long. That's when my heart started opening up and I felt a little bit lighter. Then I started telling it bit by bit to other people, and when the book offer came my way, I was ready."

Last month, Perez also spoke to Belinda Luscombe, Time magazine's editor-at-large, about Handbook and about how she felt when she was diagnosed as an adult with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by her experiences as a child.

"First of all, being diagnosed sucked," Perez told Luscombe. "Initially it wasn't a relief. I wanted to believe that I was above all that had happened, all that had gone down. And when a licensed professional doctor said 'No, you have PTSD,' it was kind of like 'Oh my goodness, I'm human.' I didn't have that much control over my emotional response, the way I thought I did. And then there was this big sigh and it was like a weight was lifted off of me."