Gloria Mendoza (portrayed by Selenis Leyva) is the Puerto Rican “Queen Bee” of the Hispanics in prison. Our first real contact with Mendoza occurs when she concocts the “santeria potion” for Daya, who wanted to abort C.O. John Bennett‘s baby. Mendoza is appointed to head of the kitchen once Red is pegged for C.O. George “Pornstache” Mendez‘s contraband trafficking scam. Before Litchfield Penitentiary, Gloria ran her own Santeria store and was arrested for fraud.
Gloria once owned a Santeria shop with her tía. A man enters her store to complain about the effectiveness of the St. Peter candle she sold him, which was purchased to help him find a job. The man, too stupid to realize that he had to submit a job application to his place of interest in addition to the one he laid at the feet of the statue, gets his revenge on Gloria and her “poor instructions” by reporting her unlawful use of EDT cards. Her boyfriend at the time (Arturo) is unaware of this scam and tells her she will never succeed if she treats customers the way she does, though he is oblivious to the fact that the shop is a cover for her real business. After knocking Arturo’s ability to provide for her family (even though he raised her youngest children as his own), he slaps her. Gloria could not tell the cops about the abuse in fear for her children’s safety. We later learn that Gloria has two teenage daughters somewhere in New York in addition to the boys she left for her aunt to raise.
It is only when Arturo hits one of Gloria’s boys that she considers calling the cops, even though she runs the risk of a lethal retaliation. When Arturo appears at the shop, begging for Gloria’s forgiveness, the cops show up; however, they are not here to arrest Arturo. The embittered and unemployed man reported her for fraud. Gloria begs her tía to take the money she saved and raise children in Florida. However, her tía does not take the money. Instead, Arturo returns to the shop to steal her money and accidentally locks himself into the votive room, which ultimately incinerates the entire store with him inside.
As season two opens, we see Gloria emerge as a mother figure for Daya in her early stages of pregnancy, and she continues to grow in her role as den mother for the Latina women. She is now expected to deal with the other leading women, Red and Vee, though she is smart enough not to get involved in activities that could get her more time or locked up in SHU (meaning she nixed Neptune produce and got her own company). Although Gloria comes off as a woman you can’t fool, Vee manages to screw her in their deal: a pack of (old) cigarettes for yellow fun-fetti cake with chocolate icing.
Despite the “don’t fuck with me” vibe she gives off, it seems as though Vee and Red are trying to use her to gain leverage in the prison in their hierarchical power-based war. Because of this, Gloria claims that she “hate[s] this kitchen.” However, when Vee slocks Red, Gloria catches Norma Romano trying to concoct arsenic to take out Vee, Gloria finally takes a side. She offers her help, and the two pray and use Santeria to banish the woman.
At the start of season three, word gets out about her Santeria’s influential force in banishing Vee, and she begins to entertain the inmates’ requests for spiritual intervention. Despite the fact that she and her family have practiced Santeria for a long time and understand the ins-and-outs of the practice, she does not hesitate to reuse the supplies used to remove the women’s “bad juju.” When Gloria goes to use an egg for breakfast that supposedly contains Poussey Washington‘s own bad karma, much to her dismay, the head of the kitchen explains that she cannot afford to waste a perfectly good egg when there are so many inmates to feed. This is when Norma quietly steps up from the shadows and intervenes, disposing of the egg for Poussey and winning the inmates’ trust in carrying out their spiritual needs.
Gloria’s tía moves back to New York from Florida, and she thus has a much-longed for visit with her children for Mother’s Day, which is when Gloria learns that her son, Benito or “Benny,” who fails to visit her on Mother’s Day, has been misbehaving and acting up in school. She requests that her tía begin bringing Benny to visit her every weekend so that she can instill a sense of discipline within him.
When her tía tells her that making the trip up to Litchfield every week was too big of a responsibility, she attempts to recruit the help of Red‘s and Sophia Burset‘s families, who also travel up from Queens on a regular basis. Sophia agrees and her wife, Crystal Burset, begins bringing Benny with her and Michael to visit. All seemingly goes well until the two boys bond and get into trouble. Sophia immediately believes that Benny is the bad influence and revokes her visitation rights, which does not sit well at all with Gloria. While she knows her child is in some trouble, Gloria cannot readily accept the fact that her son is the problem. When Sophia finds out that it is her own son Michael who got them into trouble, she fails to inform Gloria when she seemingly gives Sophia dirty look on her way to apologize.
Despite Gloria and Sophia‘s cold war, Aleida Diaz takes it upon herself to begin spreading transphobic rumors about Gloria’s enemy, which eventually culminates in Sophia‘s transport to the SHU. Feeling guilty that their tiff caused such disastrous results, without wishing to receive blame or credit for her punishment, she goes to see Sister Ingalls to ask her how to deal with her own conscience.
Early on in season three when the higher-paying Whispers job threatens all other departments’ staff, Gloria has her kitchen staff make a pact not to choose money over family; however, when Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales applies for the job anyway, she falls out of favor with Gloria. The two do not begin to reconcile until Piper Chapman storms into the chapel as the two are praying, although separate from each other, and accuses Flaca of stealing her Felonious Spunk money. Despite her grudge against the young girl, she defends Flaca‘s honor. The two ultimately make up with each other at the lake.
At the start of season 4, Gloria is speaking to her son, Benny, and his contact with Crystal about Sophia‘s state in the SHU, for she feels guilty about the part she played in getting her sent to Maximum Security after their fight regarding whose son was a bad influence on the other. When she realizes that they are collectively getting nowhere in finding out Sophia’s status, she allows Sister Ingalls, who is also feeling guilty for not being able to help Sophia, to hit her in the face to make it seem as though she was violently attacked. Their plan works, and Sister Ingalls is immediately hauled down to Max.
As Aleida Diaz processes out of Litchfield, Gloria promises her that she will watch out for Daya and prevent her from getting into trouble. Yet when she tries to step in and advise her against hanging out with Maria Ruiz and her crew, who are currently selling drugs, Daya tells her to leave her alone because she “[doesn’t] need a second mother,” and she wants to hang around people her own age.
Although she feels as though she’s failed Daya, she does know that she can still help Sophia. She clears out the salon and gets her feeling like herself, helping her put her weave back on her head after a long time of not being able to pamper herself in Max. Though she feels bad for her own actions, she makes it known that she doesn’t pit her to help keep Sophia’s confidence intact.