Esai Morales was born on the 1st October 1962 in Brooklyn, NY. Esai ran away from home at the age of 13 because his mother was opposed to his acting career. He became a ward of the state of New York so his mother returned to Puerto Rico, Esai and his mother Iris have since reconciled. While living in a group home, Esai studied at New York City's High School of Performing Arts. His first real break was a role with the Ensemble Studio Theatre, then his big break came in 1983 with the role of Chucho in Bad Boys alongside Sean Penn, and then his role as Bob Morales in the movie La Bamba in 1987.
Esai co-founded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) in 1997 and currently acts as a 2007-2008 board member for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).