LatinXcellence: Rita Moreno, the Supernova With a Heart of Gold
Here at People CHICA we celebrate our Latinidad 365 days a year, but during Latinx Heritage Month, we go extra hard. Established in 1988, Latinx Heritage Month recognizes the generations of Latinx Americans who have positively influenced and enhanced our society. All month long, we'll be celebrating with a series called #LatinXcellence, highlighting women who are making a difference in Latinx culture today through their art, work and activism.
With her beauty and talent, Rita Moreno mesmerizes audiences in any language. The actress, singer and dancer of Puerto Rican descent is one of the few performers who have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony. Her raw and passionate portrayal of Anita in West Side Story is still raved about nearly 60 years later. “I think what's changed for Latino performers is Latino performers!” Moreno told NPR. “I think we have spoken out, and the door is much more open now. I don't think it's open enough, but it's certainly more open — and we're pushing the gates, and that's what it takes.”
As a child who left her native Puerto Rico to move to New York City at age five, she admits she experienced culture shock and had racial slurs hurled at her by other kids. “The racism, even among children, the name-calling,” she told AARP. “Suddenly, I was different! I had never been different. It was sink or swim, build character or give up. Thankfully, I had the model of my mommy's grit. Never give in, never quit, keep on moving.”
The actress, 87, is adored by many generations, including millennials who are fans of the Netflix series One Day at a Time, about a Cuban family living in America. “I am not embarrassed to admit that there are many similarities with respect to her enthusiasm and my enthusiasm for life,” Moreno told People en Español of her role as Grandma Lydia. “I am very proud to say I am not in any way how Lydia is, but I sure love to play that vanity — that is an actress's dream, to be such a larger than life character.”
Moreno herself seems larger than life. The stunning beauty and tireless creator sets an example, showing women that they can look and feel fabulous at any age. She has also been an advocate for her Latinx community throughout the years, proudly celebrating her roots. She helped relief efforts after the devastating Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 and used her influential voice to motivate Latinos to go out and vote.
Next year, her personal journey will be celebrated in a PBS American Masters documentary titled Rita Moreno: The Girl Who Decided to Go for It, with Lin-Manuel Miranda as one of its executive producers. She shared an inspiring message for Latinxs living in the United States with People en Español: “My message to immigrants is to hold tight and hang onto your vision and your dreams.”