En español | LOS ANGELES—In an exclusive interview for AARP The Magazine (ATM), award-winning Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno reflects on experiencing racism firsthand, living the American dream and breaking through in Hollywood and on Broadway as a Hispanic actress.
From hopeful immigrant to Oscar winner, the 86-year-old legend speaks candidly about the struggle of minorities hoping to work in Hollywood from the 1960s to present day. Although Moreno faced challenges throughout her career, she remains proud of her Hispanic heritage and the opportunities provided in the United States.
Moreno’s interview is part of “The Latino American Dream,” a seven-page special section in this month’s ATM that shares the stories and insights of over a dozen well-known Hispanic Americans from entertainment, media, journalism, science, business and other industries.
Moreno shares with ATM, “Who could imagine that even after I won the Oscar, those who could employ me would continue to cast me as a Spanish spitfire. I was still only offered those dusky maiden roles. I decided that I would never do one of those roles again: ‘Ha, ha, I’ll show them!’ But they showed me—I didn’t do a film for seven years after West Side Story. It broke my heart. I couldn’t understand it. I still don’t understand. And there you have it, Hollywood’s mindset at the time.”
Racism and discrimination, however, did not prevent Moreno from breaking down barriers in the industry and achieving tremendous success – she is one of just 12 people to hold an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Moreno also received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, with past recipients, including Elie Wiesel, Malala Yousafzai, and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Moreno continues to grace the screen and is currently filming the third season of Netflix’s comedy One Day at a Time, a reboot of Norman Lear’s original. In 2015, Moreno released her first all-Spanish album Una Vez Más, produced by Grammy-winner Emilio Estefan.
Moreno is not stopping any time soon. When asked about her outlook on life in ATM, Moreno says, “I expect wonderful things to happen. That’s my outlook, and it’s a good one. It seems odd – it’s as though I’ve needed to get older to have more success.”
The following are excerpts from ATM’s August/September 2018 cover story featuring Rita Moreno, available in homes starting August and available online in English and Spanish now at www.aarp.org/magazine/.
Selections from the Rita Moreno cover story in ATM’s August/September issue:
On moving to the U.S. from Puerto Rico:
“The culture shock is still etched in my 86-year-old mind. The language, the snow – I had never seen snow – the racism, even among children, the name-calling. Suddenly, I was ‘different!’ I had never been different.”
On reactions from “el barrio” (Hispanic neighborhood) when she won the Oscar for West Side Story
“It was very hot so all the windows were open; you could hear the televisions from every apartment in the area. She said (referring to comedian Liz Torres) that when my name was read as a nominee, there was silence, and when I was announced as the winner, everybody started yelling out the window, “Se la comió, my God—she made it. She did it.” You know, what I think they were really saying is, “We did it.”
On the power of “West Side Story”
“Wherever I go, people still call out to me in a Puerto Rican accent, “I like to be in America.”
On underrepresented Latinos in Hollywood:
“We are vastly underrepresented. Not only us; when was the last time you saw an Asian in a major role? I’m grateful for the example of the black community, who’ve learned to better navigate the system and make it more inclusive.”
On her opinion of the U.S.:
“The United States is still a land for dreamers. I pray it will always welcome people from all over the world and that our diversity will increase. More spice in the stew!”
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AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.
For More Information: Paola Torres, AARP, 202-434-2555, firstname.lastname@example.org