This is the third post in my Women's History Month series, Legendary Latinas, in which I highlight the lives and accomplishments of influential Latinas. You can find the other posts here and here. Please read the disclaimer if you have questions about my sources, otherwise, ENJOY!
When I was growing up and had dreams of being a world-famous entertainer, I wanted to be Rita Moreno. No, not be like her, I wanted to BE HER. I so wanted to be her, in fact, that when assigning labels to this post, I almost created a new label "awesome" because I didn't know what else to give her. Yep, I'm obsessed. But really, you should be too!
Rita Moreno was born in 1931 as Rosa Dolores Alverío in Puerto Rico. She moved to the U.S. with her mother when she was five, and started pursuing entertainment only a few years later. She's been in the entertainment industry ever since, appearing in film and television, and using her talents in acting, singing, and dancing.
Moreno's greatest professional achievement is being the first (currently only) Latina to win the top four entertainment awards. She won an Oscar for West Side Story, a Grammy for The Electric Company, a Tony for The Ritz, and an Emmy for The Muppet Show (she went on to win another Emmy for The Rockford Files). This is a feat very few entertainers are able to claim, and it's great to have a Latina in that category who's so skilled in her craft.
Along with her work as an entertainer, Moreno is committed to working as an advocate for education, Latino issues, diabetes, and osteoporosis. She is also married and has a daughter.
From early on in her career, Moreno had to work through the pressures of an industry known for stereotyping, typecasting, and changing identities to conform to an image. She was initially asked to use the stage name Rosita Moreno to build up her Latina sexpot and spitfire image, and then Rita to sound more American. When she began appearing in films, she was typecast as Native American or Mexican women, often handmaidens.
Her role as Anita in West Side Story did not go completely against this image, but it finally gave Moreno a major role as a Puerto Rican woman. After winning an Oscar for the role, she thought she'd have a better range of characters to choose from for future work. When this turned out to not be the case, rather than continuing to play roles adhering to the Latina spitfire stereotype, she decided to take a break from Hollywood. She was active in theatre and television thereafter, including children's television programming.
I've always found that Rita Moreno has a charisma and presence that's quite captivating. I first saw her in West Side Story, and she pretty much made that movie, in my opinion. It wasn't long after that when I learned about her anger at having her sung voice dubbed for the role, even though she was a singer herself. This was not out of the ordinary at the time, but she did not stay silent.
Another thing that has stuck with me is her candor when speaking about the problems she encountered in the entertainment industry. She stepped out of the spotlight right when people became aware of her talent, and was honest about her decisions. She could have easily kept conforming to build up a successful film career, but she refused to play into the stereotypes any longer and instead made her own path.
There are many dreams of mine I've yet to realize, but I've come to terms with the fact that I can't be Rita Moreno. Growing up as a Latina, and an immigrant, it is inspiring to me to see another woman with a similar background be so successful. And while making progress in the entertainment industry might seem inconsequential in the big picture, it is hard to ignore her perseverance, strength and integrity.
Simply put, the so-called triple threats of today ain't got nothin' on Rita Moreno.
For more info about Rita Moreno's life and work, check out:
Rita Moreno's Work
Rita Moreno in Backstage
Rita Moreno on NPR
Rita Moreno Quotes
- At Mon Mar 16, 03:01:00 PM Renee said...
Thanks for sharing. I was only familiar with her work on west side story. It seems to me that she faced the same problems as all other WOC in that they want to cast us as servants or in bit roles. I further hate the fact that they think one ethnic group can and should double for another. You actually see this alot with Latin@s and Aboriginal Americans. It discounts the experiences of both groups. I cannot imagine how hard it is to negotiate this and still try and stay true to who you are.
- At Mon Mar 16, 08:29:00 PM Chally said...
Interesting insights into the life of a woman I was only a little familiar with!