Puerto Ricans have been enriching the history and culture of the United States for more than a century. Over the years, Puerto Rico has contributed many notable people in the arts, sciences, public service, academics, sports, industry and more.
Enjoy learning about some Puerto Rican women of note in the performing arts.
Miriam Colón, born Miriam Colón Valle in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was an iconic Latina actress with a career spanning more than half a century. She showed early promise in drama, and her high school teachers helped her gain a place in the Actors Studio in New York. From her studies there she went on to roles in TV shows, especially Westerns.
Her best-known role was Mama Montana in Scarface. However, she played in many TV shows as well as films and stage plays.
Colón founded The Puerto Rican Traveling Theater company in 1967. Her goal was to bring free bilingual theater to her adopted city, New York. In 1993 she received an Obie Award for lifetime achievement in Off Broadway theater. In 2015 she received the National Medal of Arts.
Rita Moreno, born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano in Humacao, Puerto Rico, moved with her family to New York at the age of five. She studied dance and performed on Broadway, catching the attention of a Hollywood talent scout. West Side Story was her big break, but in a career spanning 70 years, Moreno was extremely successful in live theater, film, and TV.
Moreno is one of very few people to receive all four major performing arts awards: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. She also won an Academy Award, an Emmy, and a Tony. The only other actor to accomplish both of these things is Helen Hayes.
Moreno received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. In 2015, she was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor and she received the Peabody Career Achievement Award in 2019. Other awards include the Library of Congress Living Legends Award, the Special Recognition Award from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, the Hispanic Organization of Latin actresses (HOLA) Lifetime Achievement Award, the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the position of Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade.
Chita Rivera, born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, was well known for originating the roles of Anita in West Side Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago. She appeared in many Broadway musicals, from Guys and Dolls to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Rivera won two Tony awards for Best Actress and was nominated for eight more. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Trained at the School of American Ballet, Rivera danced with Sammy Davis Junior and Bob Fosse, and appeared in films and TV shows as well as the music theater roles that were the foundation of her career.
Rivera received the Kennedy Center Honor in 2002, and was the first Hispanic woman to do so. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.
Jennifer Lynn Lopez began singing and dancing lessons at age five, but focused on athletics in her school career, competing in track and gymnastics in the Catholic schools she attended in New York. She got her first movie role while still in high school, and worked internationally as a back-up dancer on stage, in movies, and on TV. She built her acting and singing careers strategically, becoming the most powerful celebrity in the world according to Forbes in 2012 and hitting the Times list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.
She is described as the most influential Hispanic performer in the nation, and is the highest paid Hispanic performer of all-time. Lopez is known for her business skill, and has parlayed her performing arts skill into successful fashion brands, including the most profitable celebrity fragrance of all time.
Lopez performed the halftime show at the Super Bowl and the Inauguration of President Joe Biden. She founded the Lopez Family Foundation, which helps make medical care accessible to needy women and children through telemedicine, and has supported many other health-related causes, including HIV/AIDS research. She is known for a variety of philanthropic efforts. Perhaps the most unusual honor Lopez has received is that a species, Litarachna lopezae, was named after her in 2014.
Ana María Martínez
Ana María Martínez, born in San Juan, attended the Boston Conservatory and graduated from Julliard. She is an operatic soprano. Her professional debut was with the Houston Opera Studio in Carmen. She went on to sing in Carmen with the Metropolitan Opera, as well as many more roles around the world.
She sang with Plácido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli. She sang at The White House. She was featured in the series Mozart in the Jungle and other feature films. Martinez became Houston Grand Opera’s first artistic advisor. She won a Latin Grammy in the Classical category in 2001.
In 2015, she established the Ana Maria Martinez Encouragement Award as part of the Annual Eleanor McCollum Auditions and Awards Competition, which she had won as a student. She stepped in with a letter to the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board in 2019, hoping to maintain financial support for The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra.