Puerto Rico has produced many celebrities, from honored scientists to political leaders to standouts in sports and the arts. One of the most impressive is Rita Moreno.
Rita Moreno is one of just eight living performing artists with “EGOT” awards. That means that she has won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony (actually, she won two Tony awards). She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George Bush and the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, among many other honors.
Moreno is what is known as a “triple threat” in the performing arts: an actress, dancer, and singer. She is also an activist, supporting a range of causes including racial equality, hunger, early childhood education, higher education for minority students, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Moreno was born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Her family moved to New York City when she was five, and Moreno began performing as a dancer in her teens. She was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout and went on to have a long and very successful career in movies and TV, as well as on stage.
Moreno’s big break was her role in West Side Story, a musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Moreno spoke recently about a difficult experience she had on the set of the film.
However, her masterful performance in the musical opened doors for her, and she went on to play an extremely wide range of roles.
Racism still exists
Many of the roles Moreno played were not written for a Latina. She was often asked to play “exotic” roles portraying an Asian, Polynesian, or other non-white character; she was able to provide a level of diversity in movies at a time when Hollywood was notoriously lacking in diversity.
Moreno paved the way for other actors by accepting those roles, but she continues to feel frustration about the lack of major roles for Hispanic actors.
“I’m pained to say it’s still the same problem, the same damn problem,” Morena said in an interview at The Wrap.
Moreno has spoken forthrightly about her experiences with discrimination in her life, and her hopes for improvement in the future. “I think we are vastly underrepresented, I’m really dismayed by that,” she said in a recent interview. “We still have a way to go.”
In the same interview, she expressed pride that young Latinx performers are still able to see West Side Story as encouragement for their own dreams. She also shared her love of Puerto Rico. “I feel an obligation to always, always talk about and respect and love my little island and the people that come from there,” she said.
Moreno is the subject of a new documentary about her life. “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” directed by Mariem Pérez Riera, premiers at the Sundance Film Festival.
Moreno is also performing on stage and working on her memoir.