Entertainment

Here’s A Quick Glimpse Into Rita Moreno’s Rise From A Little Girl In Puerto Rico To America’s Abuela

As millennials and Gen Z’ers, the only Rita Moreno we know is the one who played all our favorite abuelitas in Netflix’s One Day at a Time and The CW’s Jane the Virgin. We couldn’t imagine our television without her. We know she’s an icon and a big deal and all, but nobody will understand what a huge source of chisme she was for our parents growing up until you read this.

Rita Moreno is a wildly successful actress, spanning over 70 years of work. She also had an affair with Elvis Presley, and so much more! The tea is spilling. Get it.

Rita Moreno es puro Boricua.

@Harpercreates / Twitter

She was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico as Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano. Her mother was a seamstress who was 17 years old when she gave birth, and her father was a farmer.

When she was 5 years old, her mother took her to NYC and inexplicably left her younger brother, Francisco, on the island.

@people / Twitter

In her autobiography, Moreno was removed from her island world of raising baby chicks and plopped into the cold Bronx.

At 6 years old, she started to take dance lessons from Rita Hayworth’s uncle.

@GarconsOfficiel / Twitter

She started professionally dancing at New York clubs when she was 9 years old. She recounts the applause and stage lights as the moment she knew she was meant to be on stage.

When she was 13, she was already acting on Broadway.

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At 16 years old, her family moved to Hollywood to continue finding her destiny. In her autobiography, she writes about how devastating it was to realize she could only land ‘ethnic’ roles. It’s all Hollywood saw in her, and she would try to cover up her olive skin with lightening powder. She was even raped by an agent when she was in her early teens.

Then, she landed the role of Anita in West Side Story.

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This was a huge milestone for her. Up until then, she was only playing stereotypical roles of the era.

She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story.

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Then she won a Golden Globe. Soon, she became the first Latino to become an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner).

Most people don’t know that her Emmy Award came from an appearance on The Muppet Show.

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At the time, she was only the third person ever to accomplish an EGOT. She won a Tony award for Best Featured Actress in The Ritz (1975).

Then, she pulled herself out of the game.

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Moreno told The Miami Herald that her Oscar gave her the courage to say “no” to the belittling roles she was offered. She thought she wouldn’t have to degrade her heritage again.

”Ha, ha. I showed them. I didn’t make another movie for seven years after winning the Oscar.”

The stereotypes for Latino roles back then aren’t too dissimilar to today.

@fon_lost / Twitter

She told The Miami Herald, “Before West Side Story I was always offered the stereotypical Latina roles. The Conchitas and Lolitas in westerns. I was always barefoot. It was humiliating, embarrassing stuff. But I did it because there was nothing else. After West Side Story, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of gang stories.”

Then, she met Marlon Brando on The Night of the Following Day (1968).

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Her return to film brought her straight into the arms of the “lust of her life,” Marlon Brando. They dated on and off for eight years.

Their relationship was rocky, to say the least. He cheated on her constantly.

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But the attraction was overwhelming for Moreno. According to the NY Post, she writes in her memoir, “Just meeting him that first day sent my body temperature skyrocketing as though I had been dropped into a very hot bath, and I went into a full-body blush.”

She even dated Elvis Presley as a way to make Brando jealous.

@Newscastpedia1 / Twitter

In her memoir, she writes, “Maybe Elvis was inhibited by inbred religious prohibitions or an Oedipal complex, or maybe he simply preferred the thrill of a denied release. Whatever put the brakes on the famous pelvis, it ground to a halt at a certain point and that was it.”

After seeing him devour a bacon and cheese sandwich and realizing he was more interested in the bocadillo than her, she never saw him again.

As if there weren’t enough men in her life, theater critic Kenneth Tynan stalked her as well.

@RememberThisPod / Twitter

In her memoir, she writes about how after she dated Presley, she went on a date with Tynan who suggested ‘spanking’. She literally fled after that happened and he took it upon himself to stalk her.

Moreno went back to Brando only to be forced to have an abortion and attempting suicide.

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Brando even arranged a friend to pick her up after the illegal procedure, which was botched. The fetus never left her body and she had to go to the hospital to have it surgically removed.

Moreno found his sleeping pills and took them all. She was saved by Brando’s assistant who rushed her to the hospital where her life was saved.

Later on, she met Lenny Gordon, a Jewish doctor who was set up on a blind date by a friend.

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Moreno told him to meet on their first date right after a Broadway show. He was confused, wondering if she was going alone, or if she was on another date. When he looked at the marquee, “Rita Moreno in ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window'” it finally clicked that she was the Rita Moreno.

They stayed together 45 years until Gordon died in 2010.

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Together, they had one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Fisher, who has two sons, Justin and Cameron Fisher. That said, she felt claustrophobic by his possessiveness. She only felt free after he died. “After all the years of supervision, I can do whatever I want. It was a very long time to be that unhappy,” she told The Daily Beast.

Since Gordon died, she’s making up for lost time.

Netflix

This is why we have her as our favorite abuelita. She’s hailed for her portrayal of your average Cuban abuela in One Day at a Time. She’s absolutely regal–always dressed to the nines, like the abuelas we all know.

Her work alongside Gina Rodriguez and Jaime Camil in Jane the Virgin is the highlight of the series.

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She’s working with people that name her as the biggest influence in their life growing up. Gina Rodriguez specifically shared her story of meeting Rita after asking her mom as a kid,

“Ma, when did Puerto Ricans come about?”

“What do you mean, Gina?”

“Well, I never see us on my favorite TV shows or movies. We must not have existed back then, right?”

And then her mom showed her Rita Moreno and Gina fell in love.

The 80-year-old icon has responded, essentially passing the inspo torch to Gina Rodriguez in this love letter.

@Netflix / Twitter

“In just a few years my dear, young Latinas will look up at their screens with hope in their eyes and say, “I want to be like Gina Rodriguez.” Come to think of it, I think they already do.”

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Rita Moreno has earned the highest civilian honor–the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Wikipedia Commons

Back in 2004, President George W. Bush honored her with the medal for her lifetime achievements to the arts. Moreno has won so much more in her life–the hearts of all of us, Boricuas y todos Latinos alike. Thank you for your service to us, your community, who will lift you up for many generations to come.

Oh, and her accent on TV projects? Fake. She speaks clear American English.

@HNMagazine / Twitter

She’s that good an actress. The woman got lessons early on in life, mi gente. She said she just tries to imitate her mom’s accent when she gets roles like Lydia’s on One Day at a Time. Her and Justina Machado looped their own Spanish-speaking voices in for the dubbed versions. Increíble. Te quiero, mi coquí favorita.


READ: From Rita Moreno To Becky G, Gloria Estefan’s Instagram Was Lit During The Kennedy Center Honors

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9 Films, Docs and Series About Latinas to Watch Before Women’s History Month Comes to an End

Fierce

9 Films, Docs and Series About Latinas to Watch Before Women’s History Month Comes to an End

Whether you want to celebrate Women’s History Month with a movie night or appreciate media about powerful mujeres year-round, you’re probably looking for a few films, documentaries or TV series to add to your streaming queue right now. Regrettably (and shamefully), most of the lists cropping on entertainment news sites don’t feature projects made for, by or about Latinas. With that in mind, we’ve put together some titles centering narratives about Latina trailblazers and heroines from Latin American and U.S. history. So clear your weekend cal and purchase all of your fave movie theater snacks, because you can watch (most of) these films, documentaries and series right from your computer screen.

1. Dolores

If you’re looking for documentaries about Latina heroines, start with Dolores, the 2017 film about the life and activism of Chicana labor union activist Dolores Huerta. The doc, executive produced by Carlos Santana and Benjamin Bratt, and directed by Bratt’s brother, Peter, delves into how the 90-year-old co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later named the United Farm Workers), her famous “Sí se puede” rallying cry and her role in the women’s rights movement. Including interviews with Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and more, Dolores celebrates the history and ongoing activism of one of the country’s most critical civil rights leaders. Watch Dolores on Amazon Prime.

2. Isabel: The Intimate Story Of Isabel Allende

Isabel: The Intimate Story Of Isabel Allende, a three-part docuseries about the famed Chilean author and feminist, is one of the most exciting new drops. The HBO Max series, directed by Rodrigo Bazaes, premiered on March 12, just in time for Women’s History Month. Like all good biopics, Isabel reveals the person behind the icon, portraying Allende’s path from a young woman fighting her way into a male-dominated industry to the most-read Spanish-language author of all time. As the niece of assassinated Chilean President Salvador Allende, the series also gets political, bringing light to her life under the regime of General Augusto Pinochet as well as her own feminist activism. Watch Isabel on HBO Max.

3. Knock Down the House

Knock Down the House portrays the political rise of a Latina icon in the making: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While the 2019 documentary by Rachel Lears revolves around the 2018 congressional primary campaigns of four progressive women, Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, the Puerto Rican now-congresswoman is the only one who wins her race (though Bush won in the next election cycle) and thus much of the film focuses on her story. A first-time candidate with a passion for social justice, a degree in international relations and economics, and a job in bartending, the doc shows how a regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx unseated one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress with a progressive platform and a focus on community. Watch Knock Down the House on Netflix.

4. Lorena: Light-Footed Woman

In 2017, María Lorena Ramírez’s name made international headlines when the young woman defeated 500 other runners from 12 different countries at the Ultra Trail Cerro Rojo in Puebla, Mexico. Ramírez didn’t just stand out because of her speed but also because she ran without professional gear. Instead, she donned the traditional clothes of the Tarahumara, Indigenous people in Chihuahua, Mexico, including a floral skirt and a pair of huaraches. Capturing the world’s attention, Ramírez became the focus of the 2019 documentary Lorena: Light-Footed Woman, which was directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo. The short doc beautifully tells the tale of a young woman’s athletic training in the mountains where she grew up to become a celebrated long-distance runner while staying true to her culture and traditions. Lorena: Light-Footed Woman is streaming on Netflix.

5. Berta Didn’t Die, She Multiplied!

In Honduras, the most dangerous country in the world for land defenders, Berta Cáceres’ life was taken because of her commitment to the environmental justice struggle. Back in the Central American country, Berta’s assassination hasn’t been forgotten and neither has her fight. The 2017 short doc Berta Didn’t Die, She Multiplied!, directed by Sam Vinal, shows how her work lives on among Indigenous Lenca and Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people of Honduras, who continue to struggle against capitalism, patriarchy, racism and homophobia, for our land and our water. Watch Berta Didn’t Die, She Multiplied! on Vimeo.

6. Celia

Celia reveals the story of one of the most powerful voices and greatest icons of Latin music, Afro-Cubana salsera Celia Cruz. The Spanish-language novela, produced by Fox Telecolombia for RCN Televisión and Telemundo, starts at the beginning, when Cruz was an aspiring singer in Havana, and takes viewers through to her time joining La Sonora Matancera, leaving her homeland with her would-be husband Pedro Knight and gaining massive superstardom as the “Queen of Salsa.” Watch Celia on AppleTV+.

7. Beauties of the Night

In the first half of the 20th century, showgirls dominated the entertainment scene in Latin America. Their glamorous looks and luxe performances were enjoyed by audiences of all ages and genders. But around the 1970s, as VHS pornos took off, these scantily clad talents started to lose work and, as a result, their lucrative incomes. Oftentimes, these women came from low-income backgrounds and didn’t have a formal education, forcing many of the vedettes to also feel like they’ve lost their sense of purpose and impelling some to take on work they didn’t feel good about in order to stay afloat in the industry. In Beauties of the Night, directed by María José Cuevas, we see some of Mexico and South America’s leading showgirls, Olga Breeskin, Lyn May, Rossy Mendoza, Wanda Seux and Princesa Yamal, and how their lives transformed as the work they were once famous for lost its reverence. Watch Beauties of the Night on Netflix.

8. Frida

The 2002 biographical drama film Frida shares the professional and private life of one of the most famous woman artists of all time, Frida Kahlo. Directed by Julie Taymor and starring Salma Hayek, the Academy Award-nominated film touches on many aspects of the late Mexican artist and feminist’s life, from her life-altering accident in 1922 and her tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera to her bisexual identity, political affiliations and, of course, her time-defying art and self portraits. Watch Frida on Amazon Prime.

9. Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It


With a career spanning 70 years, Rita Moreno is one of the most famous and beloved actresses of all time. The only Latina to have won all four major annual U.S. entertainment awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, her own life is certainly worthy of a film; and in 2021, director Mariem Pérez Riera gave the Puerto Rican star what she deserves with Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It. The documentary, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 29, 2021, features interviews with Moreno, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Normal Lear, Whoopi Goldberg and more. More than just a celebration of all the barriers Moreno broke, the film also delves into her personal life, including the racism she endured on her road to stardom, the sexual violence she experienced in Hollywood, her struggle with mental health and suicidal ideation and her fight for multidimensional roles for people of color. While Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It isn’t streaming yet, it is set to air on PBS’ American Masters later this year.

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9 Bios About Latinas Poderosas To Read This Women’s History Month

Fierce

9 Bios About Latinas Poderosas To Read This Women’s History Month

While we should be reading narratives by and about women year-round, March, which has been designated Women’s History Month in the United States since 1987, is an ideal time to start or double down. Through literary biographies, written by or about female change-makers and barrier-breakers, we can educate ourselves on the historic women who fought to bring about progress or the personal battles they overcame to live inspiring and purposeful lives. 

Considering the contributions of powerful Latinas have been minimized or erased from public consciousness, it’s no surprise that their narratives are also often missing from curated books lists. That’s why one of the best ways to celebrate women this month is by picking up and reading the tales of our trailblazing foremothers or the badasses who are shaking things up today. 

Here, peruse through a list of autobiographies and biographies about Latina powerhouses in politics, social justice and entertainment, and choose one (or more) to read this month. If you really want to be inspired, try to get through the entire list by the end of the year.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Published in 2014, nine years after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first-ever Latina to sit on the highest court of the land, My Beloved World is a memoir that recounts Sotomayor’s life from the housing projects in the Bronx, New York, to the federal bench. The bestseller reveals the groundbreaking Puerto Rican’s challenging upbringing, including an alcoholic father and her personal struggle with juvenile diabetes, and how she envisioned a different life for herself through entertainment role models that allowed her dream up a career in law.

Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood’s “Mexican Spitfire” by Michelle Vogel

McFarland and Company

Old Hollywood actress Lupe Velez lived a life that the press loved to gossip about. Not only was the Mexican talent cast for sexy and fierce-tempered roles, spawning the nickname “The Mexican Spitfire,” but the myths about her life beyond the cameras also spurred rumors and scandal. Ugly fables about her death in 1944 left the trailblazing Latina actress with a notorious legacy. But in Michelle Vogel’s 2012 biography of Vélez, she finally puts damaging untruths to rest and tells the honest tale of the life and career of one of the most important Latinx figures in entertainment. 

Becoming Julia de Burgos: The Making of a Puerto Rican Icon by Vanessa Perez Rosario

University of Illinois Press

Few poets have captured a nation, symbolized an era and bloomed into a cultural icon like Julia de Burgos. The Afro-Puerto Rican writer, who spoke in poetry and prose about her homeland’s colonial status, her relationship with land, her experience of migration and her plight as a woman of color, impacted culture and politics both in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. In this first full-length English-language biography of de Burgos, Perez examines the late writer’s life as a poet and a political activist and bridges her contribution to nationalist literature as well as Nuyorican art and culture. 

Azucar! The New Biography of Celia Cruz by Eduardo Marceles

Reed Press

If you’ve already watched Celia, the 80-part novela about the Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz, and are looking to dive deeper into the life of the late Cuban icon, you’ll want to devour Eduardo Marceles’ Azucar! the Celia Cruz Biography. Like the series, the book delves into Cruz’s life as a political exile and a successful singer but includes unpublished personal interviews and conversations between the talent and the author, including bits about her popular relationship with Pedro Knight, her sometimes overlooked humanitarian work and her fatal illness.

To Selena, With Love by Chris Perez

Penguin Publishing Group

The gifts, story and beauty of Selena Quintanilla has captivated audiences young and old for three decades. But even those who have watched the 1997 classic film hundreds of times, know her songs by heart and have participated in online fandom communities will learn a lot about the late Queen of Tejano by reading To Selena, with Love, a memoir written by her widower Chris Perez. In the book, published in 2013, Perez shares intimate details about the superstar and their relationship, including how it grew from friendship to forbidden romance to a lovely marriage that ended too soon.

Maria Montez: Su Vida by Margarita Vicens de Morales

Cayena Press

If you’re looking for an illuminating Spanish-language read about a Latina icon who doesn’t get the respect she deserves, you need – like have to! – pick up Margarita Vicens de Morales’ Maria Montez: Su Vida. The book, published in 2004, reveals the story of Maria Montez, the Dominican Old Hollywood actress who was hailed “The Queen of Technicolor,” detailing the superstar’s rise to fame, the times her life mirrored the roles she played, her relationships and motherhood as well as her early and sudden death. 

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero and Michelle Burford

Henry Holt and Co.

While most of the biographies and memoirs on this list so far have centered on rise-to-fame stories, Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love: My Family Divided focuses primarily on how our country’s broken immigration system tore her family apart in her youth. In the book, published in 2016, the Colombian-American actress shares how her parents were detained and deported when she was just 14 years and how she was forced to live with family friends in order to continue her education in the United States and build her career. In sharing her nightmare-turned-to-life story, Guerrero highlights a fear and struggle of millions of undocumented people living in the country.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

Andy Cohen Books

A global icon and one of the most talented artists of all time, Mariah Carey’s personal life, much like her reserve of chart-topping songs and albums, has been dissected in the press for decades. But with 2020’s The Meaning of Mariah Carey, a memoir the Venezuelan-American megastar co-authored with Michaela Angela Davis, she is speaking her truth in her own words. The book shares the “triumphs and traumas” as well as the “dreams and debacles” that helped form Mariah Carey, the person and the artist in the spotlight, touching on childhood trauma, racism, songs, relationships, motherhood and more.

Rita Moreno: A Memoir by Rita Moreno

Celebra


Before Rita Moreno became everyone’s favorite actress, the Hollywood legend was a simple Puerto Rican girl who, like many in the 1930s, was making her way from the archipelago to the Bronx, New York, with her family for greater opportunity. In Rita Moreno: A Memoir, the now 89-year-old shares how music and performance helped her cope with her tumultuous childhood and how her talent brought her to Broadway, then Hollywood and, of course, to becoming the only Latinx talent to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys. Throughout it all, Moreno is frank about the racialized sexism she experienced in the entertainment industry, the passionate romances that injured and supported her, and creating an equally dazzling life and career.

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