Actress opens up about her struggles as Latina in entertainment

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Actress Rita Moreno shares memories during the SAC’s Fiesta Brunch April 24 about her meeting children in the streets who were fans of a 70’s educational children’s television show she was in, “The Electric Company,” at the Pearl Stable. Moreno shares how one young girl was confuse of why Moreno was walking around and not inside the television screen. Brianna RodrigueThe annual SAC Fiesta Brunch helps grow fund for students in need.

By Jackie Muralles

The star of Netlfix’s remake of “One Day at a Time” strutted onto the Pearl Stable stage April 24 in an all-white pant suit to the applause of some 320 people.

The actress with a 74-year career in stage, film and television had been introduced by motivational speaker, author and alumnus Roy Juarez Jr. and cued by this college’s mariachi group, Estrellas del Alamo.

The crowd had gathered despite thunder and rain for the second annual SAC Fiesta Brunch fundraiser.

“Wow, I deserve it,” Rita Moreno joked.

The acclaimed actress, 87, was the first Latina and one of only 15 people to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

“My dream was to become a movie star, and it wasn’t happening,” Moreno began as she gave highlights of her long career. “I was endlessly going from theatrical agency to theatrical agency leaving my two-sentence résumé and composite 8-by-10 photo, and by 15, I was actually my own PR firm.”

Actress Rita Moreno tells Stephanie Guerra, founder of the Puro Pinche blog, about how she didn’t like growing up in New York as a young Latina girl because of the names she was called for her race April 24 in the Gold Room of Hotel Emma. Brianna Rodrigue

Moreno described ways this experience drove her to secretarial school for all of two days before quitting to pursue her dream.

She compared this to the way her mother had quit her life in Puerto Rico to bring 5-year-old Moreno, born Rosita Dolores Alverio, to New York and pursue the American dream.

Moreno described her mother’s work as a seamstress.

Every costume and piece of clothing of her childhood was stitched by her mom. She described her mother as “costume designer to a star, the Rita Moreno, before I ever was.”

“But oh, how she could embarrass me,” Moreno said about her mother’s strong accent.

She explained how words like beach, pete’s sake, and sheets turned into English curse words through her mother’s accent.

Every word drew laughter from the crowd.

“How could I have known it would prepare me to play a wonderful character — Lydia, the Cuban grandmother on the Netflix remake of Norman Lear’s ‘One Day at a Time,’” Moreno said.

She stressed that while the show was canceled after its third season, fans should voice their support through social media, a move that had saved the show in the prior season.

Actress Rita Moreno stares at a man and ask why he is busy on his phone and not paying attention to her speak April 24 during the SAC’s Fiesta Brunch at the Pearl Stable. Moreno was the special guest speaker of the Fiesta Brunch that was hosted by The Multicultural Conference. About 300 people attended the event. Brianna Rodrigue

“They canceled that, but they can’t cancel me,” Moreno said.

She detailed how she was discovered as a teenager and signed to a seven-year contract for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, where she was cast for ethnic roles.

Her struggles continued as she encountered racism, sexual harassment and assault.

“I didn’t like being a Latina for many, many years,” Moreno said in an interview before her performance. “As a child when I first came to this country, all the things I heard were ‘spic’ and ‘garlic mouth.’”

She said this led her to therapy to find out why she felt unworthy, and it still sneaks up on her.

“I think the resiliency and perseverance comes from being a Latina,” Moreno said. “Don’t let anybody tell you how to run your life, unless you’re stupid.”

Moreno said most of the struggles in her life set her up for her biggest successes.

She said playing Anita in “West Side Story” gave her the strength to put her energy into things that mattered.

She later marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and heard him deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.

She finished her speech with a song written by Gordon Jenkins, “This is All I Ask.”

President Robert Vela closes SAC’s Fiesta Brunch event by thanking the sponsors and guests for attending the brunch and their donations April 24 at the Pearl Stable. All the proceeds went to the president’s fund that will be scholarship money for SAC students. Brianna Rodrigue

President Robert Vela ended the event with a short video about the needs of students at this college.

“At the end of the day, those students are going to stay in this beautiful city and contribute like you have never contributed before,” Vela said.

The event raised money for the president’s unrestricted fund with individual tickets that cost $125 and donor packages ranging from $1,000 TO $5,000.

Some packages included meeting Moreno after the event.

The fund received 100 percent of the money raised from the event, which will be used to help students.

The total amount raised has yet to be tallied because donations are still rolling in from people who attended the event as guests, said project facilitator Dinorah Alcoser, who was also the co-chair of the event, in an interview May 3.

She said students in need should reach out to the student advocacy center and the empowerment center.

The centers may then contact the president’s office to tap into the president’s fund, Alcoser said.


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