Rita Moreno: Latina Legend

Rita Moreno in West Side Story

Via Diablo Magazine

Rita Moreno in West Side Story

The 1960s, a time known all too well for its societal breakthroughs and barriers. When the opportunity to see an acting legend from this period arose, a collective of John Adams students clamoured to see the famed Rita Moreno. “In 2018, when I heard Rita Moreno was coming to speak at Notre Dame, I knew I had to get my students involved and listen to this incredible actress who has made history” said Adams Spanish teacher Cecilia Stanton-Verduzco. The “West Side Story” star and political activist has had a 70 year long career, winning all four academy awards, now nicknamed as an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). The 87-year-old actress is currently performing as “Lydia” on “One Day at a Time.” Moreno keyed the audience in on her various works, detailing her projects from the past, present, as well the future. The discussion was hosted by Professor Jason Ruiz on February 21, 2019, who came prepared with questions from both himself and the audience. The next hour and a half proved to be more than exceptional for the audience in attendance.

Rosita “Rita” Moreno described her upbringing as a young Puerto Rican actress in New York, she discussed the many roles she had the displeasure of portraying, and how she worked hard to defy the Latina stereotype in the early 1950s. Many of the parts she had gotten had pertained to the stereotypical native, who later falls in love with a white man, or the scandalous latina who only serves as an objective piece for the main character. Moreno told the audience that she was tired of the racial and stereotypical monotony that had long plagued Hollywood and her early career. Then came “West Side Story”, and it changed cinema history.

“West Side Story” was the metropolitan, musically driven twist on the classic “Romeo and Juliet” storyline co-directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. The story follows a the clash between two gangs, the Jets and Sharks. Each gang is distinguished by a prominent cultural influence. The Jets are primarily white, while the Sharks are primarily Puerto Rican. Rita Moreno portrayed “Anita”, the best friend of Maria (the juliet archetype) and the wife of Bernardo (leader of the Sharks). She [Anita] was the maverick role that Moreno was looking for, a strong female character who can push her own weight. The choreography alone is worth the two hour and 33 minute runtime, but overall I would give “West Side Story” a 9/10.

When asked if they viewed Rita Moreno as a role model, sisters Andrea and Kasia Hochwald, both of which are Puerto Rican, replied “Absolutely. Especially because she’s female and she opened the doors in the 50s and 60s, she’s inspirational for everyone”. Moreno is currently set to produce the “West Side Story” remake, with Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort leading as Maria and Tony, and is set to begin production later this year.