LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!: Legendary actress Rita Morena gets candid about her legacy, and what being a native Puerto Rican means in the context of her established career.
Photos: Austin Hargrave


Off the set, Moreno is a devoted mother and grandmother. She says it’s the best role she’s ever had; she calls her daughter Fernanda, “my shining light, my heart.”

In her illustrious career, which spans over 70 years, Moreno has won Emmys, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award. She is one of twelve artists to have ever won all four of those major entertainment awards.

Moreno was the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar. In 1962, she earned the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story.” That movie also earned her a Golden Globe.

“We are a nation of immigrants... It is our country – everybody.”

“It’s really pretty thrilling. Whenever I talk about it, like I am right now, I get very moved because I became the chosen one,” she says, noting Hispanics were impressed to see an emotional, successful movie representing their community.

It’s been over 50 years but “West Side Story” is still getting attention, especially among Hispanics. “A lot of young Latino actors and actresses were absolutely thrilled because the really thought, ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’ I hear this all the time,” says Moreno. Many young Latinos still recognize her as Anita.

Family, fun and food

“The older I get, the more Puerto Rican I feel,” she says. “I love my culture from my country. We are a very joyful people.

Growing up in New York City, Moreno has always been in touch with her Puerto Rican roots. “We love to have fun and enjoy ourselves. We love our music. We love what we are. We appreciate what we are.”

Family is very important to Moreno; she also loves cooking, especially Puerto Rican and Cuban food. Her go-to dish is rice and beans with sweet plantains.

Encouraging diversity

Moreno is impressed by cultural changes and increasing diverse representation in the industry, such as the success of the film “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Still, it’s not enough.

LONG WAY TO GO: “The older I get, the more Puerto Rican I feel,” Moreno says. Music, food and fun are a staple in Puerto Rican culture, something she still feels is underrepresented in America, onscreen and off.


“I think we are vastly underrepresented, I’m really dismayed by that,” she says. “We still have a way to go.”

The actress has been speaking out politically too, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and how leaders handled the natural disaster that devastated 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,” says Moreno. She has partnered with People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization, and is a part of their Latinos Vote! “Hurricane of Change” campaign. It focuses on empowering Puerto Rican voters to vote and hold elected officials accountable.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” says Moreno. “It is our country – everybody.”