Rita Moreno, legend of stage and screen, to discuss her career and issues facing Latinos in entertainment

Author: Institute for Latino Studies

Moreno R Photo High Res Alt Headshot 2017

Rita Moreno will speak at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Leighton Concert Hall  at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The is a free but ticketed event and is open to the public. Tickets can be reserved through the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center or by calling the ticket office at 574-631-2800.


Moreno — an American actress, dancer and singer of Puerto Rican descent — is the first and only Latina to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (EGOT), and she will be the special guest of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies next month as part of its Transformative Latino Leadership Lecture Series.


Her career has spanned more than 70 years in Broadway shows, studio films, and multiple TV series with her best known being Anita in “West Side Story” — a performance that earned her the Academy Award for best supporting actress — and “The King and I,” as well as “The Electric Company” and “Oz.” Moreno currently stars in the Netflix series “One Day at a Time.” The critically acclaimed reimagination of the classic CBS sitcom features Moreno as the matriarch of a Cuban-American family, and episodes that frequently tackle major issues like mental illness, immigration, sexism, homophobia, and racism.  


“Rita Moreno is among the best examples of the rich cultural contributions made by Latinas to many aspects of the arts and entertainment industries,” said ILS Director Luis R. Fraga, the Rev. Donald P. McNeill, C.S.C., Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership and the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science. “We will all learn from her commitment, professionalism, and unquestioned success.”


The Transformative Latino Leadership Lecture Series brings prominent figures in law, entertainment, business, the Catholic Church and other fields to campus in order to impart their personal experiences and a vision of effective leadership. Past guests include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; former San Antonio mayor and U.S. secretary of health and human services Julián Castro; the Most Rev. Jose H. Gómez, archbishop of Los Angeles; and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.  


Jason Ruiz, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of American Studies and an ILS faculty fellow, has led the effort to bring Moreno here as part of his research and teaching on Latinx popular culture. He will moderate a conversation with Moreno in a fireside-chat format. They will discuss her life and career, with a focus on the cultural politics of representing Latinos. 


“Our conversation will show that Ms. Moreno is not just a practitioner of the arts but also a leading thinker on Latino and Latina media, demonstrated by her propensity for speaking out against stereotyping, ‘brownface’ and other problems associated with Hollywood’s representations of Latinos,” Ruiz said. “This event is the result of my interest in Ms. Moreno’s career that started when I first saw West Side Story at age ten.”


In anticipation of her visit, ILS is co-sponsoring a screening of “West Side Story” at 3 p.m. Feb. 17 in the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. This is a free but ticketed event and is open to the public. Tickets can be reserved through the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center


Moreno’s rise to stardom was not easy. She traveled to New York City with her mother at age 5, leaving her brother behind with the hopes he would later join them, but he never did. Her career began at age 11 dubbing Spanish language versions of American films. After her Broadway debut at age 14, Moreno struggled with typecasting — being offered only “exotic” roles or those portraying a sexualized woman. 


Over the next several decades, Moreno grew to know and respect herself as an artist and become the role model she did not have growing up in the entertainment industry. She has become an outspoken expert on Latino issues in film, television, and theatre and has worked for decades as an advocate for fairer representations of Latinos and Latinas on stage and screen.


A 2004 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon an American civilian, and a 2010 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, Moreno has also received the Here I Stand Award for activism in the arts.



The Institute for Latino Studies (ILS) advances understanding of the fastest-growing and youngest population in the United States and the U.S. Catholic Church. ILS strengthens Notre Dame’s mission to prepare transformative leaders in all sectors of society. 


Co-sponsors of Moreno’s visit include the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, Multicultural Student Programs and Services, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Department of American Studies, Department of Film Television and Theatre, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, and the José E. Fernández Hispanic Caribbean Initiative Fund.



Originally published at latinostudies.nd.edu.