Rita Moreno Speaks On Immigrant Experience, ‘West Side Story’ On AARP

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Famed Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno has covered the latest issue of AARP magazine, where she got very candid about the immigrant experience in the U.S. coupled with her beliefs of it being a country of dreamers.

The 86-year-old remembers the vast differences she experienced when she first came to New York City from her native Puerto Rico. “The culture shock is still etched in my 86-year-old mind. The language, the snow – I had never seen snow – the racism, even among children, the name-calling,” she said. “Suddenly, I was ‘different!’ I had never been different.”

Nonetheless, despite that great sense of otherness she felt, Moreno still prevailed. In 1961, she starred on West Side Story as Anita, and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role. With accomplishing this major feat, she became the first Latina actress to win the accolade.

After the significant victory, Moreno received a lot of support from her community—specially those living in Spanish Harlem. “It was very hot so all the windows were open; you could hear the televisions from every apartment in the area,” she said about the ambiance in the neighborhood the night of the Oscars. “She said (referring to comedian Liz Torres) that when my name was read as a nominee, there was silence, and when I was announced as the winner, everybody started yelling out the window, ‘Se la comió, my God—she made it. She did it.’ You know, what I think they were really saying is, ‘We did it.'”

Moreno’s accomplishments probably exceeded her wildest expectations, and she became one out of 12 people to earn an EGOT (Emmys, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).

Amid her ability to break barriers for the Latino community, she still affirms Hollywood needs to do a better job at being inclusive: “We are vastly underrepresented. Not only us; when was the last time you saw an Asian in a major role?” she said. “I’m grateful for the example of the black community, who’ve learned to better navigate the system and make it more inclusive.”

Yet she still has hope that the U.S. will keep its legacy of being a country of dreamers and immigrants. “The United States is still a land for dreamers,” she said. “I pray it will always welcome people from all over the world and that our diversity will increase. More spice in the stew!”