Who is Rita?

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    Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    Rita Moreno in 1963, already a star, ready to prove her finesse and defy the roles assigned to Latina actresses of her time.

    The life of Hollywood legend Rita Moreno has been filled both with joyful and hard times. She is a great example of a minority woman who has faced racial, gender and economic challenges and succeeded. Moreno will share her life philosophy and experiences with graduating students at the NEIU Commencement at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on May 11.

    Saira Khan, a graduate student majoring in political science said she is excited to see Rita Moreno at the Commencement. “She is an example to several students, especially women. She is a remarkable actress that has worked hard in all her endeavors.”

    But who is Rita Moreno?

    Moreno wrote in her autobiography, “This Puerto Rican girl was living the quintessential American dream.” But to live this dream, she had to work very hard throughout her life. She was five years old when she moved to New York, where she first started dance classes. At the age of 13, she got her first role on Broadway, where she was immediately spotted by a talent scout and started her Hollywood adventure.

    Moreno’s career gained momentum after her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), a modern musical inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In the 1970s, she joined the children’s television program “The Electric Company.” She was also known from her work in Broadway’s “The Ritz” and from the television drama series “The Rockford Files.”

    These productions have brought Moreno the most prestigious awards of the entertainment industry: the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (the EGOT awards). She was the first Latin person to win all four awards, which she achieved in 1977. She has also performed in Chicago theatrical productions and she treceived the Sarah Siddons Society Award for an outstanding performance and the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Chicago Theatre Actress.

    Nevertheless, not all graduates know who Rita Moreno is. “I hadn’t heard about her before the announcement, but she seems very interesting,” said Ben Anderson, a graduate student from interdisciplinary studies.

    Joanna Nowacka, a graduate student from political science, was also not familiar with Moreno’s work. “Well, Rita Moreno is a star of past decades. I guess that the younger generation of students just simply did not have a chance to see her on the screen and that is why they do not recognize her,” she said.

    Regardless of whether they are familiar with Moreno’s work, the graduating students are curious as to what message she will relay to them during Commencement. “I would wish for her to speak about the experience she has had in the acting world and if she can give us helpful tips since she is so successful,” Khan said.

    Joanna Nowacka is also looking forward to see and listen to Moreno, but she has some doubts about the financial side of this event.

    “It is not a secret that these kinds of speeches are not voluntary activities. NEIU might stand very soon in front of serious financial problems due to cutting of budget appropriations,” Nowacka said. As a resolution, she suggested that we should rely more on our own alumni: “I believe there are plenty of them who succeeded and would be great speakers,” she said.

    Moreno seems to “fit well to the multicultural environment of the university,” Nowacka said. Hopefully, graduating students, whether they know of Moreno or not, will appreciate her participation in this special day and receive some inspiration for their future lives and careers.