SAN JUAN – Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno said on Friday that being on hand for Martin Luther King’s immortal “I have a dream” speech meant more to her than winning an Oscar for her role in the movie “West Side Story.”
“It was the experience of a lifetime. It’s impossible to describe that moment,” she said during her participation in the third edition of “Animus,” an innovation platform designed to enrich the personal and professional development of Puerto Rico’s female entrepreneurs.
After taking part in the event, the 85-year-old artist told journalists that the experience of being present to watch Martin Luther King give his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in 1963 – two years after winning her only Oscar – was greater than receiving Hollywood’s top honor because it was a moment of “soul and character.”
“The prize is for playing a role. And though I don’t want to belittle its importance, what’s more important to me is how one lives,” said Moreno, born in Humaco on the east coast of Puerto Rico.
She said that August 28, 1963, in the American capital “was a hot day, I was burning up,” but remembered the “thousands of people of every color as the most beautiful thing in the world.”
“That day I became an activist,” said the first Latino woman to win an Oscar and a star of the Netflix series “One Day at a Time.”
It was for her role as Anita that Moreno won her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Moreno also won two Emmys, a Grammy and a Tony.
When Moreno was 5-years-old, she moved with her mother to New York, where the actress remembers her first years being “so sad” because of the prejudice she suffered as a Latino girl when some Anglos would yell the word “spick” at her, a disparaging racial term in the US referring to Hispanics.
“My mom taught me perseverance. She had three jobs. What I learned from her was that when you fall down, you pick yourself up again, and to believe in yourself and let nobody tell you how you should be. You just keep going,” said Moreno, who had an eight-year affaire with Marlon Brando, and also dated Elvis Presley.