Rita Moreno, 86, a Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer, was brought to the United States from Puerto Rico by her mother when she was only 5-years-old. Little did she know at the time that her new life in America would include a successful acting career that would span over six decades.

But her time here wasn’t always easy.

Moreno explains, “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. Suddenly, I was ‘different!’ I had never been different. It was sink or swim, build character or give up. Thankfully, I had the model of my mommy’s grit.  Never give in, never quit, keep on moving. That was my mom, and that’s me.”

And Moreno’s self-proclaimed grit and determination certainly paid off. She landed the role of Anita in the 1961 film version of West Side Story – and her life was forever changed.

While landing that role certainly cast Moreno into stardom and marked the beginning of a fruitful career in Hollywood, it marked more than just success for the actress – it solidified her idea that America was an “incubator for dreamers” and place where the American dream could become a reality.

The Time of Her Life

After winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story, Moreno found herself typecast into the role of “Spanish spitfire,” something that she was not pleased about – nor willing to accept. Standing by her promise to never take on another “dusky maiden role” like Anita, Moreno found herself out of work for nearly seven years.

It was a harsh reality.

But, by summoning the fierce grit that her mother had instilled in her, Moreno went on to build a successful and fulfilling career that is still going strong today. She has accepted the fact that she can’t single-handedly change the narrow mindset that Hollywood has regarding Latinos, but she can do her part and live her life to the fullest as a proud Latino living in America – a country that she is proud to call home.

Moreno’s outlook on life and perspective on getting older is nothing short of inspiring, “I’m so ridiculously happy, it’s disgusting. I wake up humming. I’m so spoiled; I expect wonderful things to happen. That’s my outlook, and it’s a good one. It seems odd — it’s as though I’ve needed to get older to have more success.”

Maybe it’s her never-ending positive attitude, her expectation for wonderful things to happen, or the hardships that she has overcome, but it certainly seems that Rita Moreno has found the secret for living her best life ever.

Check out Rita on the Netflix series reboot of Norman Lear’s original, One Day at a Time or pick up her new book, Rita Moreno: A Memoir.

Have you ever seen anything that Rita Moreno has acted in or written? What is your secret for waking up happy and living your best life? Join the conversation below!

Photo: JEFF LIPSKY (Source AARP)

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