Rita Moreno is the first and only Latino woman to E.G.O.T. — i.e. to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony — however, the road to that highly sought after achievement wasn’t without its struggles. Along the way, she had fight through a rigid Hollywood system that refused to see her as more than one thing.
In the above video from TIME’s Firsts series, Moreno looks back on her amazing career in show business and opens up about being typecast as the “native girl” early in her a career. At the time, she says, she was very passive and didn’t fight against having to always speak in an accent, but deep down, she knew something was wrong with the roles she would book: the “native girls” in movies never had education and were “way too sexy.”
“It’s something that you don’t readily see for what it is. You just get this bad feeling about yourself, and that’s when you really helpless,” says the Puerto Rican actress. “You see a script and you say, ‘Oh, I can play the heck out of that,’ talk to your agent and he says they don’t want to see you. That’s heartbreaking.”
But, then West Side Story came along and the role of Anita changed her life. “Anita had size and presence and dignity, and she became my role model, by the way. Isn’t that interesting? It took that long for me to find a role model,” says the One Day at Time star, adding that she has to remind herself that all of the awards she’s won don’t define her worth. “It just makes me a lucky person that one time in that year.”
Watch the moving video above.