As Hispanic Heritage Month moves toward its final week, there is one thing we must acknowledge: the arts matter. As we navigate a tumultuous 2020, what arguably has gotten a lot of us through each day is the television we watch or the music we listen to. Maybe you’re most soothed by an intriguing book or the sight of your favorite painting. In our learning more about important Hispanic figures, we take a look at the arts and entertainment industry. And don’t forget: download your own worksheet here!
When you think of Rita Moreno, depending on your age, you probably think of “West Side Story” or the “One Day at a Time” reboot. She is, after all, a pretty important part of these productions (to say the least). However, Moreno’s legacy doesn’t stop at playing iconic roles. In 1962, for her role as Anita, she became the first Latina to win an Oscar. What’s more, she is one of only 15 people to ever earn EGOT status. Moreno grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico until age 5 when she and her mother moved to New York City. Over her career, she has used her star power to fight against typecasting and fair representation of Latinos. Even during the production of “West Side Story,” Moreno had to put her foot down about disrespectful original lyrics in the song “America.” Makeup artists made her skin darker and she had concerns about the accent she put on. This life-changing role almost led Moreno to quit acting, but instead it launched her into stardom. Other career milestones include receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Desi Arnaz’ biggest success was the hit sitcom “I Love Lucy,” a show uplifted by his chemistry with real-life wife and comedic icon Lucille Ball. The show paved the way for opening up on television about personal and taboo issues, like pregnancy and marriage. The couple had full ownership of the show under Desilu Production, of which he sold his share after their divorce. An innovative producer, Arnaz coordinated the first sitcom filmed in front of a live audience, pioneering the 3-camera setup. Even before establishing himself in Hollywood, Arnaz was making change. Prior to his first role on Broadway, Arnaz was a musician. In Miami, he brought the conga line to American audiences, an ode to his heritage as a Cuban immigrant.
“It’s important to validate the culture you want to see around you,” Alice Bag said to a Boston audience in 2012. Bag was part of the Los Angeles punk scene that exploded in the 1970s. She sang for the Bags, who were featured in the groundbreaking documentary “The Decline of Western Civilization.” Punk was a way for Bag to release her anger and though they were a staple of the L.A. scene, the Bags only ever released one single. Born in Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Bag was one of the first Chicana artists in punk rock. Her given name was actually Alicia Armendariz, but she started going by Alice when her elementary school teacher couldn’t pronounce her name (“Bag” came from the band). Besides music, Bag has worked as a teacher at bilingual schools in L.A. and Nicaragua. She put out two books, most notably “Violence Girl,” which dives into the different dichotomies that defined her life. Over her career, Bag has been part of numerous bands and released two critically acclaimed solo albums.
If you’ve heard “Basquiat” uttered as of late, there’s a good chance it was in affiliation with a hypebeast or luxury brand. Maybe it was a reference in a hip hop song. The fascination with Jean-Michel Basquiat is well due. The trailblazing artist, born in Brooklyn to a Haitian-American father and Puerto Rican mother, was the first Black international art star. Despite his affiliations with Andy Warhol, Larry Gagosian and Madonna, Basquiat earned his legend status all on his own. He first caused buzz for his graffiti art around New York City in the ‘70s, using his famous “SAMO” tag. Basquiat and a friend would tag subways and Manhattan buildings. Amid the rise of neo-expressionism, Basquiat saw art world success in the ‘80s for his work that blended symbols, animals, stick figures and words. He is probably most known for his crown motif, which symbolized the celebration of Black people as royalty or saints.
Activist and actor Indya Moore is part of the cast of “Pose,” a show unprecedented in its representation of trans women. Moore, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns, was born in the Bronx to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father. She entered foster care at age 14 and spent the rest of her adolescent life dealing with things like housing insecurity and trouble accessing hormones. She later developed a following on Instagram, booked modeling gigs and was part of her local ballroom scene, which eventually led her to “Pose.” Moore now uses her platform to fundraise donations that support trans people and highlights systemic racial injustice.