Here's How Rita Moreno's 'Sweatshop Seamstress' Mother Inspired Her Decades of Career Success
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Achieving "EGOT" status -- that is, winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony -- is impressive enough. In fact, only 15 people in history have ever achieved the honor. This past weekend at the 78th Annual Peabody Awards, however, Rita Moreno did them one better.
The screen legend was honored with the Peabody Career Achievement Award, making her, along with Barbra Streisand and film director Mike Nichols, one of only three PEGOTs ever. Best know for her Oscar-winning role as Anita in West Side Story, Moreno won Emmys for The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, a Grammy for The Electric Company album and a Tony for her role in The Ritz. Never one to slow down, she also achieved critical acclaim with her recent appearance on Netflix’s One Day at a Time.
At the ceremony, which was presented by Mercedes-Benz and took place at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, Moreno gave a heartfelt speech in which she revealed the true secret of her many decades of success: her mother. She spoke about the challenge of breaking down barriers in the entertainment industry after moving from Puerto Rico to New York City at the age of five with the "sweatshop seamstress" who "knew the prick of every pin." "My fame is her fame," she said.
Here's the text of Moreno's full speech from New York Magazine, in which she explains how her mother not only inspired her to achieve, but laid the groundwork for that success by sacrificing so much herself.
I have never missed my mother so much. I’m very honored to accept this career achievement from such an esteemed organization. I didn’t expect this. I am keenly aware of the high value that the Peabody places on storytelling, and I am so humbled that you consider the story of my life and career worthy. Like most, my story is predicated on another story. And that story was my mommy’s, who, when I was 5 years old, set out from Puerto Rico for New York to find a better life for us. Every single day of my childhood, my mommy, Rosa Maria, walked me to school then climbed the bus that carried her from 181st St.-Wadsworth Ave. to 42nd St. and Fifth Ave., the heart of the Garment District, where every day she pumped the treadle, wound the bobbins, chocked the hems.
That was my mommy, the sweatshop seamstress. It was backbreaking work. She knew the prick of every pin. But it was a job. And it paid the rent. And we just barely got by. She made my clothes. She made my costumes. I was her little “coquí.” She put ribbons in my hair. This was her art. My mommy’s art. So that I could perform at every bar mitzvah or wedding reception that would book an 8-year-old artist. She even made me a headdress with fruit stitched on top that made me look just like a miniature Carmen Miranda. My mommy, the sweatshop seamstress. No, no. My mommy, the artist. It gave her joy. It made her proud. My mommy, costume designer to a star. The Rita Moreno. Before I ever was. My fame is her fame. Therefore, this beautiful, precious honor is also in her honor. Thank you.