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The Rich and Fascinating History of Puerto Ricans on Broadway

United Artists

Puerto Ricans have influenced New York culture for years, and their footprint is nowhere more prominent than it is on the Broadway stage. Although Puerto Ricans officially became US citizens in 1917 with the passage of the Jones-Shrofth Act, the “Great Migration” from PR to NYC truly started in the 1950s with the advent of commercial airline travel. After this initial influx of migrants, the Puerto Rican population of New York City skyrocketed to 12% of the city’s total population.

Naturally, with the sudden and stark change in demographics, New York City’s culture experienced a change too. This change was never more apparent than in the rise of the “Nuyorican” movement, a class of performers, artists and writers who embraced both the American and Puerto-Rican sides to their identity. Like many of the newcomers to New York City before them, on Broadway, Puerto Rican performers revealed themselves as forces to be reckoned with. It is there, on the Great White Way, that this group of actors proved to America that Latinos have as much talent as their white counterparts.

1. Chita Rivera

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Chita Rivera is arguably the most successful Latina–let alone, Puerto-Rican–to ever grace a Broadway stage. This seven-time Tony-nominated, two-time Tony-winner began her Broadway career in the musical “Call Me Madam” in 1951. However, it was her performance originating Anita in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story” that cemented her status as a Broadway icon. She has since appeared in almost 40 productions on stage, received the Kennedy Center Award in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

2. Rita Moreno

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No introduction is necessary for the ultra-talented, legendary actress of stage and screen Rita Moreno. Although Moreno is probably best-known for her work as Anita in the film adaptation of “West Side Story”, she also has a successful career in theater. In 1975, she earned a Tony Award for her portrayal of Googie Gomez in the stage play, “The Ritz”. She truly is a living legend. She, too, has been awarded a Kennedy Center Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

3. Raúl Juliá

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Best known for playing Gomez in the “The Addams Family” films, Juliá was actually a very well-respected stage actor nominated for multiple Tony Awards before he made the leap to the Silver Screen. He started acting career appearing in plays in Puerto Rico, but soon moved to New York City to try his hand at Broadway. He quickly found success as a celebrated Shakesperian actor, appearing in plays such as “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “King Lear”, “As You Like It”, and “The Taming of the Shrew”.

4. Diosa Costello

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Puerto-Rican born actress Diosa Costello is notable for being the first ever Latina to star in a Broadway play, the 1939 musical “Too Many Girls” with Cubano Desi Arnaz. Dubbed “The Latin Bombshell” (how original) by the press, Costello never received super-stardom because she was “reluctant” to take her career to Hollywood.

5. Olga San Juan

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For her incredible work in 1951’s “Paint Your Wagon”, Olga San Juan was the first ever Latina to receive the prestigious Donaldson Award, an award given by the New York theater community for excellence on stage. San Juan even experienced minor mainstream success in hit Hollywood films such as “Blue Skies” and “Variety Girl”.

6. José Ferrer

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Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer was renowned for his portrayal of the famous unlucky-in-love character Cyrano de Bergerac. In fact, Ferrer won a Tony Award in 1947 for his critically-acclaimed performance.

7. Míriam Colón

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Míriam Colón was part of the groundbreaking class of “Method” actors that rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s. Colón became the first Puerto Rican actor accepted into the Actors Studio after she impressed co-founded and visionary Elia Kazan with her audition. Later, she acted as founder and director of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City that still exists today.

8. Lin Manuel Miranda

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Of course, we can’t continue this list without mentioning Lin Manuel Miranda–the Patron Saint of Puerto Ricans on Broadway. After establishing himself in the Broadway world with his hit Latinx-centric musical “In the Heights”, Miranda further cemented his place in the annals of Broadway history by writing and starring in the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton” (you may have heard of it).

9. Anthony Ramos

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You may know him as Lady Gaga’s BFF in “A Star is Born”, but Nuyorican actor Anthony Ramos actually got his start playing (and originating) the dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in “Hamilton”. When “Hamilton” won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, Ramos held up the Puerto Rican flag during the acceptance speech.

10. Ednita Nazario

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Although Ednita Nazario is primarily known as being a singer, this Puerto Rican powerhouse made waves in the theater community with her performance in the short-lived 1998 musical “The Capeman”. Although the musical faced harsh criticism, Nazario herself earned a Drama Desk Award for her performance

11. Josh Segarra

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Actor of Puerto Rican descent Josh Segarra graduated NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in theater. Afterward, he quickly made a name for himself by originating the role of Emilio Estefan in the hit Broadway musical based on Gloria Estefan’s life “On Your Feet!”.

12. Luis Salgado

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Puerto Rican performer Luis Salgado is a respected choreographer who had much to do with the stunning dance visuals of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “In the Heights”. He’s appeared in musical productions of “Rocky” and “On Your Feet!”. Of being a Puerto Rican actor on Broadway, Salgado says: ““The funny thing is that they still ask Puerto Rican actors: ‘Do you have documents to work here?’ There’s so much one wants to reply to that question…”

13. John Leguizamo

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Already a famous Hollywood actor, John Leguizamo took his talent to the Great White Way with “Latin History for Morons”, a critically-acclaimed play he wrote and starred in. The play was nominated for a 2018 Tony for Best Play.

14. Ariana DeBose

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Ariana de Bose is an actress from Texas of Afro-Puerto Rican descent. Her Broadway credits include “Bring It On”, “Motown: The Musical”, “Hamilton” and “A Bronx Tale”. You’ll definitely be seeing de Bose more in the future, as she’s set to play Boricua Anita in the new movie adaptation of the “West Side Story” musical.

15. Jimmy Smits

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Jimmy Smits made history when he appeared in the 2003 play “Anna in the Tropics” that premiered at the prestigious El Royale theater. Along with fellow Poricua performer Priscilla López, Smits was part of an all-Latino cast that he (rightfully) called a “historic moment”.

16. Priscilla Lopez

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Tony-Award winning singer, dancer, and actress Priscilla Lopez is best known for originating the role of Latina hopeful Diana Morales in “A Chorus Line” (a play notably written by fellow Nuyorican Nicholas Dante). According to Lopez, the character of Diana was based off of Lopez’s own life: “For many years, I felt guilty because I was working on Broadway while many other fellow Latino actors were not.”

17. Josie de Guzman

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Legendary actress of Puerto Rican descent Josie de Guzman is notable for being handpicked by composer Leonard Bernstein to play Maria in the 1980 Broadway revival of “West Side Story”. She earned a Tony Award nomination for her acclaimed performance. You can still catch her lighting up the Broadway stage once in a while.

18. Paola Lazaro

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Paola Lazaro is a Puerto Rican playwright whose career is “dedicated to relating to Latinxs everywhere”. She most notably wrote the Dascha Polanco-starring off-Broadway production “Tell Hector I Miss Him

19. Ruben Santiago-Hudson

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Journeyman actor of Afro-Puerto Rican descent Ruben Santiago-Hudson is best known for his 1996 Tony Award-winning performance in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars”.

20. Robin de Jesús

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Robin de Jesús is a Nuyorican two-time Tony nominee for his acclaimed performances in “In The Heights” and “La Cage aux Folles”. According to de Jesús, he was inspired to get into musical theater when his high school drama teacher told him he’d “never make it” because he was “too short and Hispanic”. Looks like he proved her wrong!

Another brid.tv TEST - YA Novelist Nina Moreno’s First Book Satiates ODAAT Fans

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Another brid.tv TEST – YA Novelist Nina Moreno’s First Book Satiates ODAAT Fans

Nina Moreno’s debut novel Don’t Date Rosa Santos is set to be released May 14 but she’s already  working on her next Latina love story cause she’s “here to fill up that shelf.” The 33-year-old writer who was born and raised in Miami in a Cuban-Colombian home loves the sea, Cuban coffee, and rom-coms. A self-proclaimed Southern Bruja, she was inspired by the folklore passed down from her family and in her down time she enjoys tending to altars and reading tarot cards. Her protagonist, Rosa Santos, is, in a sense, an extension of  Moreno, spiritual and alternating between two cultures as a young Latina in America.

The novel tells the story of teenager named Rosa Santos who is allegedly cursed by the sea and has no luck when it comes to dating. She’s caught between her Cuban abuela who is a beloved healer and her mom, an artist who comes in and out of her life in their hometown of Port Coral in South Florida. On the cusp of deciding where to go to college she meets Alex Aquino, whose family owns the marina and he become a part of what sets her on a path to potentially breaking the curse.

Read on to learn about how her family and culture inspired the book, why she chose to tell a Latinx love story, and how the book portrays the inherited trauma of exile.

In your bio you state that you write “about Latinas chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen,” can you tell me where you draw your inspiration from?

My goal as a writer is to tell stories that not only include us but star us. I love romantic comedies and coming-of-age stories, and I want Latinx readers to have whole shelves of those books featuring them front and center.

You’re a self-proclaimed Southern Bruja, in what ways do you identify as a bruja and does that influence your writings at all?

How I interact with my faith and spirituality shapes how I carry myself through life. The ways my father taught me to honor my ancestors and guides, is how I talk to him now that he’s gone. It’s about being present and listening and from that energy is how I tell stories.

Your book has been described as a mix of Gilmore Girls and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before how did romantic comedies or romantic literature influence the making of this book?

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I love romance and this book is a love letter to a lot of things, including romantic comedies. I wanted to explore the love and longing of the Latinx diaspora experience while hitting those rom-com beats.

How did your Cuban and Colombian roots influence you growing up? How does your Latinx background play out in the story and characters?

My cultures influenced everything at home. Even when we lived in a small town in Georgia we were that family roasting a whole pig outside while Celia Cruz blasted on the speakers. For this book, I wanted a community that knew, understood, and found comfort in that rhythm. American Latinx teens bring their cultures with them as they explore all these other aspects of their identity, so it was important for me to offer space for that.  

When did you start writing the book and what was the writing process like?

I started and stopped writing this story for over four years. I doubted myself every step of the way. Could a story about a Latina do this? Was it Latinx enough? Was it too much? I was terrified to tell a story about Cuba as a next-generation daughter and let all of my influences shape the story. Writing Rosa was about making peace with all the things that make me me.

You personally have a love for the sea and the protagonist in your book is cursed by it, can you talk about the reasoning behind that?

Rosa’s relationship to the sea is about the inherited trauma of exile and also the complicated relationships we have with family, home, and our legacies. Rosa is fascinated by the feeling she gets when she gets close to the sea, but she knows that it’s a mystery that holds so many of her family’s tragedies. And yet, like anyone, she wants to know and understand, because it’s part of her story.

How would you describe Rosa Santos and what inspired the character?

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@ninamoreno / Instagram

Rosa is a Type A Latina just doing her best. She’s warm, thoughtful, loyal, and a bit anxious. Raised by her abuela, her tastes and style lean a bit retro. She was inspired a bit by my own abuela, and also different bookish rom-com characters I’ve loved.

How did you go about deciding how to portray a Latinx love story with magical elements and cultural influences?

I knew there was no other way for me to write a Latinx love story, and all those elements became stronger when I stopped questioning myself so much.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book?

Writing it! And then believing in myself and this book even while dealing with rejections. Especially while dealing with rejections.

What was the most rewarding aspect?

I wrote a book! I did the thing I’d always dreamed about and got to see it actually happen after a lot of hard work. I hope my ancestors are proud.

Who have been some of the YA Latina novelists that have influenced you?

I’m a huge fangirl of Zoraida Córdova and Lilliam Rivera who are both incredibly supportive to up-and-coming writers. That energy inspired a group of us to form Las Musas Books where it’s all about making space for each other and not letting publishing turn us into each other’s competition for that one seat at the table. We’re building more.

Do you have any advice for aspiring YA Latina writers?

Trust your voice, work on your craft, listen to your gut, and know you’re the only one who can tell that story, so tell it. It’s going to be hard, but your community is here, and we want your story, too.

How would you describe the book to someone unsure about YA novels?

First, I would give them a huge list of amazing YA novels, because honestly, this is such an incredible moment for the category. This particular one is about a young Latina dealing with college, the family curse, and a doomed crush on a really cute boy.

What would you like readers to take away from this book?

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I would love readers to see that a specific story can be universal, too. Rosa loves her culture and it shapes so much of her story, but she isn’t trying to teach you anything. And I hope readers swoon a little, try Cuban food if they haven’t, and maybe remember to call their grandmother.

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