When one thinks of powerhouse Latinas, Eva Longoria is at the forefront. The Texas native is a true multi-hyphenate actress, director, producer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Leading the way for change for Latinxs in Hollywood, Longoria knows the value of being underestimated and having to hustle to make one's dreams come true.
"Being underestimated is the best position to be in. Like, let's go prove ourselves! We have to prove ourselves," she tells Nick Barili in the latest Seen episode. "So, every day that I showed up during prep, and on the set and the filming of that movie, in the editing, it's 110 percent because I have to prove that I can do this to people. I know I can do it, but I got to prove to everybody else that I can."
Being underestimated is the best position to be in. Like, let's go prove ourselves!
Before making a name for herself in the entertainment industry and becoming an activist, Longoria was a young girl living in Corpus Christi. Longoria grew up in a Mexican neighborhood, "Never really feeling Mexican because there was no need to say it. We were all just in that neighborhood together," she shares from Jerome Richfield Hall at California State University, Northridge, where she received a Master’s Degree in Chicano Studies in 2013.
It wasn't until the third grade, when she attended a new school that she had her first experience with feeling "different." As Longoria shares, on her first day she got on a bus with her breakfast, a bean taco, while "everybody had a Pop-Tart."
"They looked at me. They're like, 'What's that?' And I was like, 'A bean taco, doesn't everybody have bean tacos?' And they were like, 'No,'" she recalls. "And I remember a little girl on the bus going, 'She's Mexican,' and I didn't know what that meant… so, that was the first time I felt like 'other.'"
"I just remember going, 'Oh my gosh, I'm different.' And I didn't know why," she adds.
That feeling followed her well into her career as an actress. “I would never get the Latin roles because I wasn't Latin enough, and then I wouldn't get the white roles because I was too Latin. So I played a lot of Italians."
To fully understand the dynamic of "not being Latina" or "white enough," Longoria shares that it was her parents' decision to not teach her Spanish in order to assimilate.
I'm ninth generation American. I never crossed a border. The border crossed us
"I'm ninth generation American. I never crossed a border. The border crossed us," she says. "So when people go, 'Go home,' No, we are, this is home. For a lot of Texans, assimilation was key. Assimilation was important. My parents felt that. They said, 'We don't want you to be discriminated against because you speak Spanish.'"
Longoria stumbled into Hollywood. "I didn't dream of it," she admits, sharing that going to the movies and keeping up with celebrity culture "wasn't a thing" for her growing up. The first time she felt seen on-screen, she recalls, "Was probably Salma Hayek in Desperado, or it was pretty late in life." The action-western came out in 1995. "I remember Rita Moreno in West Side Story, but I wasn't Puerto Rican, so, I kind of didn't understand it. And they brown-faced them. I remember even Rita talking about it like, 'Why are you making us so dark?' I actually remember thinking, 'They are a weird color.' But, yeah, growing up, it was very, very few."
It was senior year in college when her life changed. Longoria needed to pay for her last year, so a friend suggested that she enter a scholarship pageant. With the hopes of coming in fourth place to just pay for her books, Longoria actually came in first. Unbeknownst to her, she then had to compete in another pageant, ultimately becoming Miss Corpus Christi in 1998.
"But, in my prize package for Miss Corpus Christi, was a trip to Los Angeles. And, I just thought, 'Oh, that'll be fun,'" she remembers, noting that she also had to compete in yet another pageant. "I didn't think, 'I'm going to be an act[ress]… and when I went into the talent competition, I won everything. And, all these managers and agents wanted to sign me. It was 1998, which is like Ricky [Martin] mania, J-Lo mania. And, to be Latina in the industry in that moment, a lot of doors were opening."
There was a moment early in her life where the Telenovela star and executive producer felt like she could make it in the industry after seeing the late Selena Quintanilla, a fellow “Texican,” achieve success. "Selena was one or two years older than me, and growing up with her and seeing her trajectory, we used to see her play at quinceañeras and weddings," she recalls. "It wasn't a big deal. But, once she started blowing up and becoming big, I thought that I really saw myself in Selena… because she was a Texican like I was – and she really embraced being Latina. And, so it was just like, 'Yes, her – I want to be like her.'"
With $23 in her bank account, Longoria decided to stay in Los Angeles and work as a headhunter at a temp agency while attending auditions on the side. She quickly landed a guest role in a 2000 episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, and then, another guest role in an episode of General Hospital, before nabbing her first major role as Isabella Braña in The Young and the Restless, which she portrayed from 2001 to 2003.
Of course, she then gained fame starring as Gabrielle Solis in the ABC comedy-drama Desperate Housewives. The show ran for eight seasons from 2004 to 2012, and earned her an ALMA Award, two Screen Actors Guild awards, and a Golden Globe nomination.
While she admits that her parents were always proud of her achievements, they were especially proud after she received her Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. She remembers that day being almost 20 years to the date that she moved to the City of Angels.
"And, the other time they were most proud of me was when I got my Masters," she adds, noting she was the last person in her family to get her Masters. California State University, Northridge (CSUN) was the first university to have a Chicano Studies program and a place that changed Longoria's life.
"This place was probably the place I grew most in my life… I was exhausted the whole time I was here," she laughs. "I did night school. I would finish filming [Desperate Housewives] and come here 7 to 10 at night, and then, go home and do it all again. Be on set at 5:00 a.m. It fills my heart with my Mexican pride."
Longoria knows the importance of having Chicano Studios as a part of universities' curriculum, saying "it's a fight" to keep the program in schools and having Latinxs learn their history. Her time at the university taught her many things, one specifically, "That you're capable of anything."
"The reality is, you have more time in the day than you think. It's the amount of time you waste in the day," she explains. "The other thing it taught me was, you're never too old to learn. You're never too old to finish something or to go back and do something or to try something new. I think the biggest message that came out of it was: ‘I'm going to do this. I can do this.’ I did it!"
Her thesis became the basis for her Eva Longoria Foundation, which she founded in 2012. Its mission is to help Latinas build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship.
"To say, I studied what our community needs, and that's where I'm going to focus my energy on because I want to make sustainable, effective change, that's where it probably helped me the most," she says of her Masters degree. "It also made me a little bit more credible. My political activism, I knew what I was talking about. I knew the history, I knew the policies, and I continue to stay educated on that because the fight never ends for our community. It's done a lot for me."
With that knowledge came Longoria taking her skills behind the camera, executive producing her own shows like Devious Maids, Telenovela and Grand Hotel, to name a few. She also directed a handful of episodes from those series, before pitching her feature film directorial debut Flamin' Hot, the story of former Frito Lay janitor Richard Montanez allegedly inventing the extremely popular Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Montanez' credibility was questioned in May 2021 after the Los Angeles Times published an in-depth article digging into the snack's presumed creator. Longoria previously told Variety that they were sticking to the film's theme "which is, opportunity is not distributed equally. At the end of the day, it’s also about one person’s perspective, and [the] struggle within themselves."
"You never know you're not qualified for something until you go in for a job and somebody tells you, 'Well, you haven't done it yet,'" she says of her directing aspirations. "So, I had to work twice as hard just to get into the door, and twice as hard on my presentation, and twice as hard on my pitch, and twice as hard on my vision."
She credits showrunner and executive producer Brian Tanen for helping her master her pitches, and for learning to walk into a room, put her "white male privilege pants on… and assume you have the job."
"You're not coming into this room and asking for the job," she recalls him telling her. "You're coming in and saying, 'When I direct this movie, this is what I'm going to do.' It changed not only that pitch, but every job going forward. It changed [a lot] in my life, the way I approach anything that I want."
Being behind the scenes allowed her to observe the hiring process and helped her become aware of the unconscious bias that exists.
"I remember producing Grand Hotel and they gave me a list of DPs [directors of photography] like, 'Oh, here you go!' And it was, you know, 'Bob and Bill and Tom,'" she remembers. "And I was like, 'Do you have any female DPs?' And they go, 'Oh, yeah. Actually, we'll get back to you,' and they brought me five names. Then, I hired a female DP. So, they weren't against the idea… They were unconsciously ignoring that. So, [at] my production company [Unbelievable Entertainment], our mission is to produce a purpose, specifically building a pipeline of talent in front of and behind the camera of Latinos."
"We exist, we're here, we're in this industry. So, I want to be able to create those job opportunities for them, and give them that experience, so when they go to the next job, they go, 'I have done this. I've already done this. I know how to do this,'" she continues. "The greatest thing about being a producer is job creation."
However, there have been moments of disappointment along the way. Some of the shows and projects that she has either worked on or championed have been canceled, like Gentefied, Grand Hotel and Telenovela. Longoria believes that many factors led to those cancellations.
"Are we not engaging in our audience the way we should be? Are we not welcoming them to the platforms that these shows are on? Are we not telling them when it's on and how it's on and where they can watch it? And, at the same time, are they not showing up because 'Gentefied is about a Mexican-American family and I'm Argentinian. I don't get it.' We're a very old fashioned group. We're not monolithic. And I think our community focuses a lot on the differences because we want to prove that we're not monolithic."
What fuels Longoria is "finding our commonalities." However, she notes that "there is ownership on our audience to show up. If something is out there for us, show up. I don't care what background you are, support it."