Though she hails from Puerto Rico, Rita Moreno is no stranger to the immigrant experience. The multi-hyphenate was just 4 years old in 1936 when she moved to New York City with her mother, in a strange new place, where she didn’t know the language.
But the “West Side Story” star was given new insight into the citizenship process thanks to her recent storyline in the second season of “One Day at a Time.”
Moreno stopped by The Times’ video studio in the wake of the Netflix series’ third season renewal to discuss her participation in the Norman Lear reboot and her hopes for the future of her character.
The EGOT winner — Moreno has earned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony — plays Lydia Riera on “One Day at a Time,” a multi-camera sitcom centered around a Cuban-American family living in Los Angeles and dealing with complicated issues of race, sexuality, mental illness and, yes, immigration.
In Season 2, under pressure from her daughter Penelope (Justina Machado) and grandchildren Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) to become a U.S. citizen, Lydia struggles with the idea of abandoning her Cuban heritage.
“I found out something that I didn’t know, that when you become a citizen of the United States, you have to renounce your citizenship in your original country,” Moreno said, “Which I think is dreadful.”
It was a shocking discovery for Moreno, who found herself all the more moved by the choices that immigrants are forced to make upon moving to America.
“Ever since then, I feel terrible for people who have to give up their beautiful country that may live in their heart,” Moreno added.
Though by season’s end, Lydia has completed her journey to American citizenship, Moreno had ideas of her own about how the character could have proceeded.
“I wish that she had reneged on her American citizenship,” Moreno admitted. “I really did. Because I thought, well, for one thing, that’s Lydia. And for another, I think she has a right to hang onto her roots on paper, also.”
That said, the actress admitted to having the show’s best interests at heart as well.
“I also thought it would make for some interesting episodes,” she said.
You can watch the full interview below.