– Eva Longoria –
Interviewed by Jorge Martin
For the past decade or so, she has been one of the most recognizable women in the world. She’s graced television and movie screens, magazine covers, and she’s received countless likes, hearts and favorites on social media. Her Twitter page has more than 7 million followers. That’s more than Hillary Clinton, Madonna, J.K. Rowling and Serena Williams, to name just a few.
Eva Longoria ’13 (M.A. Chicana/o Studies) hardly needs an introduction, though as her profile has grown, she has become as famous for her business acumen and outspoken activism and philanthropy as for her on-screen persona.
It was during her time studying at California State University, Northridge that Longoria developed so much of the vital background that has fueled her activism. Today she is one of the most outspoken and important voices in the Latino community, encouraging a younger generation to raise themselves up through education and exercising their right to vote. On Jan. 4, Longoria returned to TV in the new sitcom Telenovela. The show is a behind-the-scenes look at the often-funny happenings of a tight-knit crew working on a fictional Spanish soap opera. Longoria plays Ana Sofia Calderon, the star of the show and the heartbeat of this NBC comedy. What the star likes about the show’s concept is that “it’s so inclusive to show people that these experiences are universal – about family, friendship and loyalty. At the end of the day, it’s just funny,” she said.
Longoria opened up on a range of topics in an exclusive Q&A with CSUN Magazine that covered her career, family, the entertainment business and how CSUN has played a part in her growing activism.
It’s been almost 12 years since the start of Desperate Housewives, which was such a breakout for you. What would you tell yourself circa summer 2004 if you had the chance?
Oh my gosh, fasten your seatbelt because you have no idea how your life is going to change, and the platform you’re going to have or the voice you’re going to have. So, make sure you have something to say.
Throughout the past decade, you’ve done movies, other TV shows, worked behind the scenes and in front of the camera. There’s no blueprint for becoming so multifaceted in Hollywood. How do you aspire to expand your influence beyond the acting side, and is there anyone you modeled yourself after?
I’ve been influenced by so many people inside and outside the industry, mostly by the women of my family – my mother, my sisters, my aunts. I come from a very well-educated family and was the last one in my family to get a master’s. Half of my aunts are entrepreneurs, they own their own businesses. So, I was really lucky and fortunate to see what I could be. I knew I would be successful and knew the woman I wanted to be. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew the woman I wanted to be.
That just translates to any industry I would have chosen. If I was going to be a dentist, I would have been the best dentist out there. And I would have still been doing something outside of that singular job. As far as the career path I took, I feel like I was always a producer/director before I was an actor. As an actor, you get in front of the camera and say your lines, and I thought, ‘Who are those people behind the camera who are making all those decisions on which take they are going to use?’ … So I knew I wanted more control of the creative process, and that led me to do more producing and directing. It was a natural evolution.
What led you to come to CSUN to work on your master’s in Chicana/o Studies while you were still working on Desperate Housewives?
I wanted to know more about immigration, and somebody told me about this book Occupied America. I read the book, and I was starting to get more politically active in my advocacy. I would ask Dolores Huerta, ‘Why don’t farm workers have these rights?’ Somebody saw that I was serious and said I should read this book, because it explains the history of Mexicans in America. It was Occupied America, written by Dr. Rodolfo Acuña.
I wrote the author and I said, ‘I would love to sit with you one day and pick your brain. This book changed my life.’ And he said, ‘Come on down, I’m at CSUN.’ I had no idea about Chicano Studies or much about the term because I’m from Texas. We’re more Tejanos than Chicanos. So, I got to meet with him and interview him about the struggles of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. And he said, ‘You should take my class. It’s online. It’s Chicano Studies 101.’ I took one online class, and I was hooked. I saw Chicana Feminism and thought, ‘That sounds interesting, it’s on Wednesday nights, I could do that.’ Then I saw another class, Chicano Art.
After that Dr. Acuña said, ‘You should apply for your master’s degree.’ I was terrified. I’m on the No. 1 TV show in the world. I don’t have time to do this. But for some reason, you make time. I’d have to go to class, 7 to 10 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays after shooting. And I did it. And it was so fulfilling in a way I couldn’t even imagine. The reason I wanted to do it was because I wanted to understand the immigration issue better. But as Dr. Acuña had explained to me, you can’t understand where we’re going if you don’t know where we came from. This history is important, and that’s what really motivated me to finish my master’s.
How has your activism evolved as a result of your time at CSUN?
It was super informative. As people were having these debates on TV, I would hear people say things I didn’t understand. As I researched more, I felt empowered to say, ‘Whoa, that’s not correct. This is the history. This is what we’ve been through.’ I’m ninth generation, so my journey is different than a lot of others. What I mostly learned – and how it contributed to my political activism – was making sure others knew we’re not a monolithic community. We’re a diverse community, even under the umbrella of Mexican-American or Latino or Hispanic. There are so many different origins of where we come from. Our history, whether you are Puerto Rican or Cuban or New Yorican or Texican, as I call myself. We all have different origin stories, and that really affects how we view this country and our place in it. That was fascinating to me to learn, understand and shape my support for issues important to us.
What were your favorite experiences at CSUN?
I felt like I was in the presence of little geniuses. Going back to school at an older age, I was so far from my bachelor’s degree, so to walk into a classroom with 22-year-olds talking about the Oedipus Theory, and this theory and that theory. I was like, ‘I don’t remember this.’ I had to double back and freshen up on my own knowledge prior to walking in step with these wonderful, smart classmates. People always ask, ‘Why didn’t you do it online?’ Well, first of all, that’s a myth for so many people who want to get their master’s. It’s not as easy to do it online. And the second thing that contributed most to my educational journey to my master’s were the conversations and debates we had in the classrooms and with the professors. I found those experiences to be highly beneficial.
Do you see a lot of CSUN alumni in Hollywood?
I just did. I did Hollywood Game Night, the show on NBC. The executive producer is from Northridge and went to CSUN. I said, ‘That’s my alma mater!’ I do stumble across CSUN alumni everywhere. It is one of the greatest, most underrated universities in Southern California.
You worked on a soap opera before, in Young and the Restless. Were there any real-life examples that made their way onto the Telenovela scenes?
Not from my experience. The reason we wanted to do the behind-the-scenes of a telenovela instead of a soap opera was because I know a lot of telenovela stars who have been through some crazy scenarios. In Venezuela, one of the telenovela stars was being poisoned by her assistant, and that was true. There was another great telenovela star who would climb up on ladders and light her own scenes. I thought, ‘that must happen on American soaps.’ It didn’t happen when I was there, but there was definitely drama behind the drama.
Being a director on this show, how has it helped you grow as an artist?
It just expands the business side of the creativity, and that’s a muscle I like to use. I like bottom lines and budgets and marketing and promotions. I like to see how the sausage is made, and I like to be involved in it.
You’ve done so much to help shape the lives of others. Since you graduated here three years ago, how have you sought to make a difference for Latinas and Latinos both now and in the future?
We are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, with the lowest education and the lowest voter turnout. I want to make sure we are civically active, that we aren’t just a large number – that we are a powerful number. We are an influential number. A lot of my political activism centers around that. It’s about how policy affects people, and making sure the Latino community understands that their voice matters. Tu voz es tu voz.
Your foundation points out that 80 percent of young Latinas aspire to go to college, yet one in three end up dropping out before getting there. And that only 15 percent of Latinas actually attain a college degree. By going back to school, how much do you feel like you’ve been able to improve on that trend to encourage others to follow that dream?
I like to lead by example. I’m glad I went back to school and got my master’s because people can say, ‘Well, if she did it I can do it.’ The big difference is that there are so many barriers for so many young Latinas to get to go to college. The No. 1 is the economic barrier, making sure women understand they have access to financial help so they can get to college. The other thing is being college ready, and that’s what my foundation focuses on — young Latinas and making sure they are looking at college, even prior to high school. By high school, the cake is already baked, and sometimes it’s a little too late. So, if we can have early interventions so that Latinas know college is a possibility, we are going to make a big difference in their educational trajectory.
You’ve had this worldwide stage for more than a decade, and you’ve been able to make a difference for so many people. What do you think Eva from summer 2004 would say about that?
I’ve always been politically active. When I was in high school, I volunteered for Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992. I grew up in a family in which the word volunteerism was important, so I knew about community and giving back and volunteering and participating. The fact that my voice was amplified because of this light that’s been shined upon me only made me get more serious about it. But I’ve always had that in me, because of how I was raised.