On December 11, 1931, I was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico as Rosa Dolores Alverio. Rosa Maria, my mother and hardworking seamstress saved up every penny for us to move after her and my father divorced. At five years old, my mother and I moved to the next chapter in our lives in New York City. As coming into the United States, my mother changed my last name to Moreno after my stepfather.
One day while I was dancing to a record in my living room, my mother’s friend who was a Spanish dancer noticed me and encouraged me to start taking dance lessons. So I began taking lessons from a prestigious dancer, Paco Casino who was related to Rita Hayworth. Before I knew it, dancing was changing my life in a blink of an eye and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. As I was turning nine, my phase as a Spanish dancer soon took a shift to staring in dramatic radio shows.
As I was beginning a small career in the entertainment business, my mother was my source of encouragement. She inspired me to continue in the entertainment business because she knew that this was an opportunity of a life time. By the time I was eleven, I began using my voice in Spanish-language version of American films. Acting was becoming clear to me that it was my new calling and I cherished it more than singing and dancing. Then I received my first Broadway role at age thirteen where I was passing eleven and looking as if I was nine. I always looked young for my age. The Broadway drama I stared in was called Skydrift. Shortly after my appearance in the Broadway show, I was contacted by Hollywood talent scouts. The scout informed me that when the time was right he would notify me.
My break through was finally right in front of me in 1961 when MGM studios spruced my name by changing Rosa to Rita and when I was cast in the Broadway Musical, West Side Story as “Chita Rivera.” This role was a breath taking experience for a Hispanic woman like me....