Eva Longoria is a lot of things, but idle is not one of them. In addition to being a Golden Globe-nominated actress, her long list of titles includes activist, director, executive producer, philanthropist, American and proud Latina.
Best known for her roles in TV series, ranging from daytime dramas such as Young and the Restless to the prime-time hit Desperate Housewives, Longoria has quickly established herself as a powerhouse in the entertainment industry. What she’s doing behind the scenes is as impressive as what fans see when they tune in to see her on screen.
"My goal has always been to direct and produce," she says. "I want to see my stories reflected on the big and small screens. I want more control over my destiny in this industry."
Longoria, 41, has succeeded in Hollywood despite the oft-decried lack of opportunities for women and people of color. Only 12 percent of TV shows and movies are ethnically balanced, and just 15.2 percent of directors are female, according to a 2016 report by the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. According to the study, women of color over the age of 40 are "largely invisible" and just 22 percent of TV series creators are female.
Longoria is well aware of the hurdles faced by women and Latinos in the entertainment business, and she’s proud that she’s been able to break out of the pack and help others along the way. She says she found "great joy" in discovering Latino talent for Telenovela, a short-lived show about the cast of a fictional Latin soap opera. "It’s about creating opportunities and opening those doors," says Longoria, who starred in and executive produced the series.
Longoria isn’t just interested in treading a path for her fellow actors. She’s working to help the next generation of Latina professionals through her charity.
Among her many philanthropic ventures is the Eva Longoria Foundation, which was created in 2012 to help Latinas succeed through education, entrepreneurship and mentorship.
According to the foundation, one in three Latinas drops out of high school and just 15 percent of adult Latinas hold college degrees, yet 80 percent of Latino teens in the U.S. aspire to go to college. In addition, Latina-owned businesses have increased at eight times the rate of businesses owned by men in recent years.
"Parental engagement is the number one success factor in determining whether children will graduate from high school and go to college," says Longoria. "We wanted to invest in parents."
Family role models were one significant ingredient in Longoria’s recipe for success. Her mother, one of her three sisters and several aunts are teachers. Though her path led to Hollywood, Longoria’s degrees might have suggested a different future. She earned her bachelor of science degree in kinesiology at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a master’s degree in Chicano studies from California State University-Northridge in 2013. Her thesis was titled "Success STEMS from Diversity: The Value of Latinas in STEM Careers."
However, for those Latinas whose parents might not always realize or emphasize the value of an education, Longoria’s foundation offers nine-week "parent engagement" courses to help Latino parents understand class requirements, how and why to set up meetings with teachers and counselors, how to assist with homework and how to file college and financial aid applications.
It also has partnered with the Howard G. Buffet Foundation to provide 152 microloans and business training to low-income Latina entrepreneurs. There is also a mentorship program for more than 300 Latinas and other extracurricular activities, in Los Angeles and San Antonio, focused on STEM skills.
"Economic mobility is one way to empower Latinas," Longoria says. "Latinas are the CEOs of the household finances and health decisions. I want to give women the tools to make sure they become engines for good."
Longoria believes using their political influence is another way for Latinas to affect change. Long involved with the Democratic Party, she co-chaired President Obama’s re-election campaign and spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
In 2014, she founded the Latino Victory Project to raise funds for Latino candidates and get-out-the-vote efforts. She says Latinos need to know how to register, understand who is running for office and have a "voter plan" that plots where polling places are located, how to get there and how to mail in ballots, if needed.
Although every election is important, Longoria feels especially passionate about the 2016 vote to choose a new president.
"The rhetoric I’ve seen against a specific community is so wrong," she says, referring to the heated debate over immigration in the U.S. that has dominated the presidential campaign and firmly planted major-party candidates on either
side of the issue.
"What we hear in the news is not how we should be defined. We are amazing scholars and leaders and advocates and human rights lawyers and doctors and teachers that are making this country a beautiful place."
She adds that "Latino" and "immigrant" are not synonymous. "I’m a ninth-generation American," she says. "Our culture has been here a lot longer than a lot of people holding office. We need to honor these contributions."
The Latino culture is something Longoria tries to infuse into her job behind the scenes. In addition to her boss role with Telenovela, she also executive-produces Lifetime’s Devious Maids, one of the only prime-time dramas featuring a majority-Latina cast.
Through projects like these, Longoria aims to share a view of Latinos from her personal lens, and she can do it from either side of the camera.