When Eva Longoria invited “Sunday Morning” over to her Beverly Hills home for lunch, we assumed it was just that, lunch. But she also served up a tasty morsel of culinary history, too. “People think Mexico’s just about tacos and tequila,” she said. “Mexican cuisine is the only cuisine in its entirety protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage treasure – corns, beans, chili, chocolate, vanilla, avocado…”
And, of course, tequila.
She prepared a Ranch Water cocktail, a drink most say was born in Texas (“We’re not going to get too drunk, so your producers don’t get scared!”), while the noodle dish, Fideo, is thoroughly Mexican. A bicultural menu, just like Longoria herself. “When I’m in the United States, [I hear], ‘Oh, you’re Mexican,'” she said. “And when I go to Mexico, they go, ‘Oh, the American.’ I’m like, wait? Well, yeah, I’m both. I’m 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American at the same time.”
She was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas. But her Mexican roots date back 13 generations, when the King of Spain, she says, granted her ancestors land in what is now South Texas. “We still have that land,” she said. “If you look at an older map, it says Longoria Road.”
She now spends about half her time living in Mexico with her husband and four-year-old son.
So, when Stanley Tucci, of CNN’s “Searching for Italy,” fame, approached Longoria about doing her own international food series, she knew right were to go. “Searching for Mexico,” out later this month on CNN, is just as expansive and informative as its Italian counterpart. But she also hopes the series will offer a deeper message about valuing the often-overlooked contributions of Latinos and Hispanics in general.
To watch a trailer for “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” click on the video player below:
Visiting the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Longoria was quick to point out that in the acting categories, there’s only been a handful of Latino Oscar-winners: “Latinos are 23 percent of the box office tickets sold. Do I think we should be more than 5 percent in characters on film? Yes,” she said. “Is it frustrating? Absolutely.”
It’s easy to forget the role that made her famous on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” was really a big step toward diversity. There weren’t a lot of Latinas on network television back then, but her character, Gabby Solis, became a sassy, sultry superstar. “I quickly realized I was going to have a platform, or a voice,” she said. “My mentor, Dolores Huerta, is the one that actually told me that. She said, ‘One day, you’re going to have a voice, so you better have something to say.'”
Dolores Huerta spent most of her life fighting for the rights of Latinos. Longoria has similar passions, but she didn’t want people to listen because she was a celebrity. She wanted them to listen because she actually knew what she was talking about. She got her master’s degree going to night school at Cal State Northridge while still filming “Desperate Housewives.”
Cowan asked, “What did the other students think? They obviously knew who you were.”
“They were so generous with me,” she said. “The big reason I wanted to get my master’s was to better understand where we came from, so I could help my community go to where they needed to be.”
In 2013 she graduated with her master’s in Chicano Studies. “It was born from a derogatory term for a community that was seen as less than,” Longoria said. “And during the civil rights movement, we reclaimed it and we said, You know what? We are. I am. I am a Chicano. I am a Chicana.“
When she began directing, she could cast Latino actors and hire Latino crews, and do stories about Latinos themselves, like her first feature film, out in June. It’s called “Flamin’ Hot,” a film based on the story of Richard Montanez, a Mexican American factory worker at Frito-Lay who claims his blend of homemade spices was the basis for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Longoria said, “I felt in my bones nobody else could direct this movie.”
By all accounts, Montanez was a gifted marketer of Hispanic products; in fact PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, said he did help launch Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But the company also said, “We do not credit the product creation to him and him alone.”
Cowan asked Longoria, “Did that give you pause?”
“No. You know, we never set out to do the history of the Cheeto. There’s a lot of people in his life that said, ‘No, no, no, ideas don’t come from people like you. You know, no, no, that opportunity is not for somebody like you.’ I’ve felt that.”
And she’s using her name to make sure no one else feels that way.
Speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, she said, “The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers, she needed a tax break. But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets, does not!”
She’s campaigned for both Presidents Obama and Biden, and in 2014 she co-founded a political action committee, Latino Victory Project.
Cowan asked, “Have you gotten any pushback by being so politically active?”
“Oh, yes. Oh, yeah.”
“I know you said you don’t ever really want to run for office yourself?”
“But with your platform and your education, why not?”
“Here’s the thing: The reality is you don’t have to be a politician to be political,” Longoria said. “And I think that’s the biggest myth. People go, ‘You should run for office so you can make a difference.’ I am making a difference.”
Eva Longoria may have been a desperate housewife back on Wisteria Lane, but now she’s desperate for change, and that’s a road, she says, that never ends. “People always go, ‘Oh my God, that show you did back then, that was amazing. Must have been the highlight of your career.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, but wait, wait ’til you see what’s coming.’ And they say, ‘What’s coming out?’ ‘I don’t know! I don’t know, but it’s going to be good!'”
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Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Lauren Barnello.