See Her, Hear Her
Eva Longoria became famous for her appearance on TV and in movies, but her strong activist’s voice may be winning her more fans than her celebrity.
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, Variety and Variety Latino launched the “Power of Latinos: 20 Most Influential Stars List,” spotlighting the most successful Latino film and TV actors in Hollywood. Those who made the list of 10 men and 10 women didn’t get there solely because of professional accomplishments; the criteria included how influential and appealing the celebrities are within the Latino community.
Eva Longoria was in the top five, along with Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Lopez, and it’s clear why: no one on that list is more dedicated than Longoria to giving Latinos a voice in U.S. politics. “I am beyond humbled,” Longoria told Variety Latino, reacting to her inclusion on the list. “I love being a part of the Hispanic community just like I love being a part of the women’s community. I feel like we need more Latinos in decision-making positions in all industries, not just entertainment.”
In case you don’t keep up with Longoria’s career outside of Hollywood, here’s a little summary of just some of her accomplishments: as one of seven Californians named to the post of co-chair of Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012, she helped President Obama secure 73 percent of the Latino vote; she lobbies wholeheartedly for immigration reform; and she’s initiated the Latino Victory Project to raise funds for candidates. She is the founder of the Eva Longoria Foundation, which helps Latinas and their families improve their futures through education and entrepreneurship. And she knows about entrepreneurship firsthand: Longoria has also been a successful restaurateur with her eatery, Beso, in Hollywood, California (and later, Las Vegas). She has authored a best-selling cookbook, Eva’s Kitchen: Cooking with Love for Family and Friends (available on amazon.com). She’s been paired up with Food Network Chef Michael Symon to promote a Lay’s potato chip contest, “Do Us a Flavor,” challenging consumers to submit new flavor ideas in return for cash prizes. And behind the camera, she’s an executive producer on the Lifetime series Devious Maids, as well as the documentaries Harvest and Food Chains.
Longoria has stated that her defining moment in life came when, before becoming famous, she met Dolores Huerta, the labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association (later it became the United Farm Workers). “She said to me, ‘Hermana, one day you’re going to have a voice. Be sure you have something to say,’” Longoria recalls. “I just never forgot that.”
Longoria does indeed have a voice, and she’s most passionate when she’s using it to effect change in the country. She may have made her name as an actress, first on soap operas and later with the Golden Globe-nominated role of the scheming adulteress Gabrielle Solis on the crazy popular—and just plain crazy at times—Desperate Housewives, which ran for eight seasons from 2004 to 2012, and appeared in a dozen and a half movies, some silly, others noteworthy—but of late it’s her role as a political activist and powerhouse in Democratic politics that’s piquing the public interest most. “I’ve always been politically active,” Longoria told The Daily Beast. “I’ve been involved since Clinton ran in ’92, volunteering, going door-to-door, canvassing, phone-banking… And coming from the state of Texas—the country of Texas, I should say—I’m definitely at the forefront.”
“Eva is so much more than a celebrity who occasionally lends her name to causes,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—whom Longoria campaigned for during his Senate run last year—said in a statement. “Eva immerses herself in the pursuit of social and political justice. She knows the issues, is a great strategist, and is willing to sacrifice popularity for her larger sense of purpose.”
Longoria has been instrumental in encouraging more Latino and Latina political participation, and to getting more Latinos elected to local, state, and federal offices—and she isn’t slowing down for the 2014 midterms. Longoria has been working mainly behind the scenes, in voter registration, fundraising, getting out the vote, campaign events, and—in a not so behind-the-scenes effort—social media. She’s also been an active supporter of Voto Latino, an organization geared toward Latino Millennials, since its inception in 2008. As co-founder of the Futuro Fund, she helped raise more than $32 million from more than 100,000 Latino donors for Obama’s reelection. And though she clearly has political muscle, when asked if she has any personal political aspirations, Longoria wrote in The Hollywood Reporter two years ago: “Would I ever run for something? God, no. I have more power as a citizen. Once you become a politician, your hands are tied. I’d rather have a voice.”
For the time being, it looks like Longoria doesn’t have time to consider running for office, even if she wanted to. “Ninety-nine percent of my time right now is devoted to helping Latinas through educational programs,” she said, referring to the Eva Longoria Foundation. She also has her hands full with Eva’s Heroes—a nonprofit she co-founded to help people with special needs—and promoting Food Chains, a Human Rights Watch endorsed documentary focusing on the unfair treatment of U.S. farmworkers that she executive-produced. Then there is her acting— she has certainly not given that up; in fact, this year alone, she appeared in Frontera alongside Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Michael Peña, and she has upcoming the indie film Visions; the drama Any Day, co-starring Kate Walsh and Sean Bean; and Refugio, in which she plays a horse acrobat who joins the circus in Mexico in an effort to heal a broken heart.
But as fiercely dedicated as she is to her causes and as busy as she is on both sides of the camera, Longoria is not all work and no play. In August, she was caught on camera zipping around town with her boyfriend, Televisa president Jose Antonio Baston, on a Vespa; a month later, in September, the two hit Miami Beach with friends. Longoria even Instagrammed a photo with the caption, “I love my Miami family! @LiliEstefan @Gloria Estefan @emilioestefanjr @katedelcastillo.” Which is not surprising. After all, this is the woman who once said, “I don’t regret anything I ever do or say. I don’t like to live my life being censored. I like to say what I feel, and I think people respect that because you’re honest.” It’s a motto that obviously is serving her well.