Eva Longoria and Nina Garcia Have a Candid Chat About What It Means to Be Latina Today

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

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Hispanic Heritage Month is wrapping up, but Eva Longoria's advocacy for Latinas extends far beyond October. The actress, producer, and founder of the Eva Longoria Foundation works tirelessly to highlight issues important to Latinas, and sat down with Marie Claire creative director, Nina Garcia, to talk about how her own Hispanic heritage shaped her career.

Here, Eva chats about the strong Latina women in her life, and delivers the best motto we've come across all year: "Goals focus you, but dreams have power."

Nina Garcia: Hispanic Heritage Month is nearly coming to a close, but there's so much to still talk about. I have to say, I totally agree with your list of things that Latinas kick ass at. For me, two of my biggest priorities—besides fashion—are family and my home. How has your family and heritage shaped your perspective and influenced what you do now?

"Give a girl an education and she can go out into the world, get a job, and lift her family out of poverty."

Eva Longoria: My upbringing is responsible for the woman I am today! Growing up as the youngest of four sisters, I come from an extremely close family with strong female role models including my mother, who managed to have a full-time job and still have dinner on the table every evening. My mother is a huge reason I've grown into the woman I am today. Also, having a sister born with a mental disability really put things into perspective for me and my family. Liza inspired me to start a charity for other kids like her who have special needs. And all of my philanthropic energy and motivation come directly from witnessing these amazing women in my family throughout my entire childhood.

NG: I had a very similar relationship with my mother. She was very stylish, and was the first person to introduce me to fashion. I'll never forget those moments I spent with her—they have had such a profound impact on who I am today. With your mother being able to manage work and the home, I can see where your interest in home came from. Now you've designed a home collection for JCPenney. Where and when did this desire to design come, and what is the inspiration behind the collection?

EL: I've always wanted to delve into home décor. Even before I began acting, my childhood consisted of being taught how to cook and sew by my mother and aunts. I used to go to the fabric stores and get discounted fabric and make my own pillows, curtains, and duvets. My aunt always told me "make a house a home," and that's what my line was created for. I like a house to feel beautiful, yet functional. I just want others to enjoy their living spaces the way I do!

NG: You have been such a leader for Latinas and an inspiration for the Hispanic community. From having a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology to earning a Master's degree in Chicano Studies to being the founder of The Eva Longoria Foundation, it seems you have done it all and then some. Can you tell me how you have become the Renaissance woman that you are today? Do you feel you were prepared for the success you have achieved?

EL: I was lucky that education played a big part in my life. I come from a family of educators and my mother and aunts always told me the only way for economic mobility is education. No matter what you want to do in life, get educated about that industry. So I received my Bachelor's degree before heading to Hollywood to pursue acting. I always had the confidence that no matter what I did, I would succeed because I had that degree. It gave me reassurance that I was going to be ok no matter what. I have never questioned my ambition or drive, only the process in which I would attack that strategy of success.

"Everyone deserves a quality education and we know Latinas aren't getting it."

NG: I completely agree. For me, education was a very enlightening experience. When I was first starting out in Boston after being born and raised in Colombia, I remember going through culture shock—and with English as my second language, there have definitely been some hurdles of all shapes and sizes that I've had to overcome. But an obstacle in your path doesn't mean stop; it means you have to get creative and work harder.

Issues like education and the success of your fellow Latinas have been very important to you. Talk to me about the creation and evolution of the Eva Longoria Foundation.

EL: The foundation was created to help Latinas access resources and opportunities to build better futures for themselves, as well as their families, through education and entrepreneurship. I find education to be extremely important—give a girl an education and she can go out into the world, get a job, and lift her family out of poverty. Everyone deserves a quality education and we know Latinas aren't getting it. We live in the US, where a college degree is the first step towards getting a job. The goal of my foundation is more than just a positive impact for Latinas we serve directly, it's also to shape the national conversation about how best to support the growing population of a Latina workforce. Our loans have helped to create or retain more than 200 jobs, so what we are doing is not only helping businesses and their communities, but the US economy as well.

"Luck is defined when preparation meets opportunity."

NG: Were there any resources you wish you had while trying to break through that are available for young Latinas now? What still isn't available for young Latinas that you'd like to be?

EL:  I think that there are plenty of resources available today for women everywhere. It's a matter of finding those resources and knowing they exist. I was lucky to be involved with great organizations at a young age, like NCLR and LULAC. These clubs and after-school programs made me hyper-aware of the possibilities that were out there. So I think we just need to guide Latinas to find these organizations and capitalize on those opportunities.

NG: Inspiring. My last question is this: What is your best piece of advice for all Hispanic women and men out there trying to go after their dream?

EL: I have a lot of advice for those pursuing a dream. First, never give up. Second, always be prepared for the opportunity. Luck is defined when preparation meets opportunity.  You still have to work hard and create your own opportunities. Educate yourself on how best to approach your dream. Goals focus you, but dreams have power.

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Mehera Bonner
Entertainment Editor

Mehera Bonner is a celebrity and entertainment news writer who enjoys Bravo and Antiques Roadshow with equal enthusiasm. She was previously entertainment editor at Marie Claire and has covered pop culture for over a decade.