In a short but powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Eva Longoria blasted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and praised the courage of the Latino community, confirming the actress Hollywood's most important Hispanic activist.
The importance of the Hispanic vote this year has made the former Desperate Housewives actress a vital ambassador on Hillary Clinton's team, while her stage presence and sharp tongue make her an effective campaign surrogate.
It's a role she was hardly born into, but has studied hard for. She credits the origin of her political activism to a book - Occupied America by chicano studies professor Rodolfo Acuña - that she read during breaks from filming episodes for the popular TV show that made her a celebrity.
The book encouraged her to enroll in a course taught by Acuña, and she spent several months driving for an hour after finishing filming the series to attend classes. "I would be doing my homework behind the sets,” she told The Economist.
That launched the actress, businesswoman and philanthropist on a career committed to the rights of Latinos through numerous initiatives and an influential position within the Democratic Party.
As an activist with the group Voto Latino, Longoria has been heavily involved with outreach to Latino youths, a large part of the Hispanic electorate with a low voter turnout. Alongside fellow activist actresses Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba and America Ferrera, among others, Longoria’s large social media footprint is key to helping reach millennial voters under 35, with nearly 3 million followers on Instagram.
Ensuring that Latinos go to the polls and are more represented in politics are her main objectives. Through the Latino Victory Project, which Longoria founded with Texas businessman Henry Muñoz III, which aims to elect more Latinos to public office in order "to build political power within the Latino community to ensure the voices of Latinos are reflected at every level of government."
Her relationship with American politics was cemented in 2012, when Obama named her co-chair of his re-election campaign. Longoria participated in events at the White House, traveled around the country to get out the vote (visiting seven different cities in a single day, in one case), as well as raising funds for Obama's campaign.
Her 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention received a standing ovation. "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 said in her speech, criticizing Mitt Romney's tax proposal favoring the wealthy. Four years later, in Philadelphia, Longoria again received wild applause for her remarks.
In her speech she described Hillary Clinton as "the most qualified presidential candidate ever," while savaging Trump for his derrogatory comments about Mexicans, as well as a disabled journalist and Arizona Senator John McCain's war record.
Longoria noted one of her sisters has special needs, and their mother was a special education teacher. "This election is very personal for me," she said, adding that her father was a military veteran.
“I’m from a small town in South Texas and if you know your history, Texas used to be part of Mexico. Now, I’m ninth generation American. My family never crossed a border, the border crossed us,” she said.
"So when Donald Trump calls us criminals and rapists, he’s insulting American families ... When he said that a wife who works is a very dangerous thing, he not only insulted me, he insulted my mother who worked as a special-education teacher for 40 years and raised four children while being a wife."
Longoria got into show business thanks to a talent show in Los Angeles she performed in after finishing college. She later appeared in shows like "The Bold and the Beautiful," "General Hospital" and "Beverly Hills, 90210."
But her true fame came in 2004 with "Desperate Housewives," a show in which she played Gabrielle Solis, a Mexican-born model abused by her step-father. The series received huge ratings and pushed Longoria into the spotlight, giving her the chance to use her fame for charitable causes.
Her organization, the Eva Longoria Foundation, promotes opportunities for Latina women through entrepreneurship programs, microcredit, mentoring and promotion of science and technology education among girls. "The growing Latino population is an untapped resource in this country. If we give Latinas the tools to develop their potential, we will see incredible results," Longoria says.
She also devotes her efforts to helping young people with special needs, providing support and financial aid to Eva's Heroes, a foundation she co-founded in 2006, and is a spokesperson for the Latino organization Parents Against Cancer.
Thanks to these initiatives, the Encyclopedia Britannica namwed her as one of its "Stars with a Conscience."