Actress Eva Longoria encouraged students to volunteer and maintain a passion for learning beyond undergraduate studies at a question-and-answer session presented by the USC Latino Alumni Association, USC Spectrum and Verizon on Saturday at Bovard Auditorium.
An Evening with Eva hosted by Josh Kun, a professor of communication, drew more than 500 attendees to hear Longoria speak about her work outside of acting, which includes advocating for immigration legislation, domestic and international philanthropy and documentary filmmaking.
“Education and philanthropy have always been two really big tent poles in my life,” Longoria said. “That was where my social position started. I find acting the smallest part of what I’m put on this earth to do. I find that it was the catalyst for me having a voice, but it was never my intention.”
Longoria cited the women in her family as role models, including her mentally disabled sister and her mother, a special education teacher.
The 36-year-old actress, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Chicano studies and political science at Cal State Northridge while starring in the eighth and final season of ABC’s Desperate Housewives.
A ninth-generation American and native of Corpus Cristi, Texas, Longoria reflected on having to defy the stereotypes placed on Latinos in Hollywood when she moved to Los Angeles in 1998. Longoria said she was often complimented on her clear English during auditions, but would be asked to speak with a Mexican accent.
“I had the journey of doors being not closed, but labeled,” Longoria said.
She described herself as fervently interested in her Spanish, Mexican and Texan ancestry, which led her to pursue a master’s degree.
She also showcased a clip from Harvest, the documentary she is executive producing. The documentary follows the lives of undocumented farm-working children in the United States who migrate state-to-state to follow seasonal crops.
“The children are stuck in a cycle of poverty and they can’t get an education,” Longoria said. “They have to follow the harvest. They’re not engaged in curriculum or with their teachers.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson attended the event and praised Longoria for her work in the Latino community.
“It’s really a great opportunity for USC to hear from a great representative from the Latino community,” Jackson said.
Billy Vela, director of El Centro Chicano at USC, said Longoria is setting a positive example for students by using her fame as a vehicle for raising awareness.
“She’s someone who has really been a success story and a great example for [the Latino] community,” Vela said. “But more important than that is her ability to use that platform to not only get to understand herself and our community better, but the ability to translate that into actually using her star status to put a light on important issues.”
Longoria said she is lucky to be a well-known figure, but others should not be discouraged from becoming involved in volunteer work despite the stigmas surrounding it.
“Sometimes people think of philanthropy and they go, ‘That’s something rich, famous people do,’” Longoria said. “It’s not. The people that make philanthro-capitalism work are everyday people and volunteers.”
Will Riley, a freshman majoring in Spanish and philosophy, politics and law, did not expect Longoria to focus heavily on political and social discourses at the event.
“I didn’t really know anything about her before the event,” Riley said. “She went a long way toward educating people on some very important issues that everyone should know about, especially with the presidential elections coming up.”
Jorge Trujillo, a freshman majoring in business administration, said he was encouraged by Longoria’s passion to make practical changes.
“I really liked the fact that she was a lot more than what she is perceived as,” Trujillo said. “A lot of Hollywood people aren’t as educated as you would think and she definitely surprised me in that. Everyone thinks of immigration as a problem, but she thinks of ways to help fix it — to help the people involved fix it.”
After Desperate Housewives goes off the air, Longoria said she plans on taking time off from acting. She plans on campaigning for President Barack Obama’s re-election, completing her master’s degree and traveling to Israel to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Longoria advised students to pay their opportunities forward.
“I’ve been given this amazing life, and I’ve got to give back ten-fold,” Longoria said. “You have to start giving back if you want to receive.”