En español | Ella Longoria had four daughters, three of them luminously fair, exotically different. And then there was the youngest, a wiry, dark-skinned girl. Her sisters called her prieta fea (ugly dark one) and told her she was switched at birth.
Ella saw only beauty in her little girl, in her brown eyes, her fiercely independent soul, her unsinkable spirit, and her heart, so full of joy it lit up her entire face.
Decades after Ella recognized that beauty, America has taken notice.
Ella’s baby girl, Eva, now smolders as the sultry goddess Gabrielle Solis on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. She graces magazine covers, haute fashion spreads, and random celeb shots.
But as Ella knows, Eva’s heart belongs to her roots, her Mexican American culture. Ask the 30-year-old what makes her feel most beautiful and, without skipping a beat, she will tell you: “Being around my family. So many of my personal beliefs, and who I am, are heavily tied into my culture, my family, my food, my music.” She is most content at home with her family in Texas as they feast on enchiladas and listen to country and mariachi songs, just kicking back.
“Beauty is an experience, nothing else,” D. H. Lawrence wrote. “It is not a fixed pattern or an arrangement of features. It is something felt, a glow or a communicated sense of fineness.”
This essence of beauty is arguably the most important of all the intangibles Eva Longoria inherited from her mother. The legacy of belonging has anchored the 30-year-old actress in her climb to stardom and given her that radiance that comes from fulfillment. This inheritance came to her when she needed it most, in those awkward childhood years.
“To be a light-skinned Mexican was seen as better than being a dark-skinned Mexican,” says Eva. “My idea of beauty was the image of my sisters. I still think they are the most beautiful creatures in the world. But it was tough….Still, the experience helped me develop my personality and who I was as a person. Luckily, I blossomed,” says Eva. It was her mother, a retired special education teacher, who helped her through that difficult phase.
At 60, Ella remembers all too well.
“I told Eva that beauty is from within. Beauty is the way you act and present yourself,” she says. “It’s how you get along with people.”
These words were accompanied by example. For as long as Eva can remember, her mother helped people with disabilities.
Ella’s acts of charity began at home, when her first daughter was born with mental disabilities. That spurred Ella to study special education, and she went on to devote her career to teaching children with similar disabilities.
“She inspired me and changed my life,” Ella says of her eldest daughter, now 38 years old. In turn, Ella inspired Eva.
“What I find most beautiful about my mom is her selflessness, how she gave up so much for us to have what we have,” says Eva. “I remember her sacrificing her needs and wants and paychecks for us to have cheerleading outfits and all that silly stuff.”
Today Eva reaches out to those in need as well, serving as the first national spokesperson for Padres Contra el Cáncer (Parents Against Cancer), a nonprofit organization committed to improving the quality of life for Latino children with cancer and their families.
Ella also stressed education. “All the women in my female-driven family…focused on getting an education,” says Eva. “They just really made me believe I could be someone on my own.” Eva earned a bachelor of science degree in body movement at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
The mutual sense of trust and respect between the actress and her mother eased Eva’s transition to Hollywood life. “When I moved to L.A., instead of freaking out, my mom uplifted me. She just said, ‘I support you. Go do it. Follow your dreams and be happy,’ ” says Eva.
There was one more nugget of advice from Mom: follow your dreams, yes, but never forget where you came from. This will keep you beautiful.
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