Eva Mendes, Latina

Diego Uchitel/Latina

Eva Mendes doesn't usually discuss her personal life in the press.

But, given everything that's happened in the past three months, the 42-year-old actress makes an exception for Latina's September issue (on newsstands Aug. 9). Speaking for the first time about the death of her brother, Carlos Mendes, and the birth of her daughter, Amada Gosling, Eva credits her family with getting her through it. "Losing my brother brought our family closer, and we were already close to begin with," she says of Carlos, who lost his battle with cancer at age 53 on Apr. 17. "So to just see everybody be there for one another and show up, I feel so lucky to have them." Amada was born 12 days after Carlos' passing. "We had a funeral service for him and that same week I had the baby. It was really, really intense and obviously beyond heartbreaking, but also kind of beautiful." Understandably, Eva hasn't "really processed" it yet.

With two young daughters to take care of, Eva hasn't had much time to grieve. "My older little girl is not yet 2 years old. My little one is still an infant, and right now it's really about surviving those nights and trying to enjoy this time as much as possible with them, and start the bond between Esmeralda and Amada," she explains. "It's a really, really special time. I'm loving it."

Eva Mendes, Latina

Diego Uchitel/Latina

Both Esmeralda and Amada were named after members of Eva's family. "My grandmother's name is Amada, and Esmeralda Amada is the name of our oldest. We had a few names picked out for our new baby, and when she was born, we didn't feel like those names were her. We came up with a few more, even that morning, and tried them out. We were like, 'What about Viviana?' But we just kept going back to Amada. In true Latin fashion, we reuse names all the time. I used to know five sisters that were all Maria del Carmen, Maria Elena, Maria liliana...I actually told [Ryan Gosling], 'This is common in Latin culture, so it wouldn't be crazy.' So we went with Amada because it was something we kept going back to. And it was an emotional time with the passing of my brother. We thought how beautiful to go with what made us emotional and with what felt like her. When we looked at her, we thought, 'Aww, Amadita.'"

Eva and Ryan plan to raise their daughters to be bilingual. "We're constantly playing Cuban music. I speak to them in Spanish, and my mom speaks to Esmeralda in Spanish. Well, now she speaks to both of them in Spanish. Any time I have an opportunity to introduce her or them—I have to say 'them' now, though my newborn just sleeps all the time—to my culture, whether it's through music, or through food, I do," the actress says. "That is a main priority, for sure."

Eva Mendes, Latina

Diego Uchitel/Latina

Being a good mother is Eva's priority, which is why she hasn't been as active as an actress in recent years. "I didn't think acting could be a profession you could make a career out of. I grew up, what, 20 minutes outside of Hollywood? It seemed like a foreign land," the Hitch star recalls. "But when I saw the door open, when I saw the crack, slightly ajar, I kicked it open." Now that she's a parent, it would "definitely take something really special" for her to return to work. "I don't like saying 'take me away,' but essentially that's what work does. I think it can be very, very healthy if it's something that feels worthwhile. Right now I feel very fortunate to be home with my kids. I feel so lucky, and I'm just taking advantage of that." Motherhood, naturally, has also influenced the roles she's interested in. "I think like such a mom now—big picture—as far as what I'm putting out there, not only for my children but for other children."

Eva's full interview appears in Latina's September issue, on newsstands and Nook Aug. 9

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