At the Hispanicize Conference in Miami, where Latinitas co-founders Alicia Rascón and Laura Donnelly won the 2015 Positive Impact Award, they got the chance to interview the well-known actor Luis Guzmán, recipient of the Latinovator Award at Hispanicize 2015. Read below for his conversation with Laura, in which he delves into his inspirational success story and offers young Latinas advice on how to be women of integrity.
We are trying to change Hollywood. How close are we?
We’re right there. Technology has changed so much. There is easier access to the public now. We have the power of Internet and you can record or do a video on your phone or make a podcast. There are so many different outlets to pass a message. Even just doing short movies and putting them on YouTube – that has such an impact. By having this impact we outside Hollywood can do all this stuff to have an impact, and empower young girls…
To become directors themselves, or writers, or graphic designers.
Yeah, anything is possible. Especially now on a laptop. You can build anything from that. You can build fabric, clothes, design, you name it. But also you hit play and it records and you can edit it right there. Something you do in five minutes can have an incredible impact on the whole world.
Who is a female you admire that is taking Latino voices to new spaces?
I admire people like Rosario Dawson. She does a lot of work for the whole community. Rosie Perez too. They don’t only impact the female community but also act as role models. Rosario does a lot of work with the Lower East Side Girl Club [in New York City] and Voto Latino.
Tell us a little about how you got your first start and what inspired you to go into the field?
I was a social worker on the Lower East Side and one day a few of my kids didn’t show up to the program, so I went out into the street looking for them. I happened to run into a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a few years, and he told me he was writing for a TV show and they were coming to NY and were going be looking for people [to cast]. He gave me a phone number, so I called up, went in, and auditioned. I had no clue what I was doing.
Next thing I know, I am costarring on the season premiere of Miami Vice. But I still maintained my job as a social worker for awhile because I didn’t know anything about acting or the entertainment industry. And I was really dedicated and committed to empowering young people and getting them off of welfare, and giving them tools to go out and succeed in society. Basically the tools that I provided were questions. “Who are you? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? Where do you want to be six months from now? A year? Five years?” And I found out nobody ever asked them these questions. They were like: “Oh wow, I never even thought about that because nobody ever asked.” So when you provide people with those kinds of mental tools they refocus themselves.
I used to tell all the young people I worked with: “Think of yourself as a camera lens. Right now you’re really out of focus. My job is to help you help yourself get better into focus.” So that’s what I do and I still go back to where I used to work and I talk to the young people. It’s an important element of my life because though I love what I do as an entertainer and getting to travel the world it’s important to come back. Sometimes the young people there put me on a pedestal. I didn’t necessarily want to be on that pedestal, but they see someone who comes from the same place as them and succeeded. I have the ability to give people faith and to give people hope.
You’d be great in Latinitas! What advice do you want to give to the girls at Latinitas?
Believe in yourself, take pride in who you are, love yourself. Respect yourself as a woman. Don’t give into male domination. Be in control and let a boy know that ‘no’ does not mean ‘yes.’ And as far as bullying goes, because that’s a big thing, bullying is not the way to go. Protect each other from that. Unfortunately there are girls out there who don’t have the love, don’t have the support, so they choose suicide over enduring violence.