Wilmer Valderrama to Take Voto Latino's Mission to the Next Level and Run for Office?
In art and in life, Wilmer Valderrama wears many hats.
His TV gigs include Fez, the awkwardly funny foreign exchange student on "That '70s Show," MTV series "Yo Momma," the voice for the animated character Manny in the children's show "Handy Manny" and now a crime lord named Don Carlos in Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" on El Rey Network.
In his personal life, he's been linked to some of Hollywood's most famous beauties. Whether or not you pay attention to the tabloids or believe them, Valderrama has been up to something; but this time it's indeed worthy of a top headline -- his ALMA Award-winning social activism and dedication to Voto Latino as the Artist Coalition Co-Chair.
He also happens to be an impressive public speaker as well, and he proved he might even have the political chops to run for office as he addressed the audience at the Voto Latino Power Summit on April 11-12 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Valderrama joined Voto Latino, a nonpartisan organization that empowers Latino Millenials (18-34) to vote, voice their opinions, and fight for their rights to education, healthcare and immigration reform, etc. with the encouragement of longtime friend, actress, Voto Latino Co-Founder and Chairwoman, Rosario Dawson.
"It's been remarkable sharing this with you. You make me so proud. You're beautiful, you're amazing, you're the bees' knees," said Dawson about Valderrama.
Voto Latino is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with the Voto Latino Power Summit 2014 that will expand to a four-city national tour and includes leadership, advocacy, and media and technology workshops with community activists, grassroots organizers, elected officials, celebrities, and business leaders. In addition, there is a tech contest called the VL Innovators Challenge, where Latino Millennials can design and use technology for change.
During the inception of Voto Latino, Valderrama and Dawson puts their heads together to figure out the best ways to get Latino Millennials engaged, which was to speak to them in English and reach them online.
Valderrrama, who is of Venezuelan and Colombian descent, is the perfect example of this as a Latino Millenial himself. He was born in Miami, and moved to Venezuela when he was 3 years old. Then at the age of 13 he moved to the United States where his family settled in Los Angeles. While it wasn't always easy, trying to learn English and become acculturated, he did and was ultimately destined for Hollywood. Through his experience, and prominence in pop culture and the Entertainment industry, he recognized the influences and power that Latinos have in the U.S.
"When I got the call to become part of this initiative (Voto Latino). We (Valderrama and Dawson) understood something almost too early that there was something that was evolving, there was a community that was growing and that everyone was sleeping on it, and that everyone felt that we didn't contribute, that we didn't have a place and that we weren't part of this national community just yet."
He pointed out that in the U.S. "every three and a half years there has been a Latin explosion in the media." He recalled when TIME magazine featured Ricky Martin on the cover and it said: "They Have Arrived."
"That to me was hilarious because we (Latinos) have been here for quite a while, and we have been a part of this, what so many people like to think, this invisible engine that somehow just runs itself," he said. "Somehow the country enjoys the labor of millions and millions of Latinos that are a part of this country, that drive this country to where it is today, and where it's going to be."
Valderrama added that his sentiment comes from "humble thoughts" and "is not a threat."
"So when Rosario gave me this call, I thought that it was an organic extension of our story that it was part of the legacy that we needed to leave -- that this is what we came the industry to do. As entertainers and artists, that maybe our calling was to be a part of this historic movement that is defining the face of the Latino in this country," he said.
He recalled that trying to get Hollywood on board with a PSA, was "like pulling teeth" and how Dawson and her mother said Latinos have a right to have an opinion and that opinion should be heard.
"Latinos have a real opinion and we are a part of this country. We are citizens, we are residents, we are immigrants, but we are families that believe in the American flag. Every time we look out the window and see the American flag, no matter if we didn't eat dinner that night, which we did, no matter how dark the future looked, which it was at one point, when you looked at the American flag, that the American flag represented hope," he explained.
"We just knew that if you turned the salsa music a little louder, because we knew Mom was going to be entertained with her telenolvelas while the kids and the future citizens and leaders of tomorrow were watching Power Rangers. I knew fairly quickly that there was a call that we all needed to be a part of.
"It is time to have a real opinion. It is time to not be afraid to say what you need and how you need it. Trust me, they are trying to figure out how to talk to you. I am talking about the government, the government is trying to figure out how to talk to you, but hey just can't find the words, so we need to give it to them."
Who knows maybe Valderamma will someday change his mind about running for office and find the right words. So will he consider it?
"I have been asked that a few times, and honestly it's more silly than anything, I don't know, but I think that I can do more service on this side of the fence to be honest," Valderrama told Latin Post.
"I think that the community has very few examples and a few people that can power them to actually have the conversation through whatever vessel that we can create through Voto Latino."
He points out that if he made that move and crossed over into politics, "it could prove to be very difficult."
"Never say never, but I think that for right now, I think I am the most at service on this side of the fence," he added.