Edward James Olmos occupies a special place in the hearts of Texans, primarily because he played Selena’s dad, Abraham Quintanilla, in “Selena,” the biopic about the singer’s life. But Olmos’ film acting and directing career spans 40 years. Some may remember that he rose to prominence in the 1980s as the star of “Stand and Deliver.” Now, he’s a film icon whose characters’ phrases have become mantras within the Hispanic community. One quotable moment came from his role in “Selena”:
Listen: being Mexican-American is tough. Anglos jump all over you if you don’t speak English perfectly; Mexicans jump all over you if you don’t speak Spanish perfectly! We gotta be twice as perfect as everybody else!
This week, Olmos is attending the 22nd annual Cine las Americas film festival in Austin, where his son is showing a film he directed, “Windows on the World,” named after the complex that used to be at the top of one of the old World Trade Center buildings in New York.
Olmos on Selena:
She was a wonderful artist and really brought about a great sense of hope and change. Such a tragedy.
On the lasting impact of “Stand and Deliver”:
That film was a film that has really one of the strongest accolades of any of my films ever because of the usage [by] so many teachers throughout the country. [They] use it yearly to inspire their students and motivate them.
On the variety of characters he’s played over the years:
I love ‘Stand and Deliver’; that character was amazing. I also like ‘Miami Vice’: Lt. Castillo. … The best usage of television I’ve ever done was ‘Battlestar Galactica’ when I played the Admiral Adama.
On his son’s film showing at Cine las Americas:
It’s called “Windows on the World.” There was at least 300 undocumented workers that were working [in the World Trade Center on 9/11], and I play one of ‘em. My family is trying to find out what happened to me. … It’s really a very tender and very strong film.”
On his Youth Cinema Project in California:
It’s a privilege to be a storyteller. I can’t tell you enough. I started, over 20 years ago, the Youth Cinema Project. … I’m in 19 school districts in California. It starts in the fourth grade. We start teaching film. It’s like teaching a language. It goes twice a week for 90 minutes inside the classroom. … It’s a whole year, and at the end of the year, like this year, we’ll be producing over 187 films.
On Youth Cinema Project creating a path toward higher education:
Colleges and universities are using the program, and it’s a pathway now. … If I had had this when I was in the fourth grade and gone up, I would have been a different person. And these kids are completely different: when they get out of the fourth grade after taking this program, along with their science, and their English, and their language, and their math and everything else … you’re a much more [well-]rounded person.