This two-part series chronicles the roughly 12 hours I spent chasing actor Edward James Olmos around South Texas for this story.
It was early May when I found out about the fundraiser and began putting together an advance story.
An actor, Edward James Olmos, was going to headline an annual event that raises money for the local Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children chapter.
My editor was freaking out about coverage, saying Olmos was one of his favorite actors.
Based on his reaction, I assumed there were dozens of movies starring Olmos that I had missed somehow.
I remembered watching Stand and Deliver in high school, but if I was being honest with myself, I couldn’t keep the plot completely separate from Dead Poets Society, another film about an inspirational teacher.
I shrugged it off as another actor that was before my time, but he and a colleague began discussing his work on Battlestar Galactica.
Those words, in my head, evoked half memories of cheesy sets and poor video quality akin to Knight Rider, only in a science-fiction setting. I remembered my dad attempting to explain the details of the wars between humans and Cylons, and something about a red eye, but everything else in the sci-fi compartment of my brain was filled with AT-ATs, Kessel runs and Kashyyyk history factoids.
But it turns out there was a second series. One that began in 2003. And Olmos was the star.
I wrote the advance, but assumed my editor would be covering the event. After all, I didn’t know Olmos from Robin Williams, so what warranted me being there?
He was busy the night of the fundraiser, though, so I headed to the event where Olmos’ speech was the keynote.
Olmos lauded CASA and thanked the donors, noting that he was there only to show gratitude for their donations, which made it possible to give voices to children most at-risk of being ignored.
It all seemed like the same rhetoric you would expect from the national spokesperson for the group, but then he talked a little about what it had taken to get him there.
The local CASA board had been bothering him non-stop, it seems. His busy schedule producing movies kept him from agreeing to the gig until he found himself scheduled to be in Houston the day following the event.
Even then, though, he had to take a 5 a.m. flight to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley in time for the event, where he led off sharing how happy he was to be in a town where Mexican customs still reign.
“I love coming here to Brownsville because all the women kiss me,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
From that, he began a fiercely proud explanation of how deep the roots of Latino culture go here in the Americas.
“We didn’t come here from anywhere,” he explained, noting that even when the Spanish settlers arrived by boat it was a shock. “Our relatives said ‘Wow! Boat people!'”
“I didn’t quite understand it,” he began, noting that when he went to his first day of kindergarten in Los Angeles he was greeted with a sign proclaiming that “If it isn’t worth saying in English, it isn’t worth saying at all.”
Latinos were only allowed in the swimming pool on Wednesdays, he said, and that was because they cleaned them out on Thursdays.
He recounted other examples where the color of his skin had affected his childhood, but he said them flippantly, almost like he was brushing them away as tired jokes.
The leaps and bounds Mexican-Americans have made in the past decades, he said, “only happened because we were willing to forgive.”
“That’s what makes me most proud.”
He noted that the United States will soon be mostly Hispanic, but put it into a perspective befitting the fundraiser.
“We make babies. And that’s OK,” he said. “We just have to take care of them.”
“I started into this (CASA) understanding we are a majority of the Western hemisphere,” he said. “With that comes an incredible amount of responsibility.”
Before long, he was done speaking and everyone had gone back to eating. He was due to sign autographs and pose for photographs following the event, so I knew my chances of getting a one-on-one interview with him were slim.
I spoke with some of the CASA staff and made plans to speak with him following his event at a local elementary school the next day and went home before anyone had even left their seats.