By Rick Bentley Tribune News Service
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Actress Aimee Garcia says her passion to be a role model comes from her mother, who after growing up poor was the first Latina to graduate from Northwestern's orthodontics school.
Aimee Garcia is on a mission. The Chicago native who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage wants to make sure no matter what role she is playing, the character must in some way be a positive role model.
She only has a small role in the new feature film "El Chicano," but she brought the same commitment to the role.
"She is a voice of reason. She's an educated Latina who is from East L.A. but leaves to become educated and become a teacher. Then she chooses not to forget her roots and come back to her community to educate the next generation of Latinos and to make her community better," Garcia says. "I see her as a positive role model. She is strong, smart and a voice of reason."
Her character stands out in the film, as she lives in a world surrounded by violence and acts of revenge.
Garcia's character's husband, LAPD Detective Diego Hernandez (Raul Castillo), has been assigned a career-making case investigating a vicious cartel. During his investigation, Hernandez discovers a connection to his brother's supposed suicide and a turf battle that's about to swallow up his neighborhood. When he can't decide between playing by the book and seeking justice, Hernandez resurrects the masked street legend El Chicano.
In other cases, Garcia had to push to make sure she was getting her positive message across in her roles. When she was cast as the babysitter in "Dexter," she made sure her character was always studying and trying to improve herself.
Garcia realized the forum she had 10 years ago while playing a millionaire on the "George Lopez" series. She was approached at a restaurant by four young women of different ethnicities who told Garcia how much they loved her character.
"It was at that moment, I realized that me doing an acting job is just not a way for me to pay rent. It is a way to give my community a voice and I had the responsibility of choosing my roles wisely so I can represent women of integrity," Garcia says.
"If people see themselves in our characters, then the division between us and them will be smaller and smaller."
One of the best examples is her work on the Fox series "Lucifer" as LAPD forensic scientist Ella Lopez. The character is not only a first-rate member of the police department, but brings energy and joy to the job. The series was canceled by Fox, but Netflix responded to millions of fans who wanted more and has produced 10 more episodes that will be available starting May 8.
The passion to be a role model comes from Garcia's mom, who after growing up poor was the first Latina to graduate from Northwestern's orthodontics school. That background was important because Garcia's effort to project positive images in her roles is a major plus for television, where traditionally Latinos have more often been cast in roles as laborers or members of gangs.
"I do tend to gravitate towards educated, professional Latinas because it is important to represent the whole spectrum," Garcia says. "Obviously, not every Latina went to college but I think that it is important to represent those who did because there are a lot of Latina graduates from Stanford and Harvard."
And when she travels to comic book conventions to talk about "Lucifer" or the new comic book she is writing, Garcia takes the chance to share her message directly with all ages.
Garcia almost missed her opportunity to use acting to get her message across. While attending Northwestern University, she triple majored in economics, journalism and French. Although she had been active in local theater, Garcia opted after graduation to work in the financial world for a mutual fund analyst. That didn't last long.
What followed has been a career where often Garcia has ended up in dark projects where the lead character is hiding a secret, such as in "Dexter," "Lucifer" and now "El Chicano." At the mention of her association with these types of projects, Garcia smiles.
"I am light-hearted," Garcia stresses. "I am very optimistic. I am very excited about life. I almost died when I was 4 years old because I had pneumonia and the little girl next to me didn't make it. Looking back at that moment, I realize that is why I am so grateful. That is why I am so optimistic. My heart is so full getting to do what I do."