THE IMAGES of the dark, complex characters Edward James Olmos portrays in many of his dramatic roles do no justice to the warm-hearted man he really is. Not only is he very much admired as an actor, but, also, Latinos have found in Olmos a spokesman, an activist whose energies are devoted to help his community. Edward James Olmos, whose grandfather published a radical newspaper during the Mexican Revolution, wants a legacy beyond entertainment. “I would hate to look back on my life and only see myself as a person who made lots of money and was a star and made Rambo and Terminator movies,” he has said. Indeed, he devotes his personal life to public service. Olmos has served as a U.S. goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and as a national spokesperson for the Southwest Voter Registration Project, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the AIDS Awareness Foundation, and Students against Driving Drunk (SADD), among others.
Olmos was arrested and spent twenty days in prison in 1991 for taking part in protests against the U.S. Navy’s bombings of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. For his instrumental role in peacekeeping after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, he received the John Anson Ford Award and was honored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for his leadership toward racial unity. He has been active in emergency relief efforts, from organizing a relief fund for the victims of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake to advocating for the victims of the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake.
In 1997 Olmos was executive producer of the anti–domestic violence documentary It Ain’t Love, for which he was given the PASS Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. In 1999 he launched a nationwide multimedia project cosponsored by Time Warner, Inc., called Americanos: Latino Life in the United States. A celebration of Latino and Latina culture, this high-profile project is designed to expose Latino and Latina culture, diversity, and accomplishments to the world through a five-year traveling photography exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution, a music CD, an HBO and a PBS documentary, and a photo-essay book.
“We would have nothing without art,” Olmos often says in one of his lectures. As “an individual who makes outstanding contributions to emerging filmmakers,” Olmos has been awarded an Eastman Second Century Award. For years, he has coproduced the Latino Book and Family Festival, and he is the cofounder of the prestigious Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. Since 1999 Olmos has headed Latino Public Broadcasting, a consortium that allocates funds to Latino and Latina filmmakers for enhancing and enriching diversity on public television across America.
For more than two decades Edward James Olmos has advocated tirelessly for Latino and Latina communities, but his efforts for social justice transcend racial lines. “I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to realize how in the world are we ever going to come together when we keep on using the word ‘race’ as a cultural determinant,” said Olmos in a commencement speech in San Diego, California. “There’s only one race, and that’s the human race. Period.”
Edward James Olmos Biography – (b. 1947), Acting Career, Public Service, Political Activism, Zoot Suit, Miami Vice