As a life-long L.A. resident born and raised in the U.S.A. in a predominately Hispanic/Latino neighborhood to a likewise family I have a somewhat unique perspective on the whole Ben Affleck/Tony Mendez controversy. However, this is my perspective and as such is not subject to argument but alas there will be some who will so... no getting around that if this rubs someone the wrong way so here it goes. Spanish wasn't the language that was spoken in my home. My mother and father, cousins and friends of the family did speak Spanish and they did that as often as possible. Weddings, birthdays or whenever there was an excuse to party it was Spanish that we heard and quite loudly I might add.
And yet at home or in small gatherings like visits to Nana and grandpa's house the language that was most often heard was English. I point this out because I just happened to read an interview with Antonio(Tony) Joseph Mendez, the CIA operative played by newly controversial actor/director Ben Affleck. Now as anyone who knows me can tell you I have been a film buff and movie fan since I was able to switch the channel on our old console TV. I understand film and film production. I have friends and colleagues working and or starving to make it in "Hollywood". And so I have followed the ARGO controversy since it reared it's ugly head.
I believe that as a filmmaker who can get the financing to make the projects that drive his passion Ben Affleck can and should be able to do whatever he desires. Absolutely no question he can. Yet it seems to me that in light of his struggles to become a working writer/actor/director Ben obviously remembers life before Good Will Hunting. The moments of reflecting with his fellow starving actors must've looked like a United Nations meeting. I've seen those gatherings.
Hangout at any "eatery" in North Hollywood, West Hollywood or Venice beach. They are all there sharing stories and contacts and more importantly food so they could stretch those dollars. So when it came time to cast ARGO why didn't Ben decide to audition Latino/Hispanic actors? A or B list L/H actors looking for that great part to show their acting chops or no name actors looking for that one big break and then surround him with seasoned pros to sell the picture and get it financed. All actors are very egocentric and I mean that in a good way. They are putting themselves out there for critics and reviewers. But Ben isn't struggling. He's reached that plateau where he could put a picture together and create his vision.
Ron Howard has made a fantastic career as a director. Clint Eastwood as well. And yet when I read the interview with Tony Mendez it struck me as being very familiar. My life as a Latino/Hispanic male was never identified as being, well...Latino/Hispanic. I was born in Montebello and grew up in East L.A./Boyle Heights. My everyday existence contained foods like Tamales & McDonald's, Impanadas and Donuts. Trips to La Placita and Disneyland. But no one ever called me the "L" word or the "H" word. I said the pledge of allegiance in school and watched Sesame Street. Romper Room and Sheriff John. Get my drift? So when I read that Tony Mendez states "I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic" in some weird way it made sense to me. That felt like me. That's how my emotional side processed it.
But my 51 year old self, the educated and proud "Latino" that I have become needed to analyze it in a more profound way. Leaving out even half of Mr. Mendez's lineage and not casting an actor who best reflected that lineage of Mr. Mendez is shortsighted in the extreme. It cheats the viewer of the richness of that heritage and his love for this country. It steals the hopes and dreams of young people of a heritage they belong to and identify with and teaches them what they can accomplish...what is possible. And who ever said that identifying with a proud culture meant shying away from this country we all love. I am Latino. I am Hispanic. I am a U.S. citizen born and raised here in Southern California. And I love this country. A decorated CIA operative like Tony should remember that. Mr. Affleck, I am a great admirer of your work but always remember there are still dreamers out there and they come in all shapes and colors.