It’s amazing what an A-list celebrity can do to a well-meaning child labor bill.
On Thursday, Eva Longoria hit Capitol Hill, where she injected a shot of excitement into the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, better known as the CARE Act.
But Longoria isn’t the only Hispanic celebrity elevating the energy on policy issues in Washington these days. A growing number of politically-engaged Hispanic actors are becoming regular fixtures in the nation’s capital. The likes of actors Jimmy Smits, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson, George Lopez, Esai Morales, Wilmer Valderamma, and Aimee Garcia -- all of whom have successful careers in Hollywood -- all have active outreach projects that bring them to Washington. They press for a variety of policy issues, but they support each other's projects whenever they can.
The CARE Act was originally proposed by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), and the bill would raise age and working standards for migrant child farmworkers, an estimated 400,000 of whom work on American farms every year. The issue is close to Longoria’s heart, and she’s produced a documentary film on the subject in conjunction with Shine Global and director Roberto Romano. Set for release next month, “The Harvest/La Cosecha” follows three migrant child workers and their families as they crisscross the United States, following the crops they harvest.
In conjunction with the film’s upcoming release, Roybal-Allard reintroduced the CARE Act Thursday morning. Later that day, Longoria hosted a screening of it for members and staff on Capitol Hill.
“The difference Longoria has made to this bill is huge,” Roybal-Allard told The Huffington Post, following a packed press conference with Longoria outside the Capitol. “Before Eva, we would hold press conferences for this bill, but they were nothing like this.”
Roybal-Allard even credits Longoria with helping to increase the number of co-sponsors who have signed on to the legislation since it was first introduced in 2007. Today the CARE Act (H.R. 3564) boasts 107 co-sponsors, and Roybal-Allard is optimistic for its passage despite opposition from the powerful farm lobby.
“There are so many issues vying for our time in D.C. that migrant child labor can often get lost,” Roybal-Allard said, “so you need to have someone like Eva--someone of her stature--to really elevate the energy and excitement.”
“As successful Hispanics in the public eye, we have an obligation to reach out to members of our community, and to encourage Latinos to take account of what’s going on in this country,” Morales told The Huffington Post.
To that end, he said, “Eva [Longoria] is a force of nature.”
Morales knows a thing or two about Hispanic political advocacy. Nearly a decade before Longoria achieved international stardom on “Desperate Housewives,” Morales co-founded the Washington-based non-profit National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1997 with fellow actors Smits, Sonia Braga, Merel Julia (the widow of Raul Julia), and attorney Felix Sanchez. Today their annual gala draws many of Hollywood’s hottest Latino stars to D.C.
Morales sees himself as a veteran “actorvist,” having first coordinated Hispanic outreach for a Clinton inauguration project in 1992. Today, he says, there is a new generation of Hispanic actors engaging in advocacy at the national level.
“They’re not intimidated by the political system,” he says of these younger stars, citing Ferrera, Valderamma, Dawson and Garcia as examples. “They’re learning about things like how to lobby Congress and organize a campaign, and they’re connecting with other activists and artists.”
One of those younger actors is Aimee Garcia, currently appearing on Showtime’s hit drama “Dexter.” Garcia’s break-out role came on the first prime-time comedy to feature an all-Hispanic cast, “The George Lopez Show.”
Garcia said, “People like Eva Longoria and George Lopez remind me of what I can achieve through advocacy, and they motivate me to use my success to do as much good as I can.”
The actress explained that there’s an interconnectedness that exists among this group of Hispanic actors when it comes to supporting each other’s causes. For example, she recently attended a premiere of Longoria’s film in Los Angeles, and she played in a charity golf tournament with Lopez this spring to benefit his George Lopez Foundation, which funds medical research. She also visited Washington in May, where she and fellow actress America Ferrera helped launch a new initiative with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting aimed at reducing high school dropout rates.
Garcia has degrees in French, journalism, and international relations from Northwestern University, but points out that Latinos have the highest drop-out rates in the nation. “That needs to change.”
“If Hispanics want to have a voice in public policy, we need to build a generation of educated young people,” she said.