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José Fernando López Headshot

Latino Covers

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When I was young, and films started becoming my passion, there were three actors who fascinated me and who eventually became idols of various generations: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman. Simply the fact that one of their names was attached was a guarantee that I was going to see a good movie. That still holds true today, many years later. Both De Niro and Pacino are descendants of Italian immigrants that arrived in America in the late XIX and early XX centuries. Hoffman comes from a family of Orthodox Jews from Ukraine and Romania.

Between 1890 and 1914 (before World War I imposed severe restrictions on the movement of people worldwide), about three million Italians arrived in America, mostly motivated by economic reasons. Like many Latinos today, the majority of Italians that arrived at the time were poor and had very little education. Therefore, they worked mainly in manual labour. And like many Latinos nowadays, they isolated themselves in neighborhoods known as "Little Italies" -where they defended their language and customs- and suffered serious problems of discrimination. But finally they adapted to the country that welcomed them and no one denies today the contribution Italians have made to the development of the United States. Nobody is surprised -or bothered- to see Robert De Niro or Al Pacino on the cover of a magazine. Instead, Americans feel proud to have such icons of world cinema.

This little thought came into my head a few days ago while I was looking at the magazine rack of a famous bookstore in the city of Miami. At least half a dozen magazines aimed towards mainstream American -not magazines for Latino audiences, such as People en Español, or many others- had on their covers Latin film and television stars. JLo in Vanity Fair; Salma Hayek in Allure; Jessica de Alba in Lucky; Eva Mendes in Cosmo; Sofia Vergara in Redbook; and Zoe Saldaña in Women's Health. Some are US-born, of Hispanic parents, others first-generation immigrants, but all so successful as to be able to appear on those covers.

I am certainly not comparing their careers or talents with those of the other three actors mentioned at the beginning of this column. But as did the Italians -and of course the Jews-, Hispanics have shown that they can adapt to the American environment and contribute with their work -after a long, hard road- not only to the culture and entertainment of the country, which because of their nature are often made more colorful, but also to science and business (to mention just two fields where many Latinos stand out). The "American Dream" is still possible for everyone.