Monday, May 2, 2016

Edward James Olmos Speaks at SCU on LatinXs and Education

Edward James Olmos Interviewed for "Latino Thought Makers" Series with Rick Najera

Seeing Olmos speak on Saturday April 30 was something of a bucket list moment for me because he has been a part of the pop culture collective consciousness of LatinXs in the US, especially Mexican Americans of my parents' generation who had few role models reflected back at them from the 'silver screen.' Author of Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood, Rick Najera interviewed Olmos, who is the godfather to Najera's kids and a longtime friend.

(Me at SCU with Olmos)

Olmos in his April 30 Interview with Rick Nagera 

Edward James Olmos said that his different roles as actor, producer, director are all different, but he likes that they teach him about himself. It's self-serving, but the stories "made me who I am." He remarked that Zoot Suit changed his life, but it also changed theater as an art form.

When Olmos went to East Los Angeles City College, he paid six dollars a semester. He said he earned his Associates degree for $24. When he went to Cal State LA, he paid $60 a semester and completed his degree for $300 total. He said "state university should be free" it should come from taxes and be a force for community.

(Olmos and Najera)

Olmos on His Career and Storytelling

Regarding his career he said he has been "very selective from the beginning." He said Hollywood doesn't do anything for anybody, adding "it's show-business, not show-sociology."

He explained he was not naturally gifted and talented but he was disciplined. Something he also learned was that it's always better to give to give more to people and causes than he gets.

He said he talked to teachers early in his career but he thought that the students needed to hear from someone successful but he realized they also need to hear from people doing things.
Olmos said that if you want to grab an audience, tell a story.

He explained that he changed his life by telling stories about his culture.

Although Olmos said some actors did not want to be a hyphenated "Latino-American" actor. There were those who did not want to be tagged with this, but Olmos said its fine, "I'm 1000% Latino."

Teachers and Unions

Olmos explained that he represents unions of the world and he said that school systems have to be regulated by unions and influence what happens in the classroom. He added that he would never cross a picket line but he tells union leaders to watch out for him if they're not doing their job as a leader.

Olmos said he takes his hat off to teachers because he doesn't know anyone who did it without a teacher but doesn't guarantee they're all doing great work.

To keep kids in college, Olmos says it starts at third-grade age when students need to find their passion for education. And children are listening to what's being said about Latino by adults in politics.

On American Me and Stand and Deliver

Olmos explained American Me received the most criticism, but he said truth has to permeate story. Perhaps for that reason, a lot of people didn't like it. But he explained that American Me was most effective for keeping the kids out of prison because they did not want to take the journey represented in the film.

Stand and Deliver, Olmos said, is shown 10,000 times each year by teachers. Najera added that American Me is the most stolen DVD ever.

Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication with Filmmaking

Towards the end of the talk, the video below from the Latino Film Institute was shown. Olmos explained that "Nothing I have ever seen in the classroom and allow children to use creativity creative thinking collaboration and communication for 90 minutes." And, "Every person who sees these classes has tears in their eyes."

Students learning about films is the single most effective way for them to understand that's everything being taught math everything goes up allow them to feel something inside the classroom.

Olmos even said that Chapman University (where I earned my MA and MFA) is the first to accept students without standardized test, instead by way of evaluating their film reel submissions. Olmos said students learn all stages of writing, storyboarding, pre-and post-production, and that distribution will be where things are going to change. 

Learning this technology, he said, will be as influential as when he learned the typewriter which allows him as a 70-year-old to still type 60 words a minute and use his computer.

Reiterating his point, he said no poem or book or performance art is as effective as the visual-audio medium projected on the screen, adding that the people who learn it will "dominate the future."

He said the point is not trying to make filmmakers better students but that affects the time the rest of the time in the classroom when they're learning other subjects. He said that a lot of teachers were very skeptical but that it is taught students to find motivation in lower socioeconomic schools.

Olmos stated, "We need to be able to reach out and share our lives so people get to know us."

Olmos in Poch@ Pop

To provide further context for Olmos' comments during his interview with Rick Najera, I conclude with a quote from my book Reclaiming Poch@ Pop:
"Edward James Olmos has represented the street-wise pachuco watching their backs, the strong role model as teacher, head of family, and captain on intergalactic voyages traversing the collective pop cultural memory. Olmos’ presence challenges the racist punchline for the joke about “why there were no Latinas/os on Star Trek,” by proving that Latinas/os want to work, and do in fact work in the future. More importantly, many of the television programs and films that Olmos has starred in have marked temporal signposts for many Latina/o audiences in the U.S.
I still recall when I was eight years old and I saw Stand and Deliver (1988) in theaters twice. For my family, the film inspired a sense of pride. Both of my parents were educators: my mother taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at my elementary school and my father taught English at a Hispanic-Serving community college. Therefore, Olmos’ portrayal of real-life educator Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher, who excelled in the preparation of Latina/o students for the advanced placement calculus exam, shone a positive light on the ignored efforts of Latina/o teachers and students. (Medina 3)

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