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The television actor describes his journey from the mean streets of East Harlem to Hollywood, detailing his fall from success, his family, and his 1994 comeback
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Erik Estrada lives in Los Angeles.
Davin Seay is the author of Mick Jagger: The Story Behind the Rolling Stone. He lives in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Any man's beginning reaches back past his point of origin-the time, date, and place when he made his grand entrance-to the deepest roots of his heritage. Who we are depends on where we came from, our people, our culture, and the way of life we carry with us from cradle to grave.
In my career, that question of heritage has always been more than a little blurred. My dark skin and Latin looks have landed me roles as everything from Italian to Chicano to the all-purpose Hispanic. And for a lot of Spanish- speaking people, I was something of a role model, one of their own who made it big.
Well, I wish I could say that I was aware of my heritage, proud of my people and ready to be an example for everyone who saw me as one of their own. But the truth is, for a long time I never really thought of myself in terms of my cultural credentials. I guess the best indication of that is the fact that, up until a few years ago, I never spoke anything more than pidgin Spanish. I never sought out spokesman status for causes that concerned Latinos. I never even thought of myself as breaking down race barriers in Hollywood. I was just happy to be working, whether I got the job for my talent or my skin tone.
That would all change in time, as I came to realize not only how much I owed to my Puerto Rican lineage, but how much I wanted to give back to my people. Strong family ties, fierce loyalties, and passionate emotions wouldn't be stereotypes of Puerto Ricans unless there was at least some truth in them, and I share many of those traits. But growing up, I never thought as much of what made me different from others as what I had in common with them: I was American-born, native of the greatest city in the world, and mixed up in the melting pot of a legendary neighborhood.
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