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Latino Actors Who Overcame Jail Time To Find Success In Hollywood

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Life has its ups and downs. Some times, life is great and everything is really going your way. Other times, life gets tough, you make bad decisions and those decision can haunt you. These Latino actors didn’t want to have their rap sheet be the only thing people knew about them. They worked hard on getting sober, overcoming obstacles and eventually found starring roles in feature films and TV series. There is always room to honor those who have grown and changed to be the best they can be.

1. Danny Trejo

Around his 20s, actor and restaurateur Danny Trejo was in and out of jail. Trejo’s acting break came when he was a youth drug counselor for an actor on the set of a movie and Trejo was asked to be an extra in the film. From that role, Trejo continued to land additional roles in film and TV series. In 2016 he took his talents outside of just the entertainment industry and opened his first of three restaurants, Trejo’s Tacos. 

2. Michelle Rodriguez

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Often seen as tough Letty Ortiz in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, Michelle Rodriguez conquered a troubled personal life to make it to a lead in a blockbuster film franchise. Rodriguez had been arrested for assault against her former roommate before charges were dropped, and she also been arrested for DUI. She completed her community service requirements in 2009 and has not had legal troubles since then.

3. Johnny Ortiz

By the time he was 18, Johnny Ortiz had been surrounded by an upbringing filled with drugs and gangs, and had already spent time in jail. He shared with Project Eñye that while he was in jail, he prayed for a second chance. That second chance came in the form of an acting role after meeting his future life coach at a career day. He has had roles in the feature film “McFarland, USA” and in the TV series “American Crime.” In the video, Ortiz shares an important nugget of wisdom we could all learn from, “You create if you want to be happy, if you want to be sad, if you want to be mad.” Good to know he is creating his own reality. 

4. Richard Cabral

“American Crime” actor Richard Cabral went from being a gang member looking at the possibility of a 35-year sentence to being up for an Emmy after his role on the ABC series. After turning his life around through the help of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, Cabral was able to focus on casting auditions and eventually landed his Emmy-nominated role.


READ: Meet The Priest And Program Who Helped Richard Cabral Go From Gang Member To Emmy Nominee

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He’s Been Open With His Struggles And Comes Through For His Community When They Need Him

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He’s Been Open With His Struggles And Comes Through For His Community When They Need Him

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Danny Trejo is one of the most recognizable Latino faces in the world. He is a common feature in Hollywood films, where he often portrays antiheroes. Among his films, we can think of the classic Heat, Con Air, and Machete, the last with frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez, the Texan director he considers a sort of creative brother. Trejo was born in Echo Park (doesn’t get more L.A. than that!) on May 16, 1944. He is a true example of the American Dream: he survived a rough upbringing and life in prison to become a successful and reformed individual who dedicates big chunks of his time to helping others. He creates jobs through his multiple business ventures and often speaks to youth about the importance of staying out of trouble, particularly if you belong to an ethnic minority.

He is the face of tender “bad hombres” (we just can’t get over this terrible moniker POTUS placed on Mexican men!)

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As Daily Breeze recalls, he got a second chance in life after being to prison and suffering from addiction early in life: “Influenced by a young uncle, Trejo was off to a life of crime from an early age and did time in juvenile camps before eventually landing in Soledad and San Quentin state prisons for drugs and other crimes”. Rehabilitation is possible! You can’t judge a book by its cover (hear that, gringos racistas?) and the tough-looking Trejo is proof of that. 

He is an entrepreneur at heart, the symbol of Latino hardworking individuals.

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Trejo has opened a taco shop, a doughnut shop, and many other business ventures. The Daily Breeze says about Trejo’s many talents: “He’s a successful restaurateur with a growing taco and doughnut empire that shows no signs of cooling down. And even though he doesn’t drink, he’s got a beer out, too, a Mexican lager of course”. 

He even has a new beer brand even though he is not a drinker.

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This is what Daily Breeze said about Trejo’s cerveza: “Because even though he doesn’t drink alcohol, there really is nothing Trejo can’t do. But surprisingly, while Trejo is pretty much the toughest looking man in all of Los Angeles, his 4.7% ABV straw-colored beer is really smooth with an almost sweet taste, which means you can drink a few and still be able to take Machete in a fight. No, who are we kidding — Machete would destroy any of us”. A rave review in our books! Can you imagine sipping this brew with good old cevichito as you look at the Californian sunset?

He talks about men’s health in an open, frank way.

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As The Sun reported, Trejo is on a mission to get dudes talking about their health, including erectile dysfunction. He is quoted as saying: “Every man on earth has experienced this, and if you say no, you’re lying and I’m calling you a liar. So there you go, Danny Trejo, called you a liar and now you don’t have to hide it.” He is even a bit funny talking about the trials and tribulations of not being able to rise to the occasion: “You can be 25-years-old and if you’re tired, you’ve been working all night, it’s late – sometimes it’s not going to happen. But especially in the Latino community where I’m from, men don’t talk about these things – because we’re supposed to be the hunter-gatherer or some sh*t. Well, I hate hunting”. Preach, Danny! 

He is funny as hell on social media.

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Really, he is like any Latino dad, uploading every single meme or viral trend he finds in a very dad joke kinda way. 

He has been able to get meatier roles as the years have gone by: a true underdog story.

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Trejo’s acting career has gone from being an extra to having better roles that sometimes play with his badass persona. He told The Guardian: “They Would Always Say, ‘Get That Mexican Guy With The Big Tattoo. I’d Show Up And Have One Line, Like, ‘Kill ’em All!’ Or Somethin’.”

He has one of those faces that just sparks creativity.

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Just look at this wonderful piece of street art in Brazil. Trejo’s wrinkled face tells a thousand stories, it is a roadmap of a life that has encapsulated so many experiences that it could fill a hundred lives. Trejo us a symbol of second chances and of the many forms that Latino masculinity can take. 

At 75 years of age, he shows that elderly doesn’t mean you can’t work out.

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Any 20-year-old flojo would envy Trejo’s sculpted body. He told NY Daily News back in 2007: “I look at the script. If I see a part that says shirt-off, then I go to the gym”. Well, he hasn’t stopped working out by the looks of it (by “it” we mean his badass muscles). 

He is a living example of how you can kick ass fighting addiction.

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Trejo is now clean, but there was a time when he didn’t know if he would live a long life. He certainly didn’t expect to reach 70. The Guardian conversed with Trejo in 2018: “I didn’t even think I’d make it out of the 1960s. I picked the wrong role model. I picked my uncle, who was a drug addict and an armed robber. But he was the greatest guy in the world as far as I was concerned”. He experienced heroin for the first time when he was just 12-years-old, so the road to redemption was steep.

He is a caring Latino dad.

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He has two children: Danielle and Gilbert. He often shares messages for them on social media. He has also helped his son on his own path towards rehabilitation from addiction.

Getting clean is something he did with his son.

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He has travelled the path of staying clean with his son and has even collaborated with him in a film project where the young Trejo directs him. 

He is super approachable for fans.

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Don’t think twice: if you ever see him on the street or a fan convention, ask for a selfie. 

He participates in most Latino projects, including the new movie version of Dora la exploradora!

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Can you think of a better actor to give voice to Dora’s monkey, Boots? Neither can we. 

He supports young female boxers and aspiring musicians. Did you know that? 

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Trejo Music is his new passion project! As he told Daily Breeze: “Everything good that has happened to me has happened from helping people, and I started this record label to help people. Let’s hear you and if you can fit, you’re on”.  The label’s first album: Danny Trejo Presents Chicano Soul Shop Vol. 1. Can we please get it, like tomorrow. He is also a boxing manager and promoter and supports champion Seniesa Estrada. 

And, of course, he gave us Machete, an icon of resistance against inhumane border policies.

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Before the Trump era kicked in, Trejo was already kicking ass at the border by embodying Mexican ire against racist politicians and gringo vigilantes. 

READ: People Are Freaking Out About The High-Pitched Character Danny Trejo, AKA Machete, Voices In The New “Dora The Explorer” Movie

Michelle Rodriguez Knows How To Shutdown Haters And Rumors One Clapback At A Time

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Michelle Rodriguez Knows How To Shutdown Haters And Rumors One Clapback At A Time

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Michelle Rodriguez is a queen of the clapback and we shall explain. First things first: according to the Urban Dictionary, that bottomless well of Internet wisdom, a clapback is: “basically a comeback, most likely pumped with attitude, sass and or shade”. There are now famous moments of clapbacking action, such as the glorious moment in which speaker Nancy Pelosi clapped at Donald Trump with equal measures of irony and contempt, wink included (he looks so pleased with himself, what on Earth!). 

There is a Latina actress who has mastered the art of literal and metaphorical clapbacking: our very own Michelle Rodriguez. Born on July 12, 1978, in San Antonio, Texas, Rodriguez has garnered worldwide celebrity for her roles in the TV show Lost, blockbusters like Avatar and Resident Evil, the Fast & Furious franchise and the Robert Rodriguez movie universe (including, of course, the Machete saga). If we were to describe Michelle Rodriguez with a word, it would be “badass.” She is una mujer hecha y derecha that exudes self-confidence inside and outside the screen. We mean, just look at her! After all, she once said: “You can keep knocking me down forever, I’ll keep getting up and trying”. 

She dares to be herself as a life-defining philosophy.

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Being a woman in this world is not easy, and even more so if you are part of an ethnic minority and you have publicly come out as bisexual. There are still a lot of pendejos in this world, and being a bisexual Latina could put some in a place of vulnerability. But not Michelle Rodriguez, she doesn’t take mierda from anybody. There have been interviews, for example, when things have gotten a bit… well… uncomfortable, but Michelle always has a quick response to her critics. She has said that she considers herself more of an activist than an actor, and she often uses Twitter and Instagram to voice her support for just causes and her disdain for the political class (a Donald Trump le deben de estar zumbandi los oidos). 

When she faced “rumors” about her sexuality in the best possible way: coming out.’

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In 2013 Michelle was sick and tired of reporters being interested in her sexuality, so she said in a very direct, awesome way: “I don’t talk about what I do with my vagina, and they’re all intrigued. I’ve never walked the carpet with anyone, so they wonder: What does she do with her vagina? Plus, I play a butchy girl all the time, so they assume I’m a lesbo.” She told Entertainment Weekly: “I’ve gone both ways. I do as I please. I am too f—ing curious to sit here and not try when I can. Men are intriguing. So are chicks.” So basically, everyone please mind their own business. 

When her role in [re]Assignment was deemed as transphobic.

Credit: Screen-Shot-2016-09-12-at-6.53.55-PM. Digital image. Uno Getaway

In 2016 Rodriguez acted in a film called  [re]Assignment, in which she played a hitman who is then undergoing a sex reassignment surgery at the hands of an evil doctor played by Sigourney Weaver. Michelle said that the film was “a culture shock pic” that she made to express her frustration with the film industry. She wrote on her Instagram: ““The industry seems to be running low on edgy creativity & ‘real take a chance’ controversy, sometimes it makes me want to scream, instead I did what I always do when I’m bored with the ‘status quo’, I shot crazy b movie Indy to express my frustration.” The movie is directed by cult filmmaker Walter Hill.  To be fair, critics did have a point here, as the gender politics of the film are reminiscent of 1970s exploitation cinema, which was hypermasculine and uber-white. 

When she totally nailed a girly look at Cannes, throwing shade to those who describe her as “too masculine.”

Credit: 13777606-7055253-image-a-1_1558463702262. Digital image. Daily Mail UK.

Online haters often criticize Rodriguez for her gender-bending persona. Earlier this year she attended the famed film festival. The Daily Mail, which is famous for being both scandalous and conservative, said: “But Michelle Rodriguez shunned her signature edgy look in favor of a softer appearance as she attended the Once Upon A Time In Hollywood premiere.” You get them, Mich! Why can’t folk just understand that there are many shades of femininity and that they do not always involve tutus and pink cotton candy?

When she threatened to leave the Fast & Furious franchise over the treatment of female characters… that’s some sass, tiene los ovarios bien puestos.

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous. 

If you are the leading female star in one of the most successful franchises of all time you just go along with the ride despite anything, right? Well, not our dear Michelle Rodriguez, who threatened to leave the franchise because women in the films were one-dimensional and basically treated as sexy objects that dudes babean over.

This was the Instagram post in which she casually and with plenty of sass declared his displeasure with the scriptwriters.

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We are sure she got the studio heads (must likely a bunch of dudes) all nervous and sweaty! That is the only way to push inclusivity in Hollywood, though, really pushing for it. By the way, Michelle’s antics worked: she returned to the franchise to film #9 only after the studio hired a female writer. Well done, Michelita.

The best clapback of all: being a true professional

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Throughout the years, Michelle has gotten a sort of reputation in Hollywood. Her frankness is sometimes judged as “difficult.” Renowned director Steve McQueen was told not to work with her when he sought her for a role in his acclaimed film noir Widows. But the Irish director, a Black man, refused to follow this advice. The director told IndieWire: “But people say that about me. If you’re a white director, they call you a perfectionist. Me, they call difficult. So I didn’t pay any mind to what people say about Michelle, because I had to find out for myself.” Michelle’s discreet clapback came in the form of a tender, deep and powerful performance where she explores a sort of feminine softness and vulnerability not usual in her career. 

When she basically pointed fingers at the vanity that dictates the lives of Hollywood folk.

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In a conversation for Interview magazine conducted by her pal Milla Jovovich, she said: “I enjoy vanity like the best of them. But I can’t stick to any of that lifestyle for too long because when its true colors come out, it’s empty and cold and soulless. So I have to travel and go find some real people.” In the same conversation, she served a brutal assessment of the industry and the lack of meaty roles for women: “I’d love to see four girls who actually get along in a movie that’s not about chasing some guy or marrying somebody. Like, where the f–k is our ‘Pulp Fiction?’ Where is our ‘Reservoir Dogs’? Where’s that cool s–t with the chicks kicking ass, having some fun?”

READ: Michelle Rodriguez Refused To Do ‘Fast & Furious 9’ Until A Female Screenwriter Was Hired

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