IN MOVIES AND soap operas in Latin America and with U.S.-Spanish-speaking Latinos, Eduardo Yanez rocks.
Sporting an ultra fit physique at six-feet-three inches, Yanez has been hailed as one of the hottest actors from Mexico since the mid-1980s. Still, he is not as well-known to mainstream audiences in the U.S. and to more assimilated Latinos who do not follow telenovelas or Mexican cinema.
But he is making inroads. Ladrones, a comedy in which he co-stars with Fernando Colunga was released nationwide and was a hit.
As a Generation X Latino of Mexican origin who grew up in Los Angeles, I have known Yanez since the mid-1980s, ever since he exploded on the big screen in a cult favorite of Mexican Cinema, La Muerte Cruzo El Rio Bravo (Death crossed the Rio Bravo), a South of the Border Western revenge flick filmed in the gorgeous natural scenery of the Mexican state of Durango.
My parents were from rural Mexico, which meant that as a first-generation U.S.-born teen, I spoke Spanish at home and learned English at public schools. Though I faced the challenges of growing up bilingual, long before the "Latino boom" of the late 1990s made speaking Spanish popular, watching movies, especially from Mexico and Latin America, helped.
Many assimilated Latinos complain, rightly so, about the lack of role models or that they never see people like them on the big screen or on TV. Though Hispanics have made inroads in the media, one place where Latinos, especially men, have not had much success is in Hollywood.
Something that may have helped, like it did to me and other teen Hispanics from the 1980s, was to be fed a diet provided by the Spanish International Network (the media conglomerate that later became Univision) seeing larger-than-life stars who battled the forces of evil as Mexican wrestlers, rugged cowboys. Divas like Veronica Castro and Lucia Mendez were the rage on the feminine front.
As an adolescent, every Sunday after Mass, friends and I from my Lincoln Heights housing projects I would hop on an RTD bus that carried us past Little Italy, strolled by colorful Chinatown--full of immigrants just like the hoods I grew up in--and snaked down Broadway Street.
There, looming large upon the teeming streets filled with L.A.'s diverse population that resembled Bladerunner, were the most lovely and extravagant movie palaces in the world--the Million Dollar, the Orpheum, the Los Angeles--buildings erected from the turn of last century through the 1930s. They were architectural gems from another era; some seats were worn, the murals had chipped and little children in the audience often cried during shows, but the theaters held onto their vintage opulence. It was the winter of 1984. Think Wicked City, the new ABC series about a dangerous Los Angeles during Hollywood's most decadent era.
Prince was making a smash on the music charts and movies with Purple Rain, the city had hosted the Olympics and smog married the dense fog, giving Los Angeles a London-type atmosphere when I found myself working as a concession stand boy for The State Theater.
Broadway street had been in decay for decades, but filled with people from all over the world, it was the epitome of excitement when I took Cristina, my future wife, across the street to see La muerte cruzo el Rio Bravo, starring an up-and-coming Eduardo Yanez.
We went into The Palace, another cavernous movie theater. Amidst the mostly Latino immigrants, we saw Yanez face-off against veteran actor Eric Del Castillo in an action yarn typical of border action Mexican movies of the 1980s.
To the millions of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, Central America and their relatives in the U.S., it did not matter that high-brow movie critics in tony Mexican newspapers refused to review films like these. Movies starring Yanez and other popular leading men often spoke to the masses in ways that perhaps Hollywood productions or some of the Latino art house films did not.
Back in the 1980s, Mexican cinema's new young star was Eduardo Yanez, who has since starred in many films. He moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s and has been working in Hollywood for decades.
For 20 years, Yanez, who know resides in a lush, trendy apartment complex in West Los Angeles, has divided his career between working in Hollywood films and starring in Televisa telenovelas, which often beat English-speaking, U.S.-produced shows during prime time in the ratings.
Still, at 55, he yearns to make it as big as he has made it in Latin America, where he is the embodiment of a Latin Lover. In a recent interview, Yanez sports his hair cropped and wears a beige work shirt.
His voice, demeanor and large hands are as firm as ever. He is serious about work, but he still boasts a winning smile that has seduced countless women in movies.
"We can't deny that the U.S. market is the universal market of entertainment," he says. "That's why I insist so much."
The Black Palace
Yanez was born in Mexico city on September 25, 1960. It was a Sunday.
A tall, raven-haired beauty, Maria Eugenia Yanez came from a family from Aguascalientes, who like millions of others, migrated to Mexico's gargantuan capitol. A single mother, she raised Eduardo and three brothers while she worked as a prison guard.
The future star of Mexican telenovelas and cinema admits he has no memory of his biological father. He does recall a stepfather who later left.
Growing up in working-class neighborhoods like Pensador Mexicano, fatherless and poor, Yanez narrates that he had to earn every inch of ground he walked on. At age 7, in a futile attempt to help his mother with money, he started to sell Mexican gelatin at 7 in the morning; at 11 a.m. it was offering paletas to customers and shoe shines by 4 p.m.
When the kid was not at school or out on the streets offering popsicles or shining shoes, he accompanied his mother to work at Lecumberri, Mexico's most famous and terrifying prison, where only two people escaped in its 76-year history: Pancho Villa and Dwight Worker, an American activist who dressed up as a woman during his...