George Lopez grew up poor, raised by, in his mind, a bad family. His father walked out when he was young. His mother married a man he once called a "crypt keeper" and they became estranged. But Lopez developed as a comedian and then an actor.
Last year, he ventured into another field, politics, mobilizing Hispanic votes for Barack Obama.
It started with a phone call.
"He called me and asked me to see if I would be interested in helping him campaign. I thought that was great," Lopez says.
Lopez spoke up for Obama at a rally in Las Vegas and elsewhere, and in interviews. Obama won the demographic, at least in some part with the help of Lopez, other stars and Spanish-language DJs.
"I helped him get a vote that a year ago he didn’t have," Lopez, 47, says. "He was a good guy. It was a lot of fun to do that."
On Jan. 18, a few days before the inauguration, Lopez traveled to the Lincoln Memorial to address 400,000 people, along with Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin and other stars who stumped for President Obama.
Lopez walked to the podium. He looked over at Obama. The president waved. It was a big little moment.
"For a guy who grew up with no family," Lopez says, "it’s pretty amazing. … When you realize you know the president of the United States — I’m not sure I can get him on the phone. And that you were helpful, and he was nice, and you see what happened."
Politicking for Obama wasn’t a stretch, since Lopez had long explored Hispanic themes for his stand-up act and his TV sitcom, "George Lopez."
In fact, he sees a connection between the way his show often was ignored by entertainment media and the way some Americans look down upon the growing Hispanic population in the United States.
"I think most press looked at the show like it didn’t matter. But it matters to the largest growing demographic in the United States right now. And when you’re a white writer (in the media), what do you know about that?"
Although it was canceled and got little media buzz at the time, "George Lopez" is flying high in syndication.
"If you look at the way the show is performing in syndication, it’s validation to the show," Lopez says. "Nickelodeon has done very well with ‘George Lopez’ on the network for the past year and a half."
So, Lopez’s success and Obama’s ascension both reflect a changing America, if on different scales. Why are some white people angry about these changes?
"It’s not 1950 anymore," he says. "They’re angry, I think, because unfortunately it’s been about those people for such a long time. And now it’s not.
"When you see the country change — whether you think it’s for the good or the bad — when you’re grown up and everybody used to look like you, and now they don’t, you have a problem with that."
For years, Lopez has explored similar themes of change in his comedy.
"This is America. If you look back, it was founded on immigrants," he says. "People didn’t like Irish immigrants, they didn’t like Italian immigrants, they didn’t like Polish immigrants, they didn’t like people that were Jewish. So nothing’s really changed" among certain Americans.
No one is "pure" anymore, he says.
"In the (old) days, whites married whites, and blacks married blacks, and that’s not the case anymore," he says.
"You have a president who is 47 years old, who’s married to an African-American woman, and he’s half white, and his sister is mixed married to an Asian, and her brother is African-American married to a white woman.
"To me, that represents more what America looks like than George Bush’s family or George H.W. Bush’s family, or Bill Clinton’s family."
At any rate, so there he stood at the Lincoln Memorial.
"Then, I went to the inauguration, and I saw this guy get sworn in with a group of people who were of all different races, and who were there for the same reason. And I saw black people walking alongside white people. Now the thing is to get them to walk together."
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