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InStyle Magazine Time Inc.
Rosie Perez Does The Right Thing ; Whether speaking about AIDS prevention or getting arrested for protesting at the U.N., Perez is fearless when it comes to standing up for issues she cares about
By Eleni N. Gage
November 1, 2001
She has won raves for her dancing and choreography, and an Oscar nomination for her performance in Fearless, but one of Rosie Perez's proudest accomplishments is getting arrested. In 2000, along with fellow members of Puerto Rican Women for Vieques , Perez was jailed for picketing the United Nations in protest over the U.S. naval presence on Vieques , a small island off Puerto Rico that is used as a bomb test site. "I was terrified, but as I was sitting in that cell, the feeling came over me that I was doing something good," recalls Perez. "I was putting my money where my mouth is, because I'm always preaching, 'You've got to stand up, take risks.'"
Perez has been standing up for causes she believes in for more than a decade. She has been active in AIDS education and fund- raising since the late 1980s and became involved with the Latino Commission on AIDS in 1995, a time when, says Dennis deLeon, the group's president, "no other Latino celebrity had really devoted energy or time to the issue. She's been a true leader in speaking out."
AIDS is a disease that has had a severe impact on Latinos. "Nationally, Latinos have four times the rate of AIDS compared to [Caucasians]," says deLeon, whose nonprofit organization works to expand prevention, research, treatment and support services among Latinos in the U.S. and abroad. To help the commission spread awareness, Perez first had to learn how to communicate with the diverse groups of people she was hoping to reach. "You're not going to talk about AIDS the same way in Brazil as you would in Mexico or in the South Bronx," she explains. "The topic will be the same, but the dialogue will not. That's why I love this group; it respects the culture of the people it serves."
And Perez has reached a vast number of listeners, from the government officials and drug company executives who attended the 1998 summit on AIDS at Harvard University at which she spoke, to the college kids she lectures through Spitfire, a group of entertainers and activists who travel to campuses to participate in political forums. "I preach activism, that it shouldn't be up to celebrities to enforce change," she says. "In the days of the civil rights movement, it was regular, 9-to-5 people demanding change, loudly or quietly."
Perez plans to hit the road again with Spitfire as soon as her shooting schedule eases a bit. Currently, she can be seen in Riding in Cars with Boys with Drew Barrymore and Lorraine Bracco; this month she appears in King of the Jungle, starring John Leguizamo and directed by her husband, Seth Zvi Rosenfeld; and in February she co- stars with Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette in Human Nature. She's also producing an HBO movie about the urban clothing industry.
Still, Perez makes time to attend local Latino Commission on AIDS events and to volunteer for Working Playground, a program that brings arts classes to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade at participating public schools. "I'll go oversee the acting and dancing programs," says Perez, who also takes the kids on field trips. "I took the video-production class to the MTV studios and the theater group to a television studio set," she says. "It's easy. All you have to do is call up these places and beg shamelessly, hire a bus, get permission slips signed by the kids' parents, and that's it." It's all in a day's work for a woman who spends her free time encouraging people to put their money where their mouth is.
--Eleni N. Gage
To volunteer or donate to the Latino Commission on AIDS, visit www.latinoaids.org, call 212-675-3288, or write the group at 80 Fifth Ave., Suite 1501, N.Y., NY 10011.
To contact Working Playground, visit www.workingplayground.org, call 212-614-0980, or send a check to 711 Amsterdam Ave., #17L, N.Y., NY 10025.