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New York Daily News

QUE PASA: Cast Of Thousands In The Wings


March 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Daily News, L.P. All Rights Reserved.

Jaime Sanchez is a veteran character actor who includes such formidable films as "The Pawnbroker," "The Wild Bunch," "Carlito's Way" and "Piero" on a rsum that stretches back to the early 1960s.

Yet the Puerto Rico-born Sanchez, who usually plays Latinos and does mostly theater these days, still recalls with bitterness the time he was a struggling actor hoping to land a role on the '60s crime drama "Naked City."

The part called for a young Hispanic male. But Sanchez lost out to a non-Latino actor, an event he remembers as "depressing."

So who got the part?

"Peter Fonda," says Sanchez.

"It wasn't the only time in my career that I lost a role like that to an actor who wasn't Latino," adds Sanchez. "Whether it happens to me or others like me, it's always a slap in the face."

There may not be 8 million stories like Sanchez's "Naked City" experience, but there have been enough of them to explain why the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors, or HOLA, was founded in 1976.

The nonprofit organization offers actors job referrals, career guidance and exposure to the mainstream entertainment business through the HOLA Pages, a directory filled with hundreds of headshots of actors, singers and dancers.

"HOLA came into being because we all remember that era when we were told that we didn't have the skills or the talent or the training to make it," says executive director Manny Alfaro.

"They'd hire non-Latinos to play Latinos, and we wanted [the business] to know there is a large, untapped pool of talent out there."

For the last three years, HOLA also has celebrated the achievements of Hispanic performers through an awards ceremony at the Players Club in Manhattan that "recognizes those performers that have achieved success at a certain level," says Alfaro. "It's a way of saying, 'We have enjoyed your accomplishments and we know we can do the same.' "

At this year's gala Monday, the organization gives Sanchez its Lifetime Achievement Award. Other honorees include actor Benjamin Bratt (TV's "Law & Order," the film "Piero"), actress Priscilla Lopez, choreographer Graciela Daniele ("Annie Get Your Gun") and TV journalist Geraldo Rivera.

Granted, the HOLA Awards do not have the glitz, glamour or tradition of the Academy Awards. But that the ceremony exists at all, Alfaro says, is testament to the growing influence of the Latino acting community on the American mainstream.

"Things are improving for us," says Alfaro. "The volume of work for Latino actors has definitely increased. What still needs to be changed is the stereotypical way we are often portrayed."

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