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THE MIAMI HERALD
Miami Charter School Earns A Star (Jimmy Smits) For Its Ceremonial Dedication
by Carol Rosenberg
March 16, 2000
With a shout of "Viva la educación,'' Hollywood's Jimmy Smits snipped the ribbon Wednesday at a six-month-late ceremonial opening of the ASPIRA Youth Leadership Charter School in North Miami.
Some students were still wondering who exactly that guy was sporting a goatee and hoop earring who had just stepped out of a black stretch limousine at the former Knights of Columbus Hall at 13300 Memorial Blvd.
"Wasn't he in The Godfather?'' one youngster whispered, clearly oblivious to Smits' prime-time NYPD Blue and LA Law stardom.
No matter, Principal Iliana Peña was just thrilled, on the verge of tears, for her 100 or so sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. "He's a good role model for the kids to see,'' she said. Besides, "it gives us exposure.''
In South Florida to promote tonight's national premiere of his upcoming film, Price of Glory, Smits stopped in at the school to offer a pep talk on the virtues of ASPIRA, a group that encourages minority students.
As a college student in Brooklyn in the 1970s, he turned to the organization founded by a Puerto Rican woman for a scholarship that helped pay for his textbooks.
He made a pitch for his personal crusade: telling students, parents and teachers between signing autographs and posing for pictures that he is trying to champion "positive images'' of Latinos in the entertainment industry.
"So that when you look on television, and you look at the big screen, you can see representations of yourselves -- and not just criminals.''
Film producer Moctesuma Esparza, whose credits include The Milagro Beanfield War and Selena, said Miami-Dade County was the cast's first stop "because Miami is the capital of Latino media in the United States.''
Aside from attending a paid invitation-only premiere in South Miami tonight, cast members are pitching the film about a Latino boxing family on the Cristina show, Primer Impacto and other Spanish-language media.
ON NATIONAL TOUR
Later stops will take them to San Antonio; Albuquerque, N.M.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Chicago, and New York City.
But, as with his other films, Esparza insisted that local groups benefit from the premiere. ASPIRA gets a share of the proceeds from tonight's $50-a-head premiere-and-cast party event at Willy Chirino's restaurant Zarabanda in Coral Gables.
Others also benefiting are the Puerto Rican Professional Association of South Florida and the Hispanic AIDS Awareness program.
Why? "I care a lot about education. I care a lot about supporting local organizations,'' said Esparza, who in his college days was a Chicano rights activist.
Smits, for his part, said choosing ASPIRA was a no-brainer.
"It's not just that you're hawking the film if you can help an organization by doing a benefit,'' he said after lunch with the Puerto Rican professional group at Casa Salsa, Ricky Martin's Ocean Drive restaurant in Miami Beach.
There he chatted with fellow Puerto Ricans -- about the controversy over Navy test-bombing on the island of Vieques; about the three years he spent in Ponce, Puerto Rico, as a youth, away from his native Brooklyn; about his girlfriend, whom he calls "my lady,'' also a Puerto Rican; even about the absent owner of the restaurant, whom he refers to simply as "Ricky.''
Born in New York, now living in Los Angeles, Smits said he has been coming to South Florida for years because his father lives in Broward County and his girlfriend has family in Coral Springs.
"I feel very comfortable here,'' he said simply.
He laughed when informed that some at the school didn't recognize him. One girl who performed a traditional Puerto Rican dance said she had never heard of Smits.
A boy confused him for some other character in The Godfather.
It was suggested that perhaps his fame had not reached the school's so-called at-risk population because his most recent hit -- NYPD Blue, from which he retired the role of Bobby Simone in 1998 -- came after elementary-school bedtime.
"That's cool,'' he said. "I'm fine with that.''