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An Interview with Esai Morales

“It’s about being here. Surviving.”
– Mr. Morales on being a Latino in America today

Esai Morales
Esai Morales

What do you feel is at the heart of “American Family?”
Well, we hear a lot in this country about family, and “American Family” just shows us a portrait we haven’t seen as much of yet. “American Family” lets us know that being American isn’t about the color of your hair or eyes or skin, it’s really a state of mind.

Being an American is a state of mind, and to be in a family is to feel the power of belonging, the power of your roots. Family is a tree, the strength of a tree, the roots, the leaves, the past and the present, the future, the fruits, the seeds.

This is the first series to feature a predominantly Latino family on broadcast television, right?
That’s right. It’s not on prime time yet, but you know we’re heading there. This is definitely a step in the right direction. We applaud PBS and the executives who saw a place for us in their family.

We as Americans of Latin descent are just as American as anyone else of any other descent. [But] because we look like the immigrants that are still coming in, or at least a major sector of them, we still get treated as if we just got off the boat, many of us do. So I see this as kind of enhancing the family photo album of America, adding a little color or spice, as they say. Anytime you do something Latino, yeah, I love the color, the spice. There’s so much flavor. But you know, there’s more to us than just color and spice.

It’s about being here. Surviving. Dealing with each other. Politics. Intrafamily politics. My character Esteban is a guy who really didn’t think he was gonna be there at this point in his life. He’s in his early 30s. He’s got a son. He’s raising his son as a single father.

The mother unfortunately is racked with drugs [and] esteem problems. She’s been trying to get back to see him, but it’s a heart breaker. I have to be strong for both of us, for all of us, really. It’s kind of frustrating to be living in your house. It’s like deja vu all over again.

Then I’ve got issues with my father the way that only fathers and mothers – parents – can press their kids’ buttons like no one else. It’s just amazing to see Aunt Dora and her movie starness. Dora the diva. My little brothers, you know. One of them growing way past me. Looks like a Calvin Klein model. You gotta watch out for him.

It’s just so much humanity. So Esteban is someone who’s trying to write his life, fix it, and be a good example to his son. He’s spent some time in jail because of a manslaughter [conviction]. He was driving a car, and he was a little under the influence, but he took the rap for his woman because he couldn’t stand the thought of his son without the mother there. As it turns out, he ends up with his son without the mother there. That which we run from the most, we run right into sometimes.

What do you like about Esteban? What don’t you like?
What I like about Esteban is that he’s just – he’s not trying to be anything. He’s just a good man and a good father. He’s not out there chasing untenable dreams. He’s just taking it one day at a time, and he’s an honest guy. He’s guileless. He tries to maybe shut up a little. He’s quiet. What I don’t like about Estaban, hmm, that’s a tough one because, you know, I try to like him. I try to love him because he’s trying to change. Now he realizes – he found out in jail you’re born alone and you die alone, and only you can be responsible for yourself, so he’s a good guy.

What I don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe that he doesn’t have any real passion about getting ahead. He’s not an ambitious guy. He’s actually enrolled in the fire department in the training program that takes ex-felons or convicts and tries to rehabilitate them, the ones that don’t show extreme anti-social behavior.

How much of Esteban comes from you?
Everything almost. Esteban is another part of me. Maybe a more mild mannered side to myself, [a little] less hammy.

© 2004 Public Broadcasting Service. All Rights Reserved.