In 1968, a young Moctesuma Esparza helped lead Hispanic students protest against bigotry in East Los Angeles schools.
A half-century later he’s working to promote activism in the young people of Southern Nevada.
Along the way, Esparza became one of the most successful Hispanics in Hollywood. He produces movies and founded the Maya Cinemas theater chain, which is building a $75 million entertainment center in downtown North Las Vegas.
"This is going to be a world-class theater that will appeal to anyone, no matter who you are, what background, this will be the best theater in the county," Esparza said.
The Los Angeles-based Esparza told State of Nevada he’ll be an activist for “as long as I have breath.”
Despite rapid population growth among Hispanics, Esparaz said they are severely underrepresented in entertainment, media, politics, and working as business executives. That’s true, he said, even in heavily Latino parts of the Southwest, such as Southern Nevada and Southern California.
"If people like you aren't showing up there in those possible roles, then you begin to wonder as you grow up, 'is that a possibility for me?'" he said.
A decade ago Esparza produced “Walkout,” an HBO film that dramatizes the 1968 student strikes, which were dubbed the Chicano Blowouts.
Esparza said frustration with the limited educational opportunities for Latinos fueled the protests. As an example, he cited a high school counselor’s advice for him to attend junior college even though he was class valedictorian.
"Because it wasn't quite common for Mexican Americans to be thought of as someone who could get an education," he said.
He said only a fraction of the people who went to four-year colleges were Latino. Esparza said at the time it was "unrealistic for Latinos to dream of being professionals because there were no role models and none of us were being encouraged to go to college."
He will meet the public Tuesday, Sept. 18, after a 6 p.m. free showing of “Walkout” at North Las Vegas City Hall.
North Las Vegas Councilman and Rancho High School teacher Isaac Barron is helping introduce Esparza to Southern Nevada.
Barron saw parallels between Esparza's efforts in the 60s and the school safety movement created by the students from Parkland, Florida after shooting there earlier this year.
"I'm very happy to say the students not just here at Rancho High but across our country, they looked to see that the people who are supposed to be safeguarding them, the people who are supposed to be leading our country aren't coming together to make solutions," he said, "These students are willing to go ahead now and step forward and make their voices heard."
Rancho High School was one of several schools around the state that held a walkout after the Parkland shooting. Barron said he had hoped to show Esparza's film about the 1968 walkout but couldn't because of a Clark County School District policy that prohibits showing of PG-13 and TV-14 films on campus.
Along with "Walkout," Esparza has produced dozens of movies, including "Gettysburg," "The MIlgagro Beanfield War," and "Selena."
Moctesuma Esparza, movie producer and Hispanic rights advocate; Isaac Barron, North Las Vegas councilman and high school teacher
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