Wilmer Valderrama is opening up about his personal immigrant experience – and why all Americans should embrace and celebrate their cultural identities, not hide them.
“The most beautiful thing you can be is an immigrant,” Valderrama, 36, says. “A fearless brave individual that embraces their heritage is a special thing.”
The star of a new Johnnie Walker campaign Keep Walking America, Valderrama visited the Texas-Mexico border on October 23, meeting with local immigrants and hometown heroes and encouraging those of cross-culture heritage to “embrace their roots.” Especially at a time when he says there is “a lot of negativity around the conversation of immigration.”
“I’m all about the positivity and making sure we celebrate the goodness of immigration,” the former That ’70s Show star says. “And being proud of an immigrant heritage.”
Valderrama was born in Miami, Florida, but left the U.S. at the age of 3.
“My father is Venezuelan and my mother is Colombian,” he says “There was work in Venezuela, so we left the country and moved back to where my dad is from.”
The actor grew up on a farm riding horses and “chasing chickens” every day with his sister. But his father’s agricultural corn and rice business went bankrupt and his parents moved the family to California when he was a teenager – in pursuit of a better life.
“He wanted to give me and my sister a better future and a shot at an education,” says Valderrama. “So we sold everything we had and came to America.”
He enrolled in acting classes and, at the age of 18, landed the role of Fez on That ’70s Show that would eventually launch his Hollywood career.
“If you’re an American, period, you are an immigrant,” he says. “Retelling my story now, retelling success stories, is a great reminder that the American dream can be achieved.”
Valderrama traveled to the Texas border town of Brownsville last month and spoke with locals about their paths, as immigrants, to success in the U.S.
“People need to accept that an immigrant heritage can be their best aspect,” he explains. “To be an American is to be a immigrant. I hope they see pride that pride that comes with that.”
The star caught up with Brownsville native Bianca Marroquín, recognized as the first Mexican-Americna actress to have a starring role on Broadway (she played Roxie Hart in Chicago), during his trip.
“I feel very fortunate to have grown up with both Mexican values and American traditions, it allows me to offer the world so much more. I was raised by strong Latina women who pushed me to never give up and now I have a responsibility to lead by example,” Marroquín says. “I hope I can help inspire a new generation to follow their dreams.”
Valderrama says it’s important for Americans to remember all the great things immigrants have done for the country.
“There have been a lot of conversations about border towns and how to fix them, but people forget there are amazing things that come from the blend of two cultures being that close together,” he says of his visit. “I went to Texas to remind us immigrants of who we are and what we are to this country and what our future is here.”
Valderrama is a non-partisan, but encourages all Americans to get out and vote — and to take “human issues” into consideration when casting a vote in the 2016 election.
“There’s so much at stake, you have to vote,” he says. “Focus on the thing that will affect your community.”