- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2015

President’s Obama amnesty for illegals has fired up the immigration debate like never before, with rhetoric on all sides laced with anger and misunderstanding. But the new film “Spare Parts” aims to put a human face onto the faceless “wave” of undocumented people living in the U.S.

Based on a true story, “Spare Parts” tells the tale of four teenagers at a Phoenix high school — all of them in the U.S. illegally, and with seemingly no prospects for a future. But a teacher played by comedian George Lopez — who also produced the film — sees in the quartet the potential to enter a robotics competition, going up against teams from top engineering colleges like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale.

The Washington Times recently sat down with Mr. Lopez and actor Carlos PenaVega, who plays one of the four boys, Oscar Vasquez — whose dream it was to serve in the Army despite his illegal status — for an exchange that was by turns poignant and humorous.

Question: This film could not be more timely. What are your thoughts on where we’re at politically as it relates to the heroes of the film and immigration?

Answer:Being the fact that it’s based on a true story, the immigration thing was something that we had to cover, because it was such a huge part of the lives of those kids and their families. But in no way is this a movie that either is pro or for immigration. As Latinos, you want [people] to come to this country — not necessarily Latinos, but [anyone who wants] to come here for a better life. That’s kind of how this country was founded and the history of this country.

If you read social media, you can see how immigration is such a hot-button debate and [a hotbed] of ignorance. You know there’s guys that say immigrants come here, and they create so much crime and they take jobs. There’s multiple sides to every story. Immigration is an issue of global significance in this country. And if you look at the terrorist alerts and attacks, Latinos [as a group] are not in the top five list [for] terror alerts.

We love this country, [but] in some regards I understand [the anger], but we mean no harm. We need to get better at voting and be a voice for the people who do not have one.

Q: This film is actually the prototypical American dream, no matter the subculture or skin color of the characters, yes?

CPV: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. It’s awesome that these four kids, whom nobody thought anything of, changed their community forever. We went back to [the students’] Carl Hayden [High School] last week and screened the film for the entire school. We got to hear them laugh and cry. Then they gave us a tour of the school. It’s a decade [after the events depicted in the film], and the school has transformed. The science lab has shark tanks! The zoo donated the tanks and the sharks, and the sharks are having babies, so they gave them another tank.

This school had nothing! Like two, three computers. Now one classroom alone had like 40 computers — all because these kids literally defied all odds and went for the gold. So I think this movie is such a great representation of the American dream. In the end, we all hope to change something.

Q: After an article in Wired came out, one of the boys, Oscar Vasquez [played by Mr. PenaVega] was subsequently deported. What happened to him after that?

GL: Sen. [Richard J.] Durbin [Illinois Democrat], whom we met today, [was able to secure Mr. Vasquez legal] status. He [then] enlisted in the military. So it says a lot to his integrity and his love of this country that he would not turn its back on it but would want to defend it [during] several [military tours].

CPV: That young man has been through a lot. I feel like all of us can relate to him. We all have goals, whether we want to be a journalist, an actor, a doctor or whatever, and [Mr. Vasquez] didn’t care about all those [barriers]. He overcame it, and he got to serve, and he has his family, three kids, and he did it.

GL: Sometimes when you win, you think you’re going to get everything to go your way, and this film is a more real-life look at what happens when you have some issues with your [immigration] status. It happens every day.

Q: One of the refrains over the past few years is that there aren’t enough blacks, Latinos, women in the media. What can be done to buck that trend?

GL:I look at movies, unfortunately, and I still see a lot of movies [lacking diversity]. You know, Woody Allen, why doesn’t he have any African-American or Latino people in his movies? I could say the same thing about movies [featuring] African-American actors and writers and directors. You know, we’re all in this business together, so making a movie about one group of people isolates the larger majority. That’s what I require of the projects that I’m involved with. I would not ever make a movie strictly for Latinos.

You know, you walk through this hotel, you’re not going to see all white people; you’re not going to see all black people; you’re going to see what the world looks like. I promised myself that if I ever got an opportunity where I would be able to make a difference and have a say, that I would want to deliver [that] message [of inclusivity].

CPV: We keep saying this is not just a movie to further our careers; this is something that’s going to strike a conversation. We’re sitting here talking about immigration and races and all this stuff [right now], and that’s what this movie’s going to do [for the public].

GL: “The Help” won Academy Awards and changed things. When I watched “The Karate Kid,” I didn’t see him as an Italian kid, I saw him as a kid that was being bullied. Or Rocky was a guy who was trying to become something — to challenge himself.

Q: What are some fun things you like to do here in D.C.?

GL: Well, since I found Ben’s [Chili Bowl], I don’t have to eat off the street anymore. I don’t go to Chipotle, but I don’t begrudge those people who do.

CPV: I go to Chipotle.

GL: Yeah, you see what I mean? I prefer my Mexican food to have a little bit of an animal that suffered a little bit. That’s some of the best food.

CPV: [laughs]

GL: An animal has to suffer for us old-school Latinos to get what we want.

Q: Would you ever do a “joke-off” with Carlos Mencia?

GL: Uh, well they’d have to be original jokes.

CPV: [laughs]

Q: On a serious note, what do you like to do in the nation’s capital other than eat at restaurants where animals may or may not have suffered?

GL: This is a great place. The music, jazz, has always been great here, the restaurants have always been fantastic here. And there’s been a lot of changes in this city over the last 30 years, and all for the better.

• “Spare Parts” is now open in the District.

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