LatinoDad Profiles Series | Rick Najera, Founder, Latino Thought Makers

Welcome/Bienvenidos to the LatinoDad Profiles – Interview Series where we have conversations with everyone from trailblazing Hollywood celebrity fathers to the local and global leaders in the reinforcement of healthy fatherhood, parenthood and manhood in our communities.

LatinoDad looks forward to engaging you with fresh perspectives with our coveted leaders…men who like you, embrace their most important role, as FATHERS. Adelante!

This month, we are proud to have back here at LatinoDad, Rick Najera. Rick Najera founder of Latino Thought Makers and past keynote speaker at the inaugural LatinoDad Summit 2017 where he gave our audience of Latino fathers a poignant, hilarious talk on his fatherhood journey.

Learn more about this trailblazing Latino leader, Hollywood influencer AND dad below…

LatinoDad  Please tell us about your family. How many children do you have? Married or Single Dad? Raising with wife, separated with custody, co-parenting?

Rick Najera I met my wife Susie on December 31, 2001. I had left Hollywood vowing never to return I was doing my show Latinolouges in Chicago and had moved there. I had a home in Wicker Park but I had a strange feeling about coming back to San Diego to visit my mother for Christmas.

After seeing my mother, she  said, “Why don’t you go out and have fun.” I said,  “Mom, I don’t know anyone in San Diego any more.” It was New Years Eve and she said some one would call me.” Sure enough, a few minutes later, I got a call to go to a party that night. My mom insisted I go, so I did. I went out that night and met my future wife, Susie Najera. So far, after fourteen years and three kids later, we are still together.  And that’s a miracle in Hollywood. I joke that my kids are Mixicans – half Mexican, half Anglo. But they speak great Spanish and I want them to live in both worlds and be more of themselves. I really want them to be a bridge between both cultures.

Photo courtesy of the Najera family

LatinoDad What was your upbringing like? What was your relationship like with your father? If you were not raised by your own biological father – who was that father figure for you?

Rick Najera I had a great upbringing and was raised in two places, Barrio Logan and La Mesa, California.  I would visit my grandparents, Chon and Josephina Najera in Logan Heights and then go back to La Mesa, a middle-class neighborhood where my mom and dad Edward and Mary Najera lived. I had five siblings and we were a total of seven people living in a two bedroom house.

So, I got used to living anywhere, rich or poor. I always tell people that my neighbors in La Mesa were a Mexican kid who grew up on chicken ranch and another Mexican kid who lived close by. That kid on the chicken ranch is now Congressman Juan Vargas and the other kid was Ellen Ochoa, the first Mexican American astronaut.  

My dad was a World War II vet and served in Vietnam. He had a great gift and shared many stories with me. He would go see a movie and tell me all about it with great passion and every time I saw the same movie, it was boring compared to how he described it. He was Mexican American, and taught me to accept all people including myself. He was very proud of his Mexican culture and really saw Latinos as the solution, not the problem. He was philosophical and really funny and when my agent suggested I change my name to Rick Rivers, I thought of him and knew I couldn’t do it.

Being a Dad is the one thing you can’t quit ~ Rick Najera, Keynote Speaker @ LatinoDad Summit 2017

LatinoDad What has been your greatest challenge as a father and how or who did you lean on for help or guidance?

Rick Najera My greatest challenge as a father was losing my father who was an incredible example to me.  He passed away years before I had my own children. I never felt I knew how to be a father but my kids always call me a great dad. All I can say is, I had a great dad to learn from who was just taken to soon. Susie’s father, my father-in-law, has been a good example of a father to me. But for a guy, when you lose your own dad, life is never the same.

LatinoDad Why do you think (or if you don’t), that fatherhood or fathers have a good narrative in the media or beyond. Why the bad wrap or stereotypical – seen as the ‘babysitters’, the ‘goofy dad’ or ‘absentee father’ in the media?

Rick Najera I think it’s not just Latino dads who get a bad wrap sometimes, but Latinos in general. I have been trying to change the narrative in the media about Latinos. Latino dads are great fathers and I know I am. Loving and raising a family is the single most important thing we can do. As dads, it is our responsibility to raise another generation of our people and leave the world a better place than we found it.

Photo courtesy of the Najera family with Edward James Olmos

LatinoDad How would you like to see fatherhood especially in the Latino/Multicultural community evolve and rightfully portrayed in the media?

Rick Najera  The way I want to see Latino fatherhood portrayed in the media is truly how we are. We are funny. I joke with my kids all the time. I took my kids to Petco when they were young and told them it was the zoo and they had a great time. I did a Showtime special about my wife and kids called, “Diary of a Dad Man.” It was all true and very funny. Also we include our children in most everything we do. For our Latino Thought Makers shows or for my talks around the country, I sometimes bring them. They love being part of the show, whether selling books in the lobby, taking photographs, doing Facebook live, they love to travel with me and I love to have them. They also can make me laugh and drive me crazy at the same time.  

I wrote on the HULU series, EAST LOS HIGH. It was so realistic and great because that writers room had so many Latino writers. I think we need to tell our own stories, and Latino dads need to be written from a Latino dad point of view. That will be the first step in real change. I want to write those stories.

LatinoDad What is Rick Najera’s mission? How are your initiatives addressing a need in the Hispanic/Latino community?

Rick Najera  The Rick Najera mission is really as it has always been, to celebrate culture and human potential. I did a show on Broadway called Latinologues. It had more than 250 actors throughout the life of the show. I wanted to get Latinos on Broadway and this was before In The Heights on Broadway. I wanted to show Latinos could be on the “Great White Way.” And Eugenio Debez, Shirley Rumerick, Rene Lavan and guest star Jaime Camil all deserved to be there. Nothing should stay in the way of our human potential. Recently I have been speaking around the country doing Latino Thought Makers (LTM), my live interview show. It has been great. LTM was the featured show at HACU’s 31st Annual National Convention. HACU is the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. My featured guests were Cheech Marin, Esai Morales and David Villarino Gonzales, Cesar Chavez’s son-in-law and CEO of FIELD, Cesar Chavez’s organization. It was a great show with a standing ovation and it highlighted our Latino stories. I have been doing the show going on five years and that was a great show. Other notables on the show include Dolores Huerta, Luis Guzman, the cast of East Los High and many others. What the show does is highlight all of our Latino stories. And according to the Annenberg study from USC, it was noted how bad Latino representation is in Hollywood. The more they tell our stories, the more they get it wrong. That’s why Latino Thought Makers is so important. Its  a platform to celebrate Latinos.

LatinoDad  What are future plans for Latino Thought Leaders and/or any other projects you are doing?

Rick Najera The future of Latino Thought Makers is continuing the live show and we are launching another component, a national radio show on KPFK radio, premiering on Friday, November 24 at 2pm and thereafter weekly on Mondays at 2pm. I want all of our stories to be told. Thought this platform, we will change the narrative about Latinos in America and create the future leaders of tomorrow. I will also continue to mentor students, to speak in colleges and work in entertainment writing, producing, directing and fight for diversity in Hollywood.

WATCH and subscribe to the Latino Thought Makers YouTube channel featuring past interviews with Danny Trejo, Dolores Huerta, Cheech Marin and more! For updates, subscribe and/or get on social with Latino Thought Makers to get notified of upcoming events and radio show broadcasts.

Thank You Rick!

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