Award-winning writer, director, producer, Rick Najera (Photo/ Jesse Garcia Photography)

Comedian Rick Najera’s “Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood”

Award-winning film and television writer and comedian Rick Najera says it took a near-death experience to really see his life. So what did he do next? Write a memoir, he says.

In “Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood,” which hit shelves last week, Najera writes about working more than 20 years as a Latino with Hollywood as a backdrop. As a writer for “MADtv” and “In Living Color,” he has worked with some of the biggest stars from Whoopi Goldberg, to Sidney Poitier and Jim Carrey. He writes about that journey, as well as the universal lessons he learned along the way.

“It’s especially important as Latinos to put a spotlight on ourselves,” says Najera. “I always say, ‘Imagine you were adopted by a white family and you were cut out of the pictures and your history was erased — that’s what we as Latinos have to fight against. It affects how we’re seen in the media and in real life…I thought I can talk about the Latino world with my own story.”

He says what really triggered him to write his memoir, though, was having a seizure about a year and a half ago, which put him in a stage 3 coma and in intensive care.

“I almost lost my life,” says Najera. “I thought about my children, and I thought ‘I never wrote down my experience.’ My life is a shared experience with a lot of people, and a lot of Latinos don’t even know our own history — we’re all linked together.”

Najera, a Mexican-American born in California, says he owes his success in life to his hard-working father.

“Growing up in San Diego, I had severe dyslexia, and it was hard for me to read,” says Najera, who was held back in school due to his learning challenges. “I didn’t talk much — I was very shy — and they thought I was slow.”

One day, when he was 12, he says his father took him to a Shakespeare movie.

“My father was a door-to-door salesman so speaking was very important to him,” says Najera. “He told me after watching the movie, ‘’If you spoke that beautifully, I’d be very proud of you.’ So I went and started memorizing Shakespeare.”

That one episode of his life is what led him to comedy when he was just 17.

“As a Latino at that time, there weren’t many opportunities, and that of course is changing,” says Najera. “We’re now too hard to ignore.”

However, he says that although Latinos in Hollywood are growing in numbers, Hollywood still doesn’t understand Latinos.

“You have to explain yourself so many times,” says Najera, who is now based in Los Angeles and working on an animated comedy series with George Lopez about a border patrol officer.  I’m guero — I’m light-skinned — it happens in the Mexican culture. [Hollywood] wants the Disney character with the mariachi outfit. You’re explaining yourself constantly as a Latino in Hollywood.”

Growing up on the border of California and Mexico, he says he has been a bridge between two cultures, and between people, and that’s what he says we need — more bridges and less borders.

“I think a border is something we should share,” says Najera. “It’s time we bring people who have been living here out of the shadows. It will help our economy…People say Latinos are the problem, but I think Latinos are the solution.”

Najera says we’ve always been a nation of immigrants, and his grandfather — a Mexican immigrant — was also a World War II veteran who was one of the first Mexicans to move to an all-white neighborhood in San Diego.

“We were pioneers from day one, and I really like to show how we’re all connected,” says Najera about his book. “It’s a human story, and it’s a hopeful book…Everyone should have Latinos in their life.”

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