Wilmer Valderrama may be best known for his role as Fez on “That 70s Show,” but at the Looking Ahead Awards last month, he put all jokes aside and made a heartfelt tribute to his parents and the country that welcomed them.
According to People, Valderrama was born in Miami, but at three years old his family moved to Venezuela where his father worked as a farmer.
After he was given The Judy and Hilary Swank Award, the 36-year-old actor credited his mother and father, Sobeida Valderrama and Balbino A. Valderrama, for pushing him towards acting:
"This award truly is about the force behind the actor. It’s about the infrastructure; it’s about the heart; it’s about the heritage; it’s about the culture. It’s about who you really are before you even become who you are.
It’s about your parents; it’s about your family; but it’s the individual that at some point in your life told you that you could. The first person to believe in you before you even were born. And to me that’s worth noting."
Eventually his family “sold everything they had” and moved to California in search of a better life.
Valderrama explained that the immigrant experience is the blueprint of the United States and that despite living in poverty, they were grateful to be where they were.
Their limited funds may have meant that they could not afford name brand cereal, but they carried on [emphasis added]:
“We were getting cereal, we were getting 'Cola,' we were getting the Lucky Charms with the guy without the hat. We were getting Cocoa Puffs but spelled with a B: Cocoa Buffs. But we were proud of that, because at the end of the day my parents said, 'Hey, we’re here. We’re already winning.'”
In order to even get to the grocery store, Valderrama and his mother had to walk miles to and from their home. While they made their trek, the now-famous actor promised his mother that one day they would be able to drive:
“I remember seeing my mom’s little hands and we would take little breaks on every corner. And I looked at my mom’s little hands…and I looked at my mom and I said, ‘Mom, one day we’re going to drive.' She said, 'Okay mijo.'”
Valderrama told People that his story is proof that the American dream is possible and achievable to any immigrant family:
“If you’re an American, period, you are an immigrant. Retelling my story now, retelling success stories, is a great reminder that the American dream can be achieved.”
Over the past few months, Valderrama has been the face of Johnny Walker's “Keep Walking America” campaign, which aims to celebrate America's different and diverse cultural identities.