Many might remember Tony Plana from his many acting roles from “Feo” in the film “Born in East L.A.” to playing America Ferrera’s dad in the sitcom “Ugly Betty,” but many might not know his other passion is sharing his wisdom with youth.
The 62-year-old Cuban-American actor attributes all of his success to his education, and he says he wants to pay it forward.
For nearly two decades, Plana has been working hard to create educational programming for schools in underserved middle and high schools in the greater Los Angeles area. His East L.A. Classic Theatre program, which integrates acting within school curriculums have proven successful, because it engages students to become avid learners – it connects them emotionally to the school experience. He says young immigrant children, who have trouble speaking because of fear, to troubled runaways, have found a purpose and have learned to thrive because of being exposed to theater.
“Theater teaches you to collaborate and identify with a group – to create and realize something together,” says Plana. “The wonderful feeling of creating something together and sharing it – it’s very powerful…I started East L.A. Classic Theatre in 1995, because I wanted to become part of the solution…I want to take East L.A. nationally, because [education] is a national problem.”
The experienced father of two and educator of many, says it’s all about connections when it comes to educating youth, and it starts in the home.
“Latino children experience more regression than any other group, because it’s environmental – many are very poor and that’s not conducive to intellectual stimulation,” says Plana, who encourages role-playing with parents in school curriculums. “It’s important to educate the parents about this problem.”
He says he’s also created a program through East L.A. called “Creciendo Juntos” to empower parents with information.
“You have to get involved in finding out who your kids are and what they need,” says Plana, who home-schooled his own children – whether biological, educational, whatever those needs are. “We teach them not to do things for their children, but to make them learn, and parents to become learners themselves. You teach by modeling. Become more educated so you can make more money and raise standard of living. Show your kids how important education is.”
Currently living with his wife in NYC, Plana also spends time advocating for other causes when he’s not acting. Most recently, he’s a spokesperson for a non-profit called TECHO, which brings volunteers and low-income families in Latin America together to combat poverty.
— Tony Plana (@tonyplana) September 17, 2014