[Originally published in Dominican Times Magazine Issue #17; April 2005]
By: Jessica Tavarez
Behind piercing eyes and a flirtatious smile lies a self-described ‘kind, family man,’ who was ambitious enough to dedicate four years of his life to create his own independent film, Washington Heights. Persistent enough to win awards, such as the 2002 Best Actor Award at the Milan International Film Festival for his performance in Washington Heights. A man outspoken enough to express the importance of Latinos supporting each other, and last but not least – a man whom is ready for love. This man is non other than Manny Perez.
“I wish I was a sex symbol. If I was, I would probably have a girlfriend now. I would be a playboy, un picaflor. I’m looking for that perfect person. I’ve played around for too long in my life, but I’m waiting for that right person to come along,” said Perez. To Perez the perfect person is an: “Independent woman, who has goals, who is very simple, who has strong family values, someone that knows what she’s doing. I don’t want any hidden drama or divas. A girl that is simple.” And when that person does come along, he won’t be afraid to say ‘I love you.’
Perez learned the importance of saying those three little words at a young age. In 1992, he was supposed to be the first college graduate in the family. A very proud father waited for that day, a day that he never got to see. Three months before graduation, Perez’s father and role model passed away. “My only regret is that I never told him that I loved him,” said Perez. “We Dominicans are very macho, we show cariño, but most of us don’t know how to say ‘I love you.’ We weren’t taught to say ‘I love you.’ But as a person I’ve learned to give up the macho thing and show my sensitive side.”
Perez is also very sensitive about the never changing ways of Latinos when it comes to supporting one another. “Washington Heights is a very beautiful, humane story about a father and son. When it came out, the ‘White Man’ loved the film, and the Latino who saw the film felt that it didn’t represent them. I had people come up to me and say, ‘Oye loco! I saw the movie, but that’s not the Washington Heights that I know. I didn’t see the guns, the gangsters, or the drug dealers!’ We complain that Hollywood doesn’t show us in a positive light, well, that’s because we don’t go out and support our films and our projects,” expressed Perez.
Since then Perez has kept himself busy working on various television shows, such as Law & Order, CSI Miami, and currently the NBC show, Third Watch. Perez plays an undercover Dominican cop named Officer Santiago, who is a single father. “In the show, Officer Santiago is Dominican, and that matters to me, he also lives in Washington Heights, and that also matters to me. I’m trying to show to America that not every Latino is Mexican or Puerto Rican.”
To the man who does not believe in sadness and who searches for the positive side of things, he explains that he tries to make the best of everything. This is what he said is his best personality trait. “Life is beautiful. Why deal with the sadness of life when you can deal with the positive things of life?” It is for this reason that he is currently working on a variety of different films. His first feature film Washington Heights is being released in theaters in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at the beginning of this month. It will be released with Spanish subtitles. The one thing that Perez has learned from life and takes with him everywhere he goes, is the importance of honesty. “When you lie to others, you lie to yourself. Be honest to yourself. I’d rather deal with myself in an honest way, and handle life on my own terms.”