By Nilki Benitez
Bel-lissima! Latin Heat's CEO and founder, Bel Hernandez, curtsied out of the limelight to promote Latinos in Hollywood.
Bel Hernandez is a Hollywood star, but she's not your typical star. Although her talent has graced television and film heavy-weights such as L.A. Law, Beverly Hills 90210, Born in East L.A. and Selena, today, Bel Hernandez's star shines brighter off camera than on.
As co-founder and president of Latin Heat, Hernandez has lead the only trade publication focused on Latino talent in Hollywood into a multi-media company which includes a magazine and website, as well as film and TV production and consulting.
Hernandez is also President of the Latino Entertainment Institute and has served on the Board of the George Peabody Awards. Hernandez' level of success is extraordinary, her commitment to the Latino community; exemplary.
When asked about her success on and off camera in Hollywood, Hernandez states, "My tenacity for working to accomplish a goal, came from my mother. (She) was always a forward-thinking woman who worked hard to buy a house, and provide for her children."
Growing up in Boyle Heights, an area of East Los Angeles, things were not easy for the Hernandez family. "I remember having butter tacos for dinner. However, we were too busy trying to survive and (there was) no time to feel bad about what we didn't have. It was always about what we could obtain."
Her family was very close and although all six siblings went their separate ways in adulthood, they have remained close thanks to their mother "(She) was the glue that held us together. We always get together for all the holidays and the special occasions. She is now 86 years old, drives a truck, and likes to surf the Internet and collect recipes she tries out on her family."
Despite the hardships of a family struggling on minimum wage incomes, young Bel Hernandez was a dreamer. "My face was always buried in a book. I woke up reading and went to bed reading by the streetlight outside my window. When I was sent on errands, I would walk to the store with a book in hand and read all the way to and from," she recalls. However, as a young child and into high school, Hernandez' only aspirations were to become a secretary.
"There was a lack of role models for me. No one I saw on TV looked like (me). I didn't know of any Latino doctors, lawyers...so up until high school that is what I wanted to do," Hernandez reflects.
It was through her involvement with the Mexican Folk Dance group in high school that Hernandez met her dear friend, Miguel Delgado. It was Delgado who encouraged her to pursue dance, and years later, as a choreographer, it was Delgado again who encouraged Hernandez to audition for a play he had been hired to choreograph. That play, "Zoot Suit", was the beginning of a sixteen-year acting career for Bel Hernandez who found success, both personally and professionally, in front of the camera.
"There I was working opposite Jimmy Smits in L.A. law. When you get your first speaking role and you sign the contract on set, that is when you realize you are a working actor and it's a great feeling to be doing what you like and get paid for it."
It was a career with many emotional ups and downs, but determination pulled her through. "I was a working artist that made a good living and made some wonderful friends and allies that have gone on to make tremendous history making films and TV," Hernandez says.
However, in 1992, prompted by her frustration in the lack of coverage Latino actors were receiving in Hollywood, Hernandez was faced with a choice between sharing a life on-screen with other great Latino actors and remain complacent with the lack of recognition, or leave acting to promote the talent that surrounded her.
Hernandez chose the latter, "I co-founded Latin Heat Magazine because my partner and I were Latinas (who) saw the lack of coverage of Latino Talent in Hollywood."
Embarking upon this new path, Hernandez quickly discovered that there were major differences between acting and acting as CEO of a company. She reflects, "As an artist, the main focus is yourself. You are the tool of your trade. Therefore, you are constantly looking to improve on your acting, your looks, your audition skills, you, you, you...everything is centered around you. As a CEO of a publication, the focus is on others and the industry, the issues. It's about exposure of projects, talent and about deadlines, employees, equipment, vendors, schedules and financials."
It wasn't an easy switch, but Hernandez states that she has no regrets, "I have learned much by each and every action I have taken. I wouldn't have it any other way. It has contributed to who I am today."
Through Latin Heat, Bel Hernandez has changed how the world sees Latino Talent in Hollywood. Now, Hernandez is working on changing the way the world sees talk-show hosts. Her most recent project, Let's Talk!, is an online talk-show with Hernandez as executive producer and co-host. The show focuses on current topics with universal appeal for a large audience with the dialogue centering around four dynamic Latinas.
As a successful businesswoman, Hernandez strives to strike a balance between work and family, like her mother before her. As for all her accomplishments and success, when asked what she is most proud of, Hernandez replies, "I'm proud of my family. My mother, and my siblings. My husband, and my daughters, and son. I am proud of Latin Heat, another one of my children."
Bel Hernandez had to overcome many challenges on her way to being a top player in Hollywood, but one hurdle stood out above the rest. She states, "The most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was to believe in myself."
In regards to success, Hernandez offers, "Don't wait to be given permission to accomplish your goals. Take matters into your own hands and just get started. Believe that you can do it and you will do it. Most importantly, work hard at what you want to accomplish."
Having re-directed her energy from a focus on herself, in front of the camera, to a driving force promoting Latinos in the Entertainment Industry, Bel Hernandez has demonstrated the beauty behind the gift of giving, which in our eyes makes Bel Hernandez truly Bel-lissima!
Nilki Benitez is a freelance writer who writes feature-length screenplays, as well as, short stories, poetry and fiction. She shares some of her work on her blog "Musings." Nilki is currently working on a compilation of interviews with prominent Latinos in the Arts and Entertainment industry.