GALA’s “Noche de Estrellas” recognizes the work of Latino Talent

You may recognize him from various big parts on television, including “NCIS: New Orleans,” “FBI,” and “Gotham.” Or perhaps his role as Usnavi de la Vega in “In The Heights,” and if you were lucky enough to get tickets to “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center, you may remember him playing the lead, a role he continues to play as part of the national tour.  

Pierre Jean González was recently back in the nation’s capital to receive the Artistic Excellence and Inspiration Award from the GALA Hispanic Theatre, Washington’s premier site for Latino performing arts. 

“I feel honored, I feel blessed. It also puts a fire under me to keep doing the work that I’m doing. I grew up in the Bronx, New York and for me to be here and accept something this big and being in this place; I feel very special and very lucky,” González tells Washington Hispanic. 

In addition to his work on stage and in front of the camera, he co-founded DominiRican Productions in 2020 with his fiancé, fellow actor Cedric Leiba Jr., with the intention of creating more Afro-Latinx and Queer representation behind and in front of the camera. The production company creates original content in addition to video work for other productions, including on Broadway. González says the GALA award recognizes the work he is doing to bring more inclusivity to the industry.  

“That people are actually paying attention; that they’re seeing the work that me and DominiRican Productions are doing, that we’re putting all of our work to make sure there’s inclusivity for people that look like us and specifically afro-Latinx and Queer narratives.”

His award, along with GALA recognizing philanthropist Barbara Harman and artist Karen Zacarías, was part of GALA’s Noche de Estrellas, its annual fundraiser with proceeds from the event support GALA’s youth education programs, which include the Student Matinee program that serves 9,000 students and teachers in the DMV, and the Paso Nuevo program, an arts and cultural enrichment program for Latino and multicultural teens in the District of Columbia. 

González says it fits perfectly with his own artistic mission.
“I grew up not seeing myself, not seeing people who look like me, people who navigated or talked the way I did. Now I’m starting to see more visibility and more representation. I’m starting to see how more and more youth are starting to not judge themselves and not stop themselves from doing something that maybe they never thought they could do. You see yourself, you can do it. So I think representation means so much right now for the youth and for all the other artists express themselves and trying to tell their narrative, their story. 

Everybody’s story is unique to themselves,” he tells Washington Hispanic. “And I think now we’re at a time that people want to see authenticity. We want to see people who look like us, who deal with the same things we deal with. So I think that this is such an important time, but we also still need to keep fighting for more visibility, for more representation, for more acceptance.”

The short films he produces with DominiRican Productions have already won several awards, and he and his team are currently working on several others that continue to highlight the Latino/Latina/Latinx experience. Additionally, he says, it’s vital to have as many people of color as possible in those important decision-making roles behind the camera, which he strives to do with this production company. 

“There’s a lot of disconnect between the artist and the people on the other side of the table, so when I’m doing my projects I’m trying to make sure that I make it collaborative experience. I trust my team to do the work that they need to do. It’s about community. It’s not about reaching up but rather reaching out. Who’s around you? Who are the people who are showing up and supporting you? Those are the people you want to work with. We want to see people of color in front and behind the camera. Allow us to create and see what happens. That’s the goal.”

He says he continues to be amazed by his role in “Hamilton,” especially people of color telling the story of the white men who founded the United States. 

“I get up every day on that stage; the little kid in me can’t believe I’m doing this, like wow! I love what I’m doing. I love telling the story every single time, I love the group of people that I work with. It’s an amazing show and people of color telling the story of these white men, of the founding fathers. You have people like us telling those stories and that’s important.”

His advice for young Latinos and Latinas interested in the arts? Just do it.
“Go into it as you would any other job and get as much training. Take the classes, make sure this is the type of art or medium that you want to do and from there devise a plan how to get to where you want to get to. And don’t just sit down and wait for it to happen to you. Artistry is forever and you’re learning and growing and hustling. If that’s something that you want to do, go for it and bring your authentic self to it.”

González adds that he wasn’t really aware of Washington, D.C.’s rich artistic community until he came to the Kennedy Center with the “Hamilton” production and also working with GALA.

“And seeing the other theaters here, too. I was taken aback. I didn’t know. We don’t know that there’s this really big Latinx theater community here in D.C. A lot of people don’t know that and this is why I’m excited to be here because I give visibility to this organization that is doing the work here in D.C. Actively doing the work in the Latino community and with the youth. And it aligns with everything that I’m doing and trying to push. And this is such a beautiful and gorgeous city, and so much history. It gives me goosebumps.”