“It’s so important. It’s a beautiful culture,” says Lopez, who’s also an actor, producer and author. “I think you should be proud of your heritage and celebrate it and at the same, if you’re first generation like I am, you embrace American culture as well.”

Lopez grew up in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb, just minutes from the U.S. - Mexico border.  That’s where he went to school, got involved in wrestling and hung out at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, an organization he still supports, now as a chairman and fitness ambassador.

Inspiring a new generation

“At the end of the day, that’s all I am — a Mexican kid from Chula Vista. I’m very blessed, very lucky and I want to represent our people well and inspire other Mexican kids from neighborhoods like mine, who say, ‘If Mario can do it, I can do it too.’”

“There are always going to be obstacles. There are going to be dream squashers out there, but if you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re doing, don’t let anyone discourage you. Work hard, stay focused and do the right thing."

Lopez, who identifies his Mexican culture as “passionate, loving, fiery, festive and a lot of fun,” has always felt very connected to his heritage. He learned Spanish from his parents and is excited to pass on his rich culture to his two young kids, including his daughter Gia who is taking Spanish classes. The whole family, including Lopez’ wife Courtney and son Dominic, embrace the Mexican culture every day through food and music. “It’s part of our world,” he says.

Overcoming challenges

While Lopez is a Hollywood success story, he admits the entertainment industry has been challenging at times, especially when there aren’t many Hispanics on screen.

“I was difficult to cast,” he says. “I was Latino but still very all-American, so maybe that helped.”

Lopez persevered and advises other Latinos, especially kids, to learn Spanish, work hard and create opportunities for themselves.

“There are always going to be obstacles. There are always going to be people telling you ‘no.’ There are going to be dream squashers out there,” says Lopez. “But if you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re doing, don’t let anyone discourage you. Work hard, stay focused and do the right thing.

Mario's forthcoming memoir entitled “Just Between Us” will be released on September 30th.