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Happy birthday, Rosie Perez!
Pérez was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the neighborhood of Bushwick, to Puerto Rican parents. Her mother, Lydia Pérez (née Fontañez), a singer, was married to Arturo Pérez at the time of Rosie’s birth. However, Rosie’s biological father is Ismael Serrano, a merchant seaman with whom her mother had an affair. Much of her young life was spent in foster care. She attended Grover Cleveland High School, which is located in Ridgewood, in the New York City borough of Queens, and Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California.
Pérez was first noticed in a dance club by Spike Lee in 1988, who hired her for her first major acting role in Do the Right Thing. Pérez started her career in the late 1980s as a dancer on Soul Train and later choreographed music videos by Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown, Diana Ross, LL Cool J andThe Boys. She was the choreographer for the dancing group the Fly Girls who were featured on the Fox television comedy program In Living Color.
She made her Broadway debut in Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Perez had her third major role in the hit comedy White Men Can’t Jump co-starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.
Pérez was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Peter Weir's 1993 film Fearless. In 1997, she starred in Perdita Durango, a controversial film in which many scenes of excessive violence, sex and nudity were edited out of the version released in the United States but remained intact in the version released throughout Latin America.
She provides the voices of Click, the camera, on Nick Jr.'s Go, Diego, Go! and Chel, a beautiful native woman in the DreamWorks Animation film The Road to El Dorado. She played corrupt police officer Carol Brazier in the Judd Apatow-produced film Pineapple Express, co-starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Perez appeared on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in October 2009 about pedophiles’ rights. Executive producer Neal Baer said the writers had Perez in mind when they wrote the role of a young sexual abuse victim’s mother. She suffered a serious injury during the filming of the episode. Most recently, Perez is the subject of a released album by Felt entitled Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez.
Pérez is an activist for Puerto Rican rights. Her film Yo Soy Boricua! Pa’ Que Tú Lo Sepas! (I’m Puerto Rican, Just So You Know!) documents her activism. She starred in and directed the Spanish AIDS PSA campaign “Join the Fight” for Cable Positive and Kismet Films. The campaign featured actor Wilmer Valderrama, BET's Julissa Bermudez, Telenovela actorErick Elías, singer/actress Lorena Rojas, 2006–2007 Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera and actress Judy Marte. An English-language campaign was also directed by Liev Schreiber. President Barack Obama appointed her to The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). She was sworn in on February 2, 2010.
On January 6, 2000, she was arrested for disorderly conduct in Manhattan following a rally to protest U.S. Navy air weapons training, as well as other forms of payload on the government training range owned at Vieques, an island off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Perez serves as the chair of the artistic board for Urban Arts Partnership, a New York City arts education nonprofit that uses arts integrated education programs to close the achievement gap.