Actor Wilmer Valderrama and Model Amanda Pacheco Talk About Honoring their Roots and Making Multigenerational Living Work for Their Familia
When actor Wilmer Valderrama, 42, and model and scuba divemaster Amanda Pacheco, 31, met through a mutual friend almost three years ago, neither was looking for a relationship. He was pulling long hours on the set of the CBS drama NCIS, and she was in the throes of planning a cross-country move from Los Angeles to Miami. The stars, it seemed, were not aligned to bring the pair together, and yet Valderrama recalls feeling "a gravitational pull" toward Pacheco. "There was just something about her that told me I needed to know this person," he says
So he very casually texted her. "I was giving her advice on Miami," recalls Valderrama, who was born in Miami but raised in his father's home country of Venezuela until age 13. When Pacheco mentioned that she was of Mexican descent, Valderrama switched from English to español. It was charming, but there was just one catch: "I'm not fluent," says Pacheco, laughing. "So I had Wilmer on my phone in one hand, and my dad translating for me on another phone in my other hand! We always joke that Wilmer and my dad are really the ones who fell in love with each other."
Pacheco stayed in L.A., and nine months later, after a whirlwind, globetrotting romance, Valderrama proposed. Though the pandemic forced the couple to postpone their wedding plans, it didn't stop them from putting off parenthood. Last February 15, they welcomed their first child, Nakano Oceana. (She's named after the city in Japan where they initially declared their love for each other.) Both mom and daughter are learning to speak Spanish. Luckily, they're surrounded by native speakers—not only Valderrama and his parents but also Pacheco's father, all of whom live close by—and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Putting Down Roots
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and Valderrama started building his long before Nakano even arrived. In 1994, his parents sold everything they had to move to America and give their children a shot at a better life. Valderrama, who first rose to fame as a foreign exchange student named Fez on That '70s Show, returned the favor by turning his three-and-a-half-acre Los Angeles property into a family compound. In 2019, he bought the home next door for his mother, Sobeida, who is originally from Colombia, and he later put up his dad, Balbino, in his guest house. (His parents divorced when Valderrama was young, but they remain friendly.) Then, during the pandemic and Pacheco's pregnancy, her father, Armando, also moved in to pod with them.
So by the time Nakano came into the world, she already had a live-in support system of family around her. Valderrama's mom, who speaks only Spanish and therefore makes an excellent language tutor, keeps home-cooked food on their stove, like delicious sopas. And Nakano's grandfathers, who've become best buds during the past year, are always available, too, not only to read bedtime stories, but also to instill cultural values in her. "We want to teach her respect, loyalty, and what hard work looks like. That's what saved my own life," says Valderrama, who is committed to his activism and role as a USO Global Ambassador. "In Hollywood, you can lose yourself if you try to become what someone else thinks is profitable. But my parents taught me that I never had to be anything I wasn't." When he's not meeting with troops, he's doing his part to give his community a voice, not only as an actor—he recently voiced Agustín in Disney's Encanto, set in Colombia—but as a board member of Voto Latino Foundation, where he encouraged Latinos to vote in critical elections. And on his iHeart podcast Essential Voices, he is celebrating overlooked heroes on the front line, like nurses and grocery-store employees. Everything he does is a tribute to the sacrifices his parents made for his success, which is also why he's so happy to have them near.
The multigenerational living arrangement also suits Pacheco, who lost her mother to ovarian cancer seven years ago. Though her mom may be gone, her spirit remains a constant fixture in their lives. "I felt her presence throughout my entire pregnancy," Pacheco says. "There's no way it would've gone as smoothly as it did without my mom watching over me." In fact, she gave birth to Nakano on her mother's birthday. "I'm sure God had a lot to do with that," she says, smiling. "But I know that was my mom too." And if anyone else in her life understands what it's like to become a mother without having your own there to guide you, it's Valderrama's own mom. "She was around the same age as I was when her own mother passed," Pacheco says. "She's become a mother figure to me, and despite the language barrier, we have a real connection."
Making Time for Each Other
Having tight family bonds and a deep roster of babysitters at the ready makes it easier for Valderrama and Pacheco to nurture their own relationship too. The couple can't exactly jet off to the mountaintops of Japan or beaches of Mexico like they did in their early days of courtship, but they do still take spontaneous excursions, albeit to less remote locales. "As soon as the baby goes down, we hop on our Vespa and just cruise around the neighborhood," says Valderrama. "You find new ways to do date night."
Of course, the secret to making the evenings together count as new parents hinges on getting rest so they can actually enjoy themselves. "The first few nights after Nakano came home, we were like, 'Oh, we can do this! No problem!' " says Valderrama. "But by the sixth day, that sleep deprivation gets tough." The couple quickly learned the power of a bedtime routine and healthy sleep habits. "I didn't think I had the heart for sleep training Nakano," says Valderrama. "But it is so empowering! It's what allows you to get back to focusing on your partner. When you have a baby that sleeps through the night, it's a lot easier to stay connected."
As the couple prepares to celebrate Nakano's first birthday this February, they're taking a moment to appreciate the milestone, not only for the baby but for themselves. "It's an exciting moment to make it to one year as parents," says Valderrama, noting that he and Pacheco worked hard on communicating and checking in throughout the pregnancy and those early sleepless nights with a newborn. "I think that's a testament to us. They tell you, 'It's all about the baby,' but when you're both with the baby, you can forget about each other. The baby is our priority," he says. "But," he adds, turning toward Pacheco, "you are mine too."
For Valentine's Day, they're planning to have a romantic meal together. "Wilmer is always doing sweet, loving things for me," says Pacheco. But the actual holiday is always a good excuse to go out. "Nakano was born the day after Valentine's Day, so we'll have the 14th for us and the next day for her."
Valderrama and Pacheco are still working out the details of Nakano's birthday party. There will be cake and music. And Valderrama will curate the perfect playlist. "If you're Brown and don't know how to dance, you forfeit your Latino card!" he says. The proud dad is already teaching his little girl some moves. "I had my first dance with her when she got home from the hospital, and I can't wait to keep dancing with her."
PL's Lightning Round
Nakano's favorite Latin food
First words in Spanish
Does a Marc Anthony song count?
At home we love dancing to…
Disney's Encanto soundtrack.
Family happy place
Our Sunday trips to the beach.
Favorite bilingual children's libro
This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's February/March 2022 issue as "Meant To Be."