The citizens of the United States pride themselves on the lore of the “American success story”. Although the details of such a story can vary from time to time across generation lines, the moral often boils down to an individual succeeding despite the odds being against them.

While the modern world has changed the narrative of the American success story, making it harder in many aspects to achieve, it has also made it that much more memorable when people do overcome adversity.

Modern society often dictates that in order to succeed in this world people need to have an education. Ideally, this education prepares them for a career that will allow them to experience personal reward and financial success. This financial success, in turn, creates individuals who are contributing members of society.

Vin Diesel is, by all accounts, a contributing member of American society. How he achieved his goals in life and the path he followed arguably puts him in the position of being considered a classic American success story.

 David Twohy, Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla

(From left to right) David Twohy, Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla at the “Riddick” Los Angeles Premiere, Village Theater, Westwood. Photo: S_Buckley

Early Life

Known now as the muscle-bound action hero Vin Diesel, he was actually born Mark Vincent in New York City, New York on 18 July 1967. Diesel’s path to becoming a successful actor, director, and producer had humble beginnings in his hometown. Vincent, as he was known growing up, was born to a Caucasian mother, Delora Sherleen (Sinclair), and raised by his mother and step-father, Irving H. Vincent.

Irving Vincent was an acting instructor and theatre manager in New York City and would help nurture Diesel’s passion for all things related to the performing arts. His first performance on stage came at the Theatre for the New City in Greenwich Village, where he debuted at the age of seven in Dinosaur Door, a children’s play written by Barbara Garson.

Determined to Succeed

As an adolescent, he remained involved with the Theater of the New City for many years until heading off to college at New York’s Hunter College. While enrolled at Hunter College he pursued courses in English and creative writing that allowed him to hone his skills for a potential career in screenwriting. In an effort to make ends meet during school, he also worked at Manhattan night clubs as a bouncer.

It was during his time as a bouncer that he cobbled together his eventual screen name, Vin Diesel. He long believed that his diverse cultural and ethnic background was and would potentially hold him back in the entertainment industry. Not willing to ditch his family name entirely, he adopted the first name Vin in homage to his last name of Vincent. The name diesel came from his friends who believed that he ran on diesel fuel, hinting at his non-stop work ethic.

Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson

Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson arrive at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Helga Esteb

From those early days up until now, Diesel has been reserved in addressing his ethnic and cultural heritage. Although he originally believed his heritage held him back and would not discuss it, in recent years he has opened to freely acknowledge his ancestry and its cultural influences.

Tackling the Issue of Ethnicity

Although Diesel has never been particularly shy about discussing his race and ethnicity, he has never allowed it be a focal point of conversation. Because Diesel does not know his father, he has little information to go on when it comes to fully explaining his ethnic and cultural heritage.

Over time he has come to identify with various cultures and works to connect himself to those with which he has a biological and genetic connection. His step-father is a man of African-American heritage, but his mother has a background that includes Scottish, English, German, and Italian roots. He personally identifies as a “person of colour,” but plays roles in film that represent various parts of his background.

Exploring his Ethnicity on Screen

Diesel’s first success came with an independent short film that he wrote, directed, and produced in 1994. The semi-biographical film, Multi-Facial, told the story of an actor struggling to move past the phase of auditioning for various roles in the film industry. His film was so impressive that it was selected for screening at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

His breakthrough role in film came as the Italian-American solider, Private Adrian Caparzo, in Steven Spielberg’s 1998 smash hit Saving Private Ryan. From there, Diesel would go on to star in The Chronicles of Riddick Trilogy as an African-American convict-turned-anti-hero, as well as playing a leading role in The Fast and Furious film franchise.

Career Success with a Private Life

Over the course of his involvement in the Riddick trilogy and The Fast and Furious franchise, his most significant directing and producing credits are attached to these two film franchises. Going forward, he is set to lend his voice to Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comic adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Throughout his career, Diesel has worked to keep his private life separate from his public profile. Although he has two children with his partner, supermodel Paloma Jimenez, he rarely flaunts his family in public or splashes them across the cover of magazines. He prefers a low-profile lifestyle and has even espoused a preference for allowing his personal life to be profiled more in Europe, where he feels he is less easily recognized.

Vin Diesel with his partner Paloma Jimenez and their children

Vin Diesel with his partner Paloma Jimenez and their children, daughter Hania Riley and son Vincent.
Photo: Featureflash

His low public profile has allowed him to opportunity to more readily explore his connection to various cultures around the world. One enduring example was his work with Leonel Fernandez, the President of the Dominican Republic. In addition to appearing in one of his campaign ads, Diesel also directed the film Los Bandoleros which was filmed in the Dominican Republic.

Although the undeniable multicultural facets of his life play an important role in his personal thinking, Diesel remains an actor who has experienced success while divorcing his personal and public lives. He has also shown that with determination and hard work, the American success story is still a narrative that rings true in the 21st century.