When the 18th edition of ABC's "The Bachelor" premieres Monday night at 8, it will be the first to feature a minority star: Juan Pablo Galavis, a former professional soccer player born in Ithaca but raised from age 2 in his parents' native Venezuela.

"I am The Bachelor, and I am a Latino," Galavis, 32, told the media proudly during a recent conference call. "So there's going to be a lot of Latino things in the show," he added. "It's going to be a lot of food, a lot of dancing . . . it's going to be so different that you're going to love it."

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While both "The Bachelor" and its spinoff, "The Bachelorette," have faced criticism for not having starred African-Americans, Latinos or other minorities, Galavis defends the producers' efforts, saying, "It's not easy to find somebody for the show . . . to find people from different cultures. They don't understand this show; they don't want to be in this show." But now that he is starring, he says, fellow Latinos have been supportive. "Definitely their reaction has been great and I'm happy."

Galavis had been a contestant on the most recent edition of "The Bachelorette," starring Desiree Hartsock, and found himself a fan favorite despite being eliminated in only the second episode. Being on the other side gave him empathy, he said, for what the 27 female contestants were experiencing. "You know, you have to put yourself in the other's shoes. And I was in the other shoes. I was in the other show." Now in the opposite position, "You've just got to let yourself see how you feel and try to listen as much as you can and understand people."

Being the father of a 4-year-old -- Camila, his daughter with ex-girlfriend Carla Rodriguez, a Venezuelan actress -- adds another dimension to the romance competition. But only to a point.

"I don't need approval from her," he said. "When I'm dating on the regular basis . . . I don't tell her, 'Listen Camila, this is my girlfriend. No, 'This is a friend of Daddy's.' That's how I treat it. We don't hold hands, we don't kiss, we don't sleep over, we don't do anything in front of my daughter."