"It's tough," Peter Weber told ET of the issue of race heading to the forefront of conversations about The Bachelor. "[But] it has to be brought up."
We were exclusively with the 28-year-old pilot just hours before he met his 30 contestants for the first time at the Bachelor mansion on Sept. 19. Weber had been announced as the next franchise lead just two days prior, during the season six finale of Bachelor in Paradise, but had known he earned the coveted gig of Bachelor for a while.
"I've known for a couple weeks. I had to keep it a secret from my parents because they wanted a genuine reaction. That was tough," he explained.
Weber's parents, Peter Sr. and Barbara, whom viewers met and fell in love with on Weber's Bachelorette hometown date, couldn't have been more excited when they finally learned the news. That overwhelming joy wasn't shared unanimously throughout Bachelor Nation, however. An ex-girlfriend of Weber's had come forward with claims he had betrayed her to appear on the show, though his response to her allegations and comments about their relationship seemed to satisfy most fans. Instead, divide over Weber's casting as Bachelor came from disappointment that another man, Mike Johnson, didn't get the role. While Weber, who is half-Cuban, is the show's second Hispanic lead, Johnson would have been the series' first African-American Bachelor.
Soon after Weber's casting was revealed, former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, who remains the franchise's only African-American lead across all shows, spoke out against the announcement. "For the first time, I was very confident that we were going to see our first black Bachelor," she told ET at the time, noting the leads of The Bachelor's 24 seasons all look like Weber.
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Rachel Lindsay Doesn't Understand Why Mike Johnson Didn't Get 'Bachelor' Gig (Exclusive)
"I want to be hopeful, but when you have a contestant like Mike Johnson, who seems to check all the boxes, how is he not the Bachelor? I don't understand," Lindsay said. "I'm sure they have some reason for not picking him, and I'm going to trust in that, but at the same time, the system isn't working in giving us a Bachelor who is a person of color. So we need to change the system. Something has to be done. Break the rules, step outside the box, give the people what they want!"
Johnson echoed Lindsay's sentiments during an interview with ET on Sept. 18. "Yes, Peter has a Cuban mom, but let's just be honest -- he's white, right? And that's just being completely transparent," he said. "I think that there should be an Asian lead, an Indian lead... diversity is not just black and white. It's not just salt and pepper."
Still, Johnson offered his congratulations to Weber, who in turn told ET that he thought the Air Force veteran would have made a "great Bachelor."
"A, I didn't make this decision, right? I was very grateful to accept it and move forward, but listen, regardless of race, of identity or whatnot, everybody is deserving of love. And I'm not the only person," Weber shared. "They picked me and I'm very excited and very humbled."
"I'm all for diversity and I'm excited for this journey to maybe date some diverse women that I haven't dated before. I haven't found my person yet, so maybe I just haven't been dating the right type of person," he continued. "I totally get [the criticism], it's fair. All I can say is I'm so grateful to have this opportunity and I wish Mike and everyone all the love in the world."
The Westlake Village, California, native is also excited to showcase his Hispanic roots on the series. Weber's admiration for his parents and their love story -- Barbara, a former Miss Illinois, met Peter Sr. when he was piloting a plane she was on as a flight attendant -- was evident from The Bachelorette's season premiere. On the June 24 episode, he opened up more to Bachelorette Hannah Brown about his close relationship with his Cuban maternal grandmother, and how her words of wisdom were passed down from generation to generation.
"Son, don't worry, don't fret. Let the waters run," he translated after speaking the phrase in Spanish. "Let the river flow as it may, because what's for you, and what's meant for you, will never be tarnished and will always be yours."
On the July 8 hometown date episode, Barbara excitedly prepared Cuban food for Brown's visit. "Vamos a comer!" Weber exclaimed when he saw the familiar feast. "Como los Cubanos!"
"Puedo hablar un poquito. Entiendo todo con mi mama," the Bachelor humbly told ET during our Bachelor mansion visit, with Barbara and Peter Sr. by his side. "Growing up, we spoke Spanish. My grandmother, that's basically all she spoke and it's been a big part of our upbringing."
"He can carry himself very well in Spanish," Barbara proudly interjected.
America's first Hispanic Bachelor came with Juan Pablo Galavis in 2014. The former soccer pro and single dad was born in Ithaca, New York, to Venezuelan parents; he returned to Venezuela when he was two years old, and came back to the United States to play college soccer, later establishing his home base in Miami, Florida. Galavis was celebrated at the time of his historic casting in 2013. Though not a finalist on Desiree Hartsock's season of The Bachelorette, he was an overwhelming fan favorite. ABC kicked off his Bachelor season with special episodes during a Galavis-themed "Juan-uary." Throughout the season, however, amid questionable comments to contestants, his failure to propose to his final pick (or even tell her he loved her) and homophobic off-camera remarks (which he's since apologized for), Galavis' popularity dropped. His season left fans with a sour taste in their mouths.
Weber is embracing his position as the second-ever Hispanic Bachelor as an opportunity to showcase his heritage. "You see a lot of my Cuban roots come out from probably the first episode," he told ET on Dec. 19, shortly after filming had wrapped. "There's definitely a theme of the whole Hispanic side throughout the show, I'm not gonna lie. It's cool. And I love that."
"I love sharing that, and my family plays a big role in it too," he gushed. "They're just my biggest supporters. So, I love that [I can represent that on the show]."
Weber considers his parents' love story "the most amazing inspiration," and it's no secret that his future wife will need his family's stamp of approval.
"[He needs someone] adventurous, spontaneous, one that loves flying because on his days off he'll probably be flying. Someone sweet with a great heart as well -- that's the most important thing," Barbara told ET at the mansion. She and Peter Sr. had just spent time leaving notes for the women to find across the property after meeting their son for the first time.
"Most of them were important but the one I wanted the most was, 'What was your favorite childhood memory?' I really wanted to get to the root of the childhood, because that tells you a lot of their upbringing and what they went through and what was the most memorable for them at that time that carries into today," she explained, tearing up at the idea of connecting with her future daughter-in-law and welcoming her to the family.
"[She cries] a lot," Weber lovingly said. "She's Cuban, so that's her excuse."
"I want the best for him, of course," an emotional Barbara shared. "He deserves it."
"We're very close," Weber expressed. "I need someone who values family as much as I do."
The Bachelor premieres Monday, Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. See more in the video below.