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‘Vida,’ ‘East Los High’ Bosses on Changing Perception to Change Policy

As a barrage of stories of undocumented immigrants dominate the news, so too are they being explored in scripted series — with the hope of “changing hearts and minds” about a culture that has too often been misunderstood, misrepresented and mis-defined.

“They don’t think that us crossing the border are human, so our job is to humanize — to say ‘We’re human like you.’ For so long the narrative — I’m speaking for Latinx — we’ve been invisible, the ones cleaning and taking care of your kids and doing your lawns,” “Vida” creator Tanya Saracho said at the ATX Televison Festival in Austin, Texas Saturday. “When you change media, perception is changed and then policy is changed.”

Saracho pointed out that she saw the changes happen with the LGBTQ community, especially after Ellen Degeneres came out, and now she is personally very concerned not only with continuing to tell stories of the Latinx experience but specifically the Latinx queer experience.

“We just haven’t had those markers. We need those markers. Some are like Emmett Till’s mother showing his body [to drive a point about racial injustice home], and some will be other things,” she said. “It’s about adding flesh to the bone because for so long we’ve just been whatever versions, not fully fleshed human beings.”

Saracho had the unique experience of having an executive at Starz pitch her the idea for her show, “Vida,” about two Latinx sisters from East Los Angeles, Calif. But, she added, her “charge from Starz was to create an American show.” So she made a conscious effort to populate the world of secondary characters with DACA recipients to reflect the immigrant experiences being discussed within her writers’ room.

Mota shared that when he and his wife, who created “East Los High,” were pitching the show, they sat with a lot of people who told them they shouldn’t do the show because it wasn’t the right moment for it.

“This show should not be done because the market is not ready for Latinos to be speaking in English and be protagonists,” he said one “big agent” told him.

The duo ended up raising money to shoot the project independently before eventually selling to Hulu. They worked with an advisory board of more than 30 organizations at the city and state level to accurately represent certain issues plaguing the modern young Latinx character.

“It’s tempting for a producer to do what’s sexy or soapy, but how do you do the systemic part?” he said.

The answer for “East Los High” was, in great part, to tell stories of undocumented youth, including Eddie (Carlito Olivero), through which the show could explore concerns not only about ICE coming for him but also healthcare.

“There is an app that Eddie could press on his phone if ICE was coming after him, and the app existed. It was funny to see white people shocked to see the app existed and the need [for it] — to press it and let your family know where you are,” Mota said.

Mota also felt it was important to shoot in a detention center and then showcase the aftermath of the experience of being dragged there. “The NY Times is only showing 5% of what’s happening,” he said.

But he pointed out that “every show has a different way of doing it. There is no right or wrong.”

“We have to push back [but] not preach,” he said.

All three shows represented are set in Los Angeles, Calif. but are telling very different stories in different genres, Kellett noted, saying that that just speaks to the vast amount of stories to tell within the community.

Simply expanding the conversation to include the Latinx experience is not enough, “One Day At A Time’s” Gloria Calderon Kellet said.

“Our Asian-American community is lost on television. Our native community, disabled community, they’re lost, too,” she pointed out.

(Pictured: “East Los High”)

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