Tanya Saracho performed no small feat trying to tie up the complex character relationships in her Starz comedy “Vida” in a six-episode final season. But even as she was juggling tumultuous familial relationships with Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) learning their father is actually alive with equally rocky romantic relationships for each sister, and an increasingly volatile activism storyline that involved ICE, she didn’t want to forego hosting a couple of big events.
Enter a drag king show and a “queerceañera.”
These became ways to “elevate the culture and look at the experience in East L.A.,” says Saracho, but also to send off the three-season series with some celebration.
Marcos’ (Tonatiuh) queerceañera, which Emma put together in the parking lot of the bar, is rooted in the quinceañera tradition: when teenage girls are presented into society by their fathers. Saracho notes that in Latinx communities, many women throw themselves “double quinceañeras” when they’re turning 30 as a way to present themselves as adults now they have a better sense of self.
The idea of depicting a double quinceañera was something Saracho wanted to do since the second season of the show. When she and her writers’ room created their “giant, blue-sky list” of story ideas for the third and final season, she stuck that one up on the wall. Even as they were going through and removing what they couldn’t fully flesh out or what they didn’t have time for, she “wouldn’t let that come down.”
“This is ‘Vida,’ so we’re queer in the narrative,” Saracho says in regards to the original idea evolving into Marcos’ special day.
“Marcos has dialogue about growing up watching his sisters, all of his female cousins doing this rite of passage, and Marcos is our gender-bender, so the way we were able to do it, I feel like was the right way,” she continues. “He also announces the notion of decolonizing his name and reclaiming his indigenous heritage. It’s a racial, cultural and gender re-coming out and introduction to society. And it’s his community that’s there, that supports him, that watches his performance.”
By bringing this event, as well as the drag king show, during which Saracho excitedly notes she “got to do a little scene about binding and bring that discussion, as well as one about toxic masculinity, into the mainstream,” into the bar, it finally cements that essential set piece as an out and proud safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. (Although it had been an unsaid safe space for many years, both sisters had their own reservations about how the bar was changing through the course of the series.)
“Now, both of the sisters have signed off on the bar’s identity,” Saracho says. “If there was any doubt that this was a queer bar, there is no doubt anymore. We can thrive here.”
It’s a powerful message to deliver before the end of the series, Saracho knows, especially because of how “starved” of queer culture and Latinx culture the mainstream media has been historically.
“‘Vida’ is my wish fulfillment,” she says.
Tanya Saracho’s Inspirations:
Writers’ room style: “For Season 3, it had a giant view of the Hollywood sign and one wall was all glass so the view was beautiful and there was all this natural light. But it didn’t allow open flames so we had flameless candles and sage spray.”
Favorite writers’ room snack: “I have to have lemons every day with tajín — it’s a shot of flavor — but also every kind of Hot Cheetos.”
Mood music: “I can’t write with music; I need it to be quiet, but if I’m going to include a song in a scene, the process of finding that song is the process of finding that scene.”
How she breaks writer’s block: “I start with my ritual with my deities in my altar and pray to the goddesses — it works.”