The issue of immigration has been an ongoing debate for decades, but the conversation couldn’t come at a more important time under a presidential administration that emboldens the mistreatment of immigrants, calls them animals, and separates families. It is even more evident in the Latinx community. During a panel at the ATX Television Festival appropriately titled “Stories Without Walls” moderated by ACLU Immigration Advocacy Leader Lorella Praeli, One Day at a Time showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett, Vida showrunner Tanya Saracho, and East Los High showrunner Mauricio Mota dropped some serious knowledge about immigration and how they use their shows to ignite change in television — and the world.
Kellett, Saracho, and Mota’s shows may put the spotlight on the Latinx community in Los Angeles, but they are all totally different narratives. Kellett’s multi-cam Netflix comedy follows a multi-generational Cuban family, while Saracho’s Vida follows a second and third generation Latinx family while steeped in queerness. Mota’s East Los High takes a look at the Latinx narrative from the teenage angle, following a group of students at a Latinx high school, and the trials and tribulations they face in adolescence.
“We are 20 percent of this country,” said Saracho of the visibility of Latinx narrative. “Why is 20 percent missing from the national narrative created by media?”
“We are thirsty for rep, we wanted it so bad,” said Kellett. “Every year there is one Latino show and it seems that someone got in there.” When she says “someone,” she is referring to someone who tinkered with the show to make it feel nothing like the Latinx experience. “For me, I wanted an alternative.”
Even though their shows shed different lights on the Latinx experience, each show has tackled the topic of immigration through a different lens — whether it be in front of the camera or behind the camera. And that lens wasn’t crime-ridden, cliched, or inauthentic, with heavy-handed storytelling through a white gaze.
Kellett said that Norman Lear suggested that the character of Lydia (Rita Moreno) get deported. But she pointed out that she can’t be deported because she is Cuban. Instead, they introduced an immigration story line via the character of Carmen (Ariela Barer), Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) friend. In the episode, her parents get deported, and it gave us a different take on immigration via the eyes of an emo, Goth Latina.
Saracho mentions that she is not American because she has a green card — which automatically gives Vida an immigration narrative. Other than that, the first season doesn’t have a blatant immigration story line, but her Latinx writers room includes immigrants, and her show is populated with work by DACA artists.
In Mota’s East Los High, there is an undocumented character named Eddie, and during the series, the audience is taken on a journey in what it means to be undocumented when traveling, and even healthcare. For us, when we bring an issue to the show, it’s the systemic approach,” he said. “It’s not sexy or soapy.”
These narratives about immigration may live on television, but reflect real life and how the intersection of culture and politics can affect change. Mota points out that these stories, although fiction, expose lives of immigrants to people who wouldn’t normally see these stories.
“We are in a time when we are demanding change,” said Kellett. She points out it’s not only Latinx communities who need visibility, but also Asians, indigenous people, the disabled, and many other marginalized communities who remain invisible in media and essentially slowly erased.
“When you change culture — meaning media — perception is changed and then legislation is changed,” said Saracho. “We need those markers. Its about humanity — adding flesh to the bones.”