Interview: Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, and Ser Anzoategui

It is not an exaggeration to say that there isn't a show like Vida on television today, if the ever was one at all. It deals with not only the complexities of the Latinx community but all of the queer community. Aside from the show being personally relatable, it also deals with problems facing most people. We talk with cast members Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, and Ser Anzoategui about some of the problems facing the queer Latinx communities, the need for more diverse content like this, and of course, more.

From left to right: Ser Anzoategui (seated, second from left), Mishel Prada (standing), and Melissa Barrera (standing)

Geeks OUT: There's nothing like Vida on television today. It takes an honest and diverse look at the Latinx community. I know I would have benefited from seeing a show like this growing up. How would seeing a show like this have affected you when you were growing up?

Mishel Prada: I remember growing up I used to watch ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, which was obviously in reruns at the time. There was something really special to be able to laugh at jokes that pertain to you and your community. Then there was also Selena, being a Latina-American and growing up seeing and listening to her showed great representation and I remember feeling very inspired. I feel like watching a show like Vida when I was younger, I would feel very inspired. Not just because of the Latinx perspective, but also because of the strong female perspective. A lot of times, we feel like we have to be perfect and have everything together, so it's refreshing to see these three dimensional, fleshed out characters that aren't perfect, but heavily flawed. Adding to that, I loved the queerness of it and how it showed how normal it can be to be queer. Showing people that love is love, and not looking at any specific ideas people have about how people should be together. If I were younger and watching this show, it would be such an influential force for me.

Melissa Barrera: I feel like I would have started acting at a much younger age. When you're watching TV or film, you're always looking for something that connects you. I remember being young and watching the Disney movies and the Disney princesses, and I would always connect with Jasmine or Pocahontas because they were the non-white princesses. Even though they weren't Mexican, they were the closest ones to my skin tone I could see myself in. I know having more representation on American television would have been amazing, and that’s why I love that I can be in a show like Vida.

Ser Anzoategui: I would have finally put words to the experiences and feelings that I had growing up. I wouldn't have felt by myself or alone. Things like being queer and gender identity that's in the show would have helped me have these advanced conversations with my family sooner. I would be able to go to people and say things like, "See! That's machismo and the patriarchy right there! See how they call it out, and you think I'm crazy talking about it." Vida shows the kinds of stories that we need to be telling because they are so inspiring. If I had this growing up, I would have probably been inspired started my journey earlier instead of waiting later to start my performance career. That would have meant that I would have been more trained, and it would have inspired me creatively to tell stories like that when I was younger.

Geeks OUT: How much of yourself do you see in your character or even the show as a whole?

Mishel Prada: I see myself in the show inside of the community that they create. The community completely reflects a lot of what I grew up with and what I love and didn't fully appreciate when I was growing up. I don’t quite like where I came from like the way my character Emma pretends to. I did leave Hialeah, Miami and I learned a lot more about the world because of that. There is such a huge part of me that is still grateful for growing up there because I have such a deep love for the culture, which sometimes you take for granted.

Melissa Barrera: In the show as a whole, I see a lot of myself because the traditions and the culture are my own. Even the Spanglish is familiar because I grew up in a Mexican city that's a couple of hours from the border. In terms of the character, I do feel like Lyn and I are very similar. I used to be more like Lyn when I was younger, so it was easy to identify with her and understand the reasoning behind her actions. Everything that she does that appears to be selfish or manipulative or wrong, in the eyes of the audience, has a reason and history to it. I think that all of the women that watch the show will be able to relate to Lyn because I think we all went through a phase like that. A phase where we don’t know who we are, or we let our value comes from other people, sometimes emotional and sometimes just physical. All we want is to be loved, and I think that Lyn is like a heart that wants to be hugged all the time so she is always looking for someone to love her because she doesn’t know how to be by herself.

Ser Anzoategui: I like the little things like the inside jokes and our sayings and the way the characters interact with each other. I love hearing the Spanish not being translated. As a playwright, I saw people getting mad because I would leave the Spanish in it untranslated. White women would really get pissed off. Honestly, you don’t really need a translation because if you’re really in it, then you’ll understand it through the story. To see this level of intricacy and nuance in a TV show that actually highlights the complexity of our own community is really something great. Some of the things in Vida are things that we’re not even really talking about, but they are things that we need to be addressing in our community. I love finally seeing these things called out, especially on a show that’s on major television.

Geeks OUT: I love that the show not only calls out the typical gentrification, but also the existence of gentefication, where the younger Latinx people are returning home to these communities to take over or sell their parent's property to gentrifiers. How big of an issue do you think this poses to these cultural communities?

Mishel Prada: I think that's a really big issue without an easy solution or answer. Historically, we’ve seen these people get displaced in a way that no one makes apologies for. It's all of these developers coming in and forcing people out of their homes, neighborhoods, and business that they’ve had for generations, just because they can longer afford to stay there. For some people, it means leaving the communities that they have come to depend on and feel safe in. Other times it could lead to things like homelessness. I just think this is a topic that needs to be discussed and acknowledged so that we can find a better solution for.

Melissa Barrera: I'm seeing it firsthand living in Los Angeles and it's sad. I don't know if its a thing that can or will be controlled. The world is evolving and growing and becoming more modernized and I feel like it's a natural order of things to try to keep up with the times. People are just trying to adapt. It's a shame that it means that families that have called a place home for generations are getting kicked out. I'm glad that Vida shows that this is happening and creating awareness of this issue. That way, it will inspire people to take action in any way they deem necessary.

Ser Anzoategui: It's definitely something that is so complex that people feel they don't know how to talk about it. Yeah, it's systemic and it happens, so let's break it down. Vida shows how it could happen in different characters, like with my character Eddy. It shows them standing ground and try to keep the only queer, mostly Latinx space in the East Side.

**Geeks OUT: One of my favorite scenes in the show happens early on when the activist character Mari confronts Emma and calls her a "whitina." How do you feel about this kind of questioning of identity? Is Mari justified in her aggressive approach?

Mishel Prada: Absolutely. Feelings are non-negotiable as far as I'm concerned. You're allowed to feel what you feel. I think that Mari has witnessed her neighborhood get dismantled on step at a time, and she has every single right to speak out, organize, and bring awareness to it any way she can. I think that Emma looks at it in a more pragmatic way. She loves the neighborhood and has seen the way the business works, and slowly realizes it as she gets re-integrated into the neighborhood.

Melissa Barrera: I don't know if she's justified. It is a demeaning way that she says "whitina." At the same time, I don't think she's completely wrong. I do understand the motives behind. She's just trying to protect her people and her neighborhood. She's upset seeing someone who she thought was part of her people and community about to do exactly what she is fighting against is the definition of gentefication. I think the portrayal of the Latinx community in this show is real and not sugar-coated. It's not trying to show that we’re all saints and that the rest of the world is evil. It shows that there are issues within our own communities that we need to resolve. That's why I think Mari is so cool because she represents this activism and complete love for her community, and will defend it with every tool at her disposal.

er Anzoategui: For sure. I think sometimes when you have privilege, you don’t realize it. I think it’s good to acknowledge that we have those privileges in our own communities, like the lighter skin privilege. It’s important to call it out and then see where that conversation leads. See what other privileges you have that others don’t, and vice versa. That way you can figure out how you can help out your community and in what way.

Geeks OUT: How do you think a show like Vida fits into Trump's America?

Mishel Prada: Well, it is an American story. A Mexican-American story, but the American part of it is really important. I think it really opens the door for people to come in and look around and to realize that we're a lot more the same than we are different. We tend to push away and fear what we don't know. I think the show is a beautiful way to expose people to each other so that they can get a greater understanding. In Trump's America, we need to see how important it is to get to know each other before deciding if someone’s an enemy or a problem.

Melissa Barrera: In a time where people who have a dual heritage and are being told to go back to a country that they’ve probably never known, this show is very important. We need shows like this to remind people that they belong and that they can find a place or community to call home. This show also reminds us that we are American. These sisters are second-generation Mexican-Americans, and their heritage and traditions are ever present in their lives, but they are still also American.

Ser Anzoategui: I think it’s a great fit because it starts this dialogue and raises awareness about the issues not only going on in our communities but also in our country. Issues like gentefication, gentrification, recolonization, urban planning, etc. These are all real things and they are things that need to be addressed, especially in the America we have today and with our current president.

Geeks OUT: Since this show is too great not to get renewed, what kinds of issues do you hope get tackled in season 2?

Mishel Prada: I hope we get to see a lot more of Mari standing in her space with her activism and with whatever Emma is cooking up in her head. I'd love to see more of their points of views to be fleshed out and see what sort of conflict arises from there. I love the sense of sisterhood and dynamic between Emma and Lyn, so I want to see more of them interacting together and strengthening their bond. I think they just need to go on a road trip or something. That would be fun.

Melissa Barrera: I would love for the sisters to work together towards a common goal in the next season. Just more scenes of them together because there were so few of them together since the show mostly focused on each of them in their own world. I love working with Mishel so much so I would love to see that. I also feel like Lyn is a very intelligent and talented girl who has a lot to offer, so I just want her to see something through to the end. I think she can surprise all of us.

Ser Anzoategui: Make sure to tell Starz that this is the greatest show ever made so that we get another season. (Laughs) I think that so far the show is pretty bold, but there are more issues in our community that we can address while fleshing out the ones we already touched on. There is definitely more life in left in Vida. Vida for Vida!

Check out our interview with creator and writer Tanya Saracho, and our review of the show that premieres on Starz on Sunday, May 6.