Growing up, it was hard finding someone to identify with on television or in films. There was always the generic schlock of shows with people my age facing generic problems, but never something that helped me with both my cultural and sexual identity. Then there was Vida. To say that this show gave me life would be an understatement. In only six episodes, it created a cultural consciousness that I didn't realize was missing from my life, even as an adult.
Creator and writer of Vida, Tanya Saracho, has worked exclusively on television shows that focus on stories about minorities. Shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Looking, and even the comedy Devious Maids. The only difference is that in Vida we actually get to see her story from her culture and experiences. The story centers around mostly female Latinx characters as they navigate the changing dynamic of the neighborhood they all grew up in. Each has taken a different path that may have led them outside of their community but has reunited them through grief, loss, and a common enemy.
Saracho crafts the snappy, and oftentimes funny, dialogue with the people she is representing in mind. That means you get a lot of Spanish-only parts mixed with the mostly English script, and of course, peppered with bits of Spanglish that is used as a result of growing up in a dual language community. It feels honest, genuine, and extremely relatable, even if you are not personally part of the Latinx or queer community. Saracho shows her prowess at not only creating a cavalcade of complex characters but fleshing them out well enough so that at their core, everyone can find something to relate to, even if it just something as simple as their humanity.
The main thing that makes this show special isn't in its universal relatability, but in the specific examination of Latinx culture and its intersection with the queer community. Latinx representation on television is a scarcity, and adding anything to do with queer culture is a rarity if it even did exist before Vida. This distinction is an important and the reason a show like Vida is groundbreaking in the representation and visibility it provides to a community often negatively stereotyped, especially in this presidential administration. Saracho understands the importance of this task and brings attention to the true complexities of the Mexican community and Latinx cultures. See, we’re just like everyone else!
This series thrives on the specificity of the problems faced by not only every character but the community as a whole. It deals with the ever-present issue of gentrification that plagues all minority communities, but takes it further by exploring the issue of gentefication. Gentefication is a combination of the Spanish word gente, meaning people, and gentrification. Simplified, it just means the mostly unintentional gentrification of Latinx communities by their own people. And even though I was able to explain this complex phenomenon in one sentence, it is anything but simple.
Our two protagonists find themselves going home after the loss of their mother, and have to settle all of her affairs before heading back to their lives. Instead, they find themselves caught in a complex struggle for and against the community as their actions could have gentrifying effects to a community that is already slowly being chipped away at. The strength of this show exists beyond just the perspective it provides. Every issue, argument, tender moment, etc., are all brought to life by a talented cast that takes their respective character and adds a depth to them that can only come from wisdom and experience. Talent like Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, and Ser Anzoategui, and Chelsea Rendon. This story is about their community, and they bring the weight and gravity of it to their performance.
At no point do the characters ever feel like pre-existing molds, but instead take on familiar (and familial) aspects. You know people like this. You have friends that have exactly those same characteristics. The power comes when you feel that overwhelming sense of understanding through the characters because you finally have someone that is able to express your experiences and thoughts in a way that wasn't possible before on television.
Check out our interview with creator and writer Tanya Saracho, and our interview with cast members Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, and Ser Anzoategui. Vida premieres on Starz on Sunday, May 6.