If you were itching for real Latinx representation, I think they finally gave it to us. Starz’s new television series “Vida” takes the cake. The show explores the complexities of Latinx and queer identity and gentrification in East Los Angeles.
The show focuses on two Chicana (Mexican-American) sisters, Lyn and Emma, who just lost their mother, Vidalia, to an illness. Lyn and Emma, two very different people, return to their old neighborhood only to find out that their mother had a couple skeletons in her closet.
In the midst of all the drama and chaos of their mother’s death and funeral, they find out that their mother’s “roommate”, Eddy, is actually her wife. To understand why this is so shocking and why this angers Emma specifically, you must understand queer identity within Latinx communities. Just like the great Juan Gabriel once said, “lo que se ve no se pregunta”, which pretty much translates to “don’t ask about my obvious queer identity”. Queer Latinx people are forced to stay in the closet for the sake of their family, tradition or faith. As you get deeper into the show, you learn that Emma experienced this with her mom. Emma recants a story when she was younger, kissing a girl and Vidalia witnessing the interaction. Vidalia freaked out and sent Emma away to live with her grandparents in Texas. Since then, Emma had nothing but resentment towards her mom.
This situation alone tackles a deeply rooted issue that the Latinx community struggles to unpack and “Vida” examines that in a tear-jerking setting. However, internalized homophobia is not the only issue that “Vida” tackles. Gentrification is one of the main themes of the show and Mari is a badass Chicana activist who is the most vigilant about gentrification in the show. She takes absolutely no shit from any white-owned establishment or homeowner that comes into her community. She rides around on her bike, spray paints “FUCK WHITE ART” on coffee shops and will call out anyone in her community who is complicit. For example; Emma, Lyn and Eddy were given Vidalia’s bar, stated by her will, and they decide to remodel it due to poor business mistakes on Vidalia’s part. Mari sees this as a threat to her community.
She tells Eddy, “It better not become one of those (gentrified) places.”
Eddy assures her that it’s not like that. Mari does not trust this and in the middle of the night, she rides over to the bar and spray paints “CHIPSTER” on the bar’s windows. Now, you might be confused by what the hell a chipster is. A chipster is similar to a hipster, but when the person is Chicanx. Usually the implication is harmless unless the community feels that you are complicit in gentrification, in which case, it is a critique.
Mari’s sentiments towards Lyn and Emma are complicated, but valid. The fact that both of them left their neighborhood and suddenly come back to try to rebuild their mother’s broken down bar doesn’t sit well with her. She specifically has a thing against Lyn, the pocha of the show — pocha meaning a very americanized Chicanx person. Lyn is vegan, doesn’t really speak the best Spanish, dates white guys and stays out of East LA. However, every time Lyn comes home, she always ends up sleeping with her high school boyfriend, Johnny, which of course happens to be Mari’s older brother. It’s all very messy, just like Lyn. Lyn means well, but is constantly up to no good and very irresponsible. Somehow she is still my favorite character.
Another important issue the show tackles is misogyny within activist circles. While Mari is out making an anti-gentrification video, she meets Tlaloc who is a prominent activist in East LA. She develops a crush for his passion and resistance against capitalism and gentrification. However, it’s all just a front. He eventually manipulates her into getting intimate with him and films it without her consent. This was such an important issue to incorporate into the show, especially since women have spoken out against men in activist circles that often manipulate women and take advantage of their position.
There are several themes that the show sheds light on that are very important. Something to note is the lack of Afro-Latinx representation (so far) in the show which is critical to East LA culture and community. Despite that critique, the show gets a 9 out of 10 rating. “Vida” airs Sunday nights on Starz and is worth every minute of your time.