“Vida” makes a bold step forward for Latinx narratives on television

Mishel Prada and Melissa Barrera in Vida. Photo credit: Starz/Illustration: Monique Jones

Starz’s new drama, Vidahas its first episode posted to YouTube, giving us all a glimpse at what the series has in store. I watched the episode, and I found the first episode to be just that–a small glimpse inside the world the series plans on presenting to us. While I wish there was more within the first episode, I have to say that Vida‘s first episode is a strong one, with its point of view already fully formed and intent on drawing you in.

Estranged sisters Emma and Lyn (Mishel Prada and Melissa Barrera, repsectively) come back to their old neighborhood, Boyle Heights, after their mother Vidalia (who was played in her younger years by Rocío López) dies from an illness (I don’t know what the cause might be, but I’m sure that’s going to be revealed in later episodes). In terms of superficial issues, the sisters have to figure out who’s going to own the bar her mother and partner Eddy (non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui) ran. But the building is only a way for showrunner Tanya Saracho to explore the family dynamics between Emma, Lyn, and Vidalia, particularly the reasons surrounding Emma’s lingering anger with her mother. From how Emma reacts when she’s told Eddy is actually Vidalia’s wife (Anzoategui describes Eddy as “a queer lesbiana from the East Side”), it’s easy to assume that Emma is attracted to women, and her mother initially frowned on it. Now that it’s been revealed that Vidalia was in love with Eddy, Emma now sees her mother as a hypocrite.

I found the episode to be highly engrossing, especially when you, as a viewer, are trying to figure out why Emma is so mad on the day of her mother’s funeral. As Lyn keeps telling her, their mother’s death should make her put things into perspective at least for one day. I think Lyn’s frustration with Emma will set the tone for the entire season–Emma thinks she has everything about her mother and her relationship with her mother figured out, but she only knows part of her mother’s story. She doesn’t know everything about what her mother has been through in her life and why her mother acted the way she did, especially surrounding Emma’s relationships. Vida is definitely about life–it’s about learning that your parents are just as flawed and messed up as anyone else. The things parents struggle with in their own lives can come out in their parenting that could leave their children with questions. Part of growing up isn’t running away–as Emma does in a way when she leaves for Chicago to disavow her former life and become someone even Lyn doesn’t seem to know anymore. Growing up, instead, includes being adult enough to finally seek the answers to the nagging questions left to us by our parents, and being willing to hear the answers, whatever the answers might be.

ALSO READ:  Where you can get that hoodie Jefferson Pierce wore on "Black Lightning"

Emma is definitely going to be on a journey of learning more about her mother and I feel like it’ll be a worthwhile journey for viewers to take along with her, since Vida is a show that is unique twice over in the television field. First of all, it’s a show that highlights another facet to the Latinx experience in America. The pilot covered gentrification in the form of Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), a young millennial who is all about taking on the Beckies and Chads “Columbussing” her beloved neighborhood. She’s also keen to call out other Latinx she feels are just as bad as the gentrifiers. She calls Emma and Lyn “Whitetinas” because of how snooty they’d been throughout the time Marisol has known them and can “pass” for white racially, affording them privileges Marisol and other darker-skinned Latinx aren’t privy to.

ALSO READ:  Martin Sensmeier to play Olympian Jim Thorpe in "Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story"

Secondly, it’s a show that specifically focuses on LGBTQ+ Latinx culture. Anzoategui’s presence gives non-binary actors much-needed visibility, and Eddy’s relationship with Vidalia puts a same-sex relationship in the spotlight. Emma’s hinted-at past with Cruz (Maria Elena Laas) makes you wonder if she was at the center of Vidalia and Emma’s estrangement. And, most importantly, the entire writer’s room of Vida is Latinx, with half of the writers identifying as queer.  Saracho herself identifies as queer, and said that her experiences inform a lot of Emma’s story throughout the season.

There also appears to be a magical realism bent to the show as well. In the first episode, it’s very subtle; it’s just a girl in pigtails and her Sunday dress, sitting on the roof of the bar. It also appears as if only Emma can see this girl, since she’s the only one that ever notices or interacts with her. But at the end of the episode, we see that same girl, but as a painted image in a mural. Clearly there’s an importance to this girl, and I’m eager to know how she fits into Emma’s life story.

Vida is a show that is worthy of our attention. As I wrote above, you can watch the first episode on YouTube or at STARZ. I think by the end of it, you’ll be hooked.

Loved this article? Follow JUST ADD COLOR at @COLORwebmag and on Facebook! If you want to support more writing like this, donate to my Ko-fi account!