Warning: Spoilers ahead
The plights of undocumented immigrants crossing the border is the central focus of the first episode of ABC’s Latinx family drama, Promised Land. It follows Juana Sánchez (Katya Martín) and her sister Rosa (Ariana Guerra) on the treacherous journey on foot who meet Carlos Rincón (Andres Velez) along the way before enduring a violent attack. The scene is difficult to watch but not far from the reality of what it’s like crossing the border from Mexico. What unfolds in the aftermath is the trio finding their way to the Heritage House Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, meeting up with Carlos’ older brother Billy (Rolando Chusan), who sets them up with fake documents and jobs at the vineyard. Cecilia Suárez plays Lettie Sandoval, the matriarch of the Heritage House vineyard married to owner Joe Sandoval. The show oscillates between reflecting realities of Latinx family dynamics and the struggles of being undocumented and dramatic storytelling centered on the secrets of the wealthy and powerful Sandoval family.
“The story showcases the trajectory of many people that have made the complex and difficult decision to immigrate. To have the opportunity to talk about the strength and determination of the immigrant spirit has been beautiful. It has been wonderful to honor that journey, to look inward, and to portray it authentically,” Suarez tells HipLatina.
The show premiered on January 24 and this week it was announced that it’s been pulled from ABC. The series is airing episode five on Feb. 21 on the network and the remaining five episodes of season 1 will air on Hulu. No word yet on if it’s been canceled.
“Promised Land is a beautifully executed and tremendously entertaining series of which everyone at our company is extremely proud,” an ABC rep stated. “We know it has a passionate audience that is very invested in this show, and those viewers will be able to stream all subsequent episodes exclusively on Hulu every Tuesday for the rest of the season.”
The show premiered the same month the beloved Netflix series Gentefied was canceled after two seasons and it felt like Promised Land was a chance for another Latinx-led show to rise. Following the cancellations of One Day at a Time and The Baker and the Beauty in 2020 it feels like a continuing trend of the rise and rapid fall of these shows that develop a passionate following despite reportedly low ratings. “This is an area that is clearly reclaiming its place and the way it’s being represented. We need stories that reflect the immigration experience based on reality,” Suarez says about Promised Land.
Promised Land show creator Matt Lopez, the grandson of a Cuban immigrant, intertwined Latinx storytelling with telenovela narratives and aspired to tell Latinx stories that you don’t see often on American TV. “Promised Land is going for something so much more than what is typically applied to Latino family narratives on American television. Obviously, there are great works of Latinx and Spanish-language literature and shows, but not so much on English-language network TV,” Lopez told Variety.
The show is almost 100 percent Latinx-led in the writers’ room and with a cast that includes Suarez, John Ortiz, Mariel Molino, Andres Velez, and Christina Ochoa. And Lopez strived for layered representation of Latinidad including the effects of assimilation evident in Letty’s storyline. We learn after episode one that she is Juana, the undocumented immigrant who ends up going from working the vineyard to owning it with Joe who was Carlos. The romantic entanglements and different paths she, Carlos, and Billy take is also an indicator of the different ways to assimilate to this new life and the realities of trying to achieve the so-called American Dream.
“It is very common in mixed Latino families to see the push and pull that takes place during the assimilation process. There’s a cost to that assimilation, sometimes in terms of family, in terms of your culture, holding onto language, etcetera, and we see all of that play out in the two timelines. I hope a lot of viewers are able to see some reflections of their own families on-screen,” Lopez told Variety.
Suarez echoes those sentiments and while the future of the show remains uncertain, she hopes that viewers will see themselves and their stories in the show. As the Sandoval family secrets begin to unravel, we see Lettie as a mother motivated by love, a wife motivated by loyalty, and a woman grappling with a success that came at the result of leaving one home to try and make another in a new country. We see Juana teaching the other workers how to speak English and we then see Lettie and Joe confront an undocumented worker after local authorities discover her status and inform that ICE could come after her. The scene is a powerful reminder of how far they’ve come and how they too remain in the shadows, afraid of being discovered like the millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today.
Suárez, who also stars in La Casa de las Flores, was the first woman to receive Mexico’s lifetime achievement award in cinema. She was also the first Spanish-speaking actress to be nominated for an Emmy, specifically an International Emmy for Capadocia. She’s also known for being a passionate activist working with the United Nations and European Union campaigning against femicide, violence against women, and human rights.
“This story touches on the struggle and the effort that it has taken to have the place that the Latinx community presently have in this country. It’s important to tell that story from our own perspective. This practice is fundamental for when conversations surrounding who we are, and the place that we really hold in society, see the light and are told in our own voice,” she says. “I hope people see their own stories reflected because that always leads us to ask questions that with luck, helps us to better understand ourselves or who we are.”
Promised Land is available on Hulu with new episodes coming out Tuesday