How ‘Primo’ Made Me Feel Seen as a Third Generation Chicana

I’ve never seen a show that depicts the lives of third and fourth generation Chicanos growing up in Texas and that’s what the Freevee series Primo does

Primo series Chicano family

Photo: Amazon Studios

I’ve never seen a show that depicts the lives of third and fourth generation Chicanos growing up in Texas and that’s what the Freevee series Primo does. Most shows portray Mexican Americans as one-dimensional and always having immigrant parents or being immigrants themselves. I went into this series expecting a similar depiction. That was not the case. Instead, the show portrayed a Chicano reality I was intimately familiar with but have never seen portrayed on screen. 

My Chicano family is from a Texas border town and has been there for generations. Our culture is significantly different from that of more recent immigrants. Primo, a coming-of-age sitcom that centers on 16-year-old Rafa (Ignacio Diaz-Silverio), his single mom Drea (Christina Vidal) and her five dysfunctional yet loving brothers who are helping her raise Rafa. Rafa grew up speaking English not Spanish. In fact, we hardly ever see him or his mom speak Spanish in the show. This counters the narrative that popular culture wants us to believe that all Mexican Americans/Latinxs grow up speaking Spanish, not considering how many generations have lived in the U.S. This idea cements Chicanos as Other, as permanent foreigners in America. The emphasis on Mexican never American. 

Primo depicts a rarely understood truth, many Mexican Americans, including myself, didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. I learned Spanish in my school’s bilingual program at a young age. When I started that program, people were surprised to learn that Spanish was my second language. In Primo, this reality is normalized. No one makes fun of Rafa for not speaking Spanish at home. This situation is most common in places with a large Mexican American presence like Texas and California. Mexican Americans are not a monolith and of course, assimilation happens over generations. We tend to think of assimilation in terms of loss, specifically the loss of one culture. We don’t think about what we gain in the creation of a unique Chicano identity that combines Mexican and American culture,  — Primo celebrates that. 

There was a moment in Primo that turned it from a show I liked into one I loved: the episode where we learn that Drea can’t cook Mexican food. From a flashback we find out that she had to take care of her brothers from a young age and because her absentee parents gave her no guidance, she learned how to cook on her own, using a haphazard mix of ingredients they had. Her younger brothers, grateful for any food at all, lied and told her she was a great cook. Unlike Drea, my mom’s parents were around, but just never taught her what they knew when it came to cooking. She didn’t think of it as that important growing up. When I asked about this, she referenced the only things she had left — faded recipe cards her grandmother had given her.

Sometimes she regrets not asking more questions, not learning how to cook the food when she had the chance. I admit, I may have played a part in her feeling this way. As I got older, I noticed my differences from the other, more recently immigrated Mexican Americans at my school. I asked my mom why she didn’t speak Spanish to me, the way her dad had spoken to her. Why she never bothered with the recipe cards, why she let them gather dust in the kitchen drawer. I even resented her, blaming her for my lack of cultural knowledge. I was focused on who I felt I should be, not who I am. But where was I getting these ideas about who I should be? The answer is the overwhelming portrayal of Mexican Americans as recent immigrants in the media, stereotyping them and pigeonholing them. Without even realizing it, I was placing that narrative on myself and analyzing the ways it didn’t fit. It was never supposed to fit me because I’d fallen into my own trap, thinking about Mexican Americans as a monolith. Every single Chicano has a unique, nuanced identity and relationship with their culture. We are not the same, and there’s no point trying to fit into a box I never agreed to. 

Watching the show take something that I’d once felt a deep sense of shame about — such as lack of Mexican cooking skills — and turning it into a light hearted joke lifted a weight off my chest.  I realized that it’s really not that serious, it never was. If I had seen more depictions like this of the Chicano experience growing up, it would have helped me accept myself a lot sooner. 

Another pleasant surprise from Primo was the casting choices for the uncles. The casting of both Henri Esteve as Mike and Carlos Santos as Ryan demonstrates how racially diverse Chicanos are, even within their own families. Mike is a white Mexican American, and the majority of his brothers, including Ryan, are not. This isn’t portrayed as something out of the ordinary, it is accepted as normal because it is normal. Chicanos come in all shades and not all Chicanos are people of color. White and brown Mexican-Americans can exist within the same family, I know this from experience. My sibling is white, while I am not. People don’t realize how common this experience is within the Chicano community.  I never thought I’d see this aspect of my life acknowledged on television. 

This series as a whole has made me feel understood and that’s also because it comes from a real place as it’s a semi-autobiographical depiction of the life of the show’s creator, Shea Serrano. The 41-year-old   Mexican American bestselling author  grew up on the southside of San Antonio, Texas and is co-showrunner and co-creator, alongside Mike Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place). When we have more Chicanos in positions of power in the entertainment industry this is what we get — funny and authentic storytelling on TV that portrays Latinx characters with the nuance and respect they deserve.

Primo is available on Freevee

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Chicana Christina Vidal Featured fourth generation Ignacio Diaz-Silverio Mexican Americans Primo series Shea Serrano third generation
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