The Latinx community has been demanding for equal on-screen representation, but we never stopped to ask what representation should look like. Sure, in the past, as long as they had dark hair and tan skin it was called representation. But what of the LGBTQ and non-binary communities who have been in the dark for so long because of how conservative Latinidad can be? STARZ’s Vida is about to change that in large part thanks to two cast members, Ser Anzoategui (who is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them) and Maria Elena Laas.
Anzoategui plays Eddy, an openly queer woman who was the “roommate” of Vidalia, who has just passed away. She informs Vidalia’s daughters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), who then come home to Boyle Heights, the low-income, largely immigrant community in Los Angeles. Emma has some unresolved history with Cruz (Laas), and slowly, secrets about the past start revealing themselves. In a brilliant performance by Anzoategui, Eddy goes deeper into her grief, and everyone from the sisters, to Cruz and the community around them start to question just what their futures may hold.
We got to sit down with Ser and Maria during a recent press day for a fun, insightful chat about Vida, the female gaze, and letting go of shame.
HipLatina: This is an all-Latino cast and it’s run by a Latina showrunner. All the directors were people of color. How did it feel walking onto that set?
Maria Elena Laas: Wow!!
Ser Anzoategui: You can’t explain the energy when you’ve never been in it. To know that that exists. I just thought, “Oh, it’s gonna be very special.” But when you walk onto the set, it’s this energy you feel. It’s like, I don’t know, when I see Coachella maybe? The idea, like I’ve never been. This elevated, walking on a cloud, that’s how I put it.
MEL: Me too. It was so surreal. I haven’t experienced anything like that before and for me it felt a little bit more like I was in my family. We’d go back and forth, English and Spanish. We could get those little inside jokes. It was so comfortable. You could see the stark difference in it and it made it even more like “Wow, we’re so lucky to be a part of something like this.”
When you were handed this script, what did you think about your characters when you saw them fleshed out on paper?
SA: I was like “Whoa, what a responsibility that I have. I’m in the big leagues now.” Just to know, I’m looking forward to reaching these emotional levels. To be in the moment when everyone’s staring at me, makeup comes and does the last touches, that I’m able to be as vulnerable as I give this. To give Eddy the respect and dignity that she deserves. That’s where I came from with that.
MEL: I fell in love with Cruz because there’s so much about Cruz to be, that I’m not. I saw her and said, “Wow, here’s someone who is so comfortable in her own skin.” Who’s sexually liberated, who’s so unapologetic. Cruz, and I’m not sure how clear it was, Cruz is a social worker and community activist, does community outreach. She’s the older, more sophisticated version of Mari (Chelsea Rendon) in that she gets to actually initiate change and change policy. There’s a different care and understanding of the community that Cruz has. For me, it was exciting because it is someone who is in a leadership role; it is someone who, also in the face of the tradition, the conservative machista culture, is so fine in her own brand of queerness and is out there in the community and is so okay with it. I love that. I want to be like that.
HL: La cultura, as beautiful as it is and as we are, we have so much shame when it comes to sexuality, and sex in general. This show does not, but it does so tastefully and beautifully that it allows people to embrace it. There’s a lot of talk in Hollywood right now about the male versus the female gaze, and I know not all the directors were women, but Tanya (Saracho- Vida’s showrunner) was always there. How did that feel, specifically, when you’re going in to do your scenes? Was it more freeing? Was it a more relaxing environment?
MEL: It was really nice as far as shooting those scenes in that you get almost a false sense of security because I’m surrounded by women and I’m super comfortable at the spa being naked with women. It’s almost like you forget, “Hold on, this is a camera” and more people are going to see this, because it’s just a few people in the room. I did appreciate that we got to explore the dance in that, changing and shifting the positions in control, letting go, and it was done really tastefully and it was about the connection than soliciting this naughty sex. I really appreciated that.
SA: And that there’s different kinds of sex. You see heteronormative films or television shows and it’s still the same things over and over again. It’s not about pleasure a lot of times. This show is how you can have pleasure in different ways, or how these characters are, in their own way, that’s what relieves them. I think that’s the beauty of it, being told through dignity. The writers and Tanya – Tanya wants to let the audience feel that these characters are like them. They’re complex and they’re deep, and they’re gonna get connected to them in this way that’s totally unexpected.
MEL: And one more thing about the sexuality is it’s beautiful that there are different body types, it’s men too, and all over the spectrum and it’s beautiful in that way. Also, it is flying in the face of the machismo and conservatism, almost with what we have with slut shaming. It’s like, “No, I’m gonna own my sexuality in whatever way it plays out. It’s fine, it’s normal, this is who I am.” Celebrating all of that. It is very radical for our community to be seeing that on television, but it’s also needed.
SA: Long overdue. We put ourselves in boxes a lot of times, what we want. We want to say, “No, we’re liberated. We’re woke.” But it’s like “Ay, Dios.” I think it could influence people to break out of their own molds or their own self-imposed or internalized oppression.
HL: I do think, as a culture, we’re at this turning point where we are becoming more accepting in that we’re letting go of the shame of these secrets. That’s why I love your show. It’s telling you, “Go out there. Be yourself.” I’m interested in your perspective coming out as non-binary to your family. What was that experience like?
SA: I haven’t come out to my family as non-binary. They don’t know about my sexuality. Hopefully they’ll be able to open their minds. There are certain aunts and cousins [who] would be shocked. I know that’s not separated. It’s a process, especially because you keep coming out over and over again, but living everyday the challenges it’s important to have support. It’s important to see their are people out there like you because a lot of people commit suicide, they hurt themselves, they cut themselves, or they automatically ruin things in their lives. This is a way that we can deal with the things that are real for us, but through a series. It being reflected back to us and being like, “We’re not the only ones. Maybe it’s not as bad or maybe it’s not so bad to come out.” There’s a freedom or there’s a way to build community in a way that I haven’t yet. That’s what I’m doing, too, in my real life. Different things come up, people have issues with how I look so they do stuff, they react a certain way. How to keep that light going when there’s darkness is really important.
HL: It is a very L.A.-centric show. It poses the question, and it doesn’t try to answer it, about gentrification. Can us as a people come up in the world, start moving up in the world, without losing pieces of our culture along the way? How has that experience been like for you? I don’t know if you’re both from L.A. or not?
SA: I’m from L.A. I think the show could lend to a dialogue about how does gentrification happen? Why? And how do we contribute to it? It is something that has been happening for a long time that continues to happen. I don’t know, I feel like besides the dialogue there’s not a solution because it’s such a huge issue. And the issues it brings up about gang injunctions, for example. People say gentrification brings safety. What does that mean? And why are the gang members there to begin with? And why do we have to dispose of them like trash? Same thing with homeless. “There’s less homeless people.” Really there’s more homeless people, but you don’t see them because they sweep them away like trash. These human issues we have to look in as we continue to look forward, striving in our economic interests, we also have to see what are we giving up? What are we sacrificing? And is that worth it?
MEL: It’s also about what is home? We’re living in a world where everything is moving so fast and changing so quickly. We’re having input from everywhere, and even within our own relationships, within our own communities, even churches are modernizing. Things are changing so fast that the sense of home, at least for me, is in those memories and it’s in the older generations that were keeping up those traditions.