Though she’s worked on high-profile series with diverse casts and bold storytelling, writer/producer Tanya Saracho knew something was still missing in the modern TV landscape: a series that reflected her own life and lineage.
So Saracho, who proudly identifies as queer and prefers the gender-neutral term Latinx over Latina/Latino, created Vida, a gutsy dramedy about estranged Los Angeles sisters whose return home forces them to confront myriad truths about their mother, their past and their own self-images as Americans of Mexican heritage.
“Most of our department heads are female,” said Saracho of the show’s proudly female and inclusive pedigree, at a recent press event. “All our directors are either women of color or Latinx. The way this was built was the right way. When you get a bunch of Latinx together and we get to handle our stories, a cultural shorthand happens. There’s no tokenism. I don’t have to be a cultural ambassador.”
And at its core, Vida is a story of place and family with touchstones for all audiences. “There’s a universality to the story of two sisters coming from a fractured family, coming home, and retaking their place in this neighborhood that is going to translate,” Saracho explains.
“That’s a human story,” adds Mishel Prada, who plays the worldlier sibling Emma. “I think that sometimes when we look at, ‘Oh, that person is queer or gay or has brown skin or black skin — that’s a niche thing. ’ I think we’re moving towards a place where we’re seeing that that’s not really completely true. We are all human beings and we all have stories.”
In Vida’s case, Emma and her ultra-girlie sibling Lyn are polar opposites, for reasons that stem from childhood and took root as they grew older.
“They chose two very different paths to get out of their neighborhood,” explains telenovela vet Melissa Barrera, who plays Lyn. “Sadly, like many women do when they’re young and get told that they’re pretty and that’s all the compliments they ever get … she decided that was the only thing that she had. So, she’s taking the easy way out and living off of men, and that does not sit well with Emma.”
“Emma was sent away very young,” Prada chimes in. “The family life was really fractured for her, so she realized early that if she didn’t take care of herself, nobody else would. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps and really made something of herself, but never really dealt with the emotional part of it, [never let] anybody close to her, because the only people that she did when she was younger hurt her.”
And while the sisters may just discover their troubled former home is still where the heart is, don’t expect the journey to come with a Jane the Virgin sheen. “We’re not pulling punches,” Saracho says. “We’re trying to really portray these complicated, ugly at times, Latina millennials, because oftentimes we get to be the archetype. To really scratch up the image of these girls is important to us — because I think that’s real.”
Vida airs Sundays at 10:30pm beginning May 6 on Starz