Groundbreaking Latinx Show Vida Enters its Third and Final Season

Tanya Saracho looking off into the distance.

Tanya Saracho believes if anyone is going to write about Latinas, it should be Latinas. “When you’re writing about culture and society in a moment in time, I think you better access the people who are living that moment in time,” said Saracho.

That’s why Saracho, who was born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, México and grew up along the border in McAllen, Texas, sought out Latinx staff for Vida, a show for the Starz television network. Vida centers on two Mexican-American sisters who return home to the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles after their mother dies. As the neighborhood around them changes due to gentrification, the sisters themselves journey through their own identities and relationships.

Vida joined a short list of Latinx shows when it premiered in 2018. It broke new ground by addressing topics like colorism and classism within the Latinx community, in addition to showcasing a diversity of queer Latinx characters. But Saracho says the team concentrated on the character’s emotional life rather than focusing solely on specific topics or themes.

“There are other Latinx shows that have taken the topical approach, and I respect and appreciate them for that because we need that kind of content,” Saracho said during a recent phone interview with the Luz Collective. “But I selfishly concentrated on keeping the girls as complicated and as true to self as they could be. Hopefully you could recognize yourself in them.”

The writers’ room consisted of all Latinx writers for the first two seasons and became an all Latina writers’ room for the third and final season, which premieres on April 26. Saracho hired all Latina directors for Season 2 and 3 and worked with eleven female artists, nine of them Latina, to write the music for the show. Some positions were harder to fill though. Saracho was finally able to find a Latina production designer for Season 3 after they couldn’t find one for the first two seasons.

“Yes, it takes more effort, but it’s doable. I don’t want to hear that we’re not out there,” said Saracho. “I don’t want to hear that because I’m proof that we are, meaning in the way that Vida was made. I’m proof. Vida is proof.”

Saracho credits Marta Fernandez, the former executive vice president of original programming at Starz, for providing the space for her vision. The showrunner was ready for a fight when she pitched an all Latinx writers’ room, but not only did Starz give her the greenlight, they also had a list of potential writers ready for her.“Because a Hispanic woman was the one who hired me at Starz, I feel like I never got a no,” said Saracho. “Every step of the way, I just got a yes. I didn’t know it was so rare that she said yes.”

After the first season, reporters would bring up her Latinx writers’ room and some made her feel like it was a gimmick Saracho said. But looking at her background, her hiring practices make sense. Saracho started an all-Latina theater company in Chicago called Teatro Luna in 2001 as a response to the lack of representation in the industry. When she was acting, she said she was only offered roles as a maid with one or no lines and saw the same women auditioning for the same roles.

So Saracho decided that the only way to get through the door is to create the door herself. Teatro Luna’s 10-year run wasn’t easy. They didn’t have money to pay royalties for a playwright, so the members would write the plays themselves despite their lack of experience. “By the end of the 10 years, you had writers that we had created, and I directed 16 of our productions,” said Saracho.

Gloria Calderón Kellett, the showrunner for One Day At A Time, a sitcom centered around a Cuban-American family that just released its fourth season, helped Saracho navigate through the process when she started Vida. Calderón Kellett would answer questions and offer her insight from her own experiences navigating the industry as a Latina. Saracho decided that she wanted to offer that same mentorship to new Latina showrunners and created The Untitled Latinx Project. “I could tell they were going to need what I needed and had from Gloria,” saId Saracho.

The Untitled Latinx Project partnered with The Black List for The 2020 Latinx TV List that will select one-hour and half-hour original pilots written by at least one Latinx writer and that feature a Latinx or Latin American character. The last day to submit a pilot is April 29. Saracho said that since the announcement, The Black List has received more submissions than they’ve had in years. “We’re super excited to do that as a group especially because we’re all writers and we all know that that first step is super hard,” said Saracho.

Saracho admits that it does require more effort to allow someone to learn their craft during a production like Vida. But the payoff was worth it. For example, Saracho’s cinematographer, Carmen Cabana, ran the camera department and was responsible for 36 people and herself for the show. That experience has led to new opportunities for Cabana, including recent work on Hulu’s High Fidelity. Vida script coordinator Jenniffer Gomez became a staff writer and a producer and is currently working on a series based on the documentary, The Infiltrators. Helping Gomez was the most fulfilling, said Saracho, because Gomez had been trying for years to get into a writers’ room.

“The first chance is the hardest,” said Saracho. “I’m so proud of those examples. That is building a movement of artists that are ready. We’ve been ready but on the sidelines, and now we’re showing you ‘Look at us.’ It wasn’t a gimmick.”

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Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.