“Oh, because of the Latina Thing? No, nobody ever thinks of you as that.” It’s an insult masquerading as a compliment, and one of the first things viewers will hear in Vida’s brand new second season, premiering on the Starz app and on-demand May 23. The line, said by the clueless Chicago native George (Alex Klein), sex buddy to heroine Emma (Mishel Prada), is also a nod towards the East L.A.-set dramedy's 2019 mission statement: Asking who gets to be Latinx and how, exactly?
As Mishel Prada told Refinery29 during a recent trip to our New York offices, it’s a question that’s going to take Vida viewers inside some the most complicated conversations in the Latinx community. The kind of conversations that usually only happen behind closed doors, both real and metaphorical.
“Whether it’s colorism, whether it’s gentrification, which is obviously a big thing [in Vida], it’s there this season. And there’s this really great scene where Emma keeps getting called out as a baby queer ... It’s an extension of all the things we care about,” Prada says, revealing there’s a popping cast Instagram chain out in the ether. “We’re always debating topics and coming up with ideas. It’s really great because it creates a conversation that makes an easy transition onto the screen.”
On screen, we can expect to see Prada’s Emma, a light-skinned Mexican-American woman who refuses to pigeon-hole her sexuality, grapple with all of these topics in coming episodes. As we know, ignorant George makes some unsettling comments about whether Emma is Latina enough. The trailer for season 2 shows Raúl Castillo’s new character Baco shadily assuming Emma isn’t Mexican and one of the lawyer's own queer friends insisting she “passes.” Even Emma's choice of taco condiments, considering how she already looks, throws her Latinidad into question.
It’s a common and frustrating real-life debate for Latinx people who are either allegedly “too” light or “too” dark to register as what they are — Latinx. This is how huge swaths of the population end up spending years of their lives defending their own identity.
Was it hard for Prada, an actual fairer-complected Latinx women, to be the face of these tricky, deeply personal conversations for a national audience? “No I love it,” she says with an excited smile. “It’s like, ‘Let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and talk about it. Because that's the only way we’re going to move forward with anything.”
While wading into tough territory like this may be exhilarating, it also can only work as well as it does on Vida thanks to the authenticity of its crew. The writers' room is 100% Latinx, and then filled with diversity from inside of the community. “We can only really talk about [colorism] intelligently and in a way that has care and nuance when it’s us talking about it,” Prada says. “So when you have a writers' room that’s all Latinx, we get to call each other out on stuff, and there is that.”
Unsurprisingly, Prada is bringing many of her own alienating experiences to this season of Vida. “Sometimes people will start talking about immigrants or Latinx people in a way that I’m like, ‘What? What are you talking about? I’m right here.’ And they’re like, ‘Well you’re not like that. You’re not that type of Latina,’” she recalls. The actress — a Mexican-American who grew up in the Cuban-American hotspot that is Miami — has even felt that kind of pushback within her own community, just like Emma.
“My Spanish accent tends to veer on the side of Caribbean. When you’re with a bunch of Mexicans, they’re like, ‘Oh, gosh. You don’t roll your Rs.’ And what does that mean?” Prada aks. Then, when she goes to Latin American countries she realizes her “perfect” Spanish veers much closer to Spanglish than she originally believed. “You're kind of looked down upon a little bit because it’s like, ‘Oh, you don’t really speak Spanish,’” she continues. “But that goes back to, ‘There’s not one way to be Latina.’ This is the future. We’re all learning.”
All together, it’s a merry-go-round of an ever-rising, ever-confusing bars. It’s exhausting.
“We police each other. And whether that’s being a Latina or being queer, there’s no one way to be that,” Prada says. “So, let’s stop policing each other and maybe just worry about yourself.”
Now that’s an attitude Vida season 2 can get behind.