“When I moved to L.A., I definitely felt like ‘there are these people, these people and these people, and you’re an ‘other,’” says Mishel Prada, sitting beside her costar and TV sister Melissa Barrera.
The “otherness” is central to the new show on which they star, “Vida,” a six-part series on Starz written entirely by a group of Latina writers, half of whom are queer.
“My parents are immigrants, my grandma’s an immigrant, I was born in the United States, I very much associate with being an American in a lot of ways,” Prada continues. “And Melissa and I grew up very differently and had very different upbringings, but there is still something that connects us, which is that Latina-ness.”
The two star as sisters Emma and Lyn, who arrive back in their native Los Angeles upon their mother’s death and are confronted with the baggage that comes from returning to the neighborhood of their youth (as well as the discovery that the mother they believed to be straight was married to another woman).
Prada grew up in Miami, while Barrera was raised in Monterrey, Mexico; Prada’s entry into acting was through church and school plays, and though she only began acting professionally six years ago, it was always in her life.
Barrera was much more hesitant.
“I was too shy to audition for any of the school plays,” she says. “In middle school I rounded up friends to audition for ‘The Wizard of Oz;’ I went and I sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ I got a callback for Dorothy and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m a superstar,’ and when they announced the roles I got cast as ‘tree number three.’ From Dorothy to ‘tree number three.’”
For both, “Vida” is a breakout part in terms of scale as much as it is a chance to give representation to the Latina community.
“I remember just feeling so excited that a show like this was being made,” Prada says. She had a role in “Fear the Walking Dead: Passage,” which was nominated for a creative arts Emmy; while at the ceremony she heard the pro-immigration acceptance speech of Carmen Cuba, casting director for “Stranger Things,” and was so moved by it she approached her at an after party. “And she called me in to read for ‘Vida,’” she says.
“I remember reading the scenes for the audition and being like, ‘This is so cool, these are just human beings who happen to be Latino. But they are normal, they are not stereotyped,’” Barrera says. “The Latino community comes in all shapes and sizes and colors and they identify in different ways, and we’ve always just been one thing on television. So this is an opportunity to show all of us and how we are.
“Anytime through art that we can give another person a sense of being and a sense of belonging, that creates something that isn’t just us, this flesh and bone: it creates an energy and a love and hopefully gives people something to latch onto, and to feel seen,” Prada continues.
“It’s building a bigger table that we can all sit down at and eat some burgers and tamales.”
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