Full video interview above. Washington Heights airs on MTV every Wednesday at 10pm EST and 9pm CST.
Two stars of MTV's newest reality show, 'Washington Heights,' say they're surprised by the low ratings, and are keenly aware about critics who say the show, about a largely Dominican neighborhood in Uptown Manhattan, isn't Dominican enough.
"It's a story about us. It's not called Dominican Heights," said the show's leading character and creator, Jonathan Perez, known as JP. "It's a show about friends in Washington Heights."
Perez said he doesn’t like mangú, a Dominican staple, or smoke hookah – a favorite Washington Heights pastime. But that doesn’t mean, he said, the show does not show “true Dominican culture.”
It's first and foremost about young people finding their way in life while trying to achieve their dreams as artists.
He calls the show’s nine cast members a 'subculture' of Washington Heights culture. Reyna Saldana, who is part of the cast, said the show is dedicated to documenting young people trying to achieve their artistic dreams outside of the typical 9 to 5 job many of their neighbors have.
"It's hurtful when someone says you're not Dominican enough," said Perez, who is Dominican-Cuban. "What is Dominican enough nowadays? This is America. It's 2013."
Saldana said: "We are American-Dominican."
The show has been praised by some for breaking barriers for Latinos on mainstream television. But others have questioned the show's authenticity and its true entertainment value.
The Hispanic community was uneasy about whether the MTV show was going to be a Latino version of the channel's popular show, 'Jersey Shore' – which was widely criticized for playing up Italian and Jersey stereotypes.
Perez and Saldana are, and have been, aware of the cultural balancing act. But they said it isn’t something they've lost sleep over because they are just being themselves.
Since the show’s debut on January 9, it has grappled with low ratings. The average number of viewers overall is 793,000 and the average number of viewers in the 18-49 demo is 535,000 – ranking the show 11th to 14th among that key demographic.
Perez said he was surprised by the numbers but does not believe they accurately measure Hispanic viewership.
"But we also understood it's something new, so when it's something new it's going to take a little long to catch on," he said.
But they remain optimistic that people will eventually watch a show that, they say, is genuine.
Though, Perez does acknowledge: "We haven't gotten word about season 2."
A Sneak Peak into episode 4.
Both cast members insist the show is as real as it gets, and that MTV has not fed them scripts, pressured them to change storylines or to be more like past MTV hits like “The Hills” and “Jersey Shore” – famous for their over-the-top drama and characters whose lives were filled with drinking, sex, and debauchery.
"It was hard to open up," said Saldana, an aspiring singer who hopes the show will elevate her career. "Me crying on TV. It's hard. It looks so easy on TV, but it was hard to open up."
Regardless of whether or not MTV will cancel the show, Perez and Saldana said the barriers for Latinos have been broken. For the first time, MTV has dedicated a program to the nation's young Hispanic population.
"We made history already, three of the four creators being Hispanic, eight of the nine cast members being Hispanic," Perez said. "That's history already being made."