OPINION

Opinion: ‘East Los High’ Show Builds A Future For Latinos In Media

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 12:  : (L-R) Executive producer Katie Elmore Mota, director/executive producer Carlos Portugal, actors Gabriel Chavarria, Ray Diaz, Vannessa Vasquez and Danielle Vega speak onstage during the 'East Los High' panel at Hulu's TCA Presentation at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Hulu)

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 12: : (L-R) Executive producer Katie Elmore Mota, director/executive producer Carlos Portugal, actors Gabriel Chavarria, Ray Diaz, Vannessa Vasquez and Danielle Vega speak onstage during the 'East Los High' panel at Hulu's TCA Presentation at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Hulu)  (2014 Getty Images)

After a successful first season, "East Los High" is back on Hulu with new cast members, new story and renewed drama. Composed of an all-Latino cast, the series follows a bunch of teenagers living in East Los Angeles, showcasing their struggles and triumphs with absolutely no filter.  

It didn’t take long for "East Los High" to become one of Hulu’s top ten shows, sparking a quick renewal for a second and third season. Now four episodes into its second season, the show’s raw narrative makes clear why it is so popular.

Director Carlos Portugal authentically gives the viewer a sense that they are in East Los Angeles.  He makes the show feel like a documentary, even though it is produced in a telenovela type format.

- Ingrid Vasquez

Although most of the first season story lines came to an end, season 2 picks up with the continuing love story of Jacob Aguilar and Maya Martinez. Jacob, now a high-school graduate, took over his father’s restaurant and turned down a football scholarship after been fooled by his ex-girlfriend into thinking he was the father of her child. Maya, after running away from her mother’s abusive ex-boyfriend and living a life of crime, moved in with her aunt and discovers a passion for cooking.  

What makes "East Los High" so different from its teen drama counterparts is that it not only opens the door to discussions about underage sex, pregnancy, drinking, rape and crime — it also provides an outlet to think about these issues without forcing you to react in a certain way or believe in certain things.

Once you get through watching one 30-minute episode, you almost feel like you have known these characters for years. And that’s not just because of the writing.

Director Carlos Portugal authentically gives the viewer a sense that they are in East Los Angeles.  He makes the show feel like a documentary, even though it is produced in a telenovela type format.

Instead of trying to sprinkle pictures of the Virgin Mary inside of the Latino characters homes, or giving a character an accent with an inability to speak English, Portugal challenges his characters in a way not to often seen in television.

Vanessa De La Cruz, a returning character from season 1, is given HIV by one of  her multiple sexual partners — she never discovers who she contacted the disease from. Maya learns that her father, actually a pastor in East Los Angeles, had sexual intercourse with Maya’s mother when she was underage, and denied being Maya’s father soon and forever after. The new season of East Los High also introduces bisexuality and lesbian Latinas onto the show — something extremely taboo to Latinos in mainstream media.

However, the show also shines a light on a more cookie cutter, media friendly image. Ceci Camayo, portrayed by Danielle Vega, is another of the four returning characters. Since having a child during her senior year at East Los High, she is back in school as the new coach for the Bomb Squad. We see her taking the dance team under her wing and turning it into an award-winning team.

In itself, one would never have guessed East Los High was the birth child of the Population Media Center, a nonprofit organization that uses entertainment-education strategies for social education. Through this agency, multiple consultants from groups such as Advocates for Youth and Voto Latino, as well as Hispanic youth, played a role into the writing and production of the series.

"East Los High" shows what it is to be Hispanic and young in the U.S. by means of intricate story lines that expose some of the most rooted Latino values, succeeding in building a future for Latinos in media by having Latinos in media actually participate in every step of the creative process.

Ingrid Vasquez is a fourth-year Journalism and Mexican American Studies student at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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