Well, I Guess This Is Growing Up In East L.A.
Season 4 of the Hulu original East Los High premieres today and I couldn’t be more thrilled! And although I am pretty late to the game having just watched the series in full this past month, I was left wondering one thing: Where has this show been all my life? There is nothing like good, old-fashioned teen drama – the angst, the romantic fumbles, the frenemies, the lockers. For me, growing up with the likes of Saved by the Bell, Beverly Hills 90210 and Clueless I was lucky to see one POC character in the mix, much less a Latino. Mario Lopez was holding it down for us for a really long time. But imagine a world where ALL the characters are Latino. That is the new spin (that should not really be new but I digress) East Los High puts to the classic teen drama genre.
Can you picture it? A whole TV world that represents Latinos in all walks of life, all shades, all back stories – where the principal is Latina??? Where the main hang out is not a diner or coffee shop but a taqueria? I mean maybe in my wildest dreams I hoped for this but seeing it in front of me on TV was surreal. This is what it feels like to be represented in American pop culture, huh? It’s emotional and overwhelming in a good, overdue kinda way. So, on the day the show returns I am spreading the Gospel of why you too should be watching this show, even if you are not Latino:
We hear this word thrown around a lot but what does it really mean in the context of this show? It means there are some firsts involved. For one, being the first English-language series with not merely an all-Latino cast but creators and writers as well. That alone was enough to sell me. It’s also Hulu’s first original series to get renewed for a fourth season. It’s a show covering mainstream topics via a Latino perspective and, above all, it is SUCCESSFUL. East Los High’s first season is in the top five most viewed original series on Hulu according to The Hollywood Reporter, showing its range in terms of appealing to the masses and not just Latinos. Oh yeah, then there are the Emmy nominations, all three of them. It also has a dramatic, edgy feel without feeling too over-the-top telenovela. It’s a show created by Latinos and written by Latinos which accounts for its authentic voice and perspective. How many shows can say that?
It’s not all about parties and homecoming on this show. There are times when serious issues take the forefront of the story arc. Turns out this is done purposely, as a social experiment from the creators to see if a hit show could help young Latinas make better, healthier life choices. Subjects like teen pregnancy, STDs, even a character who finds out they are HIV positive are all addressed here sending super serious and needed afterschool-type PSA messages to the viewers. One of my favorite characters is an activist that organizes and leads rallies for media attention and more help from police when a fellow student has gone missing. She also deals with coming out as a Lesbian and owning her own truth. When the Bomb Squad makes it to compete in regionals they find out one of the members is disqualified because he is not a citizen even though he was born in the US, so that opens the discussion re: dreamers and how they are impacted by immigration and what reform is needed. Having this dialogue from a Latino perspective is not only groundbreaking but invaluable.
America’s Best Dance Crew and Step Up fans this is for you. Imagine all those shows but with the funk and flair of Latin-infused moves and musical influence? The Bomb Squad is the East Los High dance team and when the members aren’t stealing each other’s boyfriends they competing across the state at a chance to win the regional crown. We get to see the progress, the practice, the mess ups and the actual battle scenes — which are some of my most favorite scene in the show. Each season the members may switch up but the attitude and the footwork remain fierce.
The other advantage of creating a show that is based on Latinos is that it opens the doors for promoting more Latino talent via the music. Whether it’s the theme music to the opening intro, or the music to dance to, or just background at a party, you will hear more Latino artists being played and open up their sounds to the a bigger audience. Prepare to keep Shazam on hand.
Never heard of the word skonka before watching this series, but I love the authenticity it brings to the show which is because of the groundbreaking Latino writers behind it (see above: groundbreaking). Besides, it’s really fun to say. Just in its context I can totally grasp what this and other slang words mean and I love learning more about the culture of fellow Latinos here in the U.S.