‘Vida’ Looks at Gentrification, Misogyny & Homophobia in Latinx Culture

Best known as the “Jesus House” in North Denver, because of the devout spirituality of the Chicano family that had lived there for decades. The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe is all that remains. Photo by Latin Life Denver Media

By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media

As my home continued to rumble and shake throughout last week with the bulldozer pounding away at the 14 inch thick concrete foundation of the home next door I reflected on that and on the continued gentrification of my lifelong North Denver neighborhood.

Mishel Prada (left) as Emma Hernandez, a woman with a high-paying corporate executive job in Chicago Melissa Barrera as Lyn Hernandez, a free-spirited vegan woman from San Francisco.  

I was reminded of ‘VIDA’ a moving television series currently streaming on Starz. It is in large part about the emotional and financial effects gentrification has on a family, community and culture.

Created and written by Tanya Saracho the drama is written, directed, filmed & edited entirely by an all Latina LA production company. The 3 season series takes on a variety of issues including misogyny and homophobia in Latinx culture, LGBTQ acceptance and strained familial duties. Prominent among them is the gentrification and displacement of generations old Latino community.

(Latina woman blowing foliage and Cesar Chavez watering plants) Morrison Rd. Westwood neighborhood, Denver, CO

While the series takes place in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles around 2008 it looks remarkably like what some Denver northside, westside or eastside neighborhoods looked like a little more than a decade ago and how the Westwood neighborhood on Morrison Road looks like today. Aztec, Mayan & Mexican themed murals adorn many of the buildings that house the local Latin businesses. Panaderias (bakeries) carnicerias (meat markets) restaurants, tiendas (convenience stores) hair salons as well as the local bars and hang outs.

Part of the cast of Vida stand in front of La Chinita Bar

Vidalia (Vida) owns “La Chinita” a bar that caters to locals much like Joe’s Buffet on Denver’s Santa Fe Drive did for decades before it and other westside Chicano/Mexicano watering holes faded away transforming into part of today’s trendy “Art District”

When Vida unexpectedly passes away her two estranged daughters, Lynn and Emma must come home to their childhood barrio to deal with her estate. They encounter a neighborhood in transition but still much like they left it. Their plan is to sell the bar, split the money and go their separate ways. Well, things don’t always go as planned.

They sisters, who are often at odds with one another, encounter a Latino real estate agent who also grew up in the neighborhood. He is selling properties like hotcakes to developers who are changing the cultural and physical landscape of an area that had been home to generations of Chicano/Mexicano families and business. He could care less, he knows what’s coming and only seeks to profit from the gentrification of his community. He wants to sell Vida’s once prized possession, her bar, La Chinita. The daughters want nothing to do with this vendido (sellout) but may have no other choice than to deal with him. Or do they?

Chelsea Rendon as Marisol “Mari” Sanchez, an activist who wants to preserve her community from gentrification.

All of the changes are not without resistance.  Mari, better known as “La Pinche Chinche” a teenage chola, rides her bike around the hood documenting the gentrifying of her community via a vlog that she shares with her social media followers. She is part of larger community group of activists who are opposed to the destruction of their community and culture.

What happens next in this award winning series is for you to experience. As I mentioned gentrification is just one of many issues this drama takes on in a no holes barred approach to dealing with once taboo topics in Latin culture.  Each episode is less than 30 minutes long so it is easy but addicting to watch. Starz offers a free 7 day trial which is more than enough time to watch all 3 seasons. Warning: explicit language and sexuality.

Thousands of fans, including myself,  have signed petitions protesting the cancellation of the series but thus far to no avail. For more, read the Washington Post review HERE or see a video below on the making of Vida in a behind the camera interview with director Tanya Saracho