The death of their mother reunites sisters Lyn and Emma after several years without contact. Heirs to their mother´s bar and the building in which it is located, the sisters decide to renovate the family business to turn it into one of the fashionable places in Los Angeles. Located in an area of rapid gentrification, the bar Vida has become a business objective for real estate agents, and a target for local protests that see it as a symbol of gentrification. Harassed by neighbors and real estate developers, Lyn and Emma have to overcome their suspicions and insecurities, and bet on their business project as a way to a new and more satisfying life.
2. About the place. Geographical context
The show takes place in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood on the Eastside of Los Angeles. Click on the image to obtain information about this neighborhood.
Map of Boyle Hights
3. About the topic. Gentrification
Cafés, art galleries, condos decorated in a Scandinavian style… In principle, harmless spaces for recreation or relaxation. However, habitants of contemporary cities have learned that the proliferation of these places in a neighborhood indicates that the gentrification process has begun in the area. But what exactly is gentrification?
Gentry refers to the wealthy classes and, in short, gentrification can be defined as the transformation of a poor, working-class neighborhood into an elitist one. What causes this transformation? And what are its consequences? Regarding this last question, the gentrification of a neighborhood impacts buildings, neighbors, commerce and communal life. The dilapidated buildings in the neighborhood are rehabilitated or demolished in order to build new buildings. Long-time residents, most of them working-class or poor, are displaced by upper-class newcomers with enough income to pay the higher price of remodeled dwellings. These new residents are not only wealthy, they are often white as well, which adds the element of race to that of class differences. Finally, the businesses, cultural and recreational spaces that served the original residents disappear with them as well, and they start new businesses aimed at the wealthier newcomers´ tastes and needs.
There is no agreement regarding the causes of gentrification. One approach emphasizes changes in individual housing preferences as a significant cause of gentrification. That is, if after the Second World War, Americans moved en masse to the suburbs, now the new generations choose to return to the urban centers. Another explanation places the cause of gentrification in the action of various agents such as local and national governments, real estate companies, and credit institutions, which promote building rehabilitations and evictions in depressed neighborhoods in order to obtain economic gains. It is difficult to imagine that a global phenomenon such as gentrification, which takes place in many cities in different countries and follows similar patterns, responds to the particular initiatives and preferences of housing buyers. Gentrification of urban centers today, like the suburbs a few decades ago, is the result of a specific idea of housing (understood as a market product, rather than a fundamental right) in a given historical context (the late phase of capitalism or neoliberalism). The poor have virtually no influence on housing matters. Rather, they are at the mercy of others´ decisions on matters of where they are to live. And those decisions on housing issues do not respond to principles of coexistence or justice, but to the principle of maximizing the benefits of the agents taking part in the market.
4. About the people. Biographies.
Tanya Saracho developed the show Vida. Listen to the interview, read about her life and career and answer the questions.
4.1. Where was Tanya born? Where has she been raised and lived in the last years?
4.2. What was her artistic education and training?
4.3. What are the themes and people that inspire her works?
4.4. What theater and television projects has she participated in?
4.5. Do you think Tanya is a successful artist? Why?
5. On the language
5.1. The following words from the show are commonly used by Latinos and Mexican Americans. Knowing them will help you to better understand what happens in the show.
|Carnala||Sister or a very close female friend.|
|Chingón/a (masc.)||Capable, determined, amusing, nice, cool|
|Chingona (fem.)||In some contexts and from a patriarchal perspective, a woman who speaks her mind and makes her own decisions.|
|Cholo/a||In the United States and nowadays, it refers to a young Latino person associated with gangs.|
|Coconut||Racialized person who assumes the behavior and values of whites.|
|Gentrification||Displacement of original residents from a poor neighborhood who are replaced by more affluent residents.|
|Gringo/a||White, Anglo, American|
|Pocho/a||Someone of Mexican origin who lives in the United States and has assimilated him or herself to Anglo-American traditions and customs.|
Mix of Spanish and English languages very common among Spanish speakers in the United States. Spanglish shows through different language usages. Transfer and code-switching are two of the main ones. Language transfer happens when meanings, phonetics or grammar rules from one language are transferred to another. For instance, troca (transfer of truck–“camión” in standard Spanish) o ¡qué tengas un buen tiempo! (transfer of have a good time– “¡que te diviertas!” in standard Spanish). Code-switching happens when a speaker switchs between English and Spanish in the same conversation. For instance, “va a estar un poquito bitter but it will calm you down”.
Spanglish is not uniform, but reflects the varieties of Spanish and English spoken in each area. Although some institutions and authors reject Spanglish as a corruption of the two languages, others understand it as a sign of identity of the Spanish-speaking community in the United States and classic literary works such as Don Quixote have been published or translated into Spanglish (Stavans and Weil).
6. Who says…?
Match the name of each character with one of the quotes from the show below.
6.1. “I never wanted to leave. Vidalia sent me away, you know that. One day she found me with Luci, this little girl that lived in the building. We were, I don’t know, touching, I guess, kissing. And we were, like, eleven, and Vida freaked the fuck out. Then I went to live with abuelita in South Texas.” ___________________
6.2. “They lent us that money so we could fix all the plumbing upstairs and, te lo juro, that we would have worked it out. Because we always did. Your amá always figured it out. But then she got sick. Really sick. And by then who gave a fuck about pipes and mortgages and shit like that? She was fucking dying!” ___________________
6.3. “This house? I knew the familia that lived there. I went to the school with two of the boys. Pero now, because their landlord was money hungry, they have been displaced to the four winds. Back to a one bedroom, for the five of them. But you know what the real tragedia is? That´s the real tragedia. That you got neighborhood people, and no shame, because I know everybody got to eat and pay the rent, but they are the ones who are nailing these nails to this fucking coffin, building these puto white fences.” ___________________
6.4. “Your mother, may she rest in peace, hasn´t risen the rent on these tenants for years. Since she took it over from your grandfather probably. When I first met with her, she was having trouble making payments in her first mortgage. The one she took out for all those building improvements. And, then, when she got sick, and she started having a little trouble keeping the bar open everyday… so, the bar business started to decline … so that´s when we came in. With a very generous offer, by the way, for a second mortgage, for a 110% of the value of the building.” ___________________
6.5. “Carla called it off. I don´t fucking blame her. And I´m walking around here and everyone is looking at me like some blowdown cabrón. For letting such a good woman go. And you know what? They are all right. I´m a cabrón. I don´t give a fuck. It´s always been Lyn for me. And that´s just the pinche truth. I love her.” ___________________
6.6. “Hold on. I just wanna say that I showed up. You called me and I came. Because in the future you are gonna forget and make me out like I never showed up so, make a note: I showed up.” ___________________
7. The plot. What happened?
Chronologically order the following events in the show. Discuss with your classmates the circumstances in which the events occur and the consequences they have for the story.
_______. The Vigilantes group protests in front of the remodeled bar and they attack Lyn.
_______. The protagonists find out that they have to share their inheritance with Eddy, their mother´s widow
_______. Remodeling the bar provokes tensions between the three women, who face the uncertainty of changes.
_______. Eddy protects a friend from being harassed by a guy in a bar and gets beaten up for it.
_______. The mother of the protagonists dies and they both return to the neighborhood for her burial.
_______. Emma confronts the Vigilantes and accuses them of being hypocrites because they attack a local business instead of one of the new ones.
_______. Emma and Lyn decide not to sell the building and renovate the bar.
_______. The bar Vida is inaugurated and new customers begin to arrive and publicize the place.
_______. A real estate developer makes them an offer to purchase the building.
_______. Lyn and Emma receive their mother´s inheritance: a building with rented apartments and a bar on the ground floor.
8. Characters. Who are they?
Complete the following activities to learn more about the characters in the show and the relationships between them.
8.1. Lyn and Emma are sisters who are alike in some ways and very different in others. Complete the following chart to show the similarities and differences between the two of them, both in physical appearance and in their personality and behavior.
What changes do Emma and Lyn experience through the show? Choose 2 of those changes, explain them and describe the scene in which they become evident. Discuss with a classmate how those changes are relevant for the character development and for the show.
|Consists of…||Can be seen in the scene when….||In my opinion, this change…|
8.2. Describe the characteristic, behavior, or idea that, in your opinion, identifies each of these supporting characters. Discuss in group how that characteristic changes during the show.
8.3. The show’s characters meet and interact in different groups. Write in each box, names of some of the characters in each group, as well as some the actions they perform that have an impact on the main characters.
Doña Lupe: communicates with the spirit of Lyn and Emma´s mom.
The Vigilantes group
Yoli: gives Mari moral support.
9. Scenes. A closer look
Think about some scenes from the show and answer the questions.
9.1. Episode 1. Taquería/Taco Place. After discovering that their mother was married to Eddy and they have to share their inheritance with her, a furious Emma and Lyn go to a local taco shop. Why does Emma speak Spanish but Lyn doesn´t? Emma wants to sell the building they have inherited, but Lyn points out a problem regarding their tenants. Which one? Does Emma pay attention to her sister´s opinions? Why does Mari argue with a journalist at the door of the taco shop? Why does she argue with Emma and Lyn?
9.2. Episode 4. Party. For one night, Lyn and Emma leave the bar: Lyn flees to more glamorous areas of L.A. and Emma scouts the business competition. Lyn ends up at a house party. What is the house like? What are the people at the party like? What compliments do two of the guests pay Lyn? What is Aurora doing at the party? Where does Lyn meet Aurora again? What do you think Lyn is thinking when she stares at Aurora? The song heard on the bus is titled María Lando and is sung by Susana Baca. You can listen to it here. What is the theme of the song?
9.3. Episode 6. Attack. After arguing with Emma, Eddy and the rest of lesbians who hang around the bar Vida go to another one. What is the attitude of the clients towards the group of women? What incident happens next to the jukebox? And in the bathroom? How do Lyn and Emma react when they find out what has happened to Eddy? What does the bar Vida represent for the lesbians in the neighborhood?
Complete the following activities to delve into the themes of the show.
In the series Vida we witness the transformation of a Los Angeles neighborhood where the Latino and immigrant residents are displaced by new Anglo residents with higher economic, social and cultural capital. This process is called gentrification. And the neighborhood transformation is reflected in the changes that the main characters experience too. Faced with the inevitability of change (in people´s life or in a neighborhood) Vida poses questions to the audience such as: who or what drives the change? Is it possible or preferable to resist it? What elements of the old life are worth being preserved? Which ones are better to get rid of? The show does not only raise these issues, but offers its own answers as well. The following activities will help you analyze the show´s proposals about gentrification and barrios, families, women, men, and the Latino identity itself.
10.1. Changes in public spaces
1. Traditional spaces in the neighborhood: bar La Chinita y taco shop (episode 1). What is the bar that Lyn and Emma have inherited like? And the taco shop where they go to discuss their inheritance? Describe the layout of the place, the type of furniture, the colors and any other aspect that you consider relevant. What kinds of customers go to these two places? What activities happen there? Are they successful businesses? Why? What other traditional spaces in a Latino neighborhood can be found in the show? What characterizes them? Do similar spaces exist in Anglo culture? If they exist, how are they alike and how are they different?
2. Spaces renovated by gentrifiers: bakery (episode 2) y hipster bar (episode 4). What is the bakery where Emma goes like? What are people doing there? How many people are seated per table? (Any difference with the tables at the taquería)? Why does Emma go to this place? When she is there she meets Cruz, a childhood friend. What things does Cruz say that are different now at the bakery? Do you think Cruz is happy with the changes?
Emma goes to one of the new bars in the neighborhood: what is this bar like? What are the customers like? What music do they listen to? What is special about the names of the drinks? Are there other elements in the bar that connote “Latinicity”? Emma is surprised at the high price of her drink: how does the price of the drinks influence what clientele frequent the bar?
3. Spaces renovated by people from the neighborhood: bar Vida
a) Throughout the show we witness the transformation of the bar that Lyn and Emma have inherited. The first significant change has to do with the bar sign and name: what was the original name? Why do the sisters want to change it? What method does Emma use to find a new name? Lyn mocks the results of such method. In the end, Eddy, Emma and Lyn agree on the new name: “Vida” (Life). What is the double meaning of this name in the show?
b) A second important change has to do with the mural that adorns the façade of the building. What is represented on the mural? Why did Emma and Lyn have it painted? However, the mural is not well received in the neighborhood: what happens to it? Who is responsible? What reasons justify their action? Are other murals found in the show? How are they alike and how are they different from the one at bar Vida?
c) Finally, the inside of the bar also changes. Describe the new look of the bar: how is the space distributed? What colors are predominant? How is the furniture and decoration? What types of customers are in the bar? What activities take place? What is the music like? Are there “Latino” elements in the bar? Do those Latino elements in bar Vida have a different meaning or value than those in the hipster bar?
d) The renovation of the bar impact positively in the protagonists, the residents of the building and the neighborhood. However, the Vigilantes group keeps protesting the renovation of the bar and Lyn and Emma´s business. What reasons does this group give to justify their protests? What are Lyn and Emma´s counterarguments? In your opinion, is the Vigilantes action against the sisters´ bar justified? Why do you think they do not demonstrate in front of any of the new businesses, started by entrepreneurs from outside the neighborhood? By the end, the only member of the group protesting against these is Mari: what happens in the end with Mari and the Vigilantes group?
10.2. Changes in women and female roles. Most and the most prominent roles in this series belong to women. Through the analysis of female roles, we will study aspects such as sex, the body, family, motherhood and gender roles.
1. The family. Draw the family tree of the characters below to get an overview of two family models. Use a solid line to draw official relationships between family members; use a dashed line to draw unofficial relationships. On each of the lines, write the emotion or feeling that, in your opinion, characterizes that relationship (here is a list of emotions to assist you).
As a group, compare the family trees each of you have created and answer the following questions: What are more common, official or unofficial relationships? Are the emotions associated with these two types of relationships positive or negative? What do the relationships described as negative have in common? And the ones that you have described as positive? Does the age or gender of the characters affect the type of relationships they establish?
Extra questions on the theme of family in Vida:
a) Is family important to these characters? Describe a scene that justifies your answer.
b) What obligations are expected between the members of the families in the series? What characters refuse or are reluctant to comply with them? Is their attitude justified, in your opinion? What are the consequences of not meeting them?
c) What positive aspects (“benefits”) do families offer to their members? What are the characters´ reaction when they don´t receive those? What other groups in the show offer these characters what one would expect from a family?
2. Mothers and fathers. How do the fathers and mothers in the show behave (or have behaved) regarding their daughters? In your opinion, what factors influence that behavior? Fill out the table below and share your answers with your classmates.
|Vidalia||Vidalia´s husband||Carla||Johnny||Mari and Johnny´s Apá (Dad)|
What are the similarities and differences between Carla and Vidalia as mothers? Do you think Johnny will be like his father or will he be different?
Eddy hoped to start a family with Vidalia and Vidalia´s daughters. Emma takes the morning-after pill to avoid a possible pregnancy. What are the different attitudes and opinions of the childless characters in this show regarding motherhood and fatherhood? In your opinion, why do they believe that?
3. The body. It is remarkable the attention this show pays to the body and corporality. In the following activities, we will focus in the two protagonists and three dimensions of the body: food, sex and body care. Answer the questions in the table below. Then compare your answers with your classmates.
|Food—What type of food does she prefer? Does she look to enjoy it? Does she eat alone or in company? On the street or at home? Does she cook?|
|Sex—What type of sexual relationships does she prefer? Besides pleasure, what motives her to have sex? What is her attitude after sex? Does her attitude towards sex change through the show?|
|Care and grooming—What does she do to take care of her body? Does she carry out actions that harm it? What kinds of clothes and ornaments does she wear? Does she have any distinguishing feature? Does she change clothing style or body care through the show?|
Extra questions on the theme of body in Vida:
a) Emma and Lyn are tall, slim and take care of their body, their clothes and their pose. However, other examples of bodies appear in the series. What do the other female characters look like? And the male ones? What characteristics do female bodies share? And the male ones? What elements fit the Latino stereotype and which ones break with it?
b) The show features a wide diversity of sexual preferences and practices. What dimension of their sexuality characterizes the main characters? What influence does sex play on other areas of their life? What characters represent stereotypes based on sexual preferences? Do they follow the stereotype or do they depart from it?
1. Spanish/Spanglish/English. Most of the neighborhood residents talk in English or Spanglish. Only Emma and Rudy´s family use Spanish without trace of English. What reasons do they give for this? What is their attitude towards Spanglish? How does Rudy´s family react when it´s obvious that Lyn doesn´t know Mexican history nor speak Spanish? Do you think that the show presents the idea that to be Latino you need to speak a specific language? Consider which characters are likeable and which ones are not.
2. Latinicity. The show is brimming with Latino traditions and references, from food, decoration and language to religiosity, murals or music. For example, murals are traditional cultural expressions in Mexico. Emma and Lyn accept having one painted on the wall of their building. However, the Vigilantes paint over it because they consider it an appropriation of Latino culture for commercial purposes. Another example of Latino culture in the show are the Catholic religious practices. Emma and Lyn do not say the Rosary with their neighborhoods to say goodbye to their mother´s soul. But, in a later episode, the sisters light candles and pray for the late don Fulgencio´s soul. More than religiosity, this is moment of reconciliation between them and towards the culture in which they grew up.
Now it is your turn, choose a scene which includes Latino traditions or cultural references and describe it to your classmates: What happens in the scene? Who participates? What is the purpose of the traditions represented? Do they change throughout the show? Who fosters those changes? Are there reactions to the changes?
3. Purity. “Coconut” and “vendidas” are two names that some neighbors call Lyn and Emma. What do they reproach the sisters with these expressions? How do they react?
Something similar happens with Emma and the queer groups in the show: they try to pin Emma in any of their queer categories and she refuses having anything to do with them. Mari finds herself in a similar situation: her father judges that she has not behaved like a “a good girl” should have, so he throws her out of the family house. In short, Emma, Lyn, and Mari are censured because they do not abide by the expectations their groups (latinx, queer, family) had about them. In your opinion, what is the show´s idea on classifying people into categories? What expectations does the group have about these characters? Who decides what the appropriate (expected) behavior is?
11. Final assignment
It is the year 2030. You are a journalist visiting the neighborhood where the show took place. And you are there to investigate how it has changed. Write a news piece where you describe the neighborhood now: Who are the neighbors? What are the businesses like? And housing? What types of activities happen? What happened to the characters in the show? And with the sisters´ bar?
|Developed by||Tanya Saracho|
|Script||Inspirada por el cuento “Pour Vida” de Richard Villegas Jr.|
|Release||Mayo 2018 to Mayo 2020|
|Starring||Melissa Barrera (Lyn)
Mishel Prada (Emma)
Ser Anzoategui (Eddy)
Chelsea Rendon (Mari)
Carlos Miranda (Johnny)
María-Elena Laas (Cruz)
Roberta Colindrez (Nico)
Tonatiuh Elizarraraz (Marcos)
|Production||Big Beach, Chingona Productions|
|Music||Hits by Latinx artists such as “Bibi Bidi Bom Bom” by Selena, “El Tigeraso” by Maluca, “Release the Hounds” by Jarina de Marco and “Disfruto” by Carla Morrison.|
|Awards||GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy (GLAAD: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).|
|More information||3 seasons, 22 episodes.Available on Startz.|
“Boyle Heights Profile.” Los Angeles Times. http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/neighborhood/boyle-heights. 23 Dec. 2020.
“Emotion classification.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Dec. 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion_classification. 12 Dec. 2020.
García Herrera, Luz Marina. “Elitización: propuesta en español para el término gentrificación.” Revista Bibliográfica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales, vol. 6, no. 332, 2001, sn. www.ub.edu/geocrit/b3w-332.htm. 25 Jan. 2021.
“‘María Lando’ Susana Baca.” Youtube, uploaded by Xaul Reyes, 28 Sept. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGIZkjTDt4k. 24 Dec. 2020.
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Moskowitz, Peter. How to Kill a City. Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighborhood. Perseus, 2018.
Putman, Daniel. “The harms of gentrification.” AEON. 14 Jan. 2021, sn. aeon.co/essays/how-does-philosophy-explain-whats-wrong-with-gentrification. 25 Jan. 2021.
Smith, Neil. The New Urban Frontier. Gentrification and the revanchist city. Routledge, 1996.
Stavans, Ilans and Roberto Weil. Don Quixote of La Mancha: In Spanglish. By Miguel de Cervantes, Penn State University, 2018.
“Tanya Saracho.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 Dec. 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanya_Saracho. 23 Dec. 2020.
“Tanya Saracho-Leading Latina Behind Cameras.” Youtube, uploaded by American Latino, 26 April 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5ugMIhmi5w. 23 Dec. 2020.
- Map of Boyle Heights, California, as delineated by the Los Angeles Times, under license CC BY 2.0 en https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47397120 ↵
- On the topic: García Herrera, McDonald, Moskowitz, Putman, Smith (list of references). ↵