Dear Supporters of Cristela,
Hi! It’s April 17, 2015 and I find myself sitting in the middle seat of a full Southwest flight on my way to Nashville. Tonight at 8:30/7:30 PM, ABC will show the season (and possibly series) finale of a sitcom that I put my heart and soul into.
I want to be realistic and honest about things. I’m not sure if the show is coming back. It worries me and not because I want to be on TV more. It worries me because I think this show gives a voice to people that haven’t been given a voice before.
Cristela isn’t a flashy show. It’s not a slick single-cam that looks like it’s a movie shot on a weekly basis, it doesn’t have voiceovers telling you thoughts the characters are currently having and it certainly doesn’t use crass and edgy things to tell its stories. That was my choice to not do any of those things. I wanted to take a harder path, a path that really isn’t taken on TV anymore. I wanted to make a TV show like the kind I grew up with, the kind that looked like a play, the kind that made the live studio audience we tape in front of, just as important as the cast because they are as important.
We shot twenty-two episodes of this show and yet hardly anyone knows we’re on the air. The viewers we have are so loyal. They watch our show every week because they remember we’re on, not because we have so much promotion.
I know for a fact that the cast is so grateful to have had this opportunity. We live-tweet the episodes every week and try to interact with the people watching the show because we want to. We want to be part of the experience with the people that are watching.
You know, it’s funny. I never really pay attention to the criticism of the show. The only time I hear any of it is when people tag my on social media, which I don’t understand why anyone would do that but whatever. I guess since tonight could be the last episode of the series, I’ll address a couple of the criticisms and tell you why the show is the way it is. I’ll start with the most popular one:
NOT ALL LATINO FAMILIES ARE LIKE THAT! You’re right. They’re not. That’s why the show is called “Cristela” and not “Every Latino Family,” even though it has a better ring to it. What maybe some people don’t get is that this show isn’t based on something I’m making up but rather on things that happened from my real life. I could’ve come up with a show about an affluent Latino family involved in the political world, or a family where everyone is a doctor and successful but this isn’t that show. This is my life. I had a hard life to get to where I am. I had obstacles in front of me, mostly coming from my mom. This show depicts the VERY old-fashioned views that I come from and tries to show my journey of how I became the “modern thinker” of the family. And trust me, it wasn’t easy. At times it felt like I was battling against a Neanderthal. I know that sounds rough but imagine trying to convince your mom that moving away to study theater in college because you loved it with all your heart was more important than going to beauty school to learn to cut hair to get a steady job. I grew up in a household where women served men. I had to serve my brothers. My brothers always ate before my sister and I. The women were expected to cook and clean. That’s the family I’m from. And you’re right. Not all Latinos are like that but think about it this way. Let’s look at Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, two successful shows that feature a predominantly white cast. White people don’t say, “HEY BIG BANG THEORY! NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE LIKE THAT! MODERN FAMILY! NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE LIKE THAT!” People accept that these two shows live in different worlds. They accept that these shows aren’t similar and shouldn’t be compared. The thought that my show would have to represent Latinos everywhere is impossible. Do you know how many countries the word “Latino” covers? If I tried to please everyone, then I wouldn’t appeal to anyone because my truth would be watered down and that’s not who I am. I speak my truth to find the people that connect with my story. To tell those people, “Hey, you’re not alone. I had that same experience. I know it’s hard sometimes to fight against the ideals you grew up with but trust me, you can overcome them.” And that my friends, surpasses the Latino world. That is something that anyone that feels like the underdog, regardless of color or ethnicity, can understand.
THE MOM ON YOUR SHOW IS SO STEREOTYPICAL. I LOVE this one. LOVE this criticism so much because it’s super easy for me to explain how wrong they are in saying this and I can do that by asking one question: Which mom are you talking about? Because on the show, there are TWO mothers: my mother Natalia and my sister Daniela. So which one is stereotypical? They always mean Natalia but that’s my point exactly. There are TWO mothers on the show and the reason Natalia is so rough and mean is because that’s how my mom was in real life. I can’t write her any other way because that wouldn’t be honoring the person my mom really was. My sister isn’t like my mom; she’s way more evolved. She’s the first woman in the family to have a career in corporate America while raising a family. And that’s what the show is about. It’s about showing how each generation of the family becomes more evolved than the generation before. In the show (and in real life), my mom never finished school. She has very limited education. My sister graduated high school. I was the first person to graduate from college and go to law school. My niece and nephew are part of the generation that will have more opportunities than all of us combined but it’s because of the previous family members’ journeys that the kids get to have a fair shot. That’s the story of the American Dream. In order to see how far we’ve come, we need to see the point from which we started and if the characters aren’t flawed, then how do they become better people? And again, like I stated in the previous paragraph, Roseanne Barr played a mom on her TV show and I never hear people say, “HEY! Not ALL mothers are like that!”
I guess what I’m saying is this: I know this Latino family isn’t affluent or full of college graduates that are kicking butt in life….it’s a struggling family with old world traditions and values. The family might seem antiquated to some but these families still exist. I come from an area full of families like this. And it’s important for me to show that families like these are real because if I don’t, who will? Who has that experience to talk about it in a real way? No one.
This year, Cristela has managed to talk about topics that are difficult to make funny…but we managed to do it. We talk about race, gender equality, differences in class. How many other sitcoms do that? I’ve had people write to me and say that some of these things aren’t problems anymore and to them I always respond the same way: I am so jealous that you live such a great life that these problems don’t exist. It must be nice to not have to deal with these issues but it’s not my reality. My truth is that I struggle with these things all the time. I hope you are grateful and thankful for having such a blessed life.
In stand-up, I have faced gender equality issues a lot, mostly in the form of payment. I’ve had clubs try to book me for a week to later find out that have gotten paid less than male comics because the owner “doesn’t usually think women are funny so you have to come in and prove yourself.” And I did. I would go to the clubs and work my ass off to prove that I was worth the same amount of money as my friends. Is it fair? No. And why did I do it? Two reasons. Because I wanted to show that I could do the same level of work as my male counterparts so that maybe other female comics don’t need to do that in the future. And also because I needed to pay rent, buy groceries and survive.
I like to talk about race in the show because it’s something I deal with a lot. A couple years ago, I was doing a college gig. I had flown in and had to drive a couple hours to this town. When I got to the hotel, I tried to check in. They wouldn’t let me. The man at the front desk told me I wasn’t in the system. I told him to check again and he refused to and told me to leave. And I did. I walked out of the hotel, got into my rental car and called my agents to tell them what happened. The moment I got on the phone with my agent, I started balling. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so bad about myself, like I wasn’t worthy to stay at this cheap hotel. My agents told me to leave that town immediately and canceled my gig. I did. And how I felt at that moment has always stayed with me because it was one of the most blatant actions I’ve ever experienced.
The difference in social classes is something very important to me because I deal with it a lot. An old boyfriend of mine and I used to have this system when we’d go to a major department store that shall remain nameless. When we’d park in the parking lot, I would have to take inventory of what I was wearing. Once I took off a bracelet that I had recently bought there and my boyfriend had asked me why I was doing that. And I told him, “I don’t want them thinking I stole it.” He couldn’t understand why I would think that. It’s because growing up, my mom and I would go to stores and I can’t tell you how many times we would be stopped by the security of the store to ask if my mom had paid for the coat I was wearing, asking her when she had bought a certain t-shirt I was wearing. So we started planning trips carefully and tried to not wear clothes or accessories we bought at those stores to avoid the trips to the back of the story to the security department. Aside from taking off the bracelet, my boyfriend and I had this system for the department store. If I needed to buy make-up, he would always ask me if I wanted him to come along with me so that I could get helped because a lot of time, people ignore me. And I’d say, “No. Let me try and see if I can get help but watch out for my signal.” And I’d go and stand in front of the make-up I needed and wait. And never get helped. So I’d wave my boyfriend over so that he could come and stand next to me and only THEN would I get help. This boyfriend (he’s Jewish) saw so many first-hand accounts of the unjustified assumptions I’ve experienced that he would sometimes feel like he needed to apologize on behalf of the terrible people.
What I’m talking about are things that happen to me in my life. They’ve made me part of who I am and therefore, I feel it necessary to talk about those things in the show. I had one person on Facebook months ago say that I was playing the victim when I went to a car dealership and was refused service. She said, “Stop exaggerating. You’re on TV; that didn’t happen.” I found it so laughable for her to say that because that was my point. I am on a TV show and STILL have that happen to me…that’s why I find it so important to talk about these issues: because they exist.
I’m a real person and this show is about real people. We might not be telling your life story but we are telling stories that a lot of people can relate to.
This year, I became the first Latina to create, write, produce and star in her own network show. I’m proud to say that out of eleven writers, four of us were women and four of us were Latino, with one of the Latino writers coming from my hometown area of McAllen, TX. We are a show featuring a Latino family that is actually written by Latinos and I think it’s important for my show because it needs to have an authenticity to it. I would love to see how other shows’ writing staffs compare to our staff because I don’t think other shows have that kind of number. Maybe I’m wrong? Cristela got to hire six Latino actors as series regulars on a sitcom, do you know how rare that is? When we were auditioning actors, I realized how few Latinos actors and actresses had experience in sitcoms. Most of their resumes were filled with dramatic roles playing cops, gang members or sexpots but rarely were they playing the dad of a family or best friend of someone.
I don’t know what the future holds for the show but whatever it is, I can say that I am proud of what we’ve done. I think we employed more Latinos than any other show on the air right now. I tried to honor the art form known as the multi-cam sitcom. I tried to honor my family and show them in a real way. That was not an easy feat. If the show ends and tonight’s season finale is the last episode the world gets to see, just know that this show gave opportunities to Latino writers and actors that are hard to come by.
Hopefully we’ll come back for season two but if we don’t, I just wanted to write this letter to everyone and post it today because it’s our season finale and today might be the last day that some of you pay attention to the little show that could. I really put my heart and soul into it. This show was my dream and I hope we get the chance to come back in the fall and let my dream continue.
Thank you to everyone that has supported this show (and will hopefully continue to support it). I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you allowed me to become part of your lives. I really am so grateful for the year I was given.
If you had told me when I was a starving little girl, squatting in an abandoned diner with her family, (hoping to one day have a bathroom with plumbing that worked) that I would grow up to become a woman with a sitcom named after her, I would’ve said, “That’s really nice of you to say but right now, I’m worried about finding food to eat."
And that’s life.
Let’s watch tonight’s season finale and pray for the best, knowing in my heart that whatever is supposed to happen, will happen. My plane is about to land in Nashville so I gotta go.
I love you all so much.