Award-winning Xicana screenwriter and producer of Netflix’s hit series “Gentefied” Linda Yvette Chávez has a message for the Hispanic and Latino community.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey growing up and what’s inspired your career?
I was a little girl in Los Angeles. My parents both immigrated here from their working-class family, which I take a lot of pride in. I grew up writing stories all the time. We really weren’t making money and so I worked really hard, and my way out was through education. I was at Stanford for undergrad, and it was really impactful because it was the first time I had been in a place that was predominantly white that wasn’t working class. One of my classes was social theater, and our professor at Stanford at the time exposed me to Spike Lee and different screenwriters. That was really cool. Ultimately, it really became the foundation of my work. What I learned through all that is the way we are healed and how it’s used for activism, and maybe it’s a call to action to really transmit a lot of that into something beautiful. That’s really what I try to do with all my work, because in the media, we are marginalized in one-dimensional ways.
We know that “Gentefied” is based on a Mexican American family with a storyline that covers gentrification, immigration, the crisis at the border, and family separation. It’s been a staple of Latino and minority representation, and you’ve created opportunities for the actors. You’ve also allowed so many other people, like you mentioned, to see themselves and their families on the screen for the first time. How did you process Netflix’s decision to cancel the show? What was that like for you as a leader in the community?
With streaming media, particularly Netflix, you always are prepared for whether or not your show will come back, because there are so many factors that are out of your control. It’s constantly evolving and changing, so we kind of were preparing for the possibility, which you can probably see in the second season a little bit. We were wrapping up, but we also left open doors for the possibility of a third season. So, we went into the second season with the energy of “if this is the final one, then we’re going to put all of our heart and soul into it.” And we did.
Once it was announced that we wouldn’t be coming back, it was hard at first, but I had been sitting with it for so long, and I was feeling pretty good about what we had. The moment it got leaked was probably one of the most impactful things I’ve had in a while because I did not expect the response. It felt like a definite boundary, which really was crazy to me, because obviously, I’m connected to all the people in the community who are not only viewers, but I was getting text threads from people in the industry too.
That also goes to show how much support you had and how many people loved your work.
Yeah, it was a moment of realizing how much of an impact the show had. It seemed like a nail in the coffin, but this inspired me with a feeling of purpose for myself, like this is not a loss. This is not a failure. I wanted to make sure that the world knew that. It shows the number of new actors and voices there were, and we gave opportunities to directors for the first time. We had department heads who wouldn’t have a department at this moment, and I went there advocating for them. There was so much work like that that we did. And then also the stories on the screen that impacted people in a way that we will never fully be able to capture because we won’t be there 10 years from now, when that person accomplishes a big feat. So, we did something good that we’re proud to have done it. We need to be able to be inspired to move forward into technology. And that’s what I wanted everyone to walk away from — the show was not a failure. We did more than I could have ever dreamed.
Overall, what is your general mission in your career in terms of cultural representation? What is your end goal?
To impact the media. I’m here to translate our joy, sorrow, pain, suffering, happiness, the gamut of who we are. But when it comes to me, and what I know about media, and how it really impacts the world, I know that the things that we put on the air, in mind, are seen in this world. If you look at statistics and historical facts, a lot of shifts have happened thanks to shows and movies that have impacted the way people think and feel towards communities. I’m a storyteller. I have the opportunity to tell these profound stories, and what I am here to do is to just reflect the humanity of my community in a way that I hope will reach others. I hope that’s a byproduct of what I’m doing on my own, which is letting them be seen, and the byproduct is that other people see that as whole humans who are deserving of more than what they’ve been issued.
What is something you want the Hispanic and Latino community to know? Those who are striving to be writers, actors, producers, storytellers, or people who just want to see be able to connect with more with their media.
I think one could say you are loved. You’re deserving. You are needed. You’re not alone. We need to continue to raise each other up and hold each other, because at the end of the day, we only have ourselves to lift ourselves up.