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LatinoBuzz: EAST LOS HIGH a TV Series! Exclusive Interviews!

by Juan Caceres
May 7, 2013 3:30 PM
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East Los High
Last week, 'East Los High' (ELH), a project we've been tracking since last year announced that they had signed a deal to exclusively premiere the show on, making it the first English language show with an all Latino cast on the site. In a reality where the market has become saturated with projects that lack originality and heart, writer/director Carlos Portugal set out to create a show that realistically reflected the lives of teenagers from East L.A. that was to be told from an American Latino perspective. Portugal and his team of writers engaged organizations such as Advocates for Youth, Voto Latino and the California Family Health Council in developing this 26 episode series. Now that it's ready to premiere on June 3rd, with new episodes dropping weeknights, LatinoBuzz caught up with Carlos and actors Alicia Sixtos, Janine Larina and Jorge Diaz and invited them to share their experiences in the making of ELH.

LatinoBuzz: How did you develop these characters and story lines?

Carlos Portugal: The number one rule that I give starting writers is: "Write about what you know."  I certainly took this to heart when creating ELH. Personally, I love writing women characters. Especially Latinas. Every major character (Maya, Jessie, Vanessa, Ceci, Soli, Reina, Paulina, Lupe) is either loosely based or a composite of girlfriends and/or relatives. As far as the male characters, I based Hernan (the "veterano" who owns the local taqueria) on my father: A respectful, kind-hearted man that nobody messes with.

LatinoBuzz: Tell me about your decision to use the backdrop of East LA as one of the characters.

Carlos Portugal: You have no idea (or maybe you do) of how so many people, including highly educated Angelenos, are scared of traveling to East LA. I even had a few crew members drop out when they found out that the show was shooting in East LA. There is this preconceived notion that East LA is a dangerous area populated by taggers and gang members. Of course, this is as far from the truth as you can get! It's one of the warmest places full of good restaurants and hard-working families. I try to shatter the stereotypes of ELA that people are used to seeing in movies and TV. (I made a decision early on that there would be no gang members in the show). My hope is that people from East LA get to see themselves in the show portrayed as diverse human beings and not the typical Latino stereotypes we see in TV and films.

LatinoBuzz: How important was having an all Latino cast and also primarily a Latino crew?

Carlos Portugal: I don't think I would have been able to shoot this show in such a record time (67 production days) if it hadn't been for the hard work and dedication of the Latino cast and crew. We shattered the "Latinos are always late" myth once and for all. During the 67 days of shooting not one of the eighty plus actors was ever late to work! I'm truly humbled by their love, passion and dedication to this project. As far as inspiring young Latino filmmakers, seeing a show like this will hopefully excite them so that they would want to create/write/produce/direct and edit their own take on their communities

LatinoBuzz: How did you get all these organizations involved in the development of the series?

Carlos Portugal: We had a product that spoke to all of them. They saw that our hearts were in the right place. Every single person who helped us out was amazing.


LatinoBuzz: The show centers around your character Jessie and Maya, your cousin -What is the dynamic between your characters?

Janine Larina: The dynamic between Maya and Jessie is definitely a roller coaster. A love triangle between two cousins doesn't make for anything less. It changes throughout the season as things happen and certain events come to light. They are both strong Latina young women finding themselves and going through high school. Yes, I used Latina, women and high school in one sentence. So you know there will definitely be some drama.

LatinoBuzz: What do you want people to take away from your character?

Janine Larina: This one is tough because I feel like there is so much that can be learned from Jessie and her journey. I hope that people can relate to her in some way or another and take from her a sense of encouragement to always do what is right regardless of the consequences that may come with it. To be true to who you are and stand up for your beliefs whether they are what is popular or not. Be yourself and the right people will always be there.

LatinoBuzz: It's pretty ground breaking, what do you hope the series achieves?

Janine Larina: I believe this series can achieve a lot in terms of bringing situations to light that aren't so often talked about in certain communities. Sex, drugs and relationships to name a few. Yet, in such an entertaining way. I can only hope that viewers learn from the experiences that the students of East Los High go through and are better equipped with the information they need to perhaps not follow some of the mistakes when put in similar situations.

LatinoBuzz: Tell us a little bit about your character, Jorge.

Jorge Diaz: I play "Paulie", the best friend, the goof ball, the horn-ball....he's a lot more 'talk' than he is 'walk' though. There is, however, a sincerity behind all of his jokes, inappropriate comments, and constant tail-chasing because he truly does care about his best friend Jacob, and his lady friend Soli. There's a good heart behind there somewhere. He was ALOT of fun to play to say the least, and I hope that shows on screen.

LatinoBuzz: Do you feel the characters in ELH are a refreshing break from some of the stereotypes that are often perpetrated in film and television when these characters are in fact fully realized teenagers dealing with teenage problems?

Jorge Diaz: Besides adding to the authenticity of an actual East Los Angeles high school, having East Los High consist of an entire Latino cast gives a group of Latinos a chance to tell their stories! It's a chance to show that stories of young people from East LA are just as important, interesting and relatable as those from teens in Beverly Hills, Orange County, or any other American story for that matter; because that's exactly what they are: American stories. I was actually surprised to find out that a show like this had never done before, considering Latinos make up about 35 percent of the population. We've somehow subconsciously been taught through television that young, rich Caucasian kids represent what it means to be a teenager in the United States. Being an adolescent is a HUMAN experience and anyone can relate to it, you just might see a few more brown faces in this particular one :)

LatinoBuzz:As an actor how was being part of an ensemble?

Jorge Diaz: Being a part of an ensemble with such a loving group of actors is something I'll never forget. I personally connected to this project because I have always wanted to be a teacher at heart and this project allowed us the unique opportunity to combine our love for the craft of acting and be able to bring up certain issues in a fun, non-preachy way. No kid ever wants to be preached to, or ANY person for that matter, but if we are somehow able to see ourselves in another person and be able to fully relate to him/her in a certain circumstance, that right there is what allows a space to grow and be entertained all at the same time. I dig that.

LatinoBuzz: What attracted you to the character of Maya?

Alicia Sixtos:

Maya's a really strong girl. A thinker. Listens more than she speaks and cries more than she'd like. People say I'm a bit like her. I think we attracted each other.

LatinoBuzz: How important do you think a project like this is to a community like East Los Angeles?

Alicia Sixtos: I think that if it gets out to cities like East LA, the SF Bay Area (where I'm from), Texas, New Mexico, New York, Central and South America, it could be really different and useful. The underlying story is how to deal with a lot of the issues that teens and young adults find themselves face to face with but the issue is that a lot of adults don't talk about these major issues with teen because its uncomfortable and made taboo.

LatinoBuzz: When you read the whole series did you get a sense that this could be something different?

Alicia Sixtos: Not initially. When I read the series all I could think was; “did I really just read 540 script pages in one sitting?” I have a lot of trouble reading a lot of these 95 page scripts. Point is the story is really compelling. Thinking on it after the fact, I see the potential it has in being very influential for a lot of people. I can't think of a show like this one with its picture and story quality and featuring so many Latino actors. Latinos in America in particular have telenovelas and Disney shows. That's what kids and parents watch now a days, apart or together. ELH could possibly be the bridge in the gap for a lot of families and young people who don't have a path to follow. I'm hoping that it will be. The only way to really make that happen is by word of mouth. So anyone who's reading this make sure you check out East Los High on on June 3rd and check us on Facebook and Twitter: @eastloshighshow. Thank you for the support Juan, Latinobuzz & IndieWire. 

Written by Juan Caceres and Vanessa Erazo, LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Gregg | June 6, 2013 11:53 PMReply

    No mention of the glaring ABSENCE of Afro-Latinos or Latinos who have at least an admixture of African heritage? When are we going to be as critical of Latinos who only show the whitest and most Euro-centric "Latinos" they can find while neglecting or stereotyping Afro-Latinos. If I did not know any better I would think this was one of the Jim Crow shows of Univision or Telemundo.

  • Joe | June 22, 2013 10:43 AM

    True they only put white blonde blue eyes men.

    East LA is predominantly Mexican-American but most of the cast ain't of Mexican descent all the males are white Cubans if they wanted Cubans they should of placed it in Miami.

  • Alicia | May 12, 2013 3:16 AMReply

    Alicia Sixtos AKA Maya here! Like my page thanks for the support you ladies and gents!

  • Jesse Torres | May 16, 2013 1:07 PM

    Alicia, can't wait. I'm spreading the word on our company Facebook page I am the President of the local bank, Pan American Bank, as well as the President of the Rotary Club of East Los Angeles. The Rotary Club would love to have you join us for lunch to speak to the local community about this project. We meet on Tuesdays for lunch at Tamayo Restaurant. Please contact me at Pan American Bank at (323) 264-3310 or by email at

    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    California's Oldest Latino-Owned Bank
    East Los Angeles, CA 90063

  • Alicia | May 12, 2013 3:16 AMReply

    Alicia Sixtos AKA Maya here! Like my page thanks for the support you ladies and gents!

  • Paul Moreti | May 11, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    By east LA do they mean the hipster area of echo park and east Hollywood or are we talking Whittier blvd , soto st , Roosevelt , Garfield area ? The east side stars after one crosses the la river .

  • Maria | May 8, 2013 2:19 AMReply

    No... why a high school? Why not follow a story of a family actually living in East Los, and portray their struggles instead of teenagers (I think we have enough teenage shows, and generally all teenagers are pumped with hormones so there really is not THAT BIG of a difference in shows following the lives of teenagers unless it gives family backgrounds and struggles). High School could be part of the show, but have a whole show on looks like just another type of entertaining show that serves to kill time, and does not really serve a greater purpose. Break stereotypes? Really? Having a high school Latina girl pregnant? I don't know but this show doesn't sit right with me, it doesn't look too convincing to people who are actually from East LA and know what its like... and the show is not even in ELA, if you want to make a show about a place at least get its geographical area correctly. Disappointing.

  • Mina C. | May 26, 2013 7:17 PM

    @ GEN can you find it offensive since you haven't even seen it. It doen't premiere until June 3rd. That is what's wrong with some persons...they are already talking negative about something they haven't even seem.

    Maria...the show was shot in ELA...I am from there so I should know. There are many ideas for a show. This is about a high school. You want a show about a family...go for it...there is room for more. But why don't you watch it on June 3rd when it premieres...then talk. You are making assumptions on the show and you don't know.

  • Gen | May 24, 2013 10:42 PM

    I was actually thinking along the same lines as you, Maria. As a person who went to school/college in East LA, I too found this mini series to be quite offensive. Why can't we follow the success story of a Latino/Latina that went through college, started an organization, helped out their community, or just changed their life around? I feel like this show will only perpetuate stereotypes about Latinos in a way that will give Latinos an even more negative picture; regardless of what the actors try to reason out or say. This show was meant to show the life of a "typical" teenager in East Los Angeles like the "typical" teenager in Beverly Hills. Well let me tell you, not all high school students from Beverly Hills are what we assume: rich, spoiled, blonde.
    I'm not even Latina and the whole concept of the show bothers me!

  • Jean | May 10, 2013 2:03 PM

    Interesting. How do you know there's no family backgrounds and/or struggles? Have you watch it already? So you live in East LA? What is it like? No Teen pregnancies I guess huh? No violence huh? no drugs? No family drama? No Peer Rivalry? No Jealousy in school? No "mean" girls that make you feel inferior to them? No sex? Really? Wow............

  • Jennifer | May 8, 2013 1:15 AMReply

    I find these shows extremely offensive. Latinos portraying other Latinos badly, because the white media doesn't already do that. I was born and raised in East LA, I am nothing like these teenagers you are trying to portray.

  • Jennifer | May 8, 2013 1:15 AMReply

    I find these shows extremely offensive. Latinos portraying other Latinos badly, because the white media doesn't already do that. I was born and raised in East LA, I am nothing like these teenagers you are trying to portray.

  • Ray Ceniceros | June 10, 2013 5:49 PM

    I find this project as a real attempt at focusing on East Los. This is much better in protraiting us than the movie Blvd. Nights. Remember this; it is very hard to be a prophet in your own home town. My mom taught the problem with East los is the envidia (envy) in the community.
    I dropped-out of high school (James A. Garfield H.S., joined the Air Force, Graduated from East L.A. College and USC. I retired from the USAF, then, from the VA as a Practitioner in Medicine and surgery. Remember my amigos, let's help each other instead of cutting each other up and try to work together to help each other succede!!! God Bless!!!

  • Jennifer | May 8, 2013 1:15 AMReply

    I find these shows extremely offensive. Latinos portraying other Latinos badly, because the white media doesn't already do that. I was born and raised in East LA, I am nothing like these teenagers you are trying to portray.

  • Gen | May 24, 2013 10:46 PM

    I feel like this show is overrepresented with the negative side of East LA. How can we take the actions of some, make it a mask, and put it on every Latino/a in East LA? I know educated, articulate, and talented Latinos/Latinas in East LA. Why can't we have a show about them? I'm not saying to hide that there are no problems in the community because there are, but why are Latinos always portrayed with problems and stereotypes instead of something good and uplifting?

  • Jay See | May 8, 2013 6:40 AM

    That's strange you would judge a show you have never seen. I'm pretty sure you have met teens like this and will find characters like you in the show. come back after you have judged a book by it's cover.

  • Jose | May 8, 2013 12:11 AMReply

    If there are no Punk Rockers, Metal Heads, or Crusties I'm gona get mad. ELA, City Terrace, and Boyle Heights have great underground music scenes.

  • Gen | May 24, 2013 10:47 PM

    don't forget about the greasers and rockabillies.

  • Jose | May 8, 2013 12:11 AMReply

    If there are no Punk Rockers, Metal Heads, or Crusties I'm gona get mad. ELA, City Terrace, and Boyle Heights have great underground music scenes.

  • Erika | May 8, 2013 12:05 AMReply

    Parts of the show were filmed in Lincoln Heights, NORTHEAST L.A. , NOT EAST L.A.
    I hate when people get it wrong.

    - Latina gal with a Masters Degree

  • Mina C. | May 26, 2013 7:23 PM

    I have news for you Erika...there is not much difference between these areas...I am from Boyle Heights and I know each and everyone of these neighborhood...

    For your info...a lot movies and TV shows are not shot in the cities or areas they claim to be it call the magic of movie making. They are often shot in studios, backlots and on green screens. They have set decorators that make it look like where they are supposed to be. I am sure you have seen many movies like this.

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