An annual event that fills some high school students with excitement and high expectations, while others are gripped with anxiety and dread, has arrived: school is back in session. And for high school students on the Eastside, it poses a unique set of challenges and circumstances you might not see on popular television shows like “Beverly Hills 90120.”
A web series that premiered this summer hopes to shed some light on the universal high school experience, with a Latino twist.
“East Los High,” a new teen drama exclusively on the HULU Internet channel, is the first English language show with an all Latino cast. The series strives to address teen issues and teen angst from the perspective of eastside students, on whose experiences the plot is based.
Gabriel Chavarria, who plays Jacob on the show and previously appeared in the “Freedom Writers”, says the cast members felt a great responsibility and pride in trying to portray their characters accurately and realistically.
“Yes, the show definitely portrays what is like today,” said Gabriel Chavarria, adding it’s not only teens from East L.A. who deal with the multitude of issues the average teenager faces on any given day. On top of the academic challenges of getting the classes you need to graduate, studying, testing, grades and applying to college, there are the pressures of relationships with family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and of course, sex.
Like the popular television shows Beverly Hills 90120 in the early 1990s and 90210 in 2008 — shows with predominately white casts that regularly featured storylines about sex, contraception, pregnancy, abortion and future college plans amid the search love, friendship, acceptance, achievement and happiness — East Los High attempts to put the spotlight on those universal issues from a distinctly Latino point of view.
“Yes, the show really does portray what it is like, everyone just cares about sex but never really thinks about the value of sex and the consequences of having sex,” said eighteen-year-old Nicole Yasmine Lazo, a Boyle Heights native and rising sophomore at California State University, Los Angeles, and a fan of the series.
She told EGP that there many misconceptions about East L.A. Lots of people think the “hood” or “barrio” is a really dangerous place filled with “cholos” (gang members) who are going to try to rob and shoot you.
Carlos Portugal, co-creator, producer and director of East Los High, said he had to deal with those stereotypes while trying to film the series. Many of the show’s original crew members actually ended up dropping out when they found out that the show was being filmed in the East LA area, he told an audience at the Hispanic Media Coalition meeting in Pasadena on July 31.
East Los Angeles College student Yoonji Lu, told EGP she really liked that the show doesn’t portray the flawed “ghetto environment” stereotypes.
“East Los Angeles is beautiful and full of very great people. I am glad that there is a show to share the beauty of the city and the people. Hopefully this show can change the opinions that were once thought of East Los Angeles,” Lu said.
The show, however, is not preachy or a one-dimensional effort to shed an “everything’s good in East L.A.,” but as Brenda Salina writes for NPR’s Code Switch, “It also mashes up that telenovela feel with the aesthetics of the CW teen universe — cheating, drugs, hazing and sex tapes captured on mobile phones. Like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, the characters’ interaction with the digital world.
East Los High has not shied away from some of the tough issues that other television shows find too controversial, such as whether abortion is the solution to an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.
Chavarria said growing up in Los Angeles he saw first hand that the situations featured in the show “are what’s actually happening.
“I saw it in high school you know. Friends that I knew having to deal with unplanned pregnancy. It’s the reality of today.”
Likewise, Lu says she too can relate to some of the issues dealt with in the Web-based series.
“We all have a Vanessa (series character) back in high school that got angry that we stole her boyfriend,” she said. “There are many elements of the show that were present in my high school life; our relationships with our peers, the search for love, all the while working hard and trying to achieve a goal. Situations may vary but the core values are there,” Lu said.
The show’s writers wanted teens everywhere to think about the issues they face, and they have succeeded, says Chavarria.
“I feel that with the show’s message, teens will make well thought out choices and be a lot more informed and alert of what could happen if you are not prepared to become parents,” he said. The show provides answers to questions that a lot of teens have when it comes to these issues. It definitely makes you think about these issues.”
The entire series is available on fee based HULA Plus, for viewing on television, mobile devises and computers.
Valerie Mia Juarez is an East Los Angeles-area native studying journalism, public relations and communications at St. John’s University in New York. EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.