By Elia Esparza
There’s a new TV writer in town and she’s come by way of Chicago, a city that clearly adores her… I mean they named her Best New Playwright of 2010! Tonight, Tanya Saracho makes her television-writing debut with the premiere of Devious Maids on the Lifetime cable network. Personally, I don’t think she has much to worry about given that she’s a gifted and talented award-winning playwright. Still her first TV gig also happens to be on a show that has been at the center of controversy regarding the stereotyping of the five Latina actors in the role of maids.
The critics (mostly other Latinos) of Devious Maids are harping about the old debate about whether the show continues to present outdated stereotypes of contemporary U.S. Latinas. It is true, Hollywood has a long way to go before they clearly “get” the best of all Latinos in American Society, but these five Latina maids—Judy Reyes (Scrubs), Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace), Dania Ramirez (Heroes) and Edy Ganem (Rob)—are such a delight… puro Corazon and yes, devious as all heck!
And, I’m not complaining about the Anglo employers portrayed as the selfish, utterly detestable, entitled snobs that they are… because in reality, that’s how they are!
Thank you, Tanya Saracho, you captured the characters right on! OK, Marc Cherry deserves some credit… after Desperate Housewives. No doubt this is a MC production in all its glory and a true satire about Latina housekeepers and their insufferable Beverly Hills employers.
Marc Cherry took a chance on hiring Tanya… “He hired an untried, untrained playwright from Chicago,” said Saracho in an interview. “I will be forever grateful to him for giving me my entry into the world of television.” And, she said that she was attracted to the show because it would be the first in the history of American television to star five Latina leads.
And writing for this primarily cast of Latinas is important to her because it is part of her artistic DNA. “I founded a company in Chicago called Teatro Luna comprised solely of Latinas, which I ran for a decade,” she said. “We wrote, directed and acted in all our work. It was theater made for and by Latinas. So this has always been me.”
Does her cultural identity as a Latina influence her work? You bet! She was born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa and writes… draws from her Mexican roots. “Everything I write is told from the prism of these Mexican, acculturated, slightly-Americanized brown eyes. Even when I’m not writing a Latino character, my experience is filtered through my Latinidad, so it’s in everything. I can’t shake it,” she stated.
So with all the talk and debate about whether or not Devious Maids helps the role of diversity on television, she said, “I am very new to television so I am still figuring out my place as a woman of color in it.” Saracho went on to admit that she does understand her place as a woman of color in the United States, “and when I look around at different mediums of communication, entertainment and even the arts, I don’t truly find myself represented. My stories are seldom told.”
She also added that Latino family histories are not explored and that it is a travesty. “How can we leave out the stories of such a large portion of the population? In the theatre, I always say that putting brown bodies on stage (casting people of color) is a political statement in itself—it becomes radical. Well, we have five brown women in our show; the first with five Latina leads in American television! That seems pioneering to me.”
No matter how outstanding a playwright Tanya Saracho is, the steady income that a TV writing gig on primetime generates is enough to tempt her to jump into the Hollywood soapy drama.
“I’m obsessed with this topic,” said Saracho who was born in Mexico and raised in Texas. She did grow up in a home that employed domestic workers. “There’s a maid in almost every play I do because I’m trying to sort all that out,” she said to the Chicago Tribune.
All the hoopla about Devious Maids has opened an overdue conversation about class and race – two topics that remain tragically underexplored topics on television. But for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the characters and storylines that Tanya Saracho helped create.
Devious Maids debuts, Sunday June 23, 2013 on Lifetime at 10PM.