To continue our spotlight on creators during Latinx Heritage Month, I had a sit down the hosts of Latinx Lens! A newcomer to the podcast game, Latinx Lens has quickly endeared itself to its listeners through the thoughtful commentary and personal stories connected to media through its hosts Rosa Parra and Catherine Gonzales.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
Jules: First off, can you tell me a bit about yourselves and what you do?
Rosa: I reside in the LA area, born and raised in East L.A. At the moment, I work full time at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I’m an electron microscopist. I do film reviews as a side gig, but I’m still working and in school, working on my degrees. I’m working on three degrees, working on Film and Media Studies, Chicano Studies and then Biological Sciences. Eventually I want to take over my lab, as well as the world, I guess. (Laughs)
Rosa: We’re “Pinky and the Brain”. So, yeah. If you think that’s hectic, I’ve been married for 16 years, I have four kids, and a chihuahua. So yeah, that’s just a little bit of what I do.
Jules: Just a little bit? That sounds like a lot.
Cat: I know.
Jules: So Cat, same question to you. I know you’re Editor-In-Chief for Shuffle Online, right?
Cat: Yeah, so I was born and raised in a little small town called Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley – which is a big region in south Texas. I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin. I started off in Electrical Engineering because I was a little nerd and thought I wanted to do that, but then I realized that I gravitated toward my love of film, that I had in high school as well. I just didn’t think it was possible because, you know, there wasn’t much of that route back then. And saying “Oh, I’m gonna go into Film” was a weird thing and I didn’t have – like, there were no classes in my high school, and all of that stuff just seemed like it was out of reach because you had to have the resources to get there and you know, my parents weren’t from money or anything so it was just like “Well, I gotta go the practical route.” But when I was two years in, I took a film class as an elective and I was like, “Oh, this is where I feel like I need to be.” And I thought it was going to be more on the back end of doing that, but then I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Radio, TV and Film and learned that it was really hard to get into it. Then I went off to Australia for a year, just as a gap year because I was like “Well, I don’t know what I’m doing, so I might as well just go and do that”, and it was the best thing I ever did. I went on my own, I didn’t know anybody, and I ended up meeting my husband there – who is Columbian – and so it was probably the best decision I ever made. And then I came back , and had to do a few jobs to get that going again. During that time, I joined Shuffle Online and I eventually took it over. I’ve been doing that for the past four or five years. And Rosa was nice enough to let me join Latinx Lens, and that’s been a journey.
But I do all of that on the side. My full time job – which I’m so lucky, it’s like a dream job – that I can’t talk too much about, just that it’s in the film industry in Austin, and it’s on the backend administrative side but it’s really cool. And it’s nice, because it’s stability but also seeing really cool stuff. It’s a mix of what I love combined with the film stuff. And Latinx Lens has been really fun with Rosa, because I don’t know if I was necessarily talking about latinx representation before. I just felt like, well that’s who I am, and I didn’t really feel like I had to talk about it. But I think now when I saw that tweet (from Rosa), and I was like, I really wanna explore that side. And it’s been really nice to dig up all those things that I didn’t even know I was doing just being who I am.
Jules: Did you two know each other before Twitter?
Cat: Yeah, we met online. Was it last year, or maybe a year and a half ago? I don’t know.
Rosa: Yeah, that sounds about right. But yeah, we just met through twitter. One of the few good things on Twitter.
Cat: It can be a little toxic sometimes, but I’ve had some good experiences on there.
Jules: Okay, so why did you start a podcast specifically? Versus maybe, videos or another type of medium. I know you’ve mentioned this before, but how has the reception been so far?
Cat: Well, Rosa is the one who wanted to talk about things, or maybe do a podcast. She can answer whether it was always a podcast brainchild. We do have in the works a website, and that will be reviews and things. I also found that sometimes I don’t know if you can say everything in an article, and you can write the most well written review or the most in depth stuff, but it’s always nice hearing someone talk about it because I can feel like you can hear the emotion and the connection you have to the movie or TV show that you’re talking about. And I hope that people can hear that we’re not experts and we’re not trying to be pretentious or anything, and that we’re also trying to figure it out. For me, doing the podcast has made me realize that I love this medium because I thin it’s nice having a conversation with someone like Rosa, and it feels – especially during these COVID times – it’s nice to connect. Instead of being like “let’s write this thing” and post it and hopefully someone will read it. And if we do that still, that’s cool but I think still having this conversation with her, even if no one listens to it, we’ve still had that conversation and I’ve still grown as a person. And I’m better off for it.
Rosa: Yeah, I definitely agree with what Cat was saying. I’m not very comfortable being in front of a camera, so if I can avoid it I just avoid it. It’s just me I guess, my self-esteem isn’t the best. Therefore I didn’t want to do any videos. For podcasts, same thing: I do think it’s easier to talk about it and I am attempting to improve my writing, and I do write for other sites. I write for In Their Own League and IDLE, where I”m also assistant editor. I was a guest on several podcasts, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoy talking and letting that organic conversation flow. So, yeah I sent out the tweet and it all came to be because I was taking a film course called “Race and Gender In American History”. For week four, we were learning about Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic/Latino representation and contribution in the industry, and I was disappointed to just read a page and a half about Latinos in the industry out of a 500 page textbook. Just a page and a half, technically two pages but half a page was just of a picture, of a Latin Lover who ended up being Rudolph Valentino who isn’t even latino.
Cat: Oh my god, that is bad!
Rosa: Yeah, so I sat there for a few minutes just disappointed because a few weeks prior to that I had just written an article on Dolores Del Rio, and it was a pretty lengthy article – just on her career alone. So to just see a page and a half on the whole film history (in America) was pretty disappointing. So I sent out the tweet to see if anyone was interested to listen to a podcast highlighting our representation and the communities contributions to the industry, and I was lucky to have such overwhelming support. And Cat stepped forward and said she would be a part of it, and I am very lucky that she offered her help. I am completely ignorant when it comes to technology, and she has podcasting experience so it’s been great. To me, it’s more of a – and i’m not even religious – a blessing. I couldn’t find a better person to do this with.
Cat and Jules: Awwww.
Rosa:Don’t cry Cat, don’t cry. (Laughs) We’ve been very, very, very lucky to have had a lot of support. Within the first day, we were texting back and forth and we eventually called each other because we were just in shock to see all the support. People were just embracing us from all over Film Twitter, and we were not expecting any of this but I think it’s been going good?
Jules: From a listener’s point of view, it’s been going good!
Cat: Awww, thank you.
Rosa: Yeah, it’s just been weird in a good way. We perhaps underestimated our underrepresentation in the field.
Cat: Yeah, I think I didn’t expect people to listen and then after that first one, we were like oh people are actually listening. Going back to what I said earlier about how I said I hadn’t really talked about this stuff. I always wanted to but I just never found a way to do it, or a platform to dive into it. I think for me, growing up Mexican American Texas, and being around the same people as me in school – and there were some folks in my school that I now know looking back that were immigrants – but for the most part, I felt pretty American but with the Mexican community and traditions, and Mexican American Texas stuff, so to me it was just normal. I would always just say ‘Mexican’, but then I realized when I went to Australia (that her assumptions might be off) and I met some Mexicans there and they were like “No, you’re a gringa” and all that, and I lived with Columbians before i met my husband and they were like “No, you’re American”. I think that’s the start of where I shifted thinking I was something that I wasn’t. I think that also made me feel like “Oh no, you don’t even speak Spanish well, and you’re not doing all of these mannerisms” and I was very hesitant after I joined Rosa because I was like “Oh no, what did I do, I’m not Latina enough”. Oh sh*t, people who are “more latin” in my mind are gonna listen and think I’m a fraud. But then I realized that there’s so many different types of Latinx, and that every experience is valid. We are always trying to make it known in our podcast that we aren’t trying to speak for all of the experience, we’re just talking about our experience and eventually we want to have people from all different backgrounds come on and talk about their experience with film and tv. The reception was way better than I thought and it was also kind of scary.
Jules: So this question is more for me to satisfy my curiosity, but how are you choosing which films to cover for your episodes? And also on that note, do you do any research beforehand or only after?
Cat: I think it’s been mixed. Rosa can talk more about our process, but we go for what we know first. For example Edward James Olmos is one of the most prominent people that I grew up with, so he feels like one of the most prevalent and well-known U.S. latinx actors to dive into, there’s just so much there. Same with Robert Rodriguez, I grew up with him but Rosa didn’t, but he’s one of the more well-known directors in terms of the U.S. latinx (directors). We knew we wanted to do some reviews in-between, and we’ve been lucky that there’s more latinx content coming out like “Mucho, Mucho Amor” and “Inmate Number One”.
Rosa: Yeah, I don’t think we have a specific format for what we’re selecting. We just choose what we know first, and then go to Google who is our bestie and then just try to select whatever film if we don’t have anything else. We try to alternate the episodes between actor, then film review, then filmmaker, and then review, then actor. We also every now and then we go to Film Twitter and get some suggestions and ideas from them because there’s a lot of cinephiles that have been at it longer than us. They know probably a little more than us. In regards to to Robert Rodriguez, because I wasn’t familiar with him I just decided to go the extra mile and get those books and try to read them and I was fascinated by what I learned about him. But yeah, we learn from each other, we learn from the films, and we learn from each other.
Jules: With some recent disappointments with Emmy nominations, the cancellation of a lot of Latinx shows, and the overall lack of acknowledgement for Latinx creatives, what are your thoughts on the future of Latinx people and our stories on the screen?
Cat: I think we have a lot of thoughts.
Rosa: (laughs) Oh, do we. I don’t even know where to start. It’s been disappointing to see everything that’s been happening. With the Emmys, with the nominations, it was just the last straw on this whole thing. It was a bit heart breaking and unfortunate to see what was going on on Twitter within the community about representation. I remember saying in the first episode that the ‘latino’ community is just an umbrella term that is comprised of so many experiences, it’s such a rich and diverse group of people. And we’re aware and we say on the podcast that we’ve been focusing a lot on Mexican-Americans representation, and we bring it up and say we’re not ignoring other groups, we’re just looking at this demographic at the moment, but it’s just been unfortunate to see everything that’s going on. Representation is very important – I mean, that’s why the podcast came to be. Although in my opinion television has had more representation that film has recently, there’s still a long way to go, there’s so much work that needs to be done. And it all starts with hiring latinx creators and having them tell their stories that will relate to others. There are a lot of latinx groups coming together, and I think that’s a step in the right direction. One day, it’s just going to be the norm and it won’t be breaking news to see a show that’s based on a latinx family. Unfortunately it has to take a lot of work. All we can do is support each other, the last thing we need to to be attacking each other and bringing down other minority groups with us because we’re not succeeding as well. We need to embrace each other and celebrate each other. It’s going to take a lot of learning, deprogramming, hard work and support. It’s not going to be easy, but I think we’re heading on the right path. I want to have my girls see a better place.
Cat: The only thing I want to add onto that is through that conversation, it was like what was happening with women in the industry. If there was only one spot (for a woman), instead of talking and communicating and trying to support one another, it became more of a competition. I think that’s similar to what happened, but that’s not what we should be doing. There’s so much room now on all of these platforms, there’s so much space for everyone, I hope our community doesn’t let things like headlines pit ourselves against each other. I think we should ask ourselves the question “What does representation look like? What do we want it to look like?” because for me, representation is probably going to look different than to you, or to Rosa, or to anybody else. I think people fight on what that looks like, but it’s important to give some leeway because there can’t be every single story on screen, unfortunately it’s just not possible. If you want to see your exact experience on screen, then you have to write it and get it made. Otherwise we just have nuances, which I still enjoy even though it might not be my exact experience – that representation to me is still good, it’s still nice. Don’t settle for mediocre representation, don’t ever do that, but be open to other experiences too. It’s like how Marvel fanboys get mad at the films for not being exactly how they pictured, we have to be okay with things not being exactly like our individual experiences or expectations. Representation is just so personal, and it varies so much.