Home » Community Voices » Q&A: East LA native shares what the ‘East Los High’ teen drama is all about

east losFirst boyfriends. Best friends. Family secrets.

‘East Los High,’ the teen drama series released earlier this year, has that and more.

It is the story of a group of teens going through their last years of high school in East Los Angeles. The challenges they face with love, relationships, school, drugs and alcohol shapes who they are and what is most important to them in life.

‘East Los High’ is not your typical high school. Dance, sex, romance, and mystery are at the heart of this inner city school in East LA.

The first English-language series with an all-Latino cast made headlines soon after its release on Hulu—but not without controversy.

Although the show’s creators, Carlos Portugal and Kathleen Bedoya, aimed to portray the real life struggles of today’s teens from a Latino perspective, many East LA viewers felt it wasn’t representative of them.

But in spite of the backlash, the telenovela made it to the list of top 10 shows watched on Hulu and has garnered many faithful fans along the way. Although unclear if the show will go for a second season, many would certainly like to see it continue.

Boyle Heights Beat spoke with Evangeline Ordaz, an East L.A. native, founder of nonprofit East LA Community Corporation, and one of the show’s writers and producers, about the journey from the idea on paper to a hit show.

Q: Where did the idea for the show come about?
Evangeline Ordaz: The idea for the show came from the non-profit production company, Population Media Center. They wanted to create a telenovela for Latino teens that dealt with real issues teens faced. One issue is the fact that 52% of Latinas below the age of 20 are either pregnant or already have a child. Having kids so young often makes it hard for young girls to pursue their dreams.

Q: Why place it in East LA?
EO: Out of the 40 million Latinos in the United States, 30 million are of Mexican descent. East L.A is a predominantly Mexican neighborhood. So if you want to make a show relatable to the majority of Latinos in the United States it makes sense to place the show in a Mexican neighborhood.

Q: Was there anything specific that you wanted to say about East Los Angeles as a community in the show?
EO: For me, it was important to portray East LA as a positive place, a place where families live, work, go to school, depend on their neighbors, have parties, go to church, etc. Yes we experience some problems as a result of poverty and lack of educational and economic opportunities, but those problems are not the whole story of East LA and the people of East LA don’t let those problems stop them from being good people who work hard to support their families.

Q: What kind of research did you do prior to filming East Los High?
EO: As a native of East LA and having worked there my whole adult life (first at the Legal Aid Foundation’s East LA Office and then at the East LA Community Corporation, which I co-founded) you could say my whole life was research for writing East Los High. But, I also consulted kids I knew in East LA and showed them scripts and got their feedback to make sure the situations and language felt real. I especially got a ton of help from my “li’l bro” Xavi Moreno, a local spoken word artist, actor, and writer who grew up in Boyle Heights. Population Media Center also hosted a focus group to get feedback on the story we had written. I got a ton of help organizing this event from Legacy LA, a youth development organization in Boyle Heights. They provided the space and did outreach to their kids to attend. Xavi also did outreach to his peeps in Boyle Heights and at Mendez Learning Center. Between the three of us we got 80 kids to show up and give feedback on the scripts that actors read to them.

Q: What was the most difficult challenge on the show?
EO: For me the hardest part of working on East Los High was trying to make the show an authentic and accurate portrayal of East LA. I was the only person on the production who was a native of East LA so it was all on me to make the show accurately to me that we do it justice. I worked really hard to make sure the dialogue sounded like kids in East LA. I wanted to give these youth an opportunity to learn about filmmaking.

Q: What do you want your audience to take away from the show?
EO: I want the audience to think about how they relate to the situations that they see the characters going through and to think about how they might deal with these situations. I want the audience to ask themselves what would be the smartest choice in these situations.

Watch a trailer of East Los High here.
This interview was edited for clarity.
What do you think, is East Los High representative of your neighborhood?

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4 Responses to “Q&A: East LA native shares what the ‘East Los High’ teen drama is all about”

  1. Jose Orea October 22, 2013

    East Los high does not portray east LA in any way it gives east LA a worst reputation . I saw a billboard of Whittier and Indiana and on the bill board it said east los high….. Sex Drugs and violence…. Nice way to describe a stereotype that east LA as a whole has been fighting to get rid of.

  2. I lived in Boyle Heights back in the early eighties. Some of what they portray is true on here. Matter of fact I lived off of What was called Brooklyn Ave and Mott St. A lot of struggling and trying to make it in school ( East Los Angeles College) But like all my friends that college was more like secondary school, every Friday there was some kind of a party going on when others were having tests, I and my friends would be partying. I know it was not right and should have finished school but when you are young and do not think about the future you end up like me, trying to find employment with minor education that I had. I remember the good times and the bad, but Boyle Heights will always be a part of me even though I now live in Central California, another latino enviroment but mostly agriculture down this way. I loved the show, but true wish it had more on it.

  3. Jonathan Olivares October 24, 2013

    The show needs a board of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights residents past or presents that can consult the writers.
    The ONE actor who was from East L.A, also a writer for the show, is no longer there.
    How can you make a show about East L.A or Boyle Heights and not have any people who represent the neighborhood?

  4. Marcelo Garcia January 13, 2014

    I missed it. Will there be a rerun?