Q&A with Writer Tanya Saracho
Born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, raised on the Texas/Mexico border and currently living in Chicago, writer Tanya Saracho says writing for Latinas is in her "artistic DNA." Read our exclusive Q&A with the "Devious Maids" writer to learn her thoughts on diversity and Latinas on television, how being Latina inspires her work and which character she identifies with the most:
How did you get your start on television?
Marc Cherry gave me my start in "Devious Maids." He took a chance on me—this untried, untrained playwright from Chicago—and I will be forever grateful to him for giving me my entry into the world of television.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Pitching! I still haven't got it down. When we have to jam and throw ideas into the mix, I get really shy. (And I'm usually not shy, so it's weird.)
What attracted you to the show?
That it was going to star the first five Latina leads in the history of American television! That's huge!
Why is it important for you to write for a cast that is primarily Latina?
Writing for Latinas is in my artistic DNA. I founded a company in Chicago called Teatro Luna comprised solely of Latinas, which I ran for a decade. We wrote, directed and acted in all our work. It was theater made for and by Latinas. So this has always been me. Trying to tell our stories in a complicated and truthful way. Even now that I am no longer with the company, my theatrical work centers around Latina women. I am on my seventh play with an all-Latina cast as I prepare to open my latest one, "The Tenth Muse" at Oregon Shakespeare Festival about the the ORIGINAL—the first—Latina writer,: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.
How does your cultural identity as a Latina influence your work?
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.
How "Devious Maids" helped the role of diversity on television?
I am very new to television so I am still figuring out my place as a woman of color in it. But I understand my 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. My family histories are not explored and that 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 show with five Latina leads in American television. That seems pioneering to me.
What do you want viewers to take away from watching "Devious Maids"?
When people ask me this question about my works in the theatre, I never really know how to answer because audience members take away different things from a story. It's like consuming works of fine art; it becomes about a personal experience. What I do hope that views appreciate from "Devious Maids" is the extraordinary work the five Latina leads have produced. It has been an honor writing for these talented artists and I hope America falls in love with them as much as I have from the writer's room.
What are you proud of the most when it comes to writing for "Devious Maids"?
Well this is going to be a personal answer, but the fact that I learned to write an actual television scene is the thing that makes me most proud. Until I arrived at "Devious" I had never even opened the screenwriting software Final Draft but by the time I left, I was keeping up with the rest of the writers in the room. The fact that everyone in the writer's room took me under their wing and were patient with me is the thing that I take from this experience. I especially found a mentor and a friend in my fellow Latina writer Gloria Calderon-Kellett. She took a special interest in me and in me thriving and led me through the first season like a big sister. I will be forever grateful to my Cuban hermana.
Which "Devious Maids" character do you identify with the most?
At first it was Rosie. We're both immigrants and we both have "funny mouths" meaning we mess up when we try to navigate the American lexicon. I had tons of fun writing for Rosie. I loved writing for Carmen too and getting to try out my Caribbean idioms when they fit. I love Carmen's sass!
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to write for television?
Do it! We need you. We need rooms full of you. So the question is always, "How do I get started?" Well...just write. Don't let anyone tell you your stories are not worth telling. And if you're funny, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. For me what has worked is getting together with groups of women and in the safety of that, building my work. Writing groups with trusted friends and colleges are key, I think. Let them nurture you. But keep writing. The business of it will come but first: you HAVE TO WRITE. Go!