Sound familiar? No te precupes—you’re not the only one. Cristela hears it every day.
The new ABC comedy series Cristela features a hardworking Mexican American law student in her 30s striving to be a successful career woman. Based on the star and creator Cristela Alonzo’s own family from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, Cristela cleverly pokes fun at racial stereotypes and cultural expectations. But even though it’s specific to her own experience with her mami, hermanas and cuñados, “Once you see the show, you’ll recognize my family in your family,” says Alonzo.
Nonetheless, her character experiences many familiar Mexican American cultural expectations for women of a certain age. This is why Cristela’s internship at a law firm is anything but impressive to her family. “You’re wasting your time, move out, find a husband,” is what Cristela hears before she leaves the family house in the morning. Each member of her family has taken on the task of pressuring her get her “life together.” Her number one critic? Mami.
In the pilot episode, it is revealed that Cristela prolonged finishing law school to help take care of her sick mother (Terry Hoyos), which put her career on the back burner. Now that her mother is healthy, Cristela is once again pursuing her dream, but it’s not one that’s satisfying for her family. Her loving-yet-sarcastic mother, Natalia, negates Cristela’s education and prioritizes creating a family over education:
Law school, student loans, you are wasting the best years of your life. … Somebody could’ve become a doctor two times in the time it’s taken you not to become a lawyer. … I wouldn’t have been in the hospital if you weren’t breaking my heart.
Although it may seem old school, these pressures still exist in a lot of Mexican American families. For a woman/daughter, a career and success better come quickly, because, “Mija, your sister had two kids by the time she was your age,” says Cristela’s mother. Later in the pilot episode, Natalia admits that she’s afraid Cristela will become embarrassed of her if she becomes a hot-shot lawyer, and that’s perhaps why she wants to keep her on the wife-mommy track. But Cristela has other plans, including working to represent undocumented immigrants. She knows her goals are just as valid as having a family—sometimes it just takes a little convincing of her family.
Cristela does fulfill a care-taking role as both a daughter and an aunt. Cristela is financially supported by sister Daniela (Maria Canals Barrera) and brother-in-law Felix (Carlos Ponce, a well-known novela actor); the latter taunts her about being a freeloader and wants more than anything for her to move out. But Daniela sticks up for her sister and notes that she is a loving aunt and is great with the kids. However, her sister can’t vouch for Cristela when her daughter comes home with an injury from soccer tryouts, having used a permission slip on which Cristela forged her sister’s signature. In the pilot, it looked like Cristela was getting the boot from the house—until she posed as a lawyer to convince a customer of her brother-in-law to pay for a floor Felix had installed. It was then that Daniela realized that her sister could make real change as a lawyer:
If you could make this happen, pretending to be lawyer … imagine what you could do if you became a real one.
Felix reluctantly gets on board as well, but he and Cristela constantly—and charmingly—bicker. She’s quick with comebacks, especially when others confront her with racial stereotypes. For example, during an interview for an unpaid internship, a fellow applicant—the rich and privileged daughter of a successful lawyer—mistakes Cristela for a janitor or a receptionist. “Can you validate this, please?” the intern candidate asks Cristela, holding out her parking ticket. “I think you’ve been validated enough,” Cristela replies.
If that wasn’t offensive enough, Cristela’s soon-to-be boss later jokingly asked in the interview how she got to Texas if she didn’t know how to swim, referring to the experience of many undocumented immigrants who cross the Rio Grande on the border of Juarez and El Paso. Cristela holds her tongue and smiles, but we all know what she’s thinking. Even if someone like Cristela’s boss had good intentions while trying to be humorous, he’s still displaying a form of racism. Cristela picks up on these very serious markers of stereotyping while making fun of them, cleverly exposing their truths to the viewers at home.
Cristela tackles all sort of everyday obstacles that reflect the intersectionality of a modern Mexican American woman: gender roles, career choices, family and more. Plus, Cristela is the first Latina to create, produce, write and star in her own show. What an inspiration—you go, girl! Echale ganas!