It's Marcos's 30th birthday — and he wants a "Queerceañera"!
In an upcoming episode of Vida — the groundbreaking Starz series that centers on a queer Latinx bar in of the same name Los Angeles's Boyle Heights neighborhood — Lyn (In the Heights' Melissa Barrera) throws a glittering bash for her gay best friend that would be the envy of any drag queen. It's a queer take on the traditional teen celebration, complete with gender-bending costumes, a dance party, and mind-altering substances.
For Tonatiuh (Stargate Origins), the actor who gives life to Marcos, "shooting it felt like a dream ... I felt like I was Brandy in Cinderella," he told The Advocate. "It was really special. And especially being a queer person myself, who used to wear my mom's clothes as a kid, there's something so touching about having a space where your fantasies can be real. So this is a shout-out to the queer Latinx boys out there."
As an actor, it was freeing for Tonatiuh to work with Vida creator Tanya Saracho and her team about exploring the spectrum of Marcos's gender presentation. From Emma (Riverdale's Mishel Prada) to Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) to the drag kings who appear on the show this season, Vida has shown a spectrum of LGBTQ identities and gender presentations in the Latinx community rarely seen on TV.
"Being gay, being queer is not homogenous. There's not one way of doing it," Tonatiuh said. "I've had the privilege of really presenting someone who can tap into his peacock feathers and allowing them to fly but also lives in a world where that's not always necessarily safe. So he has to navigate both his masculinity and femininity in a way that he wants to and how he wants to present it."
"You can be a femme person with facial hair. There are no rules or regulations as to how you can express yourself. The team was fully on board with that," he said.
In addition to portraying a queer character, Vida really hits home for Tonatiuh, who was born in Boyle Heights and raised in East L.A. "I come from a family of undocumented immigrants who have all naturalized, they're taxpayers, they all have their small businesses," he said. "For me, I used to carry a lot of shame with that ... a fear of outing my family or getting them into trouble."
In recent years, attacks on Latinx and undocumented people by the Trump administration have only underscored the need for representation of these communities.
"Witnessing a show that is showing the beauty of our culture and witnessing how hardworking we are and we're just normal people out here trying to make a living and live a happy life has really hit home in a way that is just empowering," Tonatiuh said. "Being able to speak my native tongue with the cast and the crew, understanding allusions and references together, all the intersections of my identity were found in one place. It was incredibly validating because I was able to be seen."
It is particularly moving for Tonatiuh when Vida fans approach him, echoing this sentiment and thanking him for "validating who they are." Many were service and restaurant workers, maids, and laborers who were formerly "cast in the shadows" of American life.
"We have a rightful place in this land. This is ours. We are just as American as anyone else," he said.
Season 3 of Vida is now airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on Starz. Watch the interview above — where Tonatiuh also shows off the mystical powers of crystals alluded to in the series — and the trailer below.
And check back for more of Inside With The Advocate, which features an array of virtual stories with LGBTQ artists, trailblazers, and allies including Rosie O'Donnell, Emily Hampshire, Leslie Jordan, Ross Mathews, Kalen Allen, Sherry Cola, Fortune Feimster, Bruce Richman, and Harvey Guillén.