When showrunner Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy took the world by storm, he was already thinking of where the series would go next. Though it’s taken almost four years, finally a new motorcycle club is here to take over after Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) rode into that motorcycle club in the sky. But don’t expect a reboot or a sequel, Mayans M.C. is a club all of its own, with its own stories to tell, stories that have one notable difference – almost everyone on this show is Latino. East Los High fave JD Pardo stars as Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes, a former Stanford college student who is now, thanks to his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas), a prospect in the Mayans M.C. charter on the California-Mexico border, despite his father Felipe Reyes’ (Edward James Olmos) concerns.
The series is a rarity in today’s television landscape – all but one member of the leading cast is Latino. In a time where diversity is badly needed (Latinx on-screen representation is less than 6 percent of all speaking roles), Pardo feels that “there’s a huge responsibility” in portraying the Latino community on TV. But he feels the push for inclusion can be a double-edged sword, “I didn’t want anything given to me. I didn’t want to be put in a position just because I’m Latino and they need a Latino. I didn’t want that. I wanted to just be the best actor for the role.”
Danny Pino (Cold Case, Law and Order: SVU) who plays cartel boss Miguel Galindo on the show notes, “I’ve been in this business for a little while now and I’ve never worked on anything quite like it.” He adds, “For me the most exciting thing is that the characters are complicated. They’re interesting. They’re not stereotypical. They’re not archetypes. The stories are fascinating, but it’s not irrelevant that it’s a largely Latino cast and creative team.”
Most of the actors shared similar sentiments. When he walked onto a set that not only starred Latinos, but was staffed with Latinx crew and writers, Cardenas felt “just a lot of pride.” He went on to say, “You feel the obligation to want to represent your people ’cause for so many years, we’ve seen the connotation of what we thought Latinos were. The gardeners and the trash men and the gangbangers. You get to see more layers in Latinos, and that’s what we see everyday in life.”
But that’s where representation can get complicated. With the President famously calling Mexicans “rapists, criminals and murderers” and stressing his immigration policy is to keep the United States safe from “animals” like MS-13, a gang mainly comprised of Central American members, how is the cast answering criticism that Mayans M.C. is just another show depicting Latinos as criminals?
“I’ve been hearing it for the past 25 years. I don’t give a shit,” says Emilio Rivera, whose character, Marcus Alvarez, is one of the only crossovers from Sons of Anarchy. “The thing is this,” he continues, “we’re Latinos, Mexicanos, Chicanos, whatever you want to call us. We’re all working. Not only are we working in front of the camera, we had like about 60 people that are Latino working behind the camera. It’s just, we’re working. At the end of the day, we gotta get over that shit. You dig what I’m saying?”
Cardenas expressed that this role felt different from others: “It’s so interesting because there’ve been other shows where I’ve had to play the gangbanger and the bad guy. But with this, the writing, I don’t feel that. I don’t feel like this is a stereotype. You just don’t feel that ’cause the writing is so rich. And that’s what Kurt [Sutter] and Elgin [James] do so well, they take you out of that world. These stories that they’re telling you transcend colors. You just start to see relationships.”
To add to the authenticity of the series, Mayans M.C. filmed in a California border town and, at times, across the border in Mexico. It’s one of the reasons most of the crew is Latinx. Though the show is not politically charged, Sutter remarked during the Television Critics Association summer press tour that some social commentary might seep into the story simply because of its location. When asked if filming on the border affected Pardo or his character, he shared, “You can’t help – as a human being, with everything going on, to go to those towns, to see it. I don’t have any answers, but it definitely changes you. It affects you. Things aren’t so black and white.”
Mayans M.C. premieres September 4, 2018 on FX.