Osito is the brainchild of college friends and Bay Area activists Jesus Iñiguez and Julio Salgado. Sincere, smart, and full of brio, the show presents a full spectrum view into the lives of two undocumented immigrants who are fighting for the American dream for themselves and their community. The duo borrows from their own homo/hetero friendship to create the episodes which tackle issues from OKCupid etiquette to good old-fashioned privilege.
The show is effortless in its approach, often using a single, static take to capture an entire episode and by lifting directly from Julio and Jesus’s own real life conversations. The dialogue is perhaps the most striking element of the show. The two characters often discuss big picture national policy topics during their everyday interactions, employing a kind of language not often present in traditional media joints that may directly or indirectly be trying to convince us that that’s not how (brown) people talk.
Osito also challenges notions of the gay male ideal, which are largely informed by a mostly white and mainstream media that still uses heteronormativity as a way to explain itself. It also puts to the test long-standing and often unspoken notions that presume there can’t deep bonds between heterosexual and homosexual men.
The four episodes that make up the first season are part of a larger catalogue of work from Bay Area organization Dreamers Adrift, a collective that has amassed a YouTube channel’s worth of media aimed at providing a fresh and authentic look at the contemporary Latino experience. We sat down with Jesus and Julio to get a behind-the-scenes look at the birth and production of Osito, which is just about to enter its second season.
Where are you guys from and how did you meet?
Julio: I was born in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico and moved to Long Beach, CA in 1996. I went to high school and college in Long Beach and moved to the Bay area with Jesus in early 2012. Jesus and I met while studying at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB). We were both undocumented students trying to come up with creative projects that highlight issues affecting the undocumented community. Mind you, this was before students were “undocumented” and “unafraid.” We were just hella undocumented and hella afraid.
Jesús: I was born in Mexico City and grew up around the South Central and Inglewood areas in Los Angeles. As Julio stated, we met back in CSULB while working on a small self-published periodical called El Reflejo in which a group of us wrote our experiences as Latino college students. Julio might’ve been “hella afraid” about his undocumented status, but I wasn’t. I never saw my undocumented status as something to be ashamed about.
What prompted you to make Osito?
Julio: Well, I’d just come out of a relationship where, from far away, I wasn’t the good guy. I made many mistakes. So there were a lot of feelings of heartache, anger, and overall weirdness that could only translate in a vehicle like Osito. When you are part of a minority, there’s this constant need to tell the world that you’re perfect, that you’re the model minority, and that this country should accept you. But the reality is that nobody is perfect. We wanted to create a character that was far from perfect. A character that was problematic and that was going through shit that many of us go through. Then there’s also the amazing friendship Jesus and I have. This “homo/hetero” friendship as we like to call it. People that visit our apartment would always tell us that we should record the shit that we said. And that’s what we did. For many years, I always had this anti-straight boy stance because of the homophobic bullshit I went through with some of them in high school and even college. Jesus and all of the amazing hetero male allies in my life really changed that for me. I’m very thankful to call him my partner in creative crime!
Jesús: Julio is a very honest and funny guy. I gravitate towards the mission in his art, and I consider myself a big fan and supporter of his work. And overall, I love the guy as a brother. Over the years, we’ve been through a lot, and a lot of those private moments that we went through together became the foundation of our characters in Osito. Osito is Julio’s baby entirely, from inception to execution; I just help with the technicalities behind realizing those visions of his in video format and actively participate in being Julio’s straight-boy counterpart amidst those conversations and issues we portray, which honestly isn’t too much work. A lot of what we’ve portrayed in the web series thus far are actual experiences and conversations we’ve had in the past. The material practically writes itself simply by our being ourselves! Ultimately, I believe that the message Julio is trying to convey in this series is a really serious and healthy one, and I’m very proud to be a part of manifesting these videos.
What web series or TV shows did you borrow from (or react against) when conceiving the show?
Julio: There were a few things in the media that inspired Osito. I remember watching that new HBO show Looking and thinking to myself, those are not really the kind of queers I’ve met in my time in the Bay Area. Where are the people who look like me? Even the characters who were supposed to represent diversity seemed so disconnected from issues affecting queers of color here in the Bay Area. Nonetheless, I watched the show with a skeptical eye. This was a familiar media experience. It happened with Will & Grace. You want to be so thankful for shows like these for making it to mainstream media but there’s a part of you that aches for more stories that mirror your own, for dark humor that represents your experiences.
Jesús: I love the web series Awkward Black Girl. That’s a funny ass series that Julio and I geeked out over when conceiving ideas and character progression with what Osito is going through. I also love sketch comedy, like that of SNL. And on a personal and directorial level, I love Louie. That dark and real Louie CK humor is very inspirational to me.
How do you come up with the topics for the episodes? How are they then executed?
Julio: I do a lot of the writing on the train on my way to work. Not all of it is autobiographical but I definitely take a lot of mine and my friends’ experiences with their permission. Much like we did in past Dreamers Adrift videos, we’ll be having some of our friends do guest appearances in upcoming Osito episodes. Jesus can tell you more about the actual filming and editing.
Jesús: A lot of our videos are shot in one continuous sequence. We thought that this was the best way to perform our interactions. The post-production doesn’t take too much time; the majority of the work is into conceiving and rehearsing the material. We generally run through it a couple of times on camera before we nail the take with what we’re looking to express in a video. We currently have no other hands in the production phase of the videos; I direct, film, and do all the post-production work myself.
What is Dreamer’s Adrift? How does Osito fit into the overall mission of the organization?
Julio: We started Dreamers Adrift with the sole mission of creating media by and for undocumented immigrants. We wanted to use alternative ways to tell a story and do it in a way that puts us in charge of the narrative and not as victims of our situation. While being an undocumented immigrant in this country can be shitty, we wanted to use humor to deal with some of these issues. Undocumented and Awkward is a perfect example of that because we were re-creating awkward situations in our lives and make fun of them rather than feel like we’re victims of a fucked up system, which is still very much true.
Jesús: Osito not only addresses intersectionalities of different identities in a single individual, it also shows that we, as undocumented people, live three-dimensional lives. We curse. We hurt. We laugh. We feel heart break. We make mistakes. We persevere. We party, we lay low and lounge. We have real human feelings and respond in real human demeanors. We have routines. We have struggles. We are human. Through Osito, we hope to blur the lines between the political identities of our characters and their personal day-to-day identities. Very often, the political very much intervenes with the personal in our lives, and through this series we hope to portray how our personal experiences dictate our approach to our public political identities.
What do you think is the role of media, in this case fiction, in activism?
Julio: Oh it’s very important. Mainstream America gets their idea of who we are as people of color from TV and now with Facebook and other social media. But nobody but ourselves can create three-dimensional stories of our experiences in this country whether you’re queer, undocumented, or any other identity that is deemed as “other.”
Jesús: Media is a method of communicating who we are, our messaging, and present alternatives to current cultural narratives so as to push for a paradigm shift. The world, and all the people in it, are changing. Culture is evolving. And for the first time in human history, the public has an opportunity to dictate what we want to see and what we want to portray. We can all potentially become media makers. We can all potentially create something that resonates with what’s real in our communities and democratically move to preserve these experiences and share them with our communities. That’s why we created DreamersAdrift.com; we do this work because if we don’t, others will assume the responsibility for speaking on behalf of our communities. We do it because we want to see ourselves and our experiences in media.